The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (The Princeton History of the Ancient World)

The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (The Princeton History of the Ancient World)

Josiah Ober

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0691173141

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth and classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years.

Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period--and why only then? And how, after "the Greek miracle" had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall.

Ober argues that Greece's rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory made possible by the Macedonians' appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander's death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans--and to us.

A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die.

This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit:
















territory, the ants belonging to a given nest work cooperatively; their activity prominently includes foraging to extract resources from their environment. Because there are many nests, because the nest territories are not perfectly well defined, and because resources are limited, there is periodic violent conflict among the ants from neighboring nests. The conflicts are both intra-­and interspecies: The pond ants of a given nest protect their territory against pond ants from other nests—­that

city-­states was a potential rival of each other city-­state and therefore a potential threat to its neighbors. Conflict among neighboring poleis was common, and conflict could have deadly results. States that lost wars with their neighbors risked losing control of valuable resources. Victors would seize, as plunder, as much movable property as they could carry away. They might also take control of economically productive borderlands. If the defeat were severe enough, the defeated polis might

interests, more useful knowledge, and more innovative ideas, that the classical Greek world experienced dynamic and sustained efflorescence, rather than settling into a low-­performing premodern normal equilibrium. But why did the quality of information keep improving? A plethora of choices leading to greater specialization is an important part of the answer. Those choices were framed by rules that served to regulate competitive markets in information, goods, and services.1 In chapter 1, I

Lycurgus, the chronology of the reforms, and some of the details of the Spartan social order are matters of scholarly debate; I refer in this book to “Lycurgus” and “Lycurgan reforms” simply for convenience. What is most important for our purposes is that by the mid-­sixth century 139 Chapter 6 BCE, if not before, the social order of Laconia and Messenia had taken on the highly distinctive form that enabled classical Sparta to achieve and long sustain superpolis status. Sparta’s social order

wealth accruing from private property could not be publicly displayed in everyday life. The upper bound of the quotidian lifestyle of every Spartan was set by the rent available to the least wealthy citizens. The limited rent available to the poorer Spartan citizens was, therefore, the basis of the famous “virtuous austerity” of Spartan society. That mandatory austerity became, in light of Sparta’s fame, an important part of the “impoverished Hellas” mirage, in antiquity and modernity alike.32

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