Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 36.
P. J. Rhodes, A History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 BC. Blackwell History of the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. Pp. xiv + 407. ISBN 0-631-22565-X. US$34.95, UK£19.99.
Jan P. Stronk
Ancient History, University of Amsterdam
This volume by Rhodes is another publication in the ambitious series 'Blackwell History of the Ancient World'. Rhodes sets out to describe Greek history from the aftermath of the Persian Wars in 478 to the death of Alexander the Great. He has set his goal as follows: 'I have tried to make it a straightforward account, but one which combines analysis with narrative, which combines other aspects of Greek life with political and military matters, and which shows clearly the evidence on which it is based and the considerations which have to be borne in mind in using the evidence' (p. x). This starting point makes this book an unusual handbook for the classical period, though it follows traditional lines; after an introductory chapter Rhodes guides us from 'The Formation of the Delian League' (Chapter 2, pp. 14-21) to 'Alexander the Great: Topics' (Chapter 25, pp. 359-83). An epilogue (Chapter 26, pp. 384-87), a relatively concise bibliography (pp. 388-95), which partly summarises the useful 'notes on further reading' that conclude every chapter, and a sufficient index conclude the book.
With the exception of Chapter 1 (the Introduction), outlining Greek history before 478, the primary evidence used in every chapter is excellently documented in the notes. A very convenient feature is that, starting with Chapter 2, every chapter is preceded by a time-line and a small list of the main events discussed in it. Rhodes completely fulfils his promise made in the preface to give a straightforward account, clearly showing the evidence on which it is based. At the same time this approach, valuable as it is, partly hides the problem involved with Rhodes's method; those areas and events not covered by the largely Athens-centred evidence remain relatively underexposed. To some extent this has been compensated for by using epigraphic and numismatic evidence wherever possible, but this type of evidence is, unfortunately, not always made sufficiently clear.
In Chapter 2 Rhodes explains the difficulties related to the explanation for and meaning of the Delian League and the dominant position Athens reserved for itself in it. In the following chapter (pp. 22-30) he deals with the Peloponnese in the early fifth century, notably the controversy between Sparta and Argos, the emergence of various so-called synoecisms (amalgamations), and especially the developments of the complicated relations within Sparta. In Chapter 4 (pp. 31-40) Rhodes covers Athens after the Persian Wars. It is the story of Themistocles, of Ephialtes and his reforms of the institutions, and of the reflection of political changes in early tragic poetry. The next chapter (pp. 41-53) discusses the Athenian Empire in the mid-fifth century, in fact the foreign policy of Athens between 460 and the beginning if the Thirty Years' Peace in 446/5. Chapter 6 (pp. 54-70) discusses Periclean Athens, from 462/1 to 433/2, more or less encompassing, with some exceptions (such as the war against Samos in 440-439) Athenian home policy in that period as well as the great works of art realized in that era. In Chapter 7, 'The Greeks in the West: The Rise of Syracuse' (pp. 71-80), Rhodes pays special attention to the developments in Sicily, but also to developments on the Apennine peninsula itself.
Chapters 8 to 14 form the nucleus of this book; they tell the story of the Peloponnesian War in its various aspects and developments. The treatment of the various events and persons is factual and rather concise. Both drawings and aerial photographs help the reader to get a better picture of specific developments. I found the notes on further reading in these chapters to be extremely useful in building a more kaleidoscopic picture of persons, actions, and notions involved. Here above all, Rhodes makes it particularly clear by the additional literature he presents in these notes that practically nothing can, or should, be taken for granted, and that virtually everything has at least two sides to consider. The rise and fall of the Athenian Empire is epitomized in Chapter 15 (pp. 172-88), including an interesting section on 'Attitudes to the Empire' (pp. 178-85) and another, more or less related, on the period 'After 404' (pp. 185-87).
In Chapter 16 (pp. 189-203) Rhodes introduces us to the fourth century. He distinguishes four sections within this century (three of which are included in this book, all of them related to the concept of a 'common peace'): first, the period to c. 360, in which Sparta, Athens, and Thebes in turn tried to dominate the Greek world under the watchful eyes of Persia; second, the period between 359 and 336, in which Philip II of Macedon achieved a leading position, uniting the Greeks and preparing them for a war against Persia; third, the period from 336 to 323, in which Alexander III dominated events, culminating in the conquest of the Persian Empire; and, finally, the period 323-304, the period dominated by the struggle between the contenders for Alexander's legacy.
The first period is discussed in Chapters 16 to 20. In Chapter 16 Rhodes sketches the outlines of the prevailing notions and events of the first section of the fourth century, next treating the events in more detail from a Spartan (Chapter 17, pp. 204-25), Athenian (Chapter 18, pp. 226-43), and Theban (Chapter 19, pp. 244-56) point of view. Chapter 20 (pp. 257-72), finally, discusses internal affairs in Athens in this period. Inevitably this approach has led to repetitions, at the same time showing that the same theme or event (such as the Battle of Leuctra) can play a role in different contexts. This method of work makes these chapters very instructive. A remarkable but particularly useful feature appears in Chapter 17, an appendix entitled 'Persia and its Rebels' (pp. 221-25), discussing various revolts during the reign of Artaxerxes II. Though those revolts have been mentioned previously and occurred during the reign of Darius II, it might perhaps have been convenient if Rhodes had also included here (again) the revolts of Pissuthnes and his son Amorges, the latter revolt especially because of its alleged (or supposed) repercussions for Athens in the final phases of the Peloponnesian War, if only to stipulate that such revolts (and Greek interests and even participation of Greeks) were no phenomenon that started in Artaxerxes' reign.
In Chapter 21, 'The Western Greeks from Dionysius I to Timoleon' (pp. 273-93), Rhodes turns west again. In this chapter the Syracusan tyranny and the conflicts with the Carthaginians are treated as well as Timoleon's efforts to liberate Sicily (as for the Carthaginians' position not wholly successful) from both. The career of Philip II is dealt with in Chapter 22 (pp. 294-322), with due emphasis on the interrelated political and military achievements. Noteworthy is that also this chapter concludes with an appendix: 'Persia and the Greeks in the Reign of Artaxerxes III' (pp. 323-27). Also this appendix provides the reader with useful additional information. Philip's Athenian opponent, Demosthenes, figures prominently in Chapter 23 (pp. 328-44). Finance, institutional changes, and politics are discussed. Here, too, is an appendix, a relatively short one, 'Sparta' (pp. 344-46), summarizing events there between 371 and 323.
Chapter 24 (pp. 347-58) is called 'Alexander the Great: Sources and Outline'. The discussion of the sources is neat; the outline is, as might be expected, very sketchy; Rhodes covers in quick succession, Alexander's accession and his consolidation of the throne, the war against Darius III, the expedition after Darius' death, and Alexander's final year. Some of the incidents involved in this summary are treated more fully in the last chapter, devoted to some topics of Alexander's rule: military matters, administration, behaviour towards subordinates, and aims and ideals. Here again Rhodes proves his mastery to both condense and elucidate complex problems in a relatively limited amount of space.
In sum, Rhodes has written a very accessible work on the classical Greek world, perhaps at places a little too specialized for the general public, but doubtlessly highly recommendable and very suitable for undergraduates, not only as an introduction to the Greek classical world but also as a textbook for the proper methodological approach. In this respect the hardback edition is to be preferred, since the books invites frequent use.[] The book is well produced and I did not notice striking typos. Of course, with an enterprise as challenging as to write a history of 'the' classical Greek world one may always detect omissions or find that one's own preferences should have been treated more fully; this book is no exception to that rule. However, such expectations would be unrealistic, the more so since the content of this book almost exactly matches the goals Rhodes outlined in his preface. In certain respects, due to the notes for further reading, it may even offer more. It certainly does not replace the 'old school' reference works (nor is it, I think, meant to), but it provides the reader with an accessible account of one the determining eras of Greek history. It is, moreover, an introduction that deserves to be widely used. It provides an accessible account of classical Greek history, from the aftermath of the Persian Wars in 478 BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. The author describes the years which witnessed the flourishing of democracy in Athens; the establishment of the Athenian empire; the Peloponnesian War, which involved the whole Greek world; the development of Macedonian power under Philip II; and the conquests of Alexander the Great. His account combines narrative with analysis, and deals with major social, economic, and cultural developments as well as political and military events. Rhodes details the evidence on which his narrative is based, which includes inscriptions, coins, and material remains, and outlines the considerations which have to be borne in mind in using this evidence.
[] A hardback version is available at the price of UK£50.00.