I picked up Peter Heather's 2009 book simply because it was cheap on Kindle at one point. I'm now thinking I want to get a proper hard copy book. ThisI picked up Peter Heather's 2009 book simply because it was cheap on Kindle at one point. I'm now thinking I want to get a proper hard copy book. This is mostly a measure of how much I liked the book, but there are a number of good maps that I'd like a better look at too.
The primary purpose of this book is to re-examine Europe from the Roman to Dark/Early Middle Ages, and argue against the cultural continuity/no migration stance that has gained popularity from the 70s onward. The main new thing brought to the analysis is concepts from modern migration studies (it was highly appropriate that I started this book about the time the Syrian migration crisis started hitting the headlines). These have identified a lot of trends in how and why migration happens, and Heather then applies those concepts to Roman narratives and archaeological evidence.
Starting around 1 AD, he notes that the areas the Romans conquered were relatively prosperous and well developed; Roman expansion in Europe pretty much petered out when it reached (largely Germanic-speaking) areas that were less well developed with less intensive agricultural patterns. In fact, agriculture still relied on picking up and moving every couple of generations as the land was exhausted. Heather points out that migration studies show that people who have migrated once are likely to do it again, and that the next couple generations retain the habit. So, if there's an entire cultural system that has to pack up and move every so often, it's likely that migration will be a major answer to any new problems that come up.
One of major motivators of migration is economic disparity. More prosperous areas draw people from less prosperous areas. Not only was the Roman Empire the most developed part of Europe, but the Empire spent a fair amount of money and effort in promoting power structures on the frontier, and occasionally breaking them apart when they got too big. Heather shows that the fall of the Western Empire started when this system failed (and argues that this had to happen at some point, but the actual event was earlier than it had to be). Rome's wars in the east drew off troops, and allowed the short-lived Hunnic Empire to form in central Europe, causing all sorts of groups to migrate to get out of the way, and then it came apart, causing all sorts of groups to migrate away from the resulting chaos.
After tracking how the late fourth and fifth centuries play out, Heather continues with the evolution of central and eastern Europe through the year 1000. This involves the Avar Empire, the spread of Slavic speakers through much of Eastern Europe, the Viking era of Scandinavian migration, and briefly the Magyars, and why they didn't set off any noticeable migrations.
So, it is a study of the fall of the Roman Empire, from outside of the Empire, and a study of the demographic changes that happened across most of Europe over a thousand years. I think it does a lot to correct current scholarly wisdom (which, itself, was a much-needed correction), and I found it very informative and well argued....more
I've generally been liking Osprey's turn towards specialized subjects in their Elite line, and this is no exception. The book takes a look at what isI've generally been liking Osprey's turn towards specialized subjects in their Elite line, and this is no exception. The book takes a look at what is known of Roman sieges from the fall of Carthage to the siege of Cremna (no, I hadn't heard of it either). The bulk of the book is taken up with recounting what sieges we know something of, and points out the large number of cases where the Romans simply stormed the town as fast as possible (as opposed to the usual impression that every Roman siege was a big, lengthy production such as at Alesia). Along the way, there is some reconsideration of the archaeology at Numantia and Dura Europos.
There's no strong theme to the book, but it makes a good survey of the subject. I wish more attention had been given to Dura Europos, as only a couple parts of the fortifications are shown in diagrams and illustrations. On the other hand, apparently there's no good theories as to just what happened (and in what order) there, and it is a large site, so presumably a detailed look could take up most of the book without saying anything conclusive. There's also reproductions of some older (18th and 19th century) diagrams of some of the sites with short critiques....more
I've long been interested in the ancient world. The Roman Empire, especially, gets a lot of my historical interest. In my reading, it's very easy to fI've long been interested in the ancient world. The Roman Empire, especially, gets a lot of my historical interest. In my reading, it's very easy to find books on Rome (Empire and Republic), and on Alexander. The period right after Alexander is a bit more difficult. So I've been searching for a good book on the diadochoi and the successor states in general for quite some time.
Peter Green's Alexander to Actium is that book. Green is a professor of Classics who needed a textbook on the Hellenistic world for a set of lectures, and found that no appropriate work existed (which explains my troubles). It is a history of the entire Hellenistic world from the death of Alexander to (to spoil his alliteration) the death of Cleopatra. He wrote it with both the specialists and more general audience in mind, "The main text throughout remains free (I hope) of all arcane allusions, historiographical jargon, specialist shorthand, and quotations—familiar commonplaces apart—in foreign languages." He is much more successful with the earlier parts of the list than the later parts. There is a fair amount of academic French scattered throughout the book that is opaque to me.
The book itself is broken into five parts, roughly delineating different periods of Hellenistic history, and for the most part chapters of 'straight' history are alternated with examinations of particular subjects such as art, architecture, medicine, science (or the lack thereof), and philosophy. Philosophy in particular gets two chapters in part five, and proved hard for me to get through, as opposed to the rest of the book, which was (a few phrases apart) a very interesting read.
I should mention that it is a very long read as well. Nearly three hundred years of an area stretching from Greece to India (at its greatest extent) is a lot of territory, and this is not a beginning summary, but a full, detailed overview of the entire subject. Despite the size of the book, and the amount of detail that is in the book, it does not hold your hand. It starts with Alexander dead, and plunges directly into Macedonian/Greek power politics with no real guide to who these people are. This holds true, though to much lesser extent in other places as well. Thankfully, this wasn't a major problem for me, but I sure could have used a dramatis personae going in.
In all, this really is the book I've been looking for for over a decade. History, culture, thought, of a period I wanted to know more about, all well told in a single package, and a great place to go back to for reference, and to tie any greater detail I find back into the whole. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the period....more
The fundamental problem with most of ancient history is that the vast bulk of everyone involved left no records behind. There are bright spots, and soThe fundamental problem with most of ancient history is that the vast bulk of everyone involved left no records behind. There are bright spots, and sometimes stories that were later written down, but sometimes even those iffy sources are missing.
We have some idea of the cultural landscape of central Europe from the first century BC on thanks to Roman records about the 'barbarians', but there are no native records to combat Roman bias and prejudice. The Barbarians Speak by Peter Wells is a reassessment of what central Europe was like from about 100 BC to AD 300 based on over a half-century of archaeology, and modern cultural anthropology. It is also kept to a tightly constrained scope, looking mostly at the border regions of the Empire (along the Rhine and Danube), with some study of what has been found in the interior of modern-day Germany, and into the Jutland peninsula. While the conquest of Gaul is very important in the structure of events, the bulk of provincial Gaul is not considered in the book. This isn't polished history, but rather a first step of synthesizing general trends from a large mass of data.
A number of traditional conceits come up for reexamination. Rome did not conquer an area and then turn the inhabitants into 'proper' Roman citizens over the course of the next few generations. Most areas were not incorporated into any sort of Roman administration for at least a generation, and then the higher stratas of society started adopting Roman practices while more rural areas show no real change at all until much later, by which time urban native society is re-emphasizing local traditional practices and art.
The book has a nice section on a few different new styles of pottery forms and decoration that emerged during the third century. I find it interesting that most of them can be described in terms of Roman provinces for their geographic spread, and wonder if any of the more 'nationalistic' forces that seem to be cropping up in this period are more in the line of provincial regionalism.
A running theme of the book is settlement patterns: Settlements in Germany start out as simple single farms, and then move towards larger, more centralized patterns during the first century BC. There are signs of disruption around the time of the conquest of Gaul, but it is worth repeating that Wells points out that it can be hard to date many sites, as most rural populations had no contact with Roman goods, making early Roman period finds look just like pre-Roman ones. This difficulty is made worse by the fact that Roman and Pre-Roman archaeology are separate disciplines, who don't talk to each other as much as is needed.
By the late first century AD there is a pattern of even larger settlements that traded luxury goods from the Romans (presumably in return for cattle, meat, hides, and other everyday goods not well recorded in Roman sources). During the fourth century, as the Roman border erodes (and it is noted that there is no sign of wide-spread destruction of Roman forts and bases that would be expected from how Roman writers talk about the invasions of the later Western Empire), settlements end up going back to the pre-empire pattern of settlement. ...Which argues that there were indeed large-scale cultural dislocations, instead of the 'society continued much as before' model that this same author was arguing for in Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered.
In all, it is a good starting point for understanding where scholarship in this subject is going, and worth reading from that perspective. It may even be a good starting point for further broad discussion for those specialists. But if you're wanting lots of substance, it isn't here; there's just too many unknowns....more
I was expecting Strauss' The Trojan War: A New History to be a scholarly study of every detail we have about the Trojan world; basically an updated veI was expecting Strauss' The Trojan War: A New History to be a scholarly study of every detail we have about the Trojan world; basically an updated version of In Search of the Trojan War. Instead, it is a more scholarly Age of Bronze Volume 1: A Thousand Ships. The book is structured around the story of the Trojan War, which is then clothed in modern archaeology, and decorated with Homer.
And it works. Taking the view that the Trojan War is based on something that happened, the book gives the 'history' of the war, cross-referencing with what we know of other nearby Bronze Age cultures. There's plenty of passages where something from the Iliad is compared to existing Bronze Age writings and shown how it is typical of the time. In fact, the book hides a fairly good overview of Bronze Age politics and warfare.
In all, it is a short but quite worthwhile book....more
Sir Jens' ('Sir' seems to be his first name...) In the Shadow of Empires is an amateur history book about Vlad Dracula (as opposed to a sensational boSir Jens' ('Sir' seems to be his first name...) In the Shadow of Empires is an amateur history book about Vlad Dracula (as opposed to a sensational book about the fictional 'Dracula'). It shows its amateur status in some uneven editing, and problems keeping tense and subject-verb agreement under control.
Once past that, it is a well-written introduction to a part of history that just isn't well enough known, and is crowded with all sorts of modern myths stemming from a century-old bestselling novel. It is a very nice step-by-step walkthrough of eastern European politics in the 15th century. He first points out that Vlad Dracula ('of the dragon') was from Wallachia, not Transylvania, proceeds into Wallachia's troubled politics from being a buffer state, his father, Vlad Dracul ('the dragon'), and then his ever-shifting fortunes from Ottoman 'guest' to Voivode (roughly 'prince') to prisoner of Hungary, to backed by Hungary, to his death in a skirmish in 1476.
Along the way, there's a number of interesting observations, the last of which being that the four principle movers of the book (Vlad Dracula, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed, King Mathias of Hungary, and Stefan of Wallachia) are all men who'd be unhesitatingly convicted by a war crimes tribunal today. But all four are heroes in the eyes of the people (well, their descendants) they ruled over.
In all, it's a very readable amateur book with some good history in it. Something I'd like to see more of....more
You could easily write a recursive book about the influence of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History upon history. Mahan wanted to show that naviesYou could easily write a recursive book about the influence of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History upon history. Mahan wanted to show that navies decided wars, even between land powers, and many powerful and influential people listened. In the list of influential works on strategy it is probably number four, behind The Art of War, The Prince, and On War.
There's actually a few interrelated theses here. The primary one is the assertion that naval power is a deciding factor for everyone but the most land-locked of countries. The secondary one is not so clearly stated, but quite evident in the later parts of the book, that the proper goal of military operations is the reduction of organized enemy forces in the field. The later parts of the book particularly talk about this, showing that the French government and navy held to theory that saw the taking of objectives while preserving force, and that it time and again failed to gain results, while the British habit of forcing battles inevitably put their opponents into a worse position over time. Lastly, he considers the pursuit of interrupting merchant shipping to be a mistaken strategy, as British trade increased even during wars where the French captured large numbers of British merchants. (The Battle of the Atlantic might be seen as a condemnation of this rule, but I imagine Mahan might argue that the failure to actually hamper the British—and American—navies gave them the ability to find a way to destroy U-Boats and end "The Happy Time".)
Mahan covers the most of height of the Age of Sail in his book, from the Restoration of Charles II to the end of the Revolutionary War, after an extended chapter that looks at naval power throughout history. This is definitely a preferred era for him, but he considers that while tactics must change over time, with new technology, it is still possible to find strategic truths that always apply, and I think he did so very well. His narrative gets steadily more detailed as it goes on, with the last couple chapters looking at actions in India and the Caribbean from 1781-1783 in great detail. As his descriptions get more detailed, so too do the conclusions that he draws from them. This is decidedly Nineteenth Century writing, and technical in nature to boot, with overly long-winded sentences and paragraphs by today's standards (thankfully, the page-long paragraph is a thing of the past), but it still retains a high degree of readability.
My copy of the book is an OCR Pyrrhus Press ebook, which is in decent shape. I started noticing errors about a third of the way through, and they slowly become more common as the book went on, but never got to the levels I've seen in other books. On the other hand, the tactical description of battles is reliant on a number of maps that are directly referenced in the text, but are not included in this copy. I could generally follow along, but it takes a fair amount of effort it shouldn't, and the details are lost....more
Tracy Borman’s book about Queen Matilda (William the Conqueror’s wife, if you’re not keeping score at home) does a very good job with tracing the liveTracy Borman’s book about Queen Matilda (William the Conqueror’s wife, if you’re not keeping score at home) does a very good job with tracing the live of a medieval woman (much better than Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, but it is also only 3/4s the length of that book), but manages to be irritating on a regular basis.
The introduction of the book gives a commonly told story of Matilda, upon hearing that she was to be betrothed to Duke William “the Bastard” of Normandy, rejecting the idea that she (related to the King of France) would never stoop so low as to marry a bastard. William, hearing this, rides to her family’s palace in Flanders and finding Matilda beats her mercilessly. Matilda then decides that she would marry no one else as he was a man of high courage and daring. When Borman gets to this part of Matilda’s life in the narrative, she repeats the story, and then starts casting doubts on the story, pointing out that it is first mentioned about two hundred years after the fact, and that one of the primary sources for it has a strong anti-Norman bias. The section ends with a conclusion that we just don’t have any clear picture of what, if anything, happened between the two before they were married.
This pattern is followed in many parts of the book. Tales are given with a straight face, and only afterward are problems or alternate versions talked about. Worse, are the cases where something is mentioned as being from ‘a nineteenth century chronicler’ with no discussion as to where he got it from, or why we should think he knew anything about it. After the number of other unsubstantiated stories that are discussed, it raises alarms.
But despite these problems, it is a good book about Matilda. It is not as comprehensive, or detailed as, again, Allison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitane, but that book failed at being the biography it was supposed to be, while this one is a good biography that gives a much clearer picture of its subject....more
Lars Brownworth’s first book catapulted to success on the back of a related podcast, and he used the same formula this time. The Norman Centuries hasLars Brownworth’s first book catapulted to success on the back of a related podcast, and he used the same formula this time. The Norman Centuries has been another good history podcast from him (though very slow, fourteen episodes in four years, and a note saying the next episode is under production is still the most recent note a year later), and his latest book is more directly tied to it than the first time. With Byzantium he covered (in passing) most the entire history in the book, and picked the highlights for the podcast; with the Normans, it feels more like like each chapter is one of the podcast episodes.
The Normans only held sway in Europe for a couple of centuries, and Brownworth’s writing is stronger for having a more limited subject than the thousand-year life of the Eastern Roman Empire to talk about. As always, he does a great job with bringing history to life, and is at his best describing larger-than-life characters. The Normans provide plenty of larger-than-life people to write about.
My biggest complaint is that the book skips around more than I’d like in time. It starts with Normandy and the conquest of England, before stepping back to the early Norman conquests in southern Italy. The book then goes on to a brief history of the founding of the Crusader state of Antioch, and then spends the bulk of its time talking about the Kingdom of Sicily. The other complaint is that it’s all about the big-name leaders, and nothing outside of that. But, as a light popular history, that is what the book is about, and as I already said Brownworth handles them very well, and very enjoyably....more
Being something of a fan of warring states Japan (you can largely thank Nobunaga's Ambition II for that), I've been aware for some time that at theBeing something of a fan of warring states Japan (you can largely thank Nobunaga's Ambition II for that), I've been aware for some time that at the end of the era, there was a Japanese invasion of Korea. But not a lot of attention gets paid to it; it's just a short incident between the death of Nobunaga and the death of Hideyoshi.
So Kenneth M. Swope's book on the entire war with Korea is very interesting, and pretty much all-new to me. Even more so, as Swope is primarily a specialist in Ming China, and this book is centered on China's role in the war. Korea pretty much collapsed at the beginning of the war, and Ming China sent all sorts of aid to retrieve the situation.
Swope calls this the 'First Great East Asian War', because China was also dealing with other border problems at, or nearly so, the same time, and at the beginning of the book, he places the Korean problem in context with the rest of the 'Three Great Campaigns', which are something of a high water mark for the late Ming Dynasty. In fact, this period is generally seen as something of a disaster for the Ming, and Emperor Wanli one of the worst China had. Swope argues that this is not so, and that China weathered these crises well, and in good shape. Wanli is shown as being able to override court factionalism and appoint competent administrators and commanders, and stick by them when they are criticized. He was not, however, able to stop such infighting, which seems to be part of why he thinks the Ming collapsed only a couple decades later (he has a book about this out, currently on sale for $120. No.)
This is primarily a military history, but also includes accounts of the diplomatic talks between China and Japan, and the fate of Korean civilians, and court politics. This is a fairly high-level overview, and a very good one, but there's a lot more details I'd like to read about in the future....more
The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir, is more 'the reign of Elizabeth I', in that it only gives the bare essentials of background before starting wiThe Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir, is more 'the reign of Elizabeth I', in that it only gives the bare essentials of background before starting with when succeeds to the throne of England at the age of 25. However, Weir has covered the earlier parts of her live in other books, so there isn't much reason to go into it here.
Past that, it is a biography, and good one too. Weir takes us on a tour of Elizabeth's life, and talks about her court, her politics, her intrigues, her courting.... Weir usually takes time out to discuss the general conditions of life in the era she's writing about, but this happens a little unexpectedly in two chapters in the middle of the book, instead of setting the scene at the beginning. There's a lot of talk about her court, and the people who populate it, and discussions of many of the stories that grew up around her reign. Generally what you expect from a good biography, and handled very well.
In all, a good, entertaining book, and worth a read to anyone interested in Elizabeth I or the Elizabethan era in general....more
Osprey's Fortress series is quite interesting, as it tackles all sorts of subjects I had not thought about (nor seen anything else on), as well as morOsprey's Fortress series is quite interesting, as it tackles all sorts of subjects I had not thought about (nor seen anything else on), as well as more familiar ground. For example, I'm used to seeing quite a bit about western European castles (which probably are siege engineering at its most interesting), and I know how much of that was borrowed from what was in already developed in the Near East, but, there's almost nothing outside of that.
This volume is a very good, and dense, introduction to the fortifications of the Medieval 'Rus, and shows off a number of features not seen in the more familiar west. Most fortifications were simply earthen ramparts with wooden walls on top (stone fortifications generally came much later than elsewhwere). The Kievan state built 'snake ramparts' that ran for over 500 miles to protect the southern borders. The common forms of all of these and these are explained in some detail, with common features and styles gone into.
In all, the book suffers most from having to be crammed into the standard Osprey page count, but still manages to give a pretty good look at most everything, and as usual, illustrations and photographs go a long way towards making everything clear....more
First, a couple notes: The author is my dad; I'm trying to be evenhanded in this review, but that bias is there. This book is self-published through CFirst, a couple notes: The author is my dad; I'm trying to be evenhanded in this review, but that bias is there. This book is self-published through CreateSpace, and my copy started coming apart on my first read-through. A couple pages popped out on their own, and many more are sticking and threatening to go. I'm not sure if I'm just unlucky, or if CreateSpace has trouble with 600+ page books (the theoretical maximum length is 800). Also, the electronic version of the book has trouble, and can't be recommended; this is being worked on, and I'll update when the problems are fixed.
Over the River is a chronological (day-by-day) reconstruction of the events in the American Civil War from March 23rd to May 22nd, 1863, which saw two nearly simultaneous Union offensives. It is effectively the first book of a series on the war in 1863 (which is a companion to Lowry's 1864-5 series that was published in the early '90s), but stands alone without any problems.
The actual narrative content is less than might be supposed, as the book fairly extensively quotes from various primary sources (generally noting the difference between reports at the time and recollections years later). These are critiqued at points where there are mistakes, or perhaps 'spun'. And then every once in a while the book stops and takes time out to examine the larger meaning of events, which doesn't happen as often as I'd like, though the afterword has in interesting analysis of the similarities between Grant's and Hooker's positions and opening moves, and how the two campaigns eventually ended up with very different results.
It is a particularly interesting period to cover in this format. Hooker's movement across the Rapidan started within a day or so of Grant's major movements to get his army across the Mississippi south of Vicksburg. The central third of the book is largely occupied with the Battle of Chancellorsville, and then Grant's campaign in Mississippi gets exciting just as the Army of the Potomac withdraws back across the Rapidan.
Along the way, the structure makes other things fit together well, most notably the extreme delays in communication between Grant (in northern Mississippi, working south) and Banks (in Louisiana, trying to work north), since all messages had to go the long way through telegraph connections to the east coast, and by ship through the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
In the end, it is probably too detailed for a reader new to the ACW wanting a more general history or overview, and not deep enough for someone well-versed in the war looking for new insights. But the chronological framework is a very interesting view for the Civil War buff used to more bite-sized chunks of the war, and plenty of basic explanations are given for those not well-versed in the military history of the time....more
Osprey's Men-At-Arms book Samurai Armies is a pretty good introduction to the warring states period of Japan. The series is more focused on men and eqOsprey's Men-At-Arms book Samurai Armies is a pretty good introduction to the warring states period of Japan. The series is more focused on men and equipment, and that is what you get here, though the three-page summary of the period is not bad.
It is a bit primitive in a couple ways, so it must be remembered that this is a 1979 book. Steven Turnbull turned into a fairly popular author on Japan in the '80s, and is still writing today, but this was his first book. Also, Osprey was still just moving away from the stiff figure illustrations that had dominated military uniform books in the '70s and earlier, and while the people in the color plates are shown in a variety of activities, backgrounds that might give more context of the world of these people are almost entirely absent still.
As is often the case with Osprey, the book suffers a bit from being too short; it has a good introduction to the use complicated formations in Japanese warfare, but no practical examples of how it worked out in practice, it gives a whirlwind tour of the evolution of armor styles, but you have to read very carefully to catch everything being said. On the other hand, there's a nice three-page reproduction of a Japanese print showing how to put on armor, and another page with a print showing various ways of lacing the helmet (the reproduction isn't so good on this one).
In all, it still stands up as a good beginning book on the subject, which is remarkable given how much more has been written on the subject since....more
Along with all the other cheap ebook reprints out there, there is a company (unnamed, so far as I can tell), who specializes in distributing the filesAlong with all the other cheap ebook reprints out there, there is a company (unnamed, so far as I can tell), who specializes in distributing the files from Project Gutenberg in ebook format (with a fairly distinctive two-tone cover pattern). This means that unlike the other two companies I've dealt with recently, the number of typos is low, but there are still formatting glitches. Notably, all the page number tags in the Gutenberg files are still in-line here. (Since there are notes that reference these pages, it is of use.) Occasionally, the line breaks of the original file have not been properly removed, but this is a handful of times, and generally the formatting is good.
This particular book was originally published in in French in the late 18th century, and given here in a 1840 translation, which means it is somewhat... dated. (Especially as the accepted Anglicizations of the names have changed quite a bit.) The author's name was only given as "Florian", which took some investigation to find out was Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.
At any rate, it's not a bad book, and is one of the first Western works to take a more sympathetic view of Moorish civilization (not entirely sympathetic, however). In fact, it is two works in one, as the final part of the book is a separate overview of Muslim history in general by "Rev S. Greene" (included in the 1840 book). That said, unless you're interested in the historiography of Spain, there must be better things to read, though I don't know what they would be (which is why I got this in the first place)....more
Published by Didactic Press, Gardiner's The Thirty Years War is another cheap ebook of a public-domain work. The normal price seems to be a buck or twPublished by Didactic Press, Gardiner's The Thirty Years War is another cheap ebook of a public-domain work. The normal price seems to be a buck or two, and I think I picked it up for free. In general, this is one of the better put together cheap OCR-derived ebooks I've seen. Editing problems are minimal, with only a tendency towards two words being run together as a recurring flaw. The book is marketed as 'illustrated', and it is, with a number period paintings, that do help some with getting the right feel, however, with few captions, and battle scenes when there is no fighting going on, and so forth, it's hard to tell what the point of some of them is. A few portraits are included, which is nice, and I wish there were more of those.
Samuel Rawson Gardiner was a 19th-century historian known for his work on the English Civil War. This shows through from time to time here with a number of parallels and contrasts given between that and the Thirty Years War. In all, it still makes a good and readable overview of the subject today. I haven't read much on the Thirty Years War (yet), but can recommend it as a light, short work (estimated at 200 pages) available for cheap....more
J. E. Lendon's history of the Peloponnesian War differs from the usual treatments in two ways: First, instead of tackling the entire 27-year period, hJ. E. Lendon's history of the Peloponnesian War differs from the usual treatments in two ways: First, instead of tackling the entire 27-year period, he (after pointing out that the "Peloponnesian War" is really four different wars traditionally grouped together) only covers the first ten years, from the outbreak of hostilities to the treaty between Athens and Sparta in 421 BC (he calls this the Ten Years War, whereas others call it the Archidamian War). And second, he challenges the traditional view of what the war was fought over (first put forward by Thucydides) in favor of one based on a study of Ancient Greek culture.
He starts with an overview of honor/glory/worth, or timē, which is how ancient Greeks ranked and competed among themselves, and by extension how the intensely competitive city-states measured themselves against each other. To have timē was to be of importance, to have importance, to have other cities look to you; to be the hegemon. Status for cities was a mix of current strength and past glories, and Sparta stood tall in both in the fifth century BC, allowing it to lead an alliance (to be the hegemon) of many of the Greek states against the Persians.
Athens' past was not considered nearly so glorious, but in the aftermath of the Persian Wars she became the head (hegemon) of the Delian League; a collection of overseas territories in the Aegean that banded together for protection against Persia. Athens slowly converted this mutual defense league into more of an empire, taking money tribute instead of the loan of naval forces, and establishing a firmer say in the internal affairs of its members. Thucydides (and most everyone follows his lead) claims that the Pelopennesian War started because of Sparta's fear of Athens' growing power.
Lendon points out that this was a controversial argument at the time, which is why Thucydides spends so much time elaborating and defending it. He believes that the war actually stemmed from an argument more readily understood by the Ancient Greeks, but more obscure to us. Athens now considered itself to be Sparta's equal in timē, and wanted Sparta to admit it (without which, convincing anyone else would be difficult).
The bulk of the rest of the book is Lendon playing connect-the-dots with what we know of the events of the Ten Years War, and interpreting them in terms of timē. He constantly refers back to this theme, as if afraid it might go somewhere without him. But since it is, at best, a very nebulous concept, this is essential, though it might have been better handled.
The major weakness of the thesis and book is that since timē is all in the minds of the people involved, it is very hard to prove that it really had the bearing on events he says it does. Even worse is the fact that it is more of a 'groupthink'; a collection of what the entire Greek world thought of the relative standings of Sparta and Athens. But, towards the end, he finally brings forth his answer to that problem. If Athens (who is the city with something to prove) can get Sparta to act like Athens is proving its point, then the rest of the Greek world will tend to follow the line of the two principles.
Despite the fact that the book is inevitably nebulous in some particulars, it really is a convincing reconstruction of events based on what we know of the culture, and I highly recommend it....more
Peter S. Wells' book is a look at the Dark Ages in the 'cultural continuity' tradition that started in the 1970s. It is mostly aimed at dispelling thePeter S. Wells' book is a look at the Dark Ages in the 'cultural continuity' tradition that started in the 1970s. It is mostly aimed at dispelling the extremely bleak view of post-Roman history taken by the early Humanists to Gibbon and through most of the twentieth century.
And it's a certainty that things weren't as bad as the traditional view represented them. However, the arguments presented that the post-Roman world continued without major disruptions are often nebulous, ill-supported, and lacking any degree of detail.
The strongest assertions are with the continuance with cities. The older view generally asserts that post-Roman cities were abandoned, or greatly reduced in size. Wells talks about what archaeology has found in several cities throughout Europe that show these cities did not show disruption in the post-Roman era, as well as several sites outside the Roman world that developed in this time frame. However, one city did indeed shrink massively in this period (Rome itself), and there's no discussion of if there are any cities from that period where there has been a conspicuous absence of any meaningful finds. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but the comparison would provide a useful baseline for better theorizing.
Still, archaeology is the best parts of the book, and I wish he had gone into more detail about what has been found. New finds are made all the time, and this book does touch on several more recent ones. I think a more systematic examination would have helped develop his argument much better. As it is, he shows that there were new sites, outside the Roman world (in the Baltics) that were developing, and trading. And while that does support his refrain that Europe did not turn into a howling wilderness, it does speak to the potential of large economic shifts, which would disrupt ordinary life.
Moreover, Wells asserts at one point that the finds of exotic luxury goods in graves and the like disproves that trade declined in the post-Roman period. No, it only shows that luxury goods continued to be traded; it says nothing about bulk non-luxury goods, the part that only sees trade when there is a well-established infrastructure in place.
In the end, I suppose I was expecting a more scholarly work, while this is really a very introductory text. It is also aimed at traditional rut of learning about the period, which is not where I am. It's not a bad book, but not what I'm looking for....more