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A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War Paperback – Illustrated, September 12, 2006
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Over the course of a generation, the Hellenic city-states of Athens and Sparta fought a bloody conflict that resulted in the collapse of Athens and the end of its golden age. Thucydides wrote the standard history of the Peloponnesian War, which has given readers throughout the ages a vivid and authoritative narrative. But Hanson offers readers something new: a complete chronological account that reflects the political background of the time, the strategic thinking of the combatants, the misery of battle in multifaceted theaters, and important insight into how these events echo in the present.
Hanson compellingly portrays the ways Athens and Sparta fought on land and sea, in city and countryside, and details their employment of the full scope of conventional and nonconventional tactics, from sieges to targeted assassinations, torture, and terrorism. He also assesses the crucial roles played by warriors such as Pericles and Lysander, artists, among them Aristophanes, and thinkers including Sophocles and Plato.
Hanson’s perceptive analysis of events and personalities raises many thought-provoking questions: Were Athens and Sparta like America and Russia, two superpowers battling to the death? Is the Peloponnesian War echoed in the endless, frustrating conflicts of Vietnam, Northern Ireland, and the current Middle East? Or was it more like America’s own Civil War, a brutal rift that rent the fabric of a glorious society, or even this century’s “red state—blue state” schism between liberals and conservatives, a cultural war that manifestly controls military policies? Hanson daringly brings the facts to life and unearths the often surprising ways in which the past informs the present.
Brilliantly researched, dynamically written, A War Like No Other is like no other history of this important war.
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–Christopher Hitchens, author of Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays
“This book will immediately become the standard companion volume in English to Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars. Its own battle narratives are unexcelled; but its singular merit is its comprehensive and detailed description of how the actual fighting was done, how generals led, and why each side–Sparta and Athens–went to war. The author is a man of action and a practicing farmer as well as the premier classical historian and military commentator of our day.”
–Josiah Bunting III, author of Ulysses S. Grant
“The Peloponnesian War was grand and tragic but the sheer misery of those who experienced it has often been overlooked–until now. From death by trampling to cannibalism, from preteen-sized knights on ponies to deformed and ghostly plague survivors, from elegant galleys to bloodbaths in waterlogged death traps, the dark cones of classical combat are all brought to light by Hanson. This is a groundbreaking book by a great historian.”
–Barry Strauss, author of The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece–and Western Civilization
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 12, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812969707
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812969702
- Item Weight : 1.03 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Customer Reviews:
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The Peloponnesian War was a decades-long conflict, both epic and gruesome in its scale. As a percentage of the respective populations, as many people died in this war as in World War I. An epic stand-off between a military dictatorship and a radical democracy, the war offers obvious lessons for our present age. Athens saw itself as morally superior and wealthier, and commanded a mighty navy that firmly boosted its self-confidence; Sparta thought its opponent decadent and politically indecisive. Athens' democratic decision-making throughout the war led to follies such as the Sicilian Expedition and the occasional executions of its best military commanders after a humiliating defeat -- neither of which helped the Athenian war effort, to put it mildly. And then there's the personal history of Alcibiades, the infamous Athenian commander who defected to Sparta mid-war. As such, this subject encompasses the best and worst elements of our flawed human nature.
The Peloponnesian War had all the elements of ancient, yet also hints of modern, warfare. Traditional hoplite battles were certainly fought during the many years of the conflict. However, the unwritten rule in Greek civilization that conflicts between Greek peoples should be decided by a short fight between two professional armies on an open battlefield on a sunny afternoon, was quickly thrown out the window as the dispute escalated.
Soon, Spartan armies besieged Athens, forcing the Athenians to retreat behind their city walls. The outbreak of an (unknown) infectious and very deadly disease resulting from this siege is very vividly detailed in Mr. Hanson's book. Affected persons got fevers so bad they hurled themselves into the city's water supply, thereby further spreading the outbreak. The great Pericles himself perished from it.
The book is carved up not chronologically but thematically, with sieges, hoplite warfare, naval warfare and other subjects being highlighted in turn. Those familiar with Mr. Hanson's other writings will quickly discern an overarching pattern in 'A War Like No Other' that's present elsewhere too: His ability to bring the important subjects down to human proportions is second to none. So he will dedicate a few pages to how difficult it is, in fact, to destroy olive trees, because they don't burn easily and are remarkably resilient (Mr. Hanson is himself a farmer in California). He will elaborate on the poor rowers occupying the lower decks in the triremes, the Greek naval vessels. And he describes the fate of those in the cities suffering through sieges while desperately trying to reinforce their protective walls as the besiegers are working to break them down. Finally, the pages detailing the outbreak of disease in Athens, mentioned above, leave a lasting impression. It all makes for excellent reading.
The plethora of city names and other terms hurled at you throughout the book can make it a little intimidating and even dry at times. But Mr. Hanson's command of the subject is impressive, making the book an excellent introduction into the history of this great war. If you're looking to expand your historical scope and dip your toes into this subject, I can highly recommend this wonderful read.
So, it's now small event in Western history. It is a war like no others. Its exploration is a mandatory historical, cultural, political and social read. There are plenty of ways in print to explore it. VDH has written a ‘key topics’ discussion weaving from Thucydides daily diary, Herodotus, Socrates, Xenophon, the Golden Age Greek playwrights and a whole cast of first person witnesses from all sides and providing the topical tale from many perspectives. How could the most advanced robust, rapidly growing civilization of the age plumb such extremes in the definition of ‘total war’ to destroy themselves?
Inherited monarchy among Hellenes was a long obsolete governance system. The differences between Spartan and Theban Oligarchy and Athenian Democracy was quite subtle. Governance was variously chosen by acclamation/elected by lot and representative of citizens in both.
One generation before the tale, the Hellenes were united to reveal the most aggressive, far outnumbered band of purpose driven warriors more than adequate to overcome adversity and expel the Xerxes tyrant driven Persian horde at Platea. Oligarchs and Democrats greatly outfought the tyrant state drone warriors.
The Hellenes after Platea were the undisputed power of the age and the team to join for keeping opportunistic tyrants of Carthage, Egypt and Persia from testing the unity. Hellene governance in its various flavors was self-attractive to geographies and peoples as the only option to tyrant overlords. Athens had grown an economic empire, and the whole of the Hellene influence was growing rapidly.
With the construction of the ostentatious Athens’s Acropolis monuments from the vast riches of the Athenian maritime colonial expansion and naval power, the civil tipping point with Thebes, Corinth, Sparta et al loosed a dragon. Athens for its part was flexing its new wealth among the Hellenes. Notions of inequality, covetousness and greed were stirred among the oligarchs. The ideological debate grew into a sort of 'racial' matter to divide the Dorics, Ionics, Attics and Aeolics.
The otherwise sage Hellene city-state hegemons of Sparta, Thebes and Athens decided that they needed a short season of demonstrative belligerence for general Hellene consumption to clear the air ... a sort of Hellene family squabble. Politics, origins and ideology was as important among 5th century BC Hellene's as today. The season of belligerence exited control. The war became Mediterranean wide.
VDH delivers a riveting telling chaptered with 'political blocs and alliances', “Navy”, “Hoplites”, "Horses", “Walls”, "Siege", “Terror”. You can see why the Hoplite fight was made obsolete. We see the Athenian-style democracy defeated by the oligarchs only after they are forced to team with the hated Persians. The Hellene cities had no walls before but all that changed.
The final lesson for the student is that within the next generation of the 30 year war, Sparta would be destroyed forever by an ally and the Hellenes reduced to the chattel of other empires.
5-star must read.
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But how did this come about? Why did Greek peoples fight among themselves for almost 3 decades, liquidating their fighting men and gaining little? What possessed their leaders to risk so much, drag this conflict out for so long, sending wave after wave of its sailors and hoplites to their death?
To help us get a grasp on a war that happened so long ago, Hanson discusses both sides and their shifting allies under blocks of topics such as Fear, Fire, Walls, Terror, Ships, Horses, Disease, etc. It is a brilliant approach and one that grabs our interest.
Athens reached its Golden Age during the early part of the conflict: philosophy, democracy, science, architecture, literature; all at its glorious peak. Pericles, the brilliant leader of Athens under whom this culture flourished, pushed his control of the Aegean to the limit, and as a result inflicted a horrible plague on his walled city due to a siege which took his own life. Leaders after him carried on until the state lost the war to the Spartans under the final marine battles of Admiral Lysander.
And yet, the sad irony is that Sparta the victor faded away and the defeated Athens came out of the ashes of the war as the defacto influential Hellenic culture which spread wide and far beyond the Aegean for a thousand years, even enduring under the Roman Empire. We stand in awe at what the ancient Greeks accomplished and if we wonder what this landmark war really accomplished, and what people learned, we only have to look around ourselves today to witness the present conflicts ragging around the globe.