Book Review: The End of Sparta: A Novel

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by Victor Davis Hanson

New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011. Pp. xiv, 464. Maps, notes. $28.00. ISBN: 9781608191642

One of the seminal battles of Classical antiquity was fought at Leuctra (Leuktra) in 371 BCE, between a coalition of Boeotian contingents led by the city-state of Thebes, against the Peloponnesian allies spearheaded by King Cleombrotus and the Spartans.  In The Soul of Battle, originally published in 1999, military historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote about this pivotal conflict that launched Thebes’ ascendancy, which contributed inversely to the decline of Spartan hegemony.  Hanson revisits this decisive battle in his first novel, The End of Sparta that infuses much of the erudition from the author’s aforementioned title and his magnum opus, The Western Way of War.

What ensued on this small plain in Boeotia was that the vaunted phalanx of the elite Spartiates was vanquished by a predominantly agrarian army commanded by the Boetarch, Epaminondas.  Though the Spartans had been defeated in other battles, at Leuctra, their aura of invincibility was shattered so decisively that they would not fully recover. The military campaigns that followed in successive years which ultimately led to the emancipation of the helots (disenfranchised subject Greeks) from Spartan rule are also featured in this vivid and imaginative account of Sparta’s decline.

This isn’t light reading, since there are quite a few words and phrases written in the Attic dialect that are interspersed throughout the narrative. However, they add texture to the tale of the Thespian farmer Melon, the Theban commander Epaminondas, Philip II of Macedon, and the combatants of these battles. Furthermore, the author manages to immerse the readers in his tale so well that they feel and understand what it was like to be a warrior in these engagements.  Imagine if you will, the sense of apprehension prior to the collision of the two phalanges. It is palpable, and this is what is most engaging about the The End of Sparta.  Hanson has provided the student of history a different perspective on hoplite warfare and its evolution, while writing a novel which mirrors the events that changed the landscape of ancient Greece.

 

Our Reviewer:  John Trikeriotis is a lecturer on ancient Greek warfare and a member of the archaeological group, “The Leonidas Expeditions”.  He is also the adviser to “The Hellenic Warriors” living history association, which appears at schools, museums and universities presenting the armor, weapons, tactics and formations used by the ancient Greeks during the Graeco-Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.  In addition, he maintains the website  www.300spartanwarriors.com
, which provides a more authoritative summation of the events as they happened during the Battle of Thermopylae, in comparison to their depiction by Hollywood.  Trikeriotis can be followed on Twitter and Google.  His previous reviews for StrategyPage, includeAfter Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian War

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Reviewer: John Trikeriotis   


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