Monday, March 15, 2021

Review: Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian WarPeloponnesian War by Kenneth W. Harl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thorough history of the causes, proceedings, and effects of the Peloponnesian war. The lecturer, Harl, does a wonderful job of presenting the material. I admit I lost the thread with dates, names, and battle details, but the thrust of the discussion is great.

Following Thucydides’ famous history, but adding to it from other historical accounts and other sources, Harl presents an analysis of the various causes of the war. He makes great effort not to demonize the Spartans or unilaterally praise the Athenians. Exploring the roots of the war, Harl discusses the many motivations, circumstances, and relationships that led to the war. He also doesn’t just focus on Sparta and Athens; he looks at the other players, like Corinth, Thebes, and Persia.

The last few lectures focus on how the war changed the Greek city-states and what its legacy is.
The Peloponnesian War ends up seeming to be extraordinarily tragic. All wars are, of course, but this war (or rather serious of wars) seemed in many ways unnecessary: there were many opportunities for it to be avoid or ended, and it seems ultimately not to really have mattered.

Though history always has a way of seeming inevitable, Philip and the Macedonian empire was almost surely going to sweep through Greece anyway. Though maybe if the city-states had not been so busy fighting themselves for so long, they could have put up a better fight and resisted. One of the interesting conclusions Harl draws is that the war showed the limitations of the city-state and spelled its demise. If that is true, then the Macedonians and later the Romans were likely going to conquer Greece anyway. Though one wonders, had the Spartans and Athenians be able to work together more, they might have created a regional power that could have resisted both the Macedonians and the Romans.

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