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The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (The…

The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (The Princeton History of the… (2015)

by Josiah Ober

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Once upon a time scholars talked without embarrassment about the ‘Greek miracle’. Then post-colonialism and the critique of Eurocentrism from the 1970s onwards forced scholars to rethink the Greek peculiarity and how to explain it. The dominance of Finley’s views on a static ‘ancient economy’, in which nothing changed for over a millennium, long discouraged scholars from seeking economic explanations of the ‘Greek miracle’.

Ober’s new book argues that the classical period should be seen as a major economic and cultural efflorescence: classical Greece housed the largest and wealthiest Greek population of any period before the twentieth century. Classical Greece was characterised by an ecology of hundreds of city-states and the absence of centralised mechanisms (monarchies, bureaucracies, temples) for organising and directing economic, political and cultural activities: any explanation of the Greek efflorescence must start from this peculiar environment. Finally, we should use our explanations in order to rewrite narratives of Greek history from novel perspectives and abandon older accounts focused on traditionalist histoire événementielle. This is a laudable agenda, and it should have made a wonderful book; unfortunately, in my view Ober’s book fails on all counts: theory, argumentation and execution. I shall provide a brief overview of contents, before discussing its various problems.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 069114091X, Hardcover)

Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth. Classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years.

Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period--and why only then? And how, after "the Greek miracle" had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall.

Ober argues that Greece's rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory enabled by the Macedonians' appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander's death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans--and to us.

A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die.

This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit: http://polis.stanford.edu/.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:01 -0400)

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