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Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome is a comprehensive and enthralling introduction to Ancient civilization.The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome dominated the world for centuries and continue to intrigue and enlighten us with their inventions, whether philosophy, politics, theatre, athletics, celebrity, science or the pleasureRobin Lane Fox's The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome is a comprehensive and enthralling introduction to Ancient civilization.The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome dominated the world for centuries and continue to intrigue and enlighten us with their inventions, whether philosophy, politics, theatre, athletics, celebrity, science or the pleasures of horse racing. Robin Lane Fox's spellbinding history, spans almost a thousand years of change from the foundation of the world's first democracy in Athens to the Roman Republic and the Empire under Hadrian.Bringing great figures such as Homer, Socrates, Cicero, Alexander, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Augustus and the first Christian martyrs to life, exploring freedom, justice and luxury, this wonderfully exciting tour brings the turbulent histories of Greece and Rome together in a masterly study.'Epic in the true sense'  The Times Books of the Year'He writes supremely well ... a keen eye for the telling detail and powerful example ... the humanity of the exercise shines through ... compulsory, and compulsive, reading'   Peter Jones, Sunday TelegraphRobin Lane Fox is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and a University Reader in Ancient History. His other books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians and The Unauthorized Version. He was historical advisor to Oliver Stone on the making of Stone's film Alexander, for which he waived all his fees on condition that he could take part in the cavalry charge against elephants which Stone staged in the Moroccan desert....

Title : Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome
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ISBN : 9780141021416
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 704 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome Reviews

  • Ray
    2018-09-23 22:08

    This book sets itself a massive task, telling almost a thousand years of Greek and Roman history in a few hundred pages. It is an enjoyable read, and I gained new insights into a fascinating era.The book is as much a political and cultural history as it is a series of dates and events or the doings of great men. I found this extremely interesting, and it chimed well with the broad sweep of the narrative.One other thing I really liked was the authors clarity on the limits of what is knowable, where he says "in my view" or "we cannot know"A good read

  • umberto
    2018-10-04 22:06

    I think this book should interest some readers who need an overview on Rome and Greece in the Classical World. At first sight, it may intimidate some reluctant ones since we need time to cover its 606 pages, 55 Chapters from 'Hadrian and the Classical World' (Prologue) to 'Hadrian: a Retrospective' (Epilogue) encapsulated by Parts One-Six. However, its first advantage is that each Chapter's not too long; I think the author's planned well and kept this in mind or else they may be too tedious for his readers who want to know the Classical World in general.The second one is concerned with its ample black-and-white as well as colour illustrations in which we can better understand while reading his narrative. Some are quite rare and we can't help admiring each caption because it gives us more light on such an unimaginable 'World' some 2,000 years ago.The last one deals with the way he's started and ended by the Emperor Hadrian. One of the reasons is that, I think, the author as an English writer would like to present the Emperor since, presumably, The Hadrian's Wall's long been famous since the Roman invasion in Britain and the Wall built by the Emperor to defend other tribes who might attack the Empire there. Therefore, we're grateful for his style that allows us to know the Emperor and his deeds more rather than just the Wall.

  • Kotinka
    2018-10-09 01:46

    Clearly written by an academic, but intended for the popular history market, this book was worth the reading but still a disappointment - on a number of levels.The format is largely chronological, running from circa. 800 BC through to 140 AD, with the occasional themed chapters on cultural, military and economic histories of the peoples of the Classical age. The style of writing varies from dense and tiring (especially in the first half) to beautifully fluent, with not much consistency from chapter to chapter.The author's passion clearly lies with the Greeks ahead of the Romans, and yet the "Greek" half of the book is certainly the weaker. His deeper interest in that period actually leads him into too much detail and too little of the big picture history I was hoping to read of - for example, he has a habit of commenting on minor historiographical debates largely irrelevant to the lay reader. The second, "Roman", half reads overall far better; the chapter on the cultural influence of the Romans on life in Britain and Gaul, for example, left me thirsting to find out more, and the chapters on the last years of the Roman Republic give Tom Holland's 'Rubicon' a run for its money. My question would be why he decided to write one book here and not two - it's not that the influence of Greek life on the Romans is ignored, but it does feel much like two separate, largely unrelated stories stuck together. It would have made sense to at last include a chapter on where Greek influence can and cannot be seen within the Roman world.Other personal niggles include the overuse of brackets and too frequent sharing of his personal views (in my opinion)- a misplaced tirade against the Chelsea Flower Show being one of them! Having said all of that, it really was a "worth it", if quite dense, hop, skip-and-a-slog through the main events and players of the Classical world. If there isn't already a better popular overview, though, there is certainly still space in the market for one!

  • Sarah
    2018-10-06 00:02

    Probably I should give it two stars - the section on Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic kings is really fascinating - but by the time I got to the end, it felt like it had been such a dull, frustrating slog. I think the fundamental problem is that Lane Fox hasn't really thought about his audience; the book appears to be a bunch of chronological essays charting how attitudes towards and the practice of freedom, luxury and justice developed in the Greek and Roman worlds, but it gives too much factual background for classicists and too little for laypeople. As someone with a patchy knowledge of the Romans and even less of the Greeks, I was somewhat confused a lot of the time; e.g. what was the result of the helots' revolt against the Spartans? how did the introduction of democracy benefit Cleisthenes? I get the impression he's used to bouncing off incredibly bright tutees and guiding them towards thinking for themselves rather than telling them the answer, but obviously in a book you can't have that dialogue and need to be far more direct.Plus I couldn't get on with his attitude towards the Romans; he clearly knows a great deal about them, but I felt like there was a lack of empathy, an inability or unwillingness to get under their skin and look out from their eyes. It's most obviously there when he talks about their attitude towards luxury; whether it's true or not that luxury is enervating and will lead to being conquered, their belief that it did should be taken seriously. (it's also peculiar that luxury as a source of glory - cf. Lucullus's attempts to outdo others - isn't mentioned.) And he mentions their horror of kings several times, but doesn't seem to see that that was why the senators feared populism and feared those who could command the support of the people. Again, whether or not demagoguery is actually real and the Roman people could in fact be easily swayed, the belief should be approached on its own terms.Lane Fox is clearly a passionate liberal, who believes strongly in the freedom of the people, but his beliefs seem to get in the way of his writing. It feels a bit like reading one of those bad historical novels where the characters are 21st-century Westerners in fancy clothes, because the writer can't conceive that any good and decent person could possibly think otherwise from the way we do now. While I'm not saying that he shouldn't condemn blood sports and point out how Roman democracy wasn't perfect, I feel like that constant criticism of their imperfect freedom and justice keeps him from understanding why the Romans were as they were (because they might have been messed-up, but it was a very specific and coherent kind of messed-up) and why there's so much tragic irony in the transition from Republic to Empire. Instead there's just a continual undertone of "not as good as Athenian democracy, so not worth anything".The absolute nadir was when he referred to Emperor Claudius as a "cruel and susceptible spastic". There's no justification for using that word, anywhere, ever.Ultimately I came away from this book realising just how incredibly good Tom Holland is, to be able to convey large amounts of information in a clear and vivid style, and to be able to truly get the Romans and understand how their society and mentality worked, without being blind to how horrific they could be. He's writing a book about Augustan Rome at the moment, and I'm sure everything he has to say about the Empire will be far livelier and more insightful than this.

  • Maitrey
    2018-09-26 22:59

    Robin Lane Fox's monumental Classical World was a tour de force of a book spanning the worlds of Greece and Rome right from the time of the epic poet Homer (7th(?) - 8th(?) Century BCE) to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (1st - 2nd Century CE).Robin Lane-Fox is a professor of Classical History at Oxford University, and is eminently suited to handle such a massive task he has taken on.Lane-Fox makes it immediately clear why he picked the two giants as bookends very early in the book. Both characters suit very well into the overall theme of the book which explores the Classical World in the light of "Luxury, Liberty and Justice". It might be a little abstract, and it might take a few re-readings by me to make it absolutely clear what Lane-Fox was going for. But that doesn't reduce the enjoyability of the book one bit, as the reader comes to get a good understanding of the world which has influenced Western thought to such an extent.Lane-Fox's political view is very clearly championed throughout the book. He's very pro-Athenian especially for its representative democracy and slightly anti-Roman and makes it abundantly clear that Rome's slide into authoritarianism was very deplorable.The book's narrative structure is fairly chronological and eschews a blow-by-blow detail of kings, battles and other standard narratives although these are by no means ignored. We get great little chapters on 6th Century BCE technologies and taxes and another on how Alexander's Hellenestic successors viewed the massive "New World" they had opened up thanks to Conqueror's escapades all across West Asia. But these are few and far between. This book is not a social history that gives a voice to the slaves and women (although Fox is critical of the slavery and patriarchy). It clearly follows the doings of what could be called the elites of the time, whether it is the upper class citizens in Athens, or the Senators in Rome (Hellenistic Kings are more or less ignored as they didn't much directly impact the two core regions of interest: Greece and Rome. Even Macedon after the death of Alexander is ignored).While I couldn't much support Lane-Fox's political philosophy of blind Athenian worship (I came into this book having read excellent, balanced works on both Carthage and Sparta, two cities which receive too much negative flack, when not ignored in this book); I can understand and appreciate how Lane-Fox arrived at them. He pops into Athens every now and then throughout the book, even after their empire has collapsed. Some of the best writing appears here, dealing with Athenian culture and philosophy.The book spends a lot of time on the transition from Roman Republic to Empire, and while I did get a little bored with the politics of "Liberty" (which sounded a lot like whining after a while to me), I liked the argument that slide to autocracy might not have been inevitable as has been presented by many authors for two millennia at least. The emperor Hadrian ties up the narrative nicely as he toured his massive empire and gave especial interest to both Rome and Athens and also wrestled with themes such as liberty and license.Overall the book was a great stepping stone into the history of the Classical world, and I thought its narrow themes actually helped in confining the narrative and make it more compact and flowing. Although, for the same reasons, this book might not be for everyone.

  • Christopher
    2018-10-05 05:00

    Absolutely wonderful! Fox has written a superb book on the classical world from the time of Homer (c. 800 BC) to the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (c. 120-140 AD). Staying away from a purely story form of telling the history of this time, Fox mixes historical detail with some historical sociology of both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome within clearly defined time periods (ex. the differences between Archaic Greece, Classical Greece, and Hellenistic Greece). He does this by revolving around three main themes during these years: freedom, justice and luxury. At first, I was skeptical about this approach, having read a few dismal history books that attempted to do the same thing, but Fox pulls it off very nicely. And it is through these three themes that Fox makes us miss the classical world and want to be a part of it with all of its beauty and hypocrisy. Having said that, there are two complaints I have against the book. The first is that Fox doesn't extend his history far enough. He should have ended with the end of the Nervan-Antonine dynasty of emperors, which ended with the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commidous (from the movie "Gladiator" if you are not familiar with Imperial Roman history). From the end of that dynasty the classical world does begin to give way to those most unclassical groups: the barbarians and those "mad" Christians. The other complaint is the invective spirit against the Roman Empire under the emperors starting with Julius Caesar and never really ending, even after the death of the Emperor Nero. Yes, the lost their "freedom" to republican government is lamentable and some of the actions of the emperors are grotesque, but Fox conspicuously glosses over the problems the late Republic had caused, pinning most of the blame (typically) on Julius Caesar's, and then Octavian/Augustus', shoulders. This leaves out the fact that the empire might have collapsed under the bungling and overly competitive republican system had it not been reformed as heavily as it was under Julius and Augustus Caesar. Despite these setbacks, I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to any newcomers to the classical world.

  • David Sarkies
    2018-09-22 01:44

    Truly an epic history of the ancient world18 April 2010 While I might not agree with everything in this book (and a book on the Ancient World is going to deal with a lot of speculation based upon the evidence that we have) this is a good book that gives a great overview of Greece and Rome between Homer and Herodotus (one of the disagreements I have is that I believe the classical world came to an end with Augustus). There are two main themes running through this book and that is the question of liberty and luxury. It is interesting to note that the ancient people did not like tyranny (but then again, who does – other than the tyrant that is), and in fact, many Greek city states, Rome, and Carthage, were all ruled by councils and elections as opposed to hereditary monarchies. In fact, as we look at Athens and Rome, we see a period of oligarchy move to tyranny which is then overthrown to produce a democracy. However the flaws with democracy is that there is a pandering to populism which results in a return to tyranny. Churchill was right when he said 'he who neglects the past is doomed to repeat its mistakes'. The question of luxury, something that we should take a long hard look at in our day and age, raises the question of a civilisation becoming soft, and in becoming soft, opens itself to danger from without and within. In our days we not only take luxury foregranted, but we actually see it as our right to live a luxurious life. However in the last few years we have seen this desire for luxury result in an economic crisis as our lifestyle has been supported by debt, which in the end must be paid back, but because credit has been so easy to obtain it has resulted in bad loans and toxic mortgages which brought the banking system to its knees and we have not yet seen the effects of the resulting bail outs. He who neglects history certainly is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

  • Alex
    2018-09-20 00:53

    What I learned from this book is that huge overviews of time periods, no matter how well-written, cannot save themselves from sounding like lists of names and dates. I'm not going to read books like this anymore. I'll pick specific things from interesting times and focus in on them instead. Not your fault, Robin Lane Fox! Good effort!

  • Steven Peterson
    2018-09-22 23:00

    Robin Lane Fox has authored a sweeping history of what he calls "The Classical World," from Homer's Greece to Hadrian's Roman Empire. While a work of such scope means that there cannot be great depth in discussing any point in that era; on the other hand, it provides a bird's eye view of issues, themes, and change over time. The author himself notes that (page xv): "It is a challenge to be asked to write a history of some none hundred years, especially when the evidence is so scattered and diverse, but it is a challenge which I have enjoyed." Some definitional issues. Lane defines "The Classical World" as (page 1) ". . .the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, some forty lifetimes before our own but still able to challenge us by a humanity shared with ours." Fox ceases his narrative with the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Why? Lane says (page 2): ". . .'classical literature' ends in his reign. . . ." Even more important Page 2), ". . .is that Hadrian himself was the emperor with the most evident classicizing tastes." First, Fox focuses on three themes across this span of history--freedom, justice, and luxury. He believes that each of these--and the changes that occurred with time--can help explain the sweep of events. Second, he divides the time span into several eras, and treats each separately, although noting how the themes of freedom, justice, and luxury play out in each. "The Archaic Greek World" begins with Homer's Greece and concludes with the great Persian Wars. The next time period is what Fox refers to As "The Classical Greek World." This period runs from the rise of democratic Athens, the Peloponnesian War, Socrates, the rise of Philip of Macedon. The next phase is what he terms "Hellenistic Worlds," beginning with Alexander the Great's incredible success and the development of one of the world's largest empires. This frame runs until the final struggles between Carthage and Rome. Fox then moves on to a discussion of "The Roman Republic." Here, he considers the increase in luxury in Rome, the intrigues among Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar's death. He follows this with a discussion "From Republic to Empire." The chapters in this segment include the rise of Octavian (to Augustus), his conflicts with Mark Antony, the Civil War against the assassins of Caesar, and so on. The last portion of the book, "An Imperial World," traces the post-Augustan period, concluding with Hadrian's rule. Under Hadrian, according to Fox (page 571): ". . .the two worlds of this book, the classical Greek and the Roman, came closely together. Hadrian's love of Greek culture is evident in his patronage, his favours for Greek cities (especially Athens) and his personal romantic life." In a history as large as this, one sacrifices depth for breadth. It is interesting to note Fox's rather dismissive treatment of Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus, as compared with more sympathetic treatments of each in the recent biographies by Goldsworthy and Everitt. Also, Everitt's biography of Cicero provides greater depth on that key figure in the period of time when the Republic was moving toward Empire. All in all, this is a well written book and worth looking at by those interested in this slice of history.

  • Lauren Albert
    2018-09-19 21:56

    This was a four for the information but a three for the dryness. It dragged for me, taking almost three weeks to finish which is a long time with my reading speed. Copious information. But I didn't run back to it when I had a free minute....

  • Shyam
    2018-09-23 03:58

    The first book I read before I delved into Graeco-Roman history and serves as an excellent introduction to the latter, as well as being good for reference.

  • Eli
    2018-10-06 21:56

    This was a book that I have struggled to finish, having got about halfway through in my first attempt, before ignoring it for a while, and then finally deciding to restart from the beginning, which still took more of a dedicated effort to follow all the way through than many books would require for me. It is not very well-tied together, I find, and the author follows the chronology of the narrative through an indirect, thematic focus which emphasizes a particular theme along the series of events without applying this to the full timeframe. I have never encountered this approach before, and it seems to be a good mechanism for the compression of content for which an introductory overview such as this would benefit. I did not find that it made the work more interconnected or easier to follow, however. As one disparate fact or anecdote piled atop another in a growing accumulation of detail which was not enjoined by a clear unity or understanding from which the material is presented, it became increasingly difficult to follow. I am not a classicist (nor do I propose to be able to write a superior history by any means), but I do have some familiarity with the subject matter, and it frankly seems as though it was not approached with much care or effort. That said, this is an overview (and that of a vast subject, at that), and thus, I can cut it a good deal of slack as regards unity or clear presentation (for that would be even more difficult for a history of this sort, than one with a more narrow, defined subject). I do not expect perfection, or even excellence, as a standard, but even so, I was not impressed with the presentation. Perhaps, if I had a stronger prior-knowledge of the classical world, then my already-present understanding of it would aid in the comprehension of the text that really appears to be more of a commentary than a narrative, and even at that, a somewhat disorganized one.Despite all of this, as a commentary of sorts, my existing but fledgling knowledge of classical history was still strengthened, and there were a good number of times where I encountered new, interesting perspectives of its themes and content. In conclusion, a pleasant, insightful, yet clunky and sometimes frustrating popular history.

  • Erik Graff
    2018-10-01 03:56

    I'd read one of Fox's book previously. Therefore, seeing this title at the Park Ridge Library booksale, I picked it up with some confidence. Reviewing books on ancient history for a scholarly journal, but not being a classicist, I keep my hand in by regularly reading popular books on the subject.Robin Lane Fox is likely a very good teacher. His books are accessible, even fun, because he punctuates serious discussion with odd tidbits, the kinds of quirky facts which helped get me interested in history as a kid. These bits include a lot of that old standby, the sexual proclivities of the great, as well as his own personal obsession, gardening practices--he happens to be the gardening editor of the London Financial Times as well as a history professor.The scope of this book is Homer to Hadrian, ca. 800 BCE to 138 CE. The two primary canvases are Greece and Rome. The three major themes running throughout, a bit stretched at times, are freedom, justice and luxury. Fox does not conceal his own ethical and political beliefs: Athenian democracy is good. Roman autocracy is bad.My only complaints about Fox's work are relatively trivial. First, a chronological table and some more maps would have been helpful. The maps he uses are mostly, of all things, elevation maps with major cities and the occasional landmark and political or regional division noted. Second, although he's a good writer, the text could have used a better editor. Personalities pop in and out without backgrounding sufficient to the intended general reader and some sentences are quite clumsy. Overall, this is a good general introduction to the period and cultures covered. Although tendentious, Fox is generally explicit in noting when his opinions are extraordinary or controversial.

  • Andy
    2018-10-15 04:59

    I picked this up a couple of years ago but never quite found the right time to start. Perhaps the week my son came home from hospital wasn't the smartest, as the sleep deprivation and distractions made it tough to get through at times.I find this era of humanity interesting but have very little actual knowledge regarding the details. This book goes a fair way towards rectifying that. It's a tough one though - at times it's a little too detailed and specific, at others broadly sparse. I'm not sure whether it works as either a beginners primer or as an advanced refresher. The tone and content is quite varied. I found parts quite tedious and slow, especially much of the first half focusing on Greece. The Roman half picks up though, especially from Julius Caesar onwards. This may just be a reflection of the greater diversity of surviving information from these later years but regardless, it makes for more interesting reading. There are anecdotes and trivia galore along with more of a sociological approach threaded throughout. Sadly my Penguin Classic version is lacking the illustrations that are listed in detail in the back. It does have the maps though.Overall, it's generally well written but didn't quite do it for me as a historical overview.

  • Sonia
    2018-09-14 21:02

    En las reseñas que leí de este libro, lo presentaban como un tratado histórico del período clásico escrito de una forma divulgativa y novelada. Como entusiasta de la historia decidí leerlo, sin embargo el libro no se corresponde en absoluto con lo esperado.Si bien la narración y la escritura son fluidas y accesibles, el tratamiento de la historia es profundo. Define, acota, discute y compara cada ínfimo detalle relativo al período histórico a tratar. Esto lo convierte en un gran libro de historia para estudiosos o aquellos con un profundo interés en Grecia y Roma, pero totalmente infumable para los que como yo no tienen pensado escribir una tesis sobre el asunto sino que buscan un acercamiento serio pero a la vez accesible. El lector común se encontrará abrumado y un tanto perdido en esta profusión de detalles, fechas, conceptos y nunca alcanzará la visión global de la época o su fluir temporal.He de suponer que mi decepción es fruto del afán por vender ejemplares de la editorial española encargada de la publicación y no del autor que al fin y al cabo ha realizado una gran labor, de ahí que al menos deba concederle tres estrellas.

  • Dan
    2018-10-16 01:54

    a historical summary by an academic who knows his primary sources. he has his (understandable) favourites - pliny, hadrian. all fine, plenty of compressed erudition. almost nothing on less traditional approaches to classics, e.g. economic history. but my main problem was that, contrary to the excerpted reviews on the cover and to the title, i found the writing dull. it didn't bring to life what really was an epic time that did change the world and still greatly molds how we think and act.

  • Shannon
    2018-10-06 02:59

    this would be fine-- except for the almost complete lack of social history and the personality of Fox (misogynist, priggish, bizarrely prejudiced). Robin Lane Fox is of a species that we all assume extinct but somehow continues to flourish at Oxbridge-- the old reactionary, deeply annoying, self-absorbed fox hunting toff.

  • Julie Akeman
    2018-10-09 05:06

    Finally done!! That book has a lot of information but it is wonderfully organized and I feel ready to read some historical fiction that takes place during the Classical time period. One in particular I am thinking of is Hadrian's Wall. The Classical World is a pretty hefty read but so worth it when you want a broad scope of the Classical history.

  • Kelly
    2018-10-05 04:51

    Also just ordered from Amazon. Ancient world kick continues!

  • Steve
    2018-10-13 04:54

    Low 5. The author provides a wonderful, comprehensive, yet digestible, history of the classical worlds of Greece and Rome. No exact date exists to map the rise of the ‘polis’, or city state, which dominated the classical stage but Lane Fox believes this development took place between 950-700BC. Though no national country existed, these communities of warriors did share a common language and religious beliefs. Potential for domestic disorder over limited available land was offset by the opportunities offered in terms of overseas colonisation. Moreover, each mother-city was aware of the strategic importance of overseas settlements as conduits for trade and as opportunities to exploit mineral resources and staple foods, such as grain from the settlements around the Black Sea. Upon the decline of the Mycenaean kings, rule within the city-states fell to aristocrats as the major landholders and stakeholders. However, the rise of factions and divisive politics in the 7th century led to political dynasties and simmering political unrest. With increased threat from the social orders below, lawgivers emerged to restore social harmony, while ensuring continuity of aristocratic power. In the 620s, in response to a failed coup of a would-be tyrant with foreign backing, Draco published in writing quite repressive laws prevailing in Athens at the time - thereby unfairly being memorialised with the term ‘Draconian’. During another period of political unrest in 594 Solon, chief elected magistrate that year, recorded a list of legal precedents. To offset anarchy, he created a second council alongside the ruling Areopagus, and opened up positions to men of wealth as well as birth. He also abolished dues exacted from smaller landowners to secure noble protection, recognising the rise of the ‘hoplite’, or armed infantry, made the rule and protection of the knight-aristocrat obsolete. Solon ended the practice of creditors demanding debtor’s’ person as security for non-payment of loans, thereby ending bondage of one Athenian to another overnight. In contrast to Athenian progress towards greater democracy, Sparta retained kingship, though the religious and military duties were shared by two appointed regents. Political decisions were made by the kings in conjunction with a Council of Elders before being passed before the people as a gesture of goodwill. Though Spartan society was far from democratic, with far less accountability than in Athens, ancient commentators regarded it the far more stable alternative to tyranny and anarchy. Yet, Spartan involvement in Athenian politics in 508 helped establish the acceptance of the framework for greater democracy in their rival city. To maintain his faction in power Cleisthenes proposed changes to the constitution so that sovereign power lay with all male citizenry. Spartan involvement in an attempt to oust him, led to a revolt in which Spartan troops were besieged on the Acropolis. Though the subsequent adoption of Cleisthenes’ reforms did not equate to full democracy, ruling out slaves, residents from other cities, and women, they offered unparalleled freedom to male citizens of every rank. Included in this raft of changes were further proposals by Cleisthenes which would act as future safety-valves on internal dissent – rotating annual membership of the ruling council and ‘ostracism’. At the outset of the 6th century no mainland Greek would have heard of the Persians, a nomadic tribe. Yet, between the period 560-520 they overran the Near East, capturing Babylon, Sardis, and Susa, extending their rule as far as Memphis in Egypt. With their suzerainty over the Ionian cities, the Persian kings employed the political expedient of ruling through co-operative tyrants, leading to growing resentment and eventual open rebellion in 499. The Ionian Revolt received support from the Greek mainland and when crushed five years later, the Persians sought revenge in two waves, with the second reportedly involving 5 million men. Five landmark battles ensued: Marathon (490) the Athenians roundly defeating the first invasion; Thermopylae(480) where 300 Spartans bravely tried to hold the pass against 250,000 Persians; Salamis (480) the biggest naval encounter in ancient history with the Athenian and Carthaginian fleet victorious; Plataea (479) where the Spartan hoplite infantry proved themselves; and Mycale (479) in which a joint Athenian and Spartan fleet gained a final victory off the coast of Asia .Xerxes made tactical errors, principally having no plan to obstruct the grain supply route from the Black Sea. Another factor was the lack of homogeneity within the massed Persian ranks, in stark contrast to the order and efficiency of the hoplite ranks. Yet, the Greek combined victory would sow the seeds for a conflict which would derail both major powers. In 481 a ‘Hellenic Alliance’ was formed to counter the Persian threat, and in victory, this alliance now sought revenge on the Persians for their acts of sacrilege in Greece, while offering freedom to Ionian cities still under the Persian yoke. The freed cities faced an uncomfortable choice of adopting the strict oligarchy of Sparta, or the democratic ideals of Athens, and greater glory was being accrued by the latter. Furthermore, military failure led to internal dissent within Sparta - even Pausanias, hero of Plataea, being dismissed and put on trial. The Spartans’ fears that their own allies were being infected by Athenian concepts of freedom were exacerbated by the major revolt in 465 of their subject-population- the helots. Three years of struggle led to an appeal for Athenian support to quell the rebellion, and obvious distaste from Athenian volunteers for the task to their dismissal by the Spartans. Despite a treaty in 446 guaranteeing peace for 30 years, there was Spartan disgruntlement at clear Athenian benefits from the Alliance: the assured peace allowing time to construct fortified walls around the city; to safeguard the grain route from the Black Sea; and to accrue great reward from the tribute paid by the freed Ionian cities – especially after payments were sent directly to Athens for security reasons in the mid 450s. What started as a common fund to sustain the war effort quickly became mere tribute to Athens. However, tribute was ‘low’ and adjustable, while necessary to offset the Persian menace which still existed, and Athens never interfered in others’ politics unless specifically requested, offering residents of all allies access to legal appeal in Athenian courts. Years of ‘Cold War’ standoff ended when Corinth, scared by Athenian power and influence, threatened to withdraw from alliance with Sparta if no action resulted against Athens’ perceived territorial ambitions. It was expected in 431 that Sparta would obtain a quick decisive victory. Yet, by not possessing a fleet to contest Athenian dominance of the oceans, and poor tactics in siege warfare - Pericles refused to broker peace, retreating behind Athens’ defensive walls- Spartan weaknesses became all too apparent. The war dragged on for 20 years with only five notable skirmishes, but still devastated the landscape and led to plague behind Athens’ walls - accounting for Pericles. The final Spartan victory in 404 was largely due to Athens overstretching itself to support Sicilian allies, and internal dissent leading to a failed anti-democratic coup in 411. Moreover, given the exile and execution of most top commanders for political reasons, Athens lost a decisive sea battle to maintain control of the Hellespont and the essential grain route. The harsh terms of her surrender were having to breach her walls, surrender her fleet, and accept a Spartan-backed oligarchy, yet this must be contrasted with the wishes of Sparta’s allies, Corinth and Thebes, seeking the total destruction of the city. Sparta paid dearly for her victory, by ceding suzerainty of the Greek cities in Asia and Cyprus in the King’s Peace of 386 in return for Persian support to overcome Athens, but also due to inevitable resistance to her own supremacy. The death knell for Spartan power came with her worst ever defeat, at the hands of the Thebans at Leuctra in 371. This was quickly followed by a Theban invasion leading to the final removal of the Spartan yoke from their subject peoples and close neighbours. The endless battle for supremacy paved the way for the rise of Macedon under the brilliant leadership of Phillip. Macedon had been a loosely knitted series of separate kingdoms, regarded as barbarian by mainland Greeks. Indeed, the polygamous nature of Macedonian kingship resulted in innumerable contested successions - in the previous two centuries no Macedonian king had died peacefully in bed. Above all, Macedon desired acceptance within the Hellenic fraternity, and under Philip’s guidance over a 20-year period to 338BC antiquity’s most rapid example of power-building witnessed Macedonian rule stretch from the Danube to the southern tip of the Greek mainland. Having subsumed the barbarian kingdoms to the north, Philip drew on the subsequent extra manpower, and, as importantly, a higher quality cavalry with new breeding stock, and gold and silver deposits. The seal was set on Macedonian hegemony of the Greek-speaking world when Thebes invited its former hostage to intercede in a dispute with a neighbouring power in 357. Philip’s success throughout these years can largely be accredited to artful diplomacy allowing him to gradually extend Macedonian influence. Not until he faced a Theban-Athenian alliance did he reveal the extent of his military power, gaining a resounding victory at Chaeronea in 338. Upon his murder in 336 he was succeeded by his son Alexander, under whose reign Macedon and the Greek-speaking world would know no greater glory. Lane Fox states that the latter’s conquests were fundamentally due to the army and battle tactics he inherited from his father, together with plans for overcoming the Persian Empire at the head of a new Hellenic alliance. Yet, it was Alexander’s vision which sought triumph beyond Persian borders. Alexander proved a brilliant military strategist in his own right, evidencing great audacity and superhuman stamina. Conquering the Persian Empire within five years, he led his troops to the banks of the Ganges, where, afraid of rumours of a powerful kingdom ahead, they refused to march further. Retreating to Babylon, Alexander probably succumbed to malaria in 323 BC at the mere age of 32. The author explains that any rumours of a poisoning emerged from the inevitable disputed succession following his death, having left his Bactrian wife Roxane with an unborn son. The first to act was Ptolemy, Alexander’s life-long friend and appointed food taster and governor of Egypt. To found his own dynasty he seized Alexander’s corpse en route home to Macedonia – transferred later to Alexandria with the last recorded reference to the glass-lidded coffin in 215AD. In the long struggle for supremacy, Seleucus, Alexander’s former infantry commander, emerged as the victor in Asia, while control of Macedon fell to the Antigonids. Having expelled the monarchy in the 6th century, Rome was ruled by a republic - the king’s advisers surviving as a senate ruled over by two elected consuls. However, in 494 the plebs decamped to surrounding hillsides refusing military service until grievances were met. Consequently, ‘tribunes’ were created to represent the lower orders. Though the plebs met in assemblies where majority decisions became law, these could only be summoned by magistrates presiding over all business conducted, clearly containing any potential for undermining the ruling elite. Yet, the people elected magistrates, the Senate had no independent legislative powers, and the right to veto decisions allowed any tribune to adopt a populist stance for greater influence. During 360-280 Rome extended control across the Italian peninsula, welcoming outsiders and granting them full citizenship, thereby securing manpower to field armies far superior in number to either Athens or Sparta. In subduing Greek allies in the south, Rome would encounter the military greatness of Classical Greece in King Pyrrhus of Epicurus. The three defeats he inflicted on the Romans during the 270s were at such great cost, it led to the term a ‘Pyrrhic victory’. Yet, Roman involvement in Sicily brought them their most dangerous opponent – Carthage. The First Punic War, the longest continuous war in classical history, lasted from 264 to 241.The eventual defeat of the Carthaginians led to huge fines from Rome, the loss of Sicily and Sardinia, and a fight for survival against a revolt from their mercenary forces. In response, one Cathaginian family, the Barcids, decided to establish a separate power base in Spain. Roman encroachment across an agreed boundary between theirs and Carthaginian interests, the River Ebro, ignited the Second Punic War (218-202), and the revenge of the Barcid heir, Hannibal. This conflict strained Rome to its limits, devastated the Italian peninsula, and embellished the legendary prowess of the man who astonished Rome by crossing the Alps. In destroying 400 roman towns, he inflicted such great loss of life - 48,000 alone perished in Hannibal’s overwhelming victory at Cannae in 216. Yet, his failure to capitalise on this victory by marching on Rome resulted from his plan to demolish her power base by detaching her from her allied states in Italy rather than destroy her. The longer he waited such an eventuality the more certain became his final defeat. Moreover, from 214 new supplies became impossible as the Roman fleet controlled the coastline, while Fabius Maximus transformed defeat into victory, devastating the Italian countryside to further deplete Hannibal’s supplies. Finally, the tactical genius of Scipio led to Hannibal’s ultimate defeat on return to North Africa in 202. The ensuing decades saw Rome emerge as the only superpower in the Mediterranean, but further clashes with foreign powers resulted in dire consequences for the health of the Roman Republic. To meet one such menace in 88BC, traditionalists in the Senate voted military command to one of their own – Sulla. When overturned by populist tribunes in favour of the ‘people’s hero’ Gaius Marcus, maternal uncle to Caesar, Sulla’ marched on Rome and executed political rivals. Securing a feeble peace, and with Rome plunged in civil war, Sulla returned to victory at the very gates of Rome, establishing himself as dictator. Despite resigning in 80BC, his legacy would sow the seeds for the end of the Republic. Two prominent figures during Sulla’s dictatorship played a significant role in further undermining republican rule. Crassus had profited greatly and distinguished himself in crushing Spartacus’ rebellion in 72BC, while Pompey had served as Sulla’s ‘policeman’ in defeating all the latter’s enemies in Africa and Spain. Despite their personal animosity - fuelled by Pompey receiving the triumph of Spartacus’ defeat despite playing a minor sweeping-up role- they buried their differences in 70BC to share the consulship of Rome. Caesar, by contrast, fled Rome to avoid execution by Sulla, to serve in the east, and after taking revenge on Aegean pirates attempting to ransom him, began to carve a political career in Rome. A climactic moment in Roman politics arrived in 59BC with his election as consul and a secret ‘gentleman’s agreement’ reached with Crassus and Pompey, sealed with marriage between the latter and Caesar’s daughter. Caesar thus pushed through a populist programme helping secure him a power-base to sway support to obtain an influential foreign command in Gaul. Though the agreement was renewed in 55BC, it proved short-lived, firstly, due to the death of Crassus on campaign against the Parthians in a vain attempt to gain military glory previously denied him. The second setback was the death of Caesar’s daughter in childbirth, severing personal ties to Pompey. However, the major blow came in 52BC with the murder of Clodius, architect of the populist programme in Caesar’s absence. In the ensuing chaos, with the Capitol razed to the ground, the Senate appealed to Pompey, stationed outside Rome, to restore order. Caesar had avoided returning until possible re-election for political office, but with the clamour for his return for probable trial, and his main rival in control, he crossed the Rubicon in 49BC, effectively declaring civil war. Pompey underestimated the popular support for Caesar, abandoning Rome and fleeing south to the coast. Sailing to Greece he intended to raise foreign support while impeding the grain route to Rome. When Caesar arrived in pursuit in 48BC he should have been soundly defeated, but emerged victorious, while the hapless Pompey was murdered on arrival in the Nile Delta. The following years were marked by Caesar’s dalliance with Cleopatra in Egypt, his removal of pockets of republican resistance, and grants to lengthening periods of dictatorship until in 44BC he accepted one for life. In contrast to earlier populist leanings, his rule was characterised by attempts to curb free association, while removing any tribune whose actions displeased him. Signs of opposition mounting were there - Brutus had remarried the widowed daughter of his former mentor and staunch republican, Cato, who committed suicide in North Africa after defeat by Caesar. Moreover, dissent grew when arrangements creating a living cult of Caesar merged with rumours of a plan to assume the title of king. Consequently, in March 44BC Caesar was assassinated en route to a Senate meeting, and though only 5 or 6 conspirators participated in the deed, 60 were involved in the overall plot. Lane Fox proceeds to provide the tale of the Caesars in all their pomp and gory detail. An engrossing read.

  • Roman Clodia
    2018-09-30 21:55

    A standard 'history' of classical Greece and RomeThis is undeniably a good, light read, but in some ways it is out of touch with the actual research occupying classicists working academically in the field. Yes, I know that Lane Fox is a hugely respected Oxford academic, but all the same there is something very traditional and almost wistful about this simple reading of the history of Greece and Rome. This concentrates on 'events' rather than analysis, and given the huge scope of the book, treats them fairly simply and reductively (the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty, for example, is covered in one short chapter).I suppose the major problem for me is the dismissal of classical literary culture to the margins: Athenian tragedy for example has a paragraph, and even there Lane Fox regards it as being 'timeless' and completely divorced from the institutions of democracy. Not just does this assume a huge coincidence that tragedy appears and disappears precisely in the years coinciding with 5th century democracy in Athens (and nowhere else), it also evades the political discussions and negotiations that take place in the plays about the very ideology of democracy which make the plays so important.Similarly there is little discussion of Roman, especially Augustan literature, that engages so closely with the political transformation from Roman republic to principate.That aside, the end point was slightly odd, in that Lane Fox chooses to end with Hadrian, rather than continuing to the collapse of Rome, thus ending on a high note rather than following through to the, perhaps, more appropriate conclusion.If you know nothing about the classical world, then this is an excellent starting point but it's just the beginning...

  • Liz
    2018-10-09 22:03

    Well, I suppose I got what I asked for: a sprawling history of nearly 1000 years. I’m sure taking 14 pages of notes had something to do with it, but tackling this beast felt like a chore, especially when I was away from it. I relished the wild stories of depraved emperors, but lumbered through the subtle shifts of power and alterations of the legal system. Ultimately, I did get what I wanted: a better understanding of when and where famous Greek and Roman figures existed, how they related to one another, and what the political climate was like in their day. I now feel better equipped to read St. Augustine’s essays, Shakespeare’s historical plays, or even (eventually) Gibbons’ behemoth Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. However, Fox’s prose stumbled over itself pretty frequently. The flow of writing and the layout of the information left something to be desired. (The chapters themselves worked ok, but the chaos within each chapter was irritating.) Deficiencies are inevitable in such a Herculean task (pun intended) but I wish it could have been executed with clear and organized prose peppered with illuminating observations and clever turns of phrase.

  • Miguel LG
    2018-09-15 23:59

    El libro en general es de fácil lectura y, a pesar del reto que impone su extensión, logra mantener el interés a lo largo de todo su contenido. Me parece que fue un acierto del autor dividir el desarrollo en ensayos cortos enfocados a temas específicos; algunos de ellos magistralmente narrados. Sin embargo, también me parece que Lane tiende a dejar muchos cabos sueltos. Por otro lado, no sé qué tan adecuada sea esa práctica, común entre los historiadores, de establecer una tesis y desarrollar el libro en torno a ella. Es decir, me pregunto si, en este caso, en el afán de tratar de explicar los hechos en términos de tres conceptos (justicia, libertad y lujo) no se crea una visión distorsionada de la realidad. Independientemente de ello, creo que leer este libro, o uno como éste, debería ser una meta de todo aquél que aspire a acumular una cultura general razonablemente panorámica. Es hasta que se estudia esta época, que uno se da cuenta de la inmensa importancia que tiene el periodo clásico para entender el mundo actual.

  • Bonsai
    2018-09-24 00:59

    The title epic is well deserved, but...For my personal interest the Roman bit was a bit weak. It was interesting how he sorted the final years of the republic to Hadrian into a few topics. Unfortunately that leaves a lot of gaps what happened and why. The Greek part seems a lot denser and detailed. Considering that is the author's field not surprising. Plus I know less about that time so there's more new stuff in there for me. Rome was mostly seen in context to Greece. That's a bit myopic. But still a worthwhile book.

  • Cliff Ward
    2018-09-20 04:01

    Robin Lane Fox, what can I say! This book is outstanding. Fox walks us through from the ancient tales of Homer and the Battle for Troy right through the development of the Ancient Greek Civilization, through Macedonian spread of that culture right through most of Rome's significant history, right up to Hadrian.To some this would seem a dificult and someone dry subject base but Mr Fox is able to bring it to life as an exciting adventure. This book leaves me with a base knowledge but thirsting for more detail on almost every subject.

  • Praveen Kishore
    2018-10-16 03:02

    An interesting read, a narrative history on a large canvas, sweeping and insightful.

  • Alex
    2018-09-29 01:12

    Enjoyed this read; learned a lot; I don't necessarily agree with all the author's assertions but it's a good overview to a rather sizable swath of history!

  • Dave H
    2018-10-11 22:50

    This is an excellent overview to The Classical World, a period I admit to knowing very little about. Robin Lane Fox discusses the high politics and social history for hundreds of years of Greek and Roman history. The writing is generally compelling and, at times, quite humorous and the chapter's are nicely sized to digest a large amount of information. However, they are of varying quality/interest and I found some sections (such as on Pliny) to be a little dull. I also found the author's throw away comments about certain figures without qualification rather distracting in places. For examples he calls Lysander 'brutish' on two occasions without really elaborating why.

  • M. Milner
    2018-09-28 22:02

    Written right on the cover of Robin Lane Fox’s book about the history of Greece and Rome is the word epic. It’s there three times, actually. I guess that’s a word which has lost it’s power in recent years, but it used to apply to the ancient world a lot, particularly to long poems by Homer and Virgil.Neither of them really have a large role here in his book, but the sheer size and scope of Fox’s book sort of reminded me of them: he attempts to take a good 600-plus years of history, pretty eventful ones at that, and condense them down to 600 pages. He did a pretty good job, but it’s more of a casual history than something in-depth.Lane opens his history with the archaic Greece of Homer, Hesiod and the rise of city-states (nothing, sadly on the Mycenaean era) and wraps up with the emperor Hadrian. In between, he looks at the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, the rise of Rome and decline of Greek power, the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Ptolemaic dynasty. He particularly writes with authority on the Roman years, especially when the last years of the Republic and the start of the Roman Empire. It’s all well and good, but it’s the kind of thing any textbook could have.But where his book diverges is when it comes to literature and society, particularly in how they relate to the history he’s covering. For example, his look at the first years of the Roman Empire is filled with references to the letters of the Younger Pilny, who he says produced the closest thing to an autobiography that’s come down to us. And the last years of the Republic are filled with references to the writings of Cicero: letters, speeches and works of philosophy. He uses these works of literature to show how people – at least the upper class, anyway – thought and felt, how they had to act publically and expressed in private. It’s also interesting when he examines the roles of various forms of art, particularly portraits of people. What can the picture of a couple on a wall of a villa in Pompeii tell us about the people who lived there? What about the face of a boy painted on top of a mummy? There’s certainly some supposition, but Fox’s writing on what we know about these examples is fascinating stuff; I’ll admit to being a little haunted by the mummy portrait, too.At the same time, his look at literature also jumps around and overlooks some people. Poets like Virgil and Horace show up a often, but others like Ovid and Juvenal barely show up at all. Lucretius, whose poem On the Nature of Things is arguably one of the most important pieces of literature to come out of Rome, is relegated to a single line.But then again, he had only so much space to work with and condense into 600 pages. And there was a lot to cover. I’m reminded Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000 BC to Cleopatra, which tackled a similarly large, eventful era in a relatively small book. There was more ground covered there, but I think Fox did a similarly good job on this era. It’s readable, never gets bogged down in statistics or historical minutiae and should be pretty good for the general reader who’s interested in learning what happened so long ago and, more importantly, why we should know about it.

  • Ed
    2018-10-10 05:08

    Lane Fox's book is probably the best one volume history in English of the nine centuries centered on the Mediterranean that stretch from the "pre-classical classical" world of the blind poet to the satirist Juvenal when Rome ruled the world from Britain to the Red Sea. Knowing a bit of the Greeks--Homer (of course) lots of Plato, not much Aristotle; Thucydides but not Herodotus; Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides; some of Alexander's campaigns and much less of the Romans, based on mostly on spottily recalled high school Latin class translations of "The Conquest of Gaul", I was looking for a reference that covered or at least mentioned what little I knew and the great deal that I did not. Lane Fox traces Greco-Roman history through three themes that have long interested classicists: freedom, justice and luxury. For the Greeks the Romans were barbarians and it is difficult to argue with the view from first century BC Athens: Rome’s first emperors made it a point to restrict freedom and Augustus’ successors spent much of their time engaged in fratricide, incest, intrigue and conquest. Lane Fox makes some oddly anachronistic points when describing Athenian political life; while fourth century BC Athens is the earliest known functioning democracy, with the vote of citizens the ultimate and only stamp of sovereignty, he still makes the point that Athens was a slave owning society and that slaves, women and foreigners, however long resident, didn't have the vote. This situation in, for example, the United States of America 2400 years later wasn’t a great deal different. Actually Athens was more "democratic" and inclusive than the later republics since there was no class or property owning qualification for voting and citizenship. All adult males born of Athenian parents had the autonomy of the franchise no matter what the source and amount of his wealth. Equal votes for all male citizens and a popular rotating council and assembly with power to accept or reject proposals were unprecedented in the ancient world.A singular aspect of Attic civic life was ostracism by which a prominent citizen who threatened the stability of the state could be banished without bringing any charge against him. It was done very sparingly, openly and by popular vote--an annual meeting of all citizens would decide whether to hold a vote on ostracism that year. If so, any citizen entitled to vote in the assembly could write another citizen’s name down, and, when a sufficiently large number wrote the same name, the ostracized man had to leave Attica within 10 days and stay away for 10 years. He didn't lose ownership of his property (unlike the later Roman exile, which involved forfeiture of property and banishment for an indefinite period, essentially for life. Themistocles, conqueror of the Persian fleet at the key battle of Salamis, was one of the most notable Athenians ostracized when he was seen as too eager in creating even more open and responsible government based on the citizens' assembly. He spent his time away from Athens in the south--Spartan territory--to provoke political dissent among the allies of Sparta.