Book Review: Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation


by Philip Matyszak

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2017. Pp. x, 192. Illus., maps, gloss., bibio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1473874645

The Spartans, From Backwater to Their Finest Hour

Matyszak, author of Gladiator: The Roman Fighter's [Unofficial] Manual, Imperial General, and others, brings a broad understanding of the military history of Classical Antiquity, and some often impish humor, to the history of Sparta from its origins to its most iconic moment, Thermopylae. He opens with introductory discussions of the geographic setting and the sources, with a critical look at the archaeological and literary evidence.

Matyszak follows with chapters on the mythic origins of the city and on the First Messenian War, He follows these with an account of Lycurgus, the quasi-mythic seventh century BC founder of Sparta’s unique social and military institutions, making an effort to sort out the probable from the clearly fabulous.

Matyszak then gives us a chapter on the conquest of Messenia, which gave Sparta the largest territorial base in the Greek world, plus a deep pool of hardworking helots who could support the citizen class. There follow chapters on the shaping of the Spartan’s military institutions, their domination of the Peloponnesus, and the reign of Cleomenes I, which brings the story down to the eve of the Persian Wars in 490 BC. Matyszak then uses three chapters to discuss the role of Sparta in the Persian Wars, one organization and tactics of the Spartan Army, the second on Sparta’s unimpressive role in the War of Marathon (490 BC), and then one on “Thermopylae: Their Finest Hour" (480 BC).

Matyszak offers a goodly number of interesting insights, often in amusing fashion (e.g., Lycurgus’s rules on coins, centuries before they were invented, suggesting some tinkering with the historical record by later Spartans). While written primarily for the layman, Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation will prove useful reading for anyone with an interest in Ancient Greece.


Note: Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation is also available in several e-editions.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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