The Spartans: An Epic History Hardcover – 8 Nov 2002
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Send the SAS to pick flowers and the Marines to knit mittens, because the Spartans could have 'em for breakfast. In The Spartans: An Epic History, the book of the Channel 4 series, Paul Cartledge paints a vivid picture of one of the most extreme civilisations ever known--one whose ethos married the highest levels of societal and philosophical advancement with the most repressive and warlike of regimes. These ancient Greeks lived, breathed and slept "hard". They also happened to influence much of subsequent Western civilisation.
The perfect warriors, they lived to fight, and when they weren't fighting, they were training to fight. Their male children were brutally raised, and weak or deformed infants were mercilessly cast from cliff tops. Yet they were unusually egalitarian in their treatment of women, and embraced an intensely partisan social ethic. They enslaved much of the rest of Greece, yet provided the spark for Athenian Democracy. It is this apparently contradictory duality that continues to fascinate and that has since engendered concepts as diverse as Hitler's system of negative eugenics and Thomas More's notion of Utopia.
The Spartans, though accessible, is an accomplished academic work--you'd hardly expect anything else, Cartledge having already written 20 books on the subject. But without the window dressing of the TV show's stunning Grecian locations and its thinking-man's eye-candy presenter Bettany Hughes, this can seem a little dry--anyone expecting the latest glossy picture-filled Time Team-style coffee-table book is likely to be disappointed. If you're partial to a bit of accessible erudition, however, then it would be foolish to look this gift horse in the mouth. --Paul Eisinger
" Cartledge displays a marvelous ability to make the readers care about the Laconic warriors . . . and the society that shaped them." -- "USA Today
"" Cartledge brings [the Spartans] to life again with verve [and] style." -- "Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
" The history and atmosphere of Sparta are well conveyed by Cartledge." -- "The New York Review of Books
"" A fine overview of the rise and fall of a singular culture, spiced with anecdotes, quotations, brisk summary, and real insight." -- "Seattle Times
"" The Spartans presented in this book could change the popular image of ancient history, making it more compelling and accessible." -- "The" "Times Literary Supplement
"Cartledge displays a marvelous ability to make the readers care about the Laconic warriors . . . and the society that shaped them." --"USA Today
""Cartledge brings [the Spartans] to life again with verve [and] style." --"Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
"The history and atmosphere of Sparta are well conveyed by Cartledge." --"The New York Review of Books
""A fine overview of the rise and fall of a singular culture, spiced with anecdotes, quotations, brisk summary, and real insight." --"Seattle Times
""The Spartans presented in this book could change the popular image of ancient history, making it more compelling and accessible." --"The""Times Literary Supplement
Cartledge displays a marvelous ability to make the readers care about the Laconic warriors . . . and the society that shaped them. "USA Today
" Cartledge brings [the Spartans] to life again with verve [and] style. "Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The history and atmosphere of Sparta are well conveyed by Cartledge. "The New York Review of Books
" A fine overview of the rise and fall of a singular culture, spiced with anecdotes, quotations, brisk summary, and real insight. "Seattle Times
" The Spartans presented in this book could change the popular image of ancient history, making it more compelling and accessible. "The" "Times Literary Supplement
"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Much of the book is made up of biographies of leading Spartans inserted into gaps in the main body of the text. Although it's good to have a couple of pages to summarise the lives and careers of the main figures in Spartan history, these asides tend to repeat the information in the main text, and in some cases can damage the sense of chronological flow. I think these would have been far better placed in an appendix.
Also, the author wanders off into a study of the parallels between ancient greek hunting and modern fox hunting at the end of the book, debunking the myths that link present day hunting with that of the ancient past. For those of us that aren't passionate about this issue (as the author clearly is), this is a rather anticlimactic ending to a good book. It doesn't teach us anything more about the Spartans than has already been covered, and is really a debate for another place.
However, these two points aside, this is a thoroughly engaging book for anyone with an interest in ancient history. It's well written, accessible and gives a real insight into the way that Spartan society functioned. Perhaps the social relationaships between the Spartans and the Helots could have been explored more than it was, but the main interest for most readers is undoubtedly the military contribution to history made by Sparta, which is very well covered.
I would counter the previous reviewers comment on the book as a `thesis draft': Cartledge has taught a Cambridge since the 70's and has honorary Spartan Citizenship for his contribution for telling it's history. So although not going to great lengths to give a highly detailed day to day chronological account of the minutiae of Spartan life for 400 years, it has indeed avoided dates upon dates, and used other sources in it's narrative - it is a scholarly work clearly intended primarily for the general reader with an interest in this era.
Read also Cartledge's `Thermopylae' for THE story of Spartan battle, or the fantastic `Persian Fire' by the brilliant Tom Holland.
Any sensible editor would have cut the rant in the epilogue. The author has a lengthy sophistic (in the modern sense) rebuttal of an obscure pamphlet on fox hunting. Apart from now sounding very dated it is ironically a great illustration of exactly what he spent a large part of the preceding book warning us about; namely that the contemporary prejudices of the teller must be taken into account when reading accounts of the past.
- The Spartan military machine
- The society
- The famous figures
- The famous events and battles (Thermopylae)
... then this is a good foundation. The book reads easily, and despite what other reviewers have said I dont find it poorly laid out, just a little thin on details in some places, which doesn't help the narrative as it has to jump around to gain context.
I found that after reading this book, I was able to read further more scholarly books on the sub-subjects (Leonidas for example) far more easily as I had a broad understanding of the key details.
Start here and continue ...
Their valiant nature in contrast with their hideous rejection and termination of babies when considered inadequate for their society creates a kind of ambivalent feel to any study of the Spartans.
This book covers the Spartan idea of utopia by breaking it down to the most intricate of details. The author does exceedingly well in covering some of the main characters in the Spartan history; from King Leonidas of Thermopalye fame to Lysander (Lysnadros) who's generalship concluded the Peloponnesian war with Athens in the Spartans' favour.
However, as with any fragile empire with shakey foundation, the Spartan hegemony was not destined to last. This book covers the years following the Peloponnesian War with Athens and the resulting hegemony of Sparta and explains why this culminated in the defeat of Sparta by Thebes.
This book would make the ideal companion with the DVD of 'The Spartans' introduced by the very attractive, Oxford educated Bettany Hughes (That DVD is only available on Region 1 at present).
Furthermore, the movie from 1962 'The 300 Spartans' is a very accurate hollywood production of the events at Thermopalye, but is also only available in Region 1.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A superb, soundly-researched text. A wonderful source for my students doing ancient warfare.Published 6 months ago by KC Gustafson
Such a disappointing book. Having recently read Tom Holland's excellent "Persian Fire" I was in the mood for some extra detail on a longer period of Spartan history but... Read morePublished on 28 July 2014 by Evan Marshall
Paul Cartledge is an amazing historian.
A well researched, well written history of the ancient Sparta for those interested in understanding the politics of such a unique... Read more
I really enjoyed this book. Its full of interesting facts about the Spartans. It covers the battles and key Spartans but also how they lived, the politics involved and the strong... Read morePublished on 28 Feb. 2014 by Ian Robert Petts
My god-daughter asked for this for her Christmas present; I saved quite a lot by getting it from Amazon, and she was delioghted at the read.Published on 2 Jan. 2014 by Mr. N.H.
The book was for my son. He was so happy to have a book that went into great detail, unlike so many others, which seem to have a lot of pictures with caption underneath.Published on 25 Dec. 2013 by Miles Alura
Some one looking for a narrative history of the Spartans or an understanding of their society will be sorely disappointed. Read morePublished on 26 Aug. 2013 by Woody
A worth-while and detailed account of the somewhat alien but fascinating Greek city-state. Reading it makes you aware that Paul Cartledge really knows his subject.Published on 9 July 2013 by steven slack