Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. xxix + 512, incl. 67 halftones, 5 line illustrations, 1 table, 15 maps, 6 plans, a glossary and an index. ISBN 0-19-509743-2. US$27.95.
Anton G. Jansen
Department of Classics, Brock University
As its title makes clear, this is a very wide-ranging text covering the history of Ancient Greece from the stone age to the third century BC in only twelve chapters.
Given its scope and its length the book has to be considered only introductory to the study of Greek history. It is supported by an eight-page timeline at the beginning of the text and is very well illustrated with plates and maps. Finally, a thirteen-page glossary of terms is a helpful component.
The presentation of the material is excellent. One sees a very readable melding of historical, archaeological and social material. The four authors are able to deal with the standard topics of Greek history (the constitutions of Sparta and Athens in the archaic and classical periods for example in Chapter 4 and 5, pp. 131- 200). They also discuss aspects which are usually much less emphasized (such as the discussion of the period after Alexander in Chapter 12, pp. 427-70). The text is very well supported with primary source material throughout. Perhaps the strongest element is the authors' ability to set the classical Greek civilization within the milieu of the Eastern Mediterranean landscape and cultures within which it flourished. This ability to set ancient Greece in its context culturally and historically is the book's strongest feature.
The text is aimed at a first-year university student or perhaps a lay- person interested in Greek history. This approach, while laudable, also creates some of the difficulties inherent in the book. The book presents a good deal more historical detail than would be required for the average introductory course in Greek civilization. On the other hand, by stressing many general cultural points, the authors cannot delve into the evidence around particular historical questions in any detail (e.g. the role of the hoplite army in the development of the polis, pp. 104-6).
This can most clearly be seen in the referencing system used in the text. There is none. The annotated bibliographies at the end of the chapters are a good springboard for further reading, as are the primary sources mentioned in the text, but the thrust is clearly for a lay reader. The absence of any referencing system also tends to make the substantial index of the book redundant; it is simply a study aid for students using the text. It would have been better to provide references to some of the observations made in the chapters themselves. References would not have interrupted the very nice flow of the text, but they would have allowed students a direct view of some of the arguments among scholars.
This would have made the book useful as a more advanced level history text. As a result this reviewer wonders what the book's niche would be within a standard classical curriculum. As a first- year history course text it would be perfect, but such service courses are rare in classical curricula. In a more usual civilization course or an upper year survey course in Greek history it would be lacking. This is, of course, a problem with all generalized texts, but in this case it is a disappointment. Overall this is an excellent textbook in its organization and writing. Had a proper referencing system been used, it could have served admirably in a number of educational roles. As it is, an instructor will need to fill the gaps depending on the thrust of his or her course. A lay reader, however, will thoroughly enjoy the book.