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The epic true story of Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis, and a rousing history of the world's first dominant navy and the towering empire it built. The Athenian Navy was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world. It engineered a civilization, empowered the world's first democracy, and led a band of ordinary citizens on a voyage of discovery that al The epic true story of Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis, and a rousing history of the world's first dominant navy and the towering empire it built. The Athenian Navy was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world. It engineered 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. With Lords of the Sea, renowned archaeologist John R. Hale presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the fearsome ships, and the men – from extraordinary leaders to seductive rogues – that established Athens's supremacy. With a scholar's insight and a storyteller's flair, Hale takes us on an unforgettable voyage with these heroes, their turbulent careers, and far-flung expeditions, bringing back to light a forgotten maritime empire and its majestic legacy.


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The epic true story of Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis, and a rousing history of the world's first dominant navy and the towering empire it built. The Athenian Navy was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world. It engineered a civilization, empowered the world's first democracy, and led a band of ordinary citizens on a voyage of discovery that al The epic true story of Themistocles and the Battle of Salamis, and a rousing history of the world's first dominant navy and the towering empire it built. The Athenian Navy was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world. It engineered 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. With Lords of the Sea, renowned archaeologist John R. Hale presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the fearsome ships, and the men – from extraordinary leaders to seductive rogues – that established Athens's supremacy. With a scholar's insight and a storyteller's flair, Hale takes us on an unforgettable voyage with these heroes, their turbulent careers, and far-flung expeditions, bringing back to light a forgotten maritime empire and its majestic legacy.

30 review for Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy & the Birth of Democracy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I think I would best calssify this book as light historical reading. Hale writes in a very accessible, if plain, manner drawing the reader into the story of the ancient Athenian navy by concentrating on the personalities of the age and how they impacted the Athenian fleet. Battles were described in a way that was both descriptive but not bogged down in minutia. Hale was not afraid to use maps to illustrate battles or political relations, something more history books ought to do and he provides a I think I would best calssify this book as light historical reading. Hale writes in a very accessible, if plain, manner drawing the reader into the story of the ancient Athenian navy by concentrating on the personalities of the age and how they impacted the Athenian fleet. Battles were described in a way that was both descriptive but not bogged down in minutia. Hale was not afraid to use maps to illustrate battles or political relations, something more history books ought to do and he provides a wonderful timeline and glossary in the back of the book. This book was certainly intended for those somewhat unfamiliar with the times and Hale makes every effort to ensure the reader doesn't get lost. The history of the Athenian navy itself was quite fascinating. Unlike an army, the development and maintenance of a fleet requires a large investment to initiate and high annual costs to maintain. Unlike an army where the individual soldiers can mostly provide their own gear for war, a navy requires a port infrastructure, skilled laborers to build and fix ships, the acquisition of a wide variety of materials, and hundreds of trained men to successfully and effectively operate just one trireme. This sort of effort requires a sustained political commitment both by the rulers of a state and its citizens. It costs a lot, but if you control the seas in the ancient world you have a lot of flexibility in both war and peace. It was fascinating to see how the Athenian democracy changed over the course of this book. At the beginning they were a pretty traditional Greek city state, albeit a smallish one with little to make it stand out from the rest. But with the investment of men and material in the navy they took on a new form. With the successful repelling of the Persians thanks to the "wooden wall" if Athenian ships they began to build a league of alliance with other Greek city states. This alliance eventually developed into a empire with Athens demanding tribute from their client states and trying to expand their influence as far as Egypt and the Black Sea. After finding so much success they became arrogant behind their walls and fleet, challenging the might of Sparta and her allies. Eventually, like a good Greek tragedy, their hubris brought them low as their advantage on the seas was degraded by smart Spartan leadership, Persian money, the plague, and too many years of losses. But even being brought low by the Spartans after the Peloponnesian War did not permanently cripple the Athenian democracy or navy. It took the might of the Macedonians to finally quench the torch that was Athenian democracy and naval supremacy. Hale does an excellent job showing how Greek politics influence the navy and how the navy enabled Athenian policy at home and abroad. Hale shows us the key personalities that drove these policies and explains why they acted the way they did. He also offers an excellent window into Athenian culture and life. While I knew the Greeks loved their plays, I was unaware of both their popularity and just how political they were. The Greeks were also extremely superstitious, to their own detriment on many occasions (stupid eclipses), and their beliefs informed their own policies and strategies. Also the Athenian democracy had some pretty ugly warts, be it allowing the rise of Trump-like demagogues or punishing unsuccessful military leaders with death or exile. I thought Hale very clearly laid out the strengths and weakness of Athens as well as why they eventually failed. I did think the book fell short in a few areas. Where Athenian victories got a decent explanation and description, their defeats mostly amounted to "and the Athenians were defeated in the subsequent naval battle". I also thought Hale came up short in tying the Athenian navy to Athenian democracy. It is certainly true that on several occasions they extended citizenship to any slave of freeman who was willing to row for the fleet, but the institution of democracy didn't seems a closely tied to the navy as the title might suggest. Still, it was a very engaging and informative read, great for people who want a good entry point into ancient Greece.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dimitri

    Why does this make the top 10 lists of books on naval strategy? Money are the sinews of war & Athens is a prime example of the logistical demands to keep up a fleet, while the financial demands of its maritime empire led to its demise. Its politics were too predatory, its strategy too irregular because of a leadership based on popularity in the hour of greatest need, but so unrewarding for most even victorious commanders that Persia's career opportunities triggered a brain drain. Between the bril Why does this make the top 10 lists of books on naval strategy? Money are the sinews of war & Athens is a prime example of the logistical demands to keep up a fleet, while the financial demands of its maritime empire led to its demise. Its politics were too predatory, its strategy too irregular because of a leadership based on popularity in the hour of greatest need, but so unrewarding for most even victorious commanders that Persia's career opportunities triggered a brain drain. Between the brilliant tactical exposition of naval battles and the crystal accompanying maps, there is, as befits classical Greece, room to linger and marvel at household names such as Pericles and Aristophanes, whose contributions to the Acropolis monuments and drama are often unlinked from the contemporary political trends they reflected. Democracy comes at a curious angle: while the show was still run by the elite, the manpower needs of the Piraeus squadrons invested "trireme democracy" in its rowers, a trend occasionally attacked by oligarchs. As for the overarching Persian and Peloponnesian War, Hale puts the details in "Xerxes fought a long way from home" and is a lot easier to digest than his mentor Donald Kagan on Syracuse and Sparta (it had a fleet too, who knew?)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    Hale's Lords of the Sea is the history of the Athenian navy. Pretty straightforward, so this will be a fairly short review. The book is extremely readable, and it wasn't necessary to drag my feet through tons of horribly academic language. It moves at a fairly good pace, and only uses 318 pages to cover hundreds of years of history, so there isn't a lot of pointless detail. However. Hale is very obviously in love with the Athenian navy and credits it with every single advancement Athens made. He c Hale's Lords of the Sea is the history of the Athenian navy. Pretty straightforward, so this will be a fairly short review. The book is extremely readable, and it wasn't necessary to drag my feet through tons of horribly academic language. It moves at a fairly good pace, and only uses 318 pages to cover hundreds of years of history, so there isn't a lot of pointless detail. However. Hale is very obviously in love with the Athenian navy and credits it with every single advancement Athens made. He credits the NAVY with the BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY even when Athens was a democracy BEFORE the navy! He also glorifies it to the point that he ends up glorifying war. A good chunk of the book takes place during the Pelopponesian War, and he makes it seem like a paddle around the pond for Athens, when in fact the the Athenians and Spartans spent most of the war torturing each other and dying in terrible ways. These are entirely glossed over or ignored in favor of relating the detailed plots of some of the plays that were written--and not all of those were about the sea or the navy. If you're going to include plays, Hale, you should probably have thought to include Lysistrata, the one about how the Pelopponesian War was so horrible and caused so many deaths that the women of Greece refused to have sex with their husbands until the men ended the war, because the women didn't want to lose anymore family members. (This was, by the way, fiction; no such sex strike ever took place, to my knowledge.) That seems a bit more important than a farmer flying to Olympus on a dung beetle. There also seems to be some extrapolation; Hale often puts words or thoughts into Greek mouths, or records actions that I very much doubt were recorded. Overall, a readable book, but Hale's love of the navy has obviously blinded him to other important aspects of Greek life, and this should be read with a heart dose of salt.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    First, get the slaves to dig up the silver at Laurium, then build a fleet, bully your neighbors and become a great democracy! (or, as my HIST 312 students know full well, maybe not).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roger Burk

    Hale has written an engaging history of the Athenian navy during its period of power, from when Themistocles convinced the Athenians to use a silver strike in 483 BC to build the fleet that stopped the Persians until a later Athenian fleet surrendered to the Macedonians after trifling resistance in 322. I think we sometimes get the idea that the Athenian navy did little of note outside of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, but their other wars were also important, lacking only their Herodotus o Hale has written an engaging history of the Athenian navy during its period of power, from when Themistocles convinced the Athenians to use a silver strike in 483 BC to build the fleet that stopped the Persians until a later Athenian fleet surrendered to the Macedonians after trifling resistance in 322. I think we sometimes get the idea that the Athenian navy did little of note outside of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, but their other wars were also important, lacking only their Herodotus or Thucydides to give us a compelling account. For instance, a 300-ship fleet sailed to Egypt in the 450s to aid a revolt against the Persions, and it was destroyed. Who knew? The decisive Athenian defeat by the Spartans in 404, which at the time seemed like the End of Everything, turned out to be but a blip in the history of their navy; they were a power again by 378. Criticisms: A lot of this history concerns general Athenian politics and its influence on naval matters. I suppose that's because of the lack of good sources on strictly naval affairs. Hale does not warn the reader (except in an endnote) that his reconstruction of the Battle of Salamis is not universally accepted. He has the Persian fleet forming up parallel to the Attic shore and facing the Greeks along the opposite shore. I think the more common opinion is that the Persions formed a line across the straight, at right angles to the shores, which nullified the great Persian advantage in numbers. In Hale's recontruction, it is hard to understand not only why the Persians did not envelope the Greek line, but also why their defeated right wing would attempt to escape by sailing several miles behind the rest of the line towards the Piraeus, rather that running to the Persian-held shore immediately behind them. How many other dubious reconstructions have been presented as fact in this book? The reader should be advised about what is known vs. what is guessed. And now for a pet peeve: Hale has become convinced that the triremes of this era were rowed with a sliding seat (illustration on p. 41). This highly dubious idea is inconsequential to his tale, but it still bugs the hell out of me. He justifies this with three illustrations from ancient sources, showing rowers with knees bent at the catch (A), knees partially bent during the drive (B), and knees straight at the finish (C). The ancient pictures, from three different times and places, in fact show the opposite of what Hale claims. (A) indeed shows knees bent at the catch, but it is not of a trireme, and a similar pottery fragment from c750 BC shows knees bent at the finish (The Age of the Galley, ed. Robert Gardiner, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1995, p. 41). Also, the spacing between the rowers shows no room to slide back. Apparently some early galleys had shallow draft and the rowers sat with bent knees. (B) shows the one rower from the famous Lenormant Relief (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil...) whose knees are raised; the other seven very plainly have their thighs perfectly horizontal in the drive, and so are clearly not sliding. The bent-kneed rower is simply sitting over a cross-piece. Also, there is again no room for the rowers to slide. Finally, (C) is from a 700 BC potsherd (ibid., p. 27, mirror-imaged), 300 years before the Lenormant Relief and centuries before triremes. The rowers are only shown from the hips up; it's not clear how straight their knees are. It is clear that there is no room between them for a sliding seat.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heinz Reinhardt

    This is an excellent little work on the West's first true Naval power. Following, and significantly improving upon and technologically advancing, the naval traditions of the Minoans, the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, the Athenians would build the first professional Navy in Western History. Forced upon Athens, formerly having relied upon Hoplite phalanxes for its military defense, the building of a fleet was in response to the overwhelming threat from the massive Persian Empire. In the ensuing P This is an excellent little work on the West's first true Naval power. Following, and significantly improving upon and technologically advancing, the naval traditions of the Minoans, the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, the Athenians would build the first professional Navy in Western History. Forced upon Athens, formerly having relied upon Hoplite phalanxes for its military defense, the building of a fleet was in response to the overwhelming threat from the massive Persian Empire. In the ensuing Persian Wars the Athenians, and their new Navy, would forever halt the advance of Persian power, and spell the beginning of that great empires eventual downfall. However, as often happens, this nation would, in turn, even while mouthing the platitudes of democracy and liberty, become an empire in itself. An empire based and built upon Naval power. The Athenian ships crews were all freedmen, not slaves as many assumed, and they were paid for their services. And all of them partook in the voting assembly's of the Demos, the Athenian Democracy. Sometimes, in fact, it would be the common crew who would cast the deciding votes for armed intervention or expansionist designs. Nowhere else in the Ancient world was this done. However, like all empires, it had a limited shelf life. Jealousy from neighbors as well as Athenian abuses of their own power ensured revolts against their two great Maritime Leagues. Revolts the democratic Athenians brutally, and bloodily, crushed. Also competition with Sparta and Corinth lead to the apocalypse that was the Peloponnesian Wars. Athens would lose the war, but would, in short time, rise from the ashes of defeat to, once again, exert their influence and maritime power over the Aegean Sea. Then Macedon and Philip and his son Alexander would end it for good. All in all this was a very good, well written, book on an overlooked aspect of the Greek world: the Athenian Navy. About the only controversial contention the author makes is that the Navy, by extension at least, was responsible for the Golden Age of Athens. I defend the authors conclusions. Navy's tend to rise from mercantile peoples. The act of moving trade goods be sea inspires piracy. Piracy inspires a military response to defend said commerce, hence Navies are born. This naval power allows for further and further trade via convoys. This brings into reach larger portions of the world, and invites the influence and contact of foreign cultures. This not only diversifies trade, which generates new wealth, but it also creates a sophistication among the trading cultures as they also culturally trade among each other. This sophistication is translated into the military, commerce, the arts, literature, fashion, even culinary choices. It molds everything about the society it touches. In short, naval power is transformative. On this basis, I feel the authors thesis is a sound one. The book is also filled with tales of great battles, heroic and dastardly commanders and captains, even a few cowards, and is also a great story of the rise, and fall, of Athens itself. All in all, as a great introduction to Naval and Maritime history, as well as a bit of an introduction to Naval theory, this is a very good book. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    The title and back cover initially led me to believe LORDS OF THE SEA was an analysis of how the ancient Athenians’ decision to "navalize" ultimately led to adoption of democratic government. Instead of analysis, per se, the author, John Hale, embraced a more chronological, narrative-history approach. In so doing, he employs the novelist’s method of "showing, rather than telling" how naval expansion politically empowered the middle and lower classes of Athens. That the author uses a novelistic ef The title and back cover initially led me to believe LORDS OF THE SEA was an analysis of how the ancient Athenians’ decision to "navalize" ultimately led to adoption of democratic government. Instead of analysis, per se, the author, John Hale, embraced a more chronological, narrative-history approach. In so doing, he employs the novelist’s method of "showing, rather than telling" how naval expansion politically empowered the middle and lower classes of Athens. That the author uses a novelistic effect is not at all meant as criticism. Hale’s writing is gripping and evocative. He makes you feel as though you’re actually sailing "the wine-dark sea," the foam of waves splashing your face as you sit on the prow of an Athenian warship, the "trireme." As with many books that cover this period, LORDS OF THE SEA, while ostensibly focused on naval history, is in truth a good overall history of Athens during its golden age——from the victory against the Persians, through the Peloponnesian Wars, until Alexander of Macedon brought the end of democracy and instituted an age of kings. All the major developments of the period are given fresh treatment, and the individuals who dominated that era——Themistocles, Pericles, Cleon, Alcibiades, Demosthenes, and others——come alive. When discussing the history of ancient Athens, the Peloponnesian War naturally looms large. Indeed, about two-thirds of the book is about that "Greek world war." This massive conflict exerts such a hold on my imagination that, every time I read about it, I find myself rooting for the Athenians, even though I already know the eventual, dismal outcome. One final observation: History owes Themistocles an unimaginable debt of gratitude of convincing the Athenians not to use revenue from a newly-discovered (in the 490s BC) silver mine to, in effect, give a “tax cut” to everyone in Athens. Instead, he persuaded his fickle, democratic countrymen to invest in a public works project of common purpose: building a massive navy. Without that investment, Xerxes may well have conquered Greece and, likely, much rest of Europe——extinguishing the light of classical Greece before it had a chance to flourish. The history of the world without that guiding light is a vision of darkness I don’t wish to imagine.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jrobertus

    This is a very interesting, albeit lengthy, book. It describes the rise of the Athenian navy in the Golden Age, and its role and impact on the concept of democracy. Themistocles opined that building a great navy would make Athens a great city state and this proved to be so. Although outnumbered badly, Athenian triremes crushed Xerxes Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis in 480BC and set the stage for two centuries of greatness. The Athenians battled not only Persians, but Spartans and ultimate This is a very interesting, albeit lengthy, book. It describes the rise of the Athenian navy in the Golden Age, and its role and impact on the concept of democracy. Themistocles opined that building a great navy would make Athens a great city state and this proved to be so. Although outnumbered badly, Athenian triremes crushed Xerxes Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis in 480BC and set the stage for two centuries of greatness. The Athenians battled not only Persians, but Spartans and ultimately Macedonians. The fleet was very democratic, and indeed, the trireme rowers had to be free men; this was their responsibility to the state and a great source of pride. Several great playwrights, like Sophocles and Euripides were rowers and their plays often reflect nautical themes. Philosophers too, like Socrates and Plato, used the ship of state as metaphors for the analysis of government. There is a case to be made that sea farers have broad horizons, and that contact with other cultures make them open to new ideas that have adaptive value. The book is historical, showing the role of key figures, like the well managed governance of Pericles, in that history. The author relates actions, particularly sea battles, not just as who was there and what happened, but adds in a novelists view. He paints a picture for the reader about what it must have looked like on this day, with 200 triremes moving off quietly for a surprise attack.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A detailed and yet lively account of the rise and fall of the Athenian navy and, not coincidentally, her role as a great power in the Mediterranean region. Professor Hale is probably the leading authority on rowed warships (he rowed crew for Yale while studying with Donald Kagan) and it shows: not only are the campaigns, the strategies and the battles skillfully portrayed, but the techniques of sailing, rowing and fighting an oared galley - the ancient Greeks used a triple-banked oared ship know A detailed and yet lively account of the rise and fall of the Athenian navy and, not coincidentally, her role as a great power in the Mediterranean region. Professor Hale is probably the leading authority on rowed warships (he rowed crew for Yale while studying with Donald Kagan) and it shows: not only are the campaigns, the strategies and the battles skillfully portrayed, but the techniques of sailing, rowing and fighting an oared galley - the ancient Greeks used a triple-banked oared ship known as a "trireme" - as is the finance and outfitting of such a fleet. Most important, however, were how the Athenians crewed and commanded their navy, and about the great men were who were their leaders. All in all, a ripping great read of life, battle and death on the wine-dark sea, and an excellent introduction to naval warfare in the golden age of Greece.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Benji Palus

    Non-fiction lost its draw for me years ago, but I read this one because of a "you read mine, I'll read yours," kind of deal with a friend. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it, to the point that I wanted to go out and be an Athenian badass, lol! It's difficult to write about a battle so that the lay-reader can really follow and grasp it, but through his words and diagrams, John Hale explains the naval maneuvers in a way that made me see them perfectly clearly. More than anything else, however, Non-fiction lost its draw for me years ago, but I read this one because of a "you read mine, I'll read yours," kind of deal with a friend. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it, to the point that I wanted to go out and be an Athenian badass, lol! It's difficult to write about a battle so that the lay-reader can really follow and grasp it, but through his words and diagrams, John Hale explains the naval maneuvers in a way that made me see them perfectly clearly. More than anything else, however, is that the author truly does achieve what to me seemed to be his primary reason for telling this rich history: To inspire the reader as to what a bit of daring, a bit of boldness, and a bit of courage can accomplish, along with what can happen when we become afraid to use them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christian Williams

    My second time through Hale's excellent assay of the role of triremes (large, light rowed battle ships of highly specialized design) in the rise and fall of Athens and Greece. He knows what questions to ask and answer, and evokes well the politics and people of the story. Again we are reminded forcefully of the nature of Golden Age society, which was a truly wacky mix of ambition, talent and demagoguery, and in which getting too big for your britches was very often fatal. The best of them, hardl My second time through Hale's excellent assay of the role of triremes (large, light rowed battle ships of highly specialized design) in the rise and fall of Athens and Greece. He knows what questions to ask and answer, and evokes well the politics and people of the story. Again we are reminded forcefully of the nature of Golden Age society, which was a truly wacky mix of ambition, talent and demagoguery, and in which getting too big for your britches was very often fatal. The best of them, hardly when triumph had cooled, were ostracized--Themistocles, Sophocles, Pericles and many other of the best minds. For 30 years, on land and sea, the founders of democracy killed and betrayed each other, and in the end, less than 100 years after their unity and defeat of Persian invasion, Greece was gone with the wind. If you wonder what humans really are, and if we have learned anything, the suicide of Greece suggests an answer.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ruben

    This was an amazing read. Very informative, but even more thrilling at once. The book reads like a novel, but offers good insight in the maritime being of ancient Athens. However, do not get tricked by the writing style and keep your head cool. This book is about naval affairs first and foremost and tends to give a lot of credit to the Athenian navy. As a reader, you should not forget that Athens is not only a maritime empire. In short, I would like to recommend this book to anyone who likes a fa This was an amazing read. Very informative, but even more thrilling at once. The book reads like a novel, but offers good insight in the maritime being of ancient Athens. However, do not get tricked by the writing style and keep your head cool. This book is about naval affairs first and foremost and tends to give a lot of credit to the Athenian navy. As a reader, you should not forget that Athens is not only a maritime empire. In short, I would like to recommend this book to anyone who likes a fast paced and exciting book about Athenian maritime history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    If only I didn't love Sparta so much I would give this book 5 stars. However, it is hard to fully enjoy a book about all of Sparta's nemesis, Athen's victories :) That said, I really enjoyed the way the John Hale wrote and I can hardly complain about any of literary details of the book. Lords of Sea was a basically a journey through the rise and eventual fall of the Athenian navy, and John Hale also tied this rise of the navy to the rise of the democracy in the world, which may be a stretch conne If only I didn't love Sparta so much I would give this book 5 stars. However, it is hard to fully enjoy a book about all of Sparta's nemesis, Athen's victories :) That said, I really enjoyed the way the John Hale wrote and I can hardly complain about any of literary details of the book. Lords of Sea was a basically a journey through the rise and eventual fall of the Athenian navy, and John Hale also tied this rise of the navy to the rise of the democracy in the world, which may be a stretch connecting the two so strongly, but he does spend time discussing Athen's democracy because of that idea, which was fine. Therefore, a big thing I learned from this book is the incredible fickleness of a pure democracy. In the one sense of that fickleness, the government was constantly expelling citizens and then accepting with open arms 10 years later that same citizen. Since democracy rests on the mood of the mob, they would expel a general from the city after a defeat or failed plan, only to accept them back a few years down the road when he has had a military success for another city or brings forth a new plan. A person with any sort of power within a democracy can never feel safe, for the sentiments of a mob are liable to change and violently switch sides of the spectrum at any time. This evidences a strong problem a pure democracy. Another aspect of the fickleness of their democracy was how often the government changed. The government seemed to be in a continuous cycle of being a democracy to becoming a oligarchy to going back to a democracy to being ruled by the rich tyrants to going back to a democracy. The democracy was never firmly stable. Because as the mood of the mob can change on rulings within the government, so it can easily change with what form of government it wants. It was also incredible to read of how Athen's power and naval power was constantly going up and down. It seemed just as soon as they had won a few great victories and built a massive fleet, they would lose all the ships in a massive defeat. But within a few years, they would scrounge up the resources to rebuild that fleet and go out and reconquer their lost territory. And this cycle seemed to repeat multiple times in their 200 years of naval dominance. Therefore, with their combination of democracy and navy up and downs, I cannot say the Athenians were a consistent people, I will however commend their astonishing perseverance!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    I have read many histories of ancient Greece, of Athenian democracy and of "the golden age of Athens". Given our own cultural mythology, so many have been written that the field tends towards cliches. Hales' Londs of the Sea is a departure from the run of the mill, detailing as he does the history of Greece from the battle of Marathon through the Macedonian conquest by telling the story in terms of the Athenian thallasocracy cum democracy. His book is the most readable work I've yet read on the I have read many histories of ancient Greece, of Athenian democracy and of "the golden age of Athens". Given our own cultural mythology, so many have been written that the field tends towards cliches. Hales' Londs of the Sea is a departure from the run of the mill, detailing as he does the history of Greece from the battle of Marathon through the Macedonian conquest by telling the story in terms of the Athenian thallasocracy cum democracy. His book is the most readable work I've yet read on the period. Most histories leave me frustrated. Too many questions are left unanswered. I wonder if we simply don't have the evidence to answer the questions that arise for me or if authors assume readers already know the answers. Hale was not frustrating in this way. Not only did he anticipate such concerns, but he managed to go beyond them, opening vistas of speculation that I'd not thought of before. He does this primarily in terms of the Athenian navy. He not only describes the ships, the triremes, but tells how they were built all the way down to the peggings between planks and the structure of the shipyards. He not only describes the important sea battles, but he tells how the ships were deployed, how they maneuvered, what the weather was like that day etc. If there is any flaw to this method of explication it could only be that he gives the impression that we know more than we actually do about events in the ancient world, that perhaps he tendentiously reconstructs events with more apparent confidence than he deserves. Indeed, this is doubtless the case in some instances, but the result is a history that flows like a good novel. Everything makes sense. The characters are realistically represented, believable. So, too, his argument that classical Athens was first and foremost a people's navy may come across as all-to-convincing, as obvious, undebatable. Still, Hale is well-suited for his task. Not only is he a classicist and archaeologist, he is also a rower himself, someone sensitive to the importance of current, of weather, of crew solidarity and leadership, but also to the sensivities of the thetic buttocks of the average Athenian sailor.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Walt O'Hara

    I read LORDS OF THE SEA in a somewhat desultory fashion in paper about two years ago, and put it down, not to get to it again, not because I didn't like it, I just lost track of it and didn't get back to it. Recently I checked out a library audio copy from Overdrive, and I finished it last weekend. I am now going to go back and re-read the paper book to get the names right. LORDS OF THE SEA is an excellent, readable history of the rise of the Athenian navy and the Wars of the Delian League that I read LORDS OF THE SEA in a somewhat desultory fashion in paper about two years ago, and put it down, not to get to it again, not because I didn't like it, I just lost track of it and didn't get back to it. Recently I checked out a library audio copy from Overdrive, and I finished it last weekend. I am now going to go back and re-read the paper book to get the names right. LORDS OF THE SEA is an excellent, readable history of the rise of the Athenian navy and the Wars of the Delian League that followed. The author, John Hale, inculcates the story with moments of high drama as the city of Athens struggles to meet the challenge of Persian obliteration, then to achieve naval supremacy against the Persians and other opponents (often other Greeks) in the century that followed the Battles of Salamis and the Eurymedon. This was not a time of unending successes; a disastrous expedition to Egypt to support a revolt against the Persian Empire ended in failure, with 20,000 Athenians lost. Internal disputes among the Delian League members and conflict with the Spartan's own Peliponesian League in the first First Pelopenisian War further eroded Athens' claim to hegemony in the Aegean. Throughout their period of ascendancy, Athens understood their power (and culture, as Hale points out) derived from a relentless pursuit of a superior navy and overall "navalization" of their culture. Much like Sparta's militarization of their entire populace, so did Athens adapt an overall naval focus to every level of society. In an undertaking that required rich men to sit on the same rowing bench as poor men, society soon became democratized as well. Hale's book touches on all levels of the naval revolution of Athens, including the arts, democracy and society-- as well as being an exciting and engaging work of history. LORDS OF THE SEA reads like an adventure book, not a history, and I devoured it. Highly recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Max Nova

    Hale's "Lords of the Sea" is a non-stop adventure into ancient maritime Greece. Hale has a gift for bringing the historical figures of the Athenian age to life with simple but vivid language. There was hardly a dull moment in the book, and Hale peppers it with unexpected observations - did the shipbuilding-induced deforestation of Attica and subsequent massive importation of timber from Macedonia lead to the rise of Macedon and Alexander the Great? What was the process used to cast the enormous Hale's "Lords of the Sea" is a non-stop adventure into ancient maritime Greece. Hale has a gift for bringing the historical figures of the Athenian age to life with simple but vivid language. There was hardly a dull moment in the book, and Hale peppers it with unexpected observations - did the shipbuilding-induced deforestation of Attica and subsequent massive importation of timber from Macedonia lead to the rise of Macedon and Alexander the Great? What was the process used to cast the enormous bronze rams on Athenian triremes? This book is a great introduction to classical Greece for the general reader.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Excellent overview of 5th and 4th century Athenian life as shaped by the Navy. Starts with the Persian wars and finished with the final defeat of the Athenians by the successors of Alexander. Hale is a good storyteller. The book is a little more pro-Athenian than I like; romanticizing democracy, the Persians don't come out looking so well, etc. But, his approach as a naval historian is novel and it is an enlightening read on the whole. The illustrations are also nicely done. I would recommend al Excellent overview of 5th and 4th century Athenian life as shaped by the Navy. Starts with the Persian wars and finished with the final defeat of the Athenians by the successors of Alexander. Hale is a good storyteller. The book is a little more pro-Athenian than I like; romanticizing democracy, the Persians don't come out looking so well, etc. But, his approach as a naval historian is novel and it is an enlightening read on the whole. The illustrations are also nicely done. I would recommend all of the authors Great Courses series.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Lords of the Sea is a thrilling account of ancient Athens as seen through the lens of the city-state's Navy. Hale not only provides masterful accounts of major battles and naval policies, but also shows how the Navy influenced virtually all aspects of Athenian life--from theatrical plays to the democratization of government. This is an interesting and unique perspective on ancient Athens's glorious heyday. Lords of the Sea is a thrilling account of ancient Athens as seen through the lens of the city-state's Navy. Hale not only provides masterful accounts of major battles and naval policies, but also shows how the Navy influenced virtually all aspects of Athenian life--from theatrical plays to the democratization of government. This is an interesting and unique perspective on ancient Athens's glorious heyday.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Cuatt

    Wonderfully written book about my favorite period of Greek history. As the title suggests, the emphasis is on the naval side of warfare and the rise and fall of Athens as the dominant force in the Mediterranean. Not as much emphasis on battles as some other books, but the development and logistics of Trireme fleets is explored in depth, with some interesting commentary regarding politics, literature, etc. This book gives you a whole new perspective on the period.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Piker7977

    The strengths of states are a combination of a lot of factors. Structural factors like geography are tremendously important as they help form the politics, society, and military which are also significant contributors. In ancient Athens there were two things going for their polis: democracy and a navy. John R. Hale tells the story of the Athenian navy and how it changed the city-state starting with Themistocles' initiatives all the way through the acquiescence to Macedonian hegemony. What works The strengths of states are a combination of a lot of factors. Structural factors like geography are tremendously important as they help form the politics, society, and military which are also significant contributors. In ancient Athens there were two things going for their polis: democracy and a navy. John R. Hale tells the story of the Athenian navy and how it changed the city-state starting with Themistocles' initiatives all the way through the acquiescence to Macedonian hegemony. What works well in this study is the analysis of the Athenian navy itself. The reader learns how the triremes were built, funded, manned, and utilized in sea battles. This dispels a lot of questions I had regarding economics and military prominence during this period. For instance, how could a coastal, rocky region in Greece have the means to build all of these wooden boats over and over again? Hale discusses how Athens exhausted their wood supply through deforestation which led to procuring this resource from foreign markets. One of which was Macedon. Through this trade relationship, Athens depleted their autarky while Macedon became enriched. This would eventually open a vulnerability that Philip would exploit and start the swan song of the most powerful naval polis of the era. Combat is also told in a compelling manner which builds excitement when reading about the battles. Different tactics and perspectives are discussed for the many battles which gives the reader new ways to consider what could be identical events. If the battles were told in a standard tactical standpoint, it would get old quick. Hale lets us row, fight, steer, and command which will be great reading for the military historian or nautical enthusiast. The second theme is where Hale leaves the reader short. In my opinion he does not make a valid case for the navy being the biggest factor for Athenian democracy. The significance of the thetes is very relevant as well as the role of the navy being the lifeline for the city-state. However, one needs to consider how war in general affects democracy. How wealth and trade affect democracy. How individuals can shape democracy. These topics are incorporated in the narrative, but I don't see how the navy directly creates or affects this form of kratos. Could a polis with a substantial land army have a democracy and see it ebb and flow based on the policies and success of their military? I think so. Hale's study definitely leaves the impression that a navy can have a huge impact on a state's or empire's greatness, but I'm not sold specifically on the effects to the kratos. I think that democracy was affected by many other things. The Athenian navy is simply a part of a larger analysis. Great reading though. This is fine military and political history that does not get bogged down in esoteric details or theories. A good source for those interested in naval history or ancient militaries.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elliott

    This was a book- I regret to say- that stayed on my ‘to read’ pile for three years after I picked it up. Every time it came to the top, another took precedence and it wound up at the very bottom again. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something similar either where a really brilliant book such as this bides its time (for far too long) watching inferior books go before it- never complaining but in retrospect smugly waiting its term- oh! I could kick myself for delaying cracking open this book This was a book- I regret to say- that stayed on my ‘to read’ pile for three years after I picked it up. Every time it came to the top, another took precedence and it wound up at the very bottom again. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something similar either where a really brilliant book such as this bides its time (for far too long) watching inferior books go before it- never complaining but in retrospect smugly waiting its term- oh! I could kick myself for delaying cracking open this book and by the end of this review I very well might! So, for studies of Periclean Athens it’s been Donald Kagan for the past half century. Aside from being authoritative his four volume History of the Peloponnesian War also has the benefit of being incredibly readable while his one volume distillation combines those previous qualities with brevity. His biography/history of Pericles is equally superb and while I’ve read and enjoyed everything Kagan has produced and while I acknowledge that he is in no danger of being superseded for at least the next 50 years I personally like John Hale’s Lords of the Sea better. He’s a great writer for one, and his analysis is very astute. His thesis that Athens’ cultural, political, and military high point was inextricably bound to her naval tradition is so rigorously and thoroughly presented that it is frankly unassailable by any serious student of the Greeks. It took me two days to read this book- but it would have only taken me one if I hadn’t immediately Googled offhandedly comments Hale makes just to learn a bit more about the subject. I passed a Saturday in absolute glee turning pages, and studying his sources that I skipped lunch and I would be greatly surprised to find that that is not the inevitable tale for anyone who similarly opens this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    This history of the Athenian trireme and the Athenian Navy was written by a historian and, importantly, a former college crew team member. I'm guessing many crew members with any sense of history can imagine themselves akin to those ancient oarsmen. John Hale's thesis is that we have a skewed sense of ancient Athens if we think only of the Parthenon, philosophy, science, and dramatic plays. He paints a picture of a culture based on its Navy. He contends that only the Phoenicians and the Polynesi This history of the Athenian trireme and the Athenian Navy was written by a historian and, importantly, a former college crew team member. I'm guessing many crew members with any sense of history can imagine themselves akin to those ancient oarsmen. John Hale's thesis is that we have a skewed sense of ancient Athens if we think only of the Parthenon, philosophy, science, and dramatic plays. He paints a picture of a culture based on its Navy. He contends that only the Phoenicians and the Polynesians were wedded as much (or more) to the sea than Athens. The reason for our incorrect modern perspective of Athens is that written records and stone buildings survive, but there's nothing left of the Athenian navy--no shipyards and not a single trireme. Mr. Hale takes us through the history of the Athenian navy including its humble beginnings, its Golden Age, and its various resurrections, to its final end. I certainly learned a lot about life aboard a trireme. As the author of a short story set aboard a trireme ("Against All Gods"), I wish I'd read this book before I wrote the story! All that said, I'm not convinced of the author's contention that a Navy-centric city-state leads to democratic government. He didn't connect these two things in a cause-effect relationship firmly enough for me. Still, I recommend this book. It's well written and easy to read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jim Bogue

    This is a concentrated and well written effort to look at the heyday of Ancient Athens - from the reforms of Themistocles to the Macedonian garrisoning of the Piraeus - with an emphasis on the sea. Hale does an exemplary job of integrating Athenian high and low culture into the narrative. An example is a quotation from Euripides “the sea can wash away all human ills” which he uses to explain the (sadly brief) redemption of Alcibiades. Hale shows how the great dramatists and comedians celebrated, This is a concentrated and well written effort to look at the heyday of Ancient Athens - from the reforms of Themistocles to the Macedonian garrisoning of the Piraeus - with an emphasis on the sea. Hale does an exemplary job of integrating Athenian high and low culture into the narrative. An example is a quotation from Euripides “the sea can wash away all human ills” which he uses to explain the (sadly brief) redemption of Alcibiades. Hale shows how the great dramatists and comedians celebrated, and swayed to, the triumphs (and calamities) of the City. He is somewhat harsher on Plato and Aristotle, neither of whom appreciated democracy or its ties to the fleet. Although he explains their reasoning he sees them as elitist and standing against what truly made Athens great. This is an intellectually exciting and informative book. It is highly recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bálint Pál

    A pop-history read that captures your attention on the first page, succeeds in managing the tension in an enjoyable way, keeps the narration coherent, and doesn't let you go until the end. If you are at least somehow interested in Athens and Ancient Greece, I can strongly recommend this book, if you only remember tidbits from high school classes, that's no problem because this book is more like the "History of golden age Athens with a focus on naval affairs." If you are an experienced history rea A pop-history read that captures your attention on the first page, succeeds in managing the tension in an enjoyable way, keeps the narration coherent, and doesn't let you go until the end. If you are at least somehow interested in Athens and Ancient Greece, I can strongly recommend this book, if you only remember tidbits from high school classes, that's no problem because this book is more like the "History of golden age Athens with a focus on naval affairs." If you are an experienced history reader or history nerd, don't be discouraged by it's popularity: in the end of the book you can find all the sources, plus notes on how certain historians interpreted things differently than presented in this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    Reading this book was like watching Mad Max: Fury Road. Like, "When is the fighting going to stop and the actual plot going to start?" I fell asleep while the fighting was still going on in Mad Max (this was only a few nights ago), so I don't know what happened there, but the fighting never really stopped in this book. Once I was able to get it into my thick skull that a book with a title that includes the phrase "The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy" is going to be about war, I made peace with al Reading this book was like watching Mad Max: Fury Road. Like, "When is the fighting going to stop and the actual plot going to start?" I fell asleep while the fighting was still going on in Mad Max (this was only a few nights ago), so I don't know what happened there, but the fighting never really stopped in this book. Once I was able to get it into my thick skull that a book with a title that includes the phrase "The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy" is going to be about war, I made peace with all the war. This was a pretty interesting book. I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed the pacing, which I felt was just right for a ~Book About War~.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frank Minich

    I really wanted to love this book. I've watched a couple of the author's courses on DVD from The Teaching Company and found them excellent. This book started strong, and ended strong, but it seemed to lose its way in the middle - or maybe it was my interest that flagged. In the middle, it was "just one damned thing after the other", with no theme provided to keep things organized or memorable. I don't have much background in Greek history, but the jumble of names and events just wore me down in the I really wanted to love this book. I've watched a couple of the author's courses on DVD from The Teaching Company and found them excellent. This book started strong, and ended strong, but it seemed to lose its way in the middle - or maybe it was my interest that flagged. In the middle, it was "just one damned thing after the other", with no theme provided to keep things organized or memorable. I don't have much background in Greek history, but the jumble of names and events just wore me down in the middle.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leif Erik

    A navel history of Athens, which is to say, an Athenian perspective of the Peloppensian War, with an interesting (if unstated) thesis that the war never really ended until the Romans showed up and put an end to all that Greek nonsense. The ancient world learned quickly you don't want to be on the business end of a legion that is tired of your bullshit. Pretty engaging if you have a background for the time periods and a stomach for detailed accounts of sea battle maneuvers. God help you if you ha A navel history of Athens, which is to say, an Athenian perspective of the Peloppensian War, with an interesting (if unstated) thesis that the war never really ended until the Romans showed up and put an end to all that Greek nonsense. The ancient world learned quickly you don't want to be on the business end of a legion that is tired of your bullshit. Pretty engaging if you have a background for the time periods and a stomach for detailed accounts of sea battle maneuvers. God help you if you have neither and attempt this read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    The Warrior Philosopher

    Hale’s thesis in Lords of the Sea is a simple one. The Athenian lead naval conflict with the forces of Xerxes created an environment that broke down the social norms and threw the Athenian people into an interesting position. This position, seeing the break down from the usually restrict category of military service, created the situation to promote democracy as unseen before. Linked together by muscle and cadence the poor and freed slaves saw themselves in service with the upper tiers of societ Hale’s thesis in Lords of the Sea is a simple one. The Athenian lead naval conflict with the forces of Xerxes created an environment that broke down the social norms and threw the Athenian people into an interesting position. This position, seeing the break down from the usually restrict category of military service, created the situation to promote democracy as unseen before. Linked together by muscle and cadence the poor and freed slaves saw themselves in service with the upper tiers of society. The unity of the people was essential to overpower the titanic forces that threatened their very way of life. Their victory cemented this new society and saw the rise of an empire based around the connection between Athens and naval power. The connection forged by the trireme would meld hundreds of city-states together in an alliance, the Delian League, that would span decades. This time period would serve as Greece’s Golden Age. Times would again change and the curtain fell on Athenian under the pressure of the Spartan alliance. One contemporary cited in Hale’s book is Aristotle. In his work, Politics he defines Athens as a democracy based on triremes. Aristotle also recalls a Greek politician in his work Rhetoric who called the Greek flagship Paralos "the peoples Big Stick." The concept of projecting might through military means is alive and well in the Greek era. Aristotle lays out in a clear and linear fashion the discovery of precious ores made on a distant island owned by the city. The citizens were faced with a choice, either distribute the funds from the ores by sending half to the treasury and half evenly throughout the 30,000 Athenians, thus giving the average poor citizen enough money to buy an ox. The rich found this option unappealing as the sum was negligible. Or they could choose to go in a different direction. This is where the character of Themistocles steps in. He advocated for the creation of a large navy to counter the growing threat from the Achaemenid Empire. He wanted enough timber and sail to outfit a fleet of 200 triremes. While the poor would see no monetary benefit, the rich would gain status and prestige by owning and outfitting individual triremes. The money would also flow through the economy stimulating the vast array of professional arts that go into the creation of a maritime power. When put to a vote the people spoke and chose to create a thalassocracy. Timber from the countryside and imported from distances away, the fleet is built in a matter of months. We see Themistocles taking command of the naval force that he heralded. He had trained them on land, but they were still unproven in battle. The trireme had 170 oars. To fill out the ranks of necessary oarsmen in the fleet of 200 ships the city opened its arms to the lower classes. Long training sessions honed them into skilled rowers bypassing the need of property for the military prestige of being a Greek hoplite. Rich and poor alike strove in the seat of the defense of city and state. Muscles and calloused hands were the engine of combat. The barriers erected in the past had been knocked down as the drums of war beat in the distance. Our primary sources tell of a great storm that struck off the Greek coast during September of 480BC. This storm is said to have wrecked and littered a third of Xerxes fleet throughout the sea. This miracle from the gods could not have come at a better time for Themistocles. What would rage next would be called the Battle of Salamis. The Greeks laid a trap for Xerxes forces and they fell right into it. Through superior tactics, the Athenians would prove victorious as 300 enemy triremes lay at the bottom of the sea. The win would solidify the new democracy that had been created. Xerxes would eventually be pushed out of Greece. Next, the book follows the orator and speechwriter Pericles. It is with his crafting that the Delian League is created and what was once called the Greek Golden Age is now referred to as the Age of Pericles.[1] The Delian League would grow to include over 150 city-states and islands and would represent an empire dominated by the naval power of Athens. One of the stated purposes of the League was to check the movement of the Persian forces and prevent another invasion. Levees were cast for funds and triremes to add to the already impressive fleet in an ever-growing demand for expansion. This would last for 158 years with the Spartans launching the Peloponnesian War against their Greek counterparts. The glory and walls of the city would eventually crumble under the onslaught laid by King Phillip II of Macedonia. Hales's book is successful in its aim and worth the read even though it is specialized in its focus. The proposed thesis is proven as the reader is brought back to 480BC just as the social norms are being torn down to facilitate the survival of the now-abandoned city. A large base of knowledge is established in the beginning as we follow the creation of the naval forces Athens would come to rely on. The tension created by the constantly shifting winds of war plays out in the battle against Xerxes forces. A plethora of characters in history are explored. Finally, Hale injects a critical aspect of life and culture in the Greek world at the time, the playwright. Through the presentation of elements of play, the daily life comes alive off the pages.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Brown

    Covers a very long time period in under 400 relatively large print pages, so the level of detail of each event is sparse. This would be a great intro to the breadth of Greek history but is not going to provide new insights on periods you've already read about. I give the author credit for coming up with the interesting idea of framing Ancient Greece through the lense of their navy. Hale also maintains a strong cadence throughout which helps maintain your interest. Covers a very long time period in under 400 relatively large print pages, so the level of detail of each event is sparse. This would be a great intro to the breadth of Greek history but is not going to provide new insights on periods you've already read about. I give the author credit for coming up with the interesting idea of framing Ancient Greece through the lense of their navy. Hale also maintains a strong cadence throughout which helps maintain your interest.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Almost conversational in tone, Hale is still an effective teacher and researcher. While all the design and technical information the most learned scholar would ask (including all a good smattering of Doric Greek maritime terms), Hale also reaches out to any educated reader by illustrating the myriad societal, cultural political, etc. that Athenian naval domination created. A fine addition to the bookshelf of any interested party!

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