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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,179 Ratings  ·  121 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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I think I would best calssify this book as light historical reading. Hale writes in a very accessible, if plain, manner drawing the reader into the story of the ancient Athenian navy by concentrating on the personalities of the age and how they impacted the Athenian fleet. Battles were described in a way that was both descriptive but not bogged down in minutia. Hale was not afraid to use maps to illustrate battles or political relations, something more history books ought to do and he provides a ...more
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wie alt warst Du, als die Perser kamen?
Kreta, auf dem ich dieses Jahr erneut Urlaub gemacht habe, ist eine Insel: Da denkt man automatisch an meeresverliebte Menschen, an minoische Seefahrer. Doch die modernen Kreter sind anders, landgebunden, meeresverachtend. Die traditionellen Kreter ziehen ins Landesinnere und pflanzen Olivenbäume, und wollen nichts mit dem Meer zu tun haben. Eine Ankedote, von unserem lokalen, auf Kreta aufgewachsenen Führer erzählt, illustriert das. Sein Vater, ebenso auf
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).
Roger Burk
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 14, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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
Nov 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Benji Palus
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-fiction lost its draw for me years ago, but I read this one because of a "you read mine, I'll read yours," kind of deal with a friend.

I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it, to the point that I wanted to go out and be an Athenian badass, lol!

It's difficult to write about a battle so that the lay-reader can really follow and grasp it, but through his words and diagrams, John Hale explains the naval maneuvers in a way that made me see them perfectly clearly.

More than anything else, however,
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview of 5th and 4th century Athenian life as shaped by the Navy. Starts with the Persian wars and finished with the final defeat of the Athenians by the successors of Alexander. Hale is a good storyteller. The book is a little more pro-Athenian than I like; romanticizing democracy, the Persians don't come out looking so well, etc. But, his approach as a naval historian is novel and it is an enlightening read on the whole. The illustrations are also nicely done. I would recommend al ...more
Oct 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Lords of the Sea is a thrilling account of ancient Athens as seen through the lens of the city-state's Navy. Hale not only provides masterful accounts of major battles and naval policies, but also shows how the Navy influenced virtually all aspects of Athenian life--from theatrical plays to the democratization of government. This is an interesting and unique perspective on ancient Athens's glorious heyday.
Fred Dameron
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Kagen asked his editor to have Hale write and publish this story of Athens. It is/was worth the seven years Hale spent completing his research. An excellent history that takes one back to Salamis and forward to Periclean and finally Demesthon's Athens. A really readable history.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and very detailed look at the Athenian Navy and its impact on Athenian life from Themistocles and the first attack of the Persians in 490 BC to its final demise under the successors to Alexander in 322 BC.
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-greece
Fast moving with enough detail to intrigue but not so much that it drags. Explains how the development of the navy and naval strategies led to the Athenian dominance of the ancient world. Fast paced, skillful narrative.
David Steven
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Heinz Reinhardt
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent little work on the West's first true Naval power. Following, and significantly improving upon and technologically advancing, the naval traditions of the Minoans, the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, the Athenians would build the first professional Navy in Western History.
Forced upon Athens, formerly having relied upon Hoplite phalanxes for its military defense, the building of a fleet was in response to the overwhelming threat from the massive Persian Empire. In the ensuing P
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bret James Stewart
This is definitely one of the best history books I have ever read. Hale does a wonderful job with this book. First off, the cover art is attractive. The Greek atop the dolphin, red-orange on a black background, is both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing. The text font and size is easy to read, attractive, and the layout is great. The interior illustrations serve to really bring the material to life. The book is laudable for its chronology, glossary, index, and notes on sources. Further, Hale’ ...more
Joe White
May 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jack McCulley
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent for someone who is interested in the Peloponessian and the Greco/Persian Wars.
Erik Graff
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Tom Darrow
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Walt O'Hara
Apr 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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“It is right to endure with resignation what the gods send, and to face one’s enemies with courage. This was the old Athenian way. Do not let any act of yours prevent it from still being so. Remember, too, that the reason why Athens has the greatest name in all the world is because she has never surrendered to adversity, but has spent more life and labour in warfare than any other state. Thus the city has won the greatest power that has ever existed in history, a power that will be remembered forever by posterity, even if now (since all things are born to decay) there should come a time when we were forced to yield. —Pericles to the Athenians” 1 likes
“The power of fate is a wonder; dark, terrible wonder. Neither wealth nor armies, towered walls nor ships, Black hulls lashed by the salt, can save us from that force. —Sophocles” 0 likes
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