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Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of Democracy
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Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of Democracy

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  743 ratings  ·  93 reviews
A rousing history of the world's first dominant navy & the towering empire it built: The Athenian Navy was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world. It engineered a civilization, empowered the world's first democracy & led a band of ordinary citizens on a voyage of discovery that altered the course of history. With Lords of the Sea, renowned ar ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Penguin Books Ltd. (London) (first published April 4th 2009)
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Roger Burk
Hale has written an engaging history of the Athenian navy during its period of power, from when Themistocles convinced the Athenians to use a silver strike in 483 BC to build the fleet that stopped the Persians until a later Athenian fleet surrendered to the Macedonians after trifling resistance in 322. I think we sometimes get the idea that the Athenian navy did little of note outside of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, but their other wars were also important, lacking only their Herodotus o ...more
The title and back cover initially led me to believe LORDS OF THE SEA was an analysis of how the ancient Athenians’ decision to "navalize" ultimately led to adoption of democratic government. Instead of analysis, per se, the author, John Hale, embraced a more chronological, narrative-history approach. In so doing, he employs the novelist’s method of "showing, rather than telling" how naval expansion politically empowered the middle and lower classes of Athens.

That the author uses a novelistic ef
This is a very interesting, albeit lengthy, book. It describes the rise of the Athenian navy in the Golden Age, and its role and impact on the concept of democracy. Themistocles opined that building a great navy would make Athens a great city state and this proved to be so. Although outnumbered badly, Athenian triremes crushed Xerxes Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis in 480BC and set the stage for two centuries of greatness. The Athenians battled not only Persians, but Spartans and ultimate ...more
Margaret Sankey
First, get the slaves to dig up the silver at Laurium, then build a fleet, bully your neighbors and become a great democracy! (or, as my HIST 312 students know full well, maybe not).
If only I didn't love Sparta so much I would give this book 5 stars. However, it is hard to fully enjoy a book about all of Sparta's nemesis, Athen's victories :) That said, I really enjoyed the way the John Hale wrote and I can hardly complain about any of literary details of the book.

Lords of Sea was a basically a journey through the rise and eventual fall of the Athenian navy, and John Hale also tied this rise of the navy to the rise of the democracy in the world, which may be a stretch conne
This book is an excellent overview of the military and political history of Ancient Athens during the classical age, it's rise and eventual fall due to forces that we see in politics even today. It's "readable history". Very well researched, yet concise and presented in easy to follow chronological narrative. Yet very engagingly written with very evocative passages that help transport the reader to places Salamis or Piraeus. But more than that, too often the likes of Themistocles and Xanthippus ...more

Fascinating book by someone who has studied the Athenian navy for forty years according to the preface. And yet, the book is very accessible vs being written for other scholars.

This covers the history of Athens and to a lesser extent Sparta from the time of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans vs Persian thousands at the battle of Thermopylae until the reign of Alexander the Great.

I knew democracy was born in Greece at Athens. But I didn't realize democracy was a product of war and was maintaine
Clif Brittain
When rowers ruled the world!

I am a rower, so I am sure this influences my review.

I read half of this on my Kindle, which was a mistake. I ended up getting it in hardback through interlibrary loan so I could savor the maps and illustrations. Maps are key to understanding any sort of warfare, and their representation on the Kindle is worse than poor. I think there are sixteen shades of grey available on the Kindle, but only two on maps, both so light that they cannot be read.

Sam Manning is the bes
Joe White
This is a detailed narrative told from the perspective of Athens, of the entire Greek world from 483 BC to 322 BC. If specifically focuses on the creation and use of the trireme navy by Athens as a supporting backdrop for the major politicians and generals that shaped the lifestyle and government of the city and region. It is the detailed enumeration of so many personalities that tend to make this a work that requires effort to follow. The book is written in a narrative fashion which flows from ...more
Hale's narratives spans the life of the Athenian navy as the military muscle and imperial police force of an independent, democratic Athens. There isn't a stone that he leaves unturned, covering everything from the small details of life aboard the triremes, trireme construction and maintenance, blow-by-blow descriptions of Athens' most important naval battles, the influence on the navy of the most famous figures in Athenian politics (to include the most important debates in the Assembly), the co ...more
Jul 09, 2009 Jonathan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs and political scientists
A long time ago I read Robert Heinlein's book "Starship Troopers" in which military service was a prerequisite for becoming a citizen. In John Hale's book "Lords of the Sea" we're shown an ancient society, that of Athens in the period between the Persian invasions and the death of Alexander the Great, when the opposite was true - when the need for military service reshaped the political landscape of a city-state.

Beginning with Themistocles and continuing through a series of politicians and mili
Erik Graff
Jun 03, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
I have read many histories of ancient Greece, of Athenian democracy and of "the golden age of Athens". Given our own cultural mythology, so many have been written that the field tends towards cliches. Hales' Londs of the Sea is a departure from the run of the mill, detailing as he does the history of Greece from the battle of Marathon through the Macedonian conquest by telling the story in terms of the Athenian thallasocracy cum democracy. His book is the most readable work I've yet read on the ...more
Walt O'Hara
I read LORDS OF THE SEA in a somewhat desultory fashion in paper about two years ago, and put it down, not to get to it again, not because I didn't like it, I just lost track of it and didn't get back to it. Recently I checked out a library audio copy from Overdrive, and I finished it last weekend. I am now going to go back and re-read the paper book to get the names right. LORDS OF THE SEA is an excellent, readable history of the rise of the Athenian navy and the Wars of the Delian League that ...more
Tom Darrow
I have read a fair number of books about Classical Greek history (The Persian War, Alexander the Great, etc), but this one puts a new spin on information I mostly knew. Hale chronicles the ups and downs of Greek civilization through the perspective of the Athenian navy and their accomplishments. Much of the book is obviously military in nature, and although he does spend some time talking about the well known naval battles like Salamis, he doesn't belabor any points. He also brings up many other ...more
This book tells the story of the rise and fall of the Athenian navy, from around 483-322BC. I found this a fascinating story, very engagingly told. Athens, of course, is the primary focus, but you get lots of involvement from Persia and Sparta, as well as a host of other cities and areas. This tells of the development of Athens as an overwhelming seapower, wars, battles, politics. There are stories of individuals, as well as the navy. Lotsa good fun here.

Ancient Athens was the birthplace of demo
Hale's Lords of the Sea is the history of the Athenian navy. Pretty straightforward, so this will be a fairly short review. The book is extremely readable, and it wasn't necessary to drag my feet through tons of horribly academic language. It moves at a fairly good pace, and only uses 318 pages to cover hundreds of years of history, so there isn't a lot of pointless detail.


Hale is very obviously in love with the Athenian navy and credits it with every single advancement Athens made. He c
John Hale's "Lords of the Sea" is an in-depth history of the Athenian thalassocracy from before the Peloponnesian Wars, up until Cleitus, one of the Macedonian successors to Alexander the Great, forced Athens to accept the yoke. It is a fascinating read.

Hale brings a very specific perspective to this topic: as a crew rower, he is perhaps more interested in the naval side of Athens than of any other aspect. Hale makes a compelling case that Athenian democracy itself had both its roots and its flo
Lords of the Sea provides an illuminating account of the rise and fall of the Athenian maritime empire or thalassocracy . Author Hale brings three elements to his story; a strong narrative voice; a provocative thesis; and his own experience as a rower, something that gives his tale a distinct personal touch. The heart of the maritime empire was the trireme and Hale makes this point in a lyrical introduction:

"At dawn, when the Aegean Sea lay smooth as a burnished shield, you could hear a trireme
Scholar John Hale traces the Golden Age of Athens (480-322 BC) and the importance of naval power, which saved them from the Persians, created an empire, and was the backbone of Athenian democracy. The Trireme, a 120-foot wooden ship with a bronze ram at the prow, was manned by 170 rowers on 3 levels - these rowers were free men, not slaves, and had to be well-trained to execute combat maneuvers.
In addition to the great statesmen and military leaders of the age (Themistocles, father of the Athen
Jim Good
A well written chronological history of the Athenian navy starting with Themistocles vision of a thalassocracy in 483 BC through to the Macedonian dismantling of the city in 322 BC. The book is a narration of events through the eyes of the leaders and main events. Hale certainly has knowledge of the battles and strategies and shares some of the underlying larger historical arcs, but misses the common man’s motivation, training and life. His theory of how the navy fostered democracy by raising ev ...more
This is a great history on the development, rise, and decline of the Athenian navy. Hale excels at narrative history stretching from Themistocles' leadership in the development of the Athenian navy to defeat the Persian threat, through the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, and onto its last battles against the heirs of Alexander the Great.

Using the navy as a prism to view Athen's cultural and political rise, Hale introduces the reader to well-known Athenian personages and their infuence on or by t
Jun 15, 2014 Diane rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Carol Payne
Shelves: audiobook, history, war
I listened to this book on CD.

I like naval history and the information about the Athenian navy and the triremes was very interesting. As the book progressed, however, I became fascinated by the description of democracy in Athens and what worked and what didn’t work. It started to sound like a description of the U.S. Congress and the in-fighting and the ways that both bodies took actions that were/are self-defeating and self-destructive. At least the Athenians appreciated the theater!
Ever since the movie 300 I've had a renewed interest in ancient Greece. In Lords of the Sea, Hale follows the history of Athens and its relationship to its navy from the naval battle of Artemisium, which took place near and protected Thermopylae, and the battle of Salamis, which ended the Persian incursion into the Aegean Sea, through various further engagements with Persian forces, the rise of the Delian League, the Peloponnesian War, and Athens conflict with Macedon.
Along the way Hale explo
Robert Melnyk
Lots of interesting history here. I wavered between 2 and 3 stars. Although it was interesting, it was a bit hard to follow at times. Maybe it was because of all the Greek names that were hard to keep straight, or I was just in a hurry to get to my next book that was waiting in the library, but I found myself skimming some of it. But it was still worth the read, especially if you are into Greek history.
I am not crazy about this book. While I enjoyed learning more about the Athenian navy, the writing style was caught between scholarly and colloquial writing. The facts were drawn largely from Thucydides, with occaisonal references to plays contemporary to the naumachia being discussed.
This is a good book for an overview of the primary sources, but not great if you want deeper knowledge.
John Reas
Fascinating account of the birth of the Athenian navy during the Golden Age of ancient Greece and how that transformed Athens into a regional power in the century preceding the rise of Alexander the Great. Arguably, the military power that the navy projected in the Aegean and their ability to keep the Persian Empire at bay allowed Greek culture to flourish as we know it today.
Democracy arose and was supported by the build-up of the Athenian Navy, according to this author, because manning the triremes and other ships in use from 483 B.C. through 322 B.C. required the active participation of the lower classes of society in warfare, which gave them more status in the wider society. This book explains the design of the ships, the methods of use, the strategies and tactics behind naval warfare, the design of the cities and geographical features of the land from the wester ...more
Chris Aylott
Lively history of the Greek navy and its role in the political and social history of Athens. Hale shows how the navy was the backbone of Athenian society, and how the nautical mindset lives on in our language and though patterns today.

I enjoyed the characters and the tales of their deeds -- there's a lot of stuff in here that would make a great movie or adventure novel. But it's also a little depressing. It's clear that the economy of the Athenian Golden Age worked only because they were being
A detailed and yet lively account of the rise and fall of the Athenian navy and, not coincidentally, her role as a great power in the Mediterranean region. Professor Hale is probably the leading authority on rowed warships (he rowed crew for Yale while studying with Donald Kagan) and it shows: not only are the campaigns, the strategies and the battles skillfully portrayed, but the techniques of sailing, rowing and fighting an oared galley - the ancient Greeks used a triple-banked oared ship know ...more
Epic. with a capital E.
You simply cannot appreciate the scale of ship-building enterprise in Athens started under Themistocles, or grasp how direct democracy and trireme warfare were like the two sides of one coin, until after you have read this book.
This book will sear itself in your brain.
Epic. Read. Absolutely.
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