10 books like The Spartans

By Paul Cartledge,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Spartans. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Landmark Herodotus

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Book cover of The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories

For anyone wanting to find out not just what happened in the Graeco-Persian Wars (490–479 BC) but how their participants viewed the world, Herodotus’ Histories are a treasure trove. Writing a generation after the event, Herodotus travelled widely, interviewing as many people as he could from veterans to Egyptian priests. But readers must be wary: Herodotus wasn’t writing history as we understand it. Instead, he blended fact, anecdote, and moralizing to demonstrate why in his view the Greek way of life (especially Athenian democracy) was superior to Persian totalitarianism, and why Persian hubris merited divine punishment. While the Landmark edition’s translation of Herodotus’ seductive prose may not be the best (Tom Holland’s, for example, is better), the number and clarity of its maps make it invaluable.

The Landmark Herodotus

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Landmark Herodotus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 5th century BC an adventurous Ionian Greek, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, journeyed extensively through the lands of the eastern Mediterranean, from Egypt to Asia Minor, collecting tales of the upheavals that had afflicted the region in the earlier part of the century. The fruits of his wanderings were The Histories, in which he used his narrative gifts not only to chronicle the rise of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and its war with the Greek city-states, but also to recount his experiences with the varied peoples and cultures he had encountered during his journey.
Herodotus earned the nickname 'the father…


The Landmark Thucydides

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Book cover of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides, along with Herodotus a generation earlier, created history as we know it. Herodotus added to narrative the analysis of cause: ‘why’ as well as ‘what’. Thucydides added different levels of causation: the immediate reasons for the war and the long-term causes. He studied how the dynamics of fear and power drive states into warfare. He took the gods out of history (it is hard to remember how radical that was). He studied the corruption of moral language and behaviour under the pressure of conflict. In Pericles’ Funeral Speech he set out the theory of Athenian democracy (Pericles would have denied that our own society was democratic—a challenging thought). Thucydides’ eye is not exactly cold, but it is unblinking: no historian seems so free of illusion.

The Landmark Thucydides

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Landmark Thucydides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta "a possession for all time," and indeed it is the first and still the most famous work in the Western historical tradition.

Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.

However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Written centuries before the rise of modern historiography, Thucydides' narrative is not continuous or linear. His authoritative chronicle of what he considered the greatest war…


Aphrodite's Tortoise

By Lloyd Llewellyn Jones,

Book cover of Aphrodite's Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece

Fifth-century BC Athenian society was male-dominated, so most of our evidence comes from – and is about – men. Elegantly written, immaculately researched, and pleasingly illustrated, Aphrodite’s Tortoise goes a long way towards restoring the gender balance, uncovering the complex role that women played in Greek society, whether as wives, priestesses or slaves. At the heart of the book is the use of the veil, which not only protected women from the male gaze as they ventured outside (hence the title) but could convey a variety of visual signals depending on how it was worn. It’s a really stimulating book, the kind that makes you sit up and think about not just the ancient world but our own.

Aphrodite's Tortoise

By Lloyd Llewellyn Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aphrodite's Tortoise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Greek women routinely wore the veil. That is the unexpected finding of this major study. The Greeks, rightly credited with the invention of civic openness, are revealed as also part of a more eastern tradition of seclusion. From the iconography as well as the literature of Greece, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones shows that fully veiling of face and head was commonplace. He analyses the elaborate Greek vocabulary for veiling, and explores what the veil was meant to achieve. He also uses Greek and more recent - mainly Islamic - evidence to show how women could exploit and subvert the veil to achieve…


The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum

By Ian Jenkins,

Book cover of The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum

Much of Classical Greece remains intangible, but some of its artworks have survived (albeit often in fragments) allowing us to gaze upon what ancient Greeks once saw. Among the greatest sculptures are those which adorned the Parthenon, created in Athens’ heyday under Pericles. Few knew more about them than the late and much-missed Ian Jenkins, whose sumptuously illustrated book not only discusses the artworks but reproduces many in such glorious detail that you feel you could almost touch them. You can certainly appreciate their energy. And in the end, for me, it’s this energy – preserved through time in art or literature – that makes the study of Classical Greece so exciting. As Sparta was for Athens, so Classical Greece can be for us a mirror in which to reevaluate ourselves. 

The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum

By Ian Jenkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum are unrivalled examples of classical Greek art that have inspired sculptors, artists, poets and writers since their creation in the fifth century BC. This book serves as a superb visual introduction to these magnificent sculptures. The book showcases a series of specially taken photographs of the different sculptural elements: the pediments, metopes and Ionic frieze. It captures the vitality of the sculptures in a group, an individual sculpture or an exquisite eye-catching detail, such as the mane of a horse, a human foot, the swish of drapery or a youthful head bowed in…


Courtesans and Fishcakes

By James Davidson,

Book cover of Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens

Davidson demonstrates that sexual relationships with courtesans and youths in ancient Athens paralleled the markets in other luxuries such as fish and wine rather more than resembling the modern ideal of romantic love. In a society where marriages were mainly business arrangements made between families to ensure the production of legitimate heirs to their estates, such formal relationships were frequently loveless. This led the male partners and those as yet unmarried to resort to employing mistresses, courtesans, and youths as luxurious distractions from the mundane matter of marital maintenance of the bloodline.

Courtesans and Fishcakes

By James Davidson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Courtesans and Fishcakes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliantly entertaining and innovative history of the ancient Athenians' consuming passions for food, wine and sex.

Sex, shopping and fish-madness, Athenian style.

This fascinating book reveals that the ancient Athenians were supreme hedonists. Their society was driven by an insatiable lust for culinary delights - especially fish - fine wine and pleasures of the flesh. Indeed, great fortunes were squandered and politicians' careers ruined through ritual drinking at the symposium, or the wooing of highly-coveted, costly prostitutes.

James Davidson brings an incisive eye and an urbane wit to this refreshingly accessible and different history of the people who invented…


The Nazi Olympics

By Richard D. Mandell,

Book cover of The Nazi Olympics

A juicy account of the most dubious of the modern Olympics, held as a propaganda event in Hitler's Berlin in 1936. For classical history buffs, the most intriguing element is how the Nazis purloined certain "ancient Greek" legacies for their own purposes -- creating the pseudo-tradition of the Olympic torch being carried from Greece, for example, which remains popular to this day. (And of course, it was all captured and glorified by the director Leni Riefenstahl in her film Olympia).

The Nazi Olympics

By Richard D. Mandell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nazi Olympics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nazi Olympics is the unsurpassed expose of one of the most bizarre festivals in sport history. Not only does it provide incisive portraits of such key figures as Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens, Leni Riefenstahl, Helen Stephens, Kee Chung Sohn, and Avery Brundage, it also vividly conveys the entire dazzling charade that reinforced and mobilized the hysterical patriotism of the German masses.


The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts

By Raúl Sánchez García,

Book cover of The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts

The Eastern tradition of "sports" is entirely different from the Western (indeed, many practitioners of martial arts in the East don't regard them as competitive sports at all, but disciplines where one competes, in a sense, with oneself). I wrote a piece on the history of karate for Smithsonian Magazine, since it is making its debut in Tokyo in August, and found this book (despite its dry and academic title) to be a fascinating introduction to the surprising growth of Japanese martial arts around the world.

The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts

By Raúl Sánchez García,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first long-term historical-sociological analysis of the development of Japanese martial arts.

Uses the theoretical framework of figurational sociology and draws on rich empirical data.

A new contribution to our understanding of the socio-cultural dynamics of state formation.

Considers the neglected role of women in martial arts.

Iliad

By Homer, Stanley Lombardo (translator),

Book cover of Iliad

I get it. People read Homer’s Odyssey because of the adventures and gods and monsters, but for me, his best was his first epic poem, The Iliad. The opening word of the story is “rage,” and the action never stops until the last line. From clashing swords to souls sent down to the house of death, this could have been a heavy metal opera if only Homer had played an electric guitar instead of a lyre. I chose the Lombardo translation because it captures best the action and heroism and pulse-pounding excitement that keeps me reading this one over and over.

Iliad

By Homer, Stanley Lombardo (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Iliad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Gripping. . . . Lombardo's achievement is all the more striking when you consider the difficulties of his task. . . . [He] manages to be respectful of Homer's dire spirit while providing on nearly every page some wonderfully fresh refashioning of his Greek. The result is a vivid and disarmingly hardbitten reworking of a great classic." -Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Times Book Review


Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

By Jean-Pierre Vernant, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Book cover of Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

Vernant was an influential scholar when I began writing about women in ancient Greece in the 1990s. His discussions of the social, political and religious institutions of the time, and their relationship with popular mythology, were informed by French structuralist theory.  For me his analysis of the role of marriage in a society devoted to virgin goddesses was particularly stimulating.

Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

By Jean-Pierre Vernant, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Myth and Society in Ancient Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking study, Jean-Pierre Vernant delineates a compelling new vision of ancient Greece. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece takes us far from the calm and familiar images of Polykleitos and the Parthenon to reveal a fundamentally other culture ― one of slavery, of masks and death, of scapegoats, of ritual hunting, and of ecstasies.

Vernant’s provocative discussions of various institutions and practices (including war, marriage, and sacrifice) detail the complex intersection of the religious, social, and political structures of ancient Greece. The book concludes with Vernant’s authoritative genealogy of the study of myth from Antiquity to structuralism and…


Interstate Relations in Classical Greece

By Polly Low,

Book cover of Interstate Relations in Classical Greece: Morality and Power

Anyone with any degree of acquaintance with ancient history knows that the Greeks were often at war with one another. This book explores the rules that governed their interactions. Was there any kind of international law? If so, was any of it actually written down, or did it exist at the level of “unwritten law” – a live issue even today? How was it enforced, and by whom? There was no United Nations in those days. Did it succeed in reducing belligerence among the Greeks? Or was the only principle that might is right, so that stronger cities had the right to subdue their weaker neighbours? These are all critically important questions for understanding the Greeks and the course of their history. Overall, the book argues that the Greeks were more moral and restrained in their dealings with one another than one might have guessed.

Interstate Relations in Classical Greece

By Polly Low,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Interstate Relations in Classical Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book Dr Low explores the assumptions and principles which determined the conduct and representation of interstate politics in Greece during the fifth and fourth centuries BC. She employs a wide range of ancient evidence, both epigraphic and literary, as well as some contemporary theoretical approaches from the field of International Relations. Taking a thematic rather than a chronological approach, she addresses topics such as the nature of interstate society in the Greek world; the sources, scope and enforcement of 'international law'; the nature of interstate ethics and morality; interventionism and imperialism; and the question of change and stability.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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