Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

The grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own time. In Thucydides, Donald Kagan, one of our foremost classics scholars, illuminates the great historian and his work both by examining him in the context of his time and by considering him as a revisionist historian.

Thucydides took a spectacular leap into modernity by refusing to seek explanations for human behavior in the will of the gods, or even in the will of individuals, looking instead at the behavior of men in society. In this context, Kagan explains how The Peloponnesian War differs significantly from other accounts offered by Thucydides' contemporaries and stands as the first modern work of political history, dramatically influencing the manner in which history has been conceptualized ever since.

About the Author

Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, is an authority on ancient Greek history and culture and a scholar of diplomatic history. He is the author of many books on ancient and military history and the coeditor of two bestselling textbooks on world history and Western civilization.

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

Machiavelli praised his military genius. European royalty sought out his secret elixir against poison. His life inspired Mozart's first opera, while for centuries poets and playwrights recited bloody, romantic tales of his victories, defeats, intrigues, concubines, and mysterious death. But until now no modern historian has recounted the full story of Mithradates, the ruthless king and visionary rebel who challenged the power of Rome in the first century BC. In this richly illustrated book--the first biography of Mithradates in fifty years--Adrienne Mayor combines a storyteller's gifts with the most recent archaeological and scientific discoveries to tell the tale of Mithradates as it has never been told before.

The Poison King describes a life brimming with spectacle and excitement. Claiming Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia as ancestors, Mithradates inherited a wealthy Black Sea kingdom at age fourteen after his mother poisoned his father. He fled into exile and returned in triumph to become a ruler of superb intelligence and fierce ambition. Hailed as a savior by his followers and feared as a second Hannibal by his enemies, he envisioned a grand Eastern empire to rival Rome. After massacring eighty thousand Roman citizens in 88 BC, he seized Greece and modern-day Turkey. Fighting some of the most spectacular battles in ancient history, he dragged Rome into a long round of wars and threatened to invade Italy itself. His uncanny ability to elude capture and surge back after devastating losses unnerved the Romans, while his mastery of poisons allowed him to foil assassination attempts and eliminate rivals.

The Poison King is a gripping account of one of Rome's most relentless but least understood foes.

The Gothic War

A period of stability in the early sixth century AD gave the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian an opportunity to recapture parts of the Western Empire that had been lost to invading barbarians in the preceding centuries. It was an ambitious plan to attack such a vast territory with relatively few soldiers and resources. Yet Justinian's army succeeded in checking the Persians in the East and in retaking North Africa from the Vandals and Italy from the Ostrogoths, the strongest and most organized Barbarian tribe in the West. The climactic conflict over Italy between 535 and 554--the Gothic War--decided the political future of Europe, holding in its balance the possibility that the Roman Empire might rise again. While large portions of the original territory of the ancient Roman Empire were recaptured, the Eastern Empire was both unwilling and incapable of retaining much of its hard-won advances, and soon the empire once again retracted. As a result of the Gothic War, Italy was invaded by the Lombards, who began their important kingdom, the Franks began transforming Gaul into France, and without any major force remaining in North Africa, that territory was quickly overrun by the first wave of Muslim expansion in the ensuing century.

Written as a general overview of this critical period, The Gothic War opens with a history of the conflict with Persia and the great Roman general Belisarius's successful conquest of the Vandals in North Africa. After an account of the Ostrogothic tribe and their history, the campaigns of the long war for Italy are described in detail, including the three sieges of Rome, which turned the great city from a bustling metropolis into a desolate ruin. In addition to Belisarius, the Gothic War featured many of history's most colorful antagonists, including Rome's Narses the Eunuch, and the Goths' ruthless and brilliant tactician, Totila. Two appendices provide information about the armies of the Romans and Ostrogoths, including their organization, weapons, and tactics, all of which changed over the course of the war.

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

Prizewinning historian Chris Wickham defies the conventional view of the Dark Ages in European history with a work of remarkable scope and rigorous yet accessible scholarship. Drawing on a wealth of new material and featuring a thoughtful synthesis of historical and archaeological approaches, Wickham argues that these centuries were critical in the formulation of European identity. Far from being a middle period between more significant epochs, this age has much to tell us in its own right about the progress of culture and the development of political thought.

Sweeping in its breadth, Wickham's incisive history focuses on a world still profoundly shaped by Rome, which encompassed the remarkable Byzantine, Carolingian, and Ottonian empires, and peoples ranging from Goths, Franks, and Vandals to Arabs, Anglo- Saxons, and Vikings. Digging deep into each culture, Wickham constructs a vivid portrait of a vast and varied world stretching from Ireland to Constantinople, the Baltic to the Mediterranean. The Inheritance of Rome brilliantly presents a fresh understanding of the crucible in which Europe would ultimately be created.

About the Author

Chris Wickham is Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. His book Framing the Middle Ages won the Wolfson Prize, the Deutscher Memorial Prize, and the James Henry Breasted Prize of the American Historical Association.

The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome

A bold new account of Attila the Hun as empire builder and political threat to Rome.
Conjuring up images of savagery and ferocity, Attila the Hun has become a byword for barbarianism. But, as the Romans of the fifth century knew, Attila did more than just terrorize villages on the edge of an empire.

Drawing on original texts, this riveting narrative follows Attila and the Huns from the steppes of Kazakhstan to the opulent city of Constantinople and the Great Hungarian Plain, uncovering an unlikely marriage proposal, a long-standing relationship with a treacherously ambitious Roman general, and a thwarted Roman assassination plot. Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome reframes the warrior king as a political strategist, capturing the story of how a small, but dedicated, opponent dealt a seemingly invincible empire defeats from which it would never recover.

3 maps; 40 illustrations.

428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire

This is a sweeping tour of the Mediterranean world from the Atlantic to Persia during the last half-century of the Roman Empire. By focusing on a single year not overshadowed by an epochal event,428 AD provides a truly fresh look at a civilization in the midst of enormous change--as Christianity takes hold in rural areas across the empire, as western Roman provinces fall away from those in the Byzantine east, and as power shifts from Rome to Constantinople. Retracing the kind of route a contemporary gazetteer might have taken, Giusto Traina describes the empire's people, places, and events in all their simultaneous richness and variety. The result is an original snapshot of a fraying Roman world on the edge of the medieval era.

Readers meet many important figures, including the Roman general Flavius Dionysius as he encounters a delegation from Persia after the Sassanids annex Armenia; the Christian ascetic Simeon Stylites as he stands and preaches atop his column near Antioch; the eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II as he prepares to commission his legal code; and Genseric as he is elected king of the Vandals and begins to turn his people into a formidable power. We are also introduced to Pulcheria, the powerful sister of Theodosius, and Galla Placidia, the queen mother of the western empire, as well as Augustine, Pope Celestine I, and nine-year-old Roman emperor Valentinian III.

Full of telling details, 428 AD illustrates the uneven march of history. As the west unravels, the east remains intact. As Christianity spreads, pagan ideas and schools persist. And, despite the presence of the forces that will eventually tear the classical world apart, Rome remains at the center, exerting a powerful unifying force over disparate peoples stretched across the Mediterranean.

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

I see John Hale has published a book about the naval power of ancient Greece. John has also lectured on ancient Greece and Rome for The Teaching Company and I found his lectures absolutely engrossing! I thoroughly enjoyed Greece and Rome: An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean as well as Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome.

The navy created by the people of Athens in ancient Greece was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world and the model for all other national navies to come. The Athenian navy built a civilization, empowered the world's first democracy, and led a band of ordinary citizens on a voyage of discovery that altered the course of history. Its defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis in 480 BCE launched the Athenian Golden Age and preserved Greek freedom and culture for centuries. With Lords of the Sea, renowned archaeologist John Hale presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the indomitable ships, and the men-from extraordinary leaders to seductive rogues-who established Athens's supremacy. With a scholar's insight and a storyteller's flair, Hale takes us on an illustrated tour of the heroes and their turbulent careers and far-flung expeditions and brings back to light a forgotten maritime empire and its majestic legacy.

About the Author

John R. Hale studied at Yale and Cambridge before embarking on an archaeological career that includes extensive underwater searches for ancient warships. He has written for Antiquity, Journal of Roman Archaeology, and Scientific American and has been profiled by NPR and The New York Times. He has also been featured in documentaries broadcast by The Discovery Channel and The History Channel. He is currently the director of liberal studies at the University of Louisville.

Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome

Acclaimed author Anthony Everitt, whose Augustus was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “a narrative of sustained drama and skillful analysis,” is the rare writer whose work both informs and enthralls. In Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome–the first major account of the emperor in nearly a century–Everitt presents a compelling, richly researched biography of the man whom he calls arguably “the most successful of Rome’s rulers.”

Born in A.D. 76, Hadrian lived through and ruled during a tempestuous era, a time when the Colosseum was opened to the public and Pompeii was buried under a mountain of lava and ash. Everitt vividly recounts Hadrian’s thrilling life, in which the emperor brings a century of disorder and costly warfare to a peaceful conclusion while demonstrating how a monarchy can be compatible with good governance. Hadrian was brave and astute–despite his sometimes prickly demeanor–as well as an accomplished huntsman, poet, and student of philosophy.

What distinguished Hadrian’s rule, according to Everitt, were two insights that inevitably ensured the empire’s long and prosperous future: He ended Rome’s territorial expansion, which had become strategically and economically untenable, by fortifying her boundaries (the many famed Walls of Hadrian), and he effectively “Hellenized” Rome by anointing Athens the empire’s cultural center, thereby making Greek learning and art vastly more prominent in Roman life.

With unprecedented detail, Everitt illuminates Hadrian’s private life, including his marriage to Sabina–a loveless, frequently unhappy bond that bore no heirs–and his enduring yet doomed relationship with the true love of his life, Antinous, a beautiful young Bithynian man. Everitt also covers Hadrian’s war against the Jews, which planted the seeds of present-day discord in the Middle East.

Despite his tremendous legacy–including a virtual “marble biography” of still-standing structures–Hadrian is considered one of Rome’s more enigmatic emperors. But making splendid use of recently discovered archaeological materials and his own exhaustive research, Everitt sheds new light on one of the most important figures of the ancient world.

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization

In AD 476 the Roman Empire fell–or rather, its western half did. Its eastern half, which would come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, would endure and often flourish for another eleven centuries. Though its capital would move to Constantinople, its citizens referred to themselves as Roman for the entire duration of the empire’s existence. Indeed, so did its neighbors, allies, and enemies: When the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453, he took the title Caesar of Rome, placing himself in a direct line that led back to Augustus.

For far too many otherwise historically savvy people today, the story of the Byzantine civilization is something of a void. Yet for more than a millennium, Byzantium reigned as the glittering seat of Christian civilization. When Europe fell into the Dark Ages, Byzantium held fast against Muslim expansion, keeping Christianity alive. When literacy all but vanished in the West, Byzantium made primary education available to both sexes. Students debated the merits of Plato and Aristotle and commonly committed the entirety of Homer’s Iliad to memory. Streams of wealth flowed into Constantinople, making possible unprecedented wonders of art and architecture, from fabulous jeweled mosaics and other iconography to the great church known as the Hagia Sophia that was a vision of heaven on earth. The dome of the Great Palace stood nearly two hundred feet high and stretched over four acres, and the city’s population was more than twenty times that of London’s.

From Constantine, who founded his eponymous city in the year 330, to Constantine XI, who valiantly fought the empire’s final battle more than a thousand years later, the emperors who ruled Byzantium enacted a saga of political intrigue and conquest as astonishing as anything in recorded history. Lost to the West is replete with stories of assassination, mass mutilation and execution, sexual scheming, ruthless grasping for power, and clashing armies that soaked battlefields with the blood of slain warriors numbering in the tens of thousands.

Still, it was Byzantium that preserved for us today the great gifts of the classical world. Of the 55,000 ancient Greek texts in existence today, some 40,000 were transmitted to us by Byzantine scribes. And it was the Byzantine Empire that shielded Western Europe from invasion until it was ready to take its own place at the center of the world stage. Filled with unforgettable stories of emperors, generals, and religious patriarchs, as well as fascinating glimpses into the life of the ordinary citizen, Lost to the West reveals how much we owe to this empire that was the equal of any in its achievements, appetites, and enduring legacy.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire

Edward Luttwak presents the grand strategy of the eastern Roman empire we know as Byzantine, which lasted more than twice as long as the more familiar western Roman empire, eight hundred years by the shortest definition. This extraordinary endurance is all the more remarkable because the Byzantine empire was favored neither by geography nor by military preponderance. Yet it was the western empire that dissolved during the fifth century. The Byzantine empire so greatly outlasted its western counterpart because its rulers were able to adapt strategically to diminished circumstances, by devising new ways of coping with successive enemies. It relied less on military strength and more on persuasion—to recruit allies, dissuade threatening neighbors, and manipulate potential enemies into attacking one another instead. Even when the Byzantines fought—which they often did with great skill—they were less inclined to destroy their enemies than to contain them, for they were aware that today’s enemies could be tomorrow’s allies. Born in the fifth century when the formidable threat of Attila’s Huns were deflected with a minimum of force, Byzantine strategy continued to be refined over the centuries, incidentally leaving for us several fascinating guidebooks to statecraft and war.

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire is a broad, interpretive account of Byzantine strategy, intelligence, and diplomacy over the course of eight centuries that will appeal to scholars, classicists, military history buffs, and professional soldiers.