The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study

The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study

The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study

The Peloponnesian War: A Military Study


The range and extent of the Peloponnesian War of the fifth century BC has led to it being described as a 'world war' in miniature. With the struggle between Athens and Sparta at its core, the twenty-seven-year conflict drew in states from all points of the compass; from Byzantion in the north, Crete in the south, Asia Minor in the east and Sicily in the west.Since Thucydides described the war as 'the greatest disturbance to befall the Greeks' numerous studies have been made of individual episodes and topics. This authoritative work is the first single-volume study of the entire war to be published in over seventy-five years. Lazenby avoids the tendency of allowing historiography to obscure the analysis, and while paying due attention to detail, also looks at the fundamental questions of warfare raised by the conflict.Within a narrative framework, Lazenby concentrates on the fighting itself, and examining the way in which both strategy and tactics developed as the conflict spread. Not afraid to challenge accepted views, he assesses the war as a military rather than a political endeavour, evaluating issues such as the advantages and limitations of sea power. A readable and clear survey, this text offers a balanced discussion of controversial themes, and will appeal to ancient historians, classicists and all those who are interested in military history.


Soon after I graduated, I was invited to supper by Tony Andrewes. The only other guest was A. W. Gomme, and I suppose the seed of this book was planted then, though it has taken a long time to come to fruition. The commentary on Thucydides they wrote with K. J. Dover remains an indispensable tool for anyone studying the Peloponnesian War, and more recently the commentaries of Peter Rhodes and Simon Hornblower, whose friendship I am lucky to enjoy, have added to our understanding. The latter in particular acted as adviser to my publishers, and his comments were both encouraging and helpful.

All students of the war also owe a debt of gratitude to Donald Kagan's monumental, four-volume study. My approach is somewhat different, partly because within a single volume I had to leave much out, partly because I am dubious, for example, about some of his more speculative views on the political situations in Athens, Sparta and elsewhere. But where I differ from him, I do so with trepidation.

My own approach may seem too narrow. I can only say that I am aware that war cannot be entirely divorced from politics and economics, and that much recent work has been devoted to literary aspects of Thucydides' work. But, considerations of length apart, I am happier with military matters, and I also felt that Thucydides' contribution to our understanding of classical warfare has perhaps not been as fully appreciated as it should be.

I think it was G. R. Elton who once remarked, in a radio broadcast, that the first thing to do on approaching a historian is to listen for the sound of buzzing. I have as many bees in my bonnet as the next person, but to two in particular I will freely admit. The first is that I think the Spartans are too harshly treated in much modern writing on ancient Greek history. In the case of the Peloponnesian War, it seems that, just as the French can hardly accept that Napoleon was beaten at Waterloo, so modern scholars can hardly bear the fact that the Spartans defeated the Athenians. I hope to go some way towards redressing the balance.

Second, and more importantly, I have long believed that many studies of ancient warfare are bedevilled by a failure to appreciate that it was technologically very different from modern warfare. It is perfectly acceptable to look for modern parallels - I do it myself - but one must not get into the habit of thinking that

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