Athens: A History - From Ancient Ideal to Modern City by Robin Waterfield - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

An Urban Adventure

Athens: A History - From Ancient Ideal to Modern City


Macmillan 411pp £25 order from our bookshop

THE GOLDEN AGE of classical Athens, as Robin Waterfield defines it, lasted about 140 years, from the defeat of the Persians in 480 BC to the emergence of King Philip of Macedon, who was to bring the free city-states of Greece under Macedonian control from about 340 BC. Giants walked in Athens during this period: historians like Thucydides and Herodotus; tragedians like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; thinkers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; comedians like Aristophanes; politicians like Pericles. Direct democracy flowered and Athens' maritime empire flourished, producing the wealth that enabled it to build great edifices such as the Parthenon. But the disastrous war against Sparta (431-404 BC) virtually did for it, and incessant inter-state quarrelling, and eventually Philip, finished it off. From then on, Athens would never be 'great' again - or only in the sense that it had once had a great past.

Waterfield's principal aim in this book is to do justice to this astonishing period of human history by highlighting both the events and the individuals that made Athens what it was. 'Personality' history is rather frowned on these days, but personalities are essential for a popular history to hold the

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