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Modern western civilization sits atop a foundation built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. How much do you know of these civilizations? “The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth offers a short, one-volume introduction to ancient Greece and Rome.
Spawforth starts at the beginning and carries the story to the present. He opens at the dawn of Greek history, and shows the influence these civilizations continue to have today.
The book starts by examining ancient Minoan and Mycenaean societies. Spawforth shows how they grew from societies into civilizations. This includes examination of how they gained, lost, and regained literacy, as well as the development of political systems and art forms.
He also shows how as Greek civilization grew, it impinged on neighbors to the west, east, and south. This includes showing how they borrowed from neighboring civilizations and fought with them. This section includes the conflict between Sparta and Athens, and how these two city-states eventually involved their neighbors.
This included the Macedonians, who eventually swallowed the Greek peninsula, the surrounding civilizations south and east (including Egypt and Persia) and then thrust east into modern Afghanistan and India. He also shows the results of the Macedonian empire fracturing after Alexander the Great’s death.
As Alexander is moving east, a new civilization was developing in the Italian peninsula: Rome. Spawforth presents the emergence of Rome and its struggles with its Etruscan, Greek, and Carthaginian neighbors. He also presents a factor allowing them to gain power – the willingness to let outsiders become Roman citizens. It was a previously untried innovation, and proved decisive.
Chapters follow showing Rome’s growth to regional domination. More importantly, he shows how Rome borrowed from Greece, and how Rome “Romanized” its territories. Rome’s arts, engineering and culture became fused with Greece.
Spawforth, emeritus professor of ancient history at Newcastle University (UK), presents the story in engaging language, mixing history with his personal experiences over the course of his career. His tales illuminate the historical discussion, humanizing the discussion.
“The Story of Greece and Rome” is entertaining and informative. Although short, it offers a succinct concentration of information.
“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth, Yale University Press, 2018, 392 pages $30