Book Review: Athenian Democracy at War


by David M. Pritchard

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xxiv, 290. Illus., tables, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 1108435947

An Aggressive Democracy

Prof. Pritchard (Queensland), argues that just as democracy shaped the glories of Athenian art, philosophy, literature, and such, it also turned Athens into a major military and naval power with an appetite for expansion, leading to the creation of the “Athenian empire”. And he makes a very good case, while at the same time challenging the traditional claim that the rise of hoplite warfare led to the rise of democracy.

During the Fifth Century BC – “The Golden” – Athens was at war on average about two out of every three years, and despite the costs of the great religious, theatrical, and athletic festivals and the great architectural achievement, the polis spent more on war than anything else.

Pritchard examines in some detail the branches of the city’s forces, hoplites, fleet, cavalry, and archers, the latter two branches surprisingly neglected in the literature. He offers an analysis of the expense of maintaining these forces, particularly during the Peloponnesian War, and makes comparisons with the costs of other poleis.

In addition, Pritchard draws attention to the social and culture influences of Athenian military institutions, such how the city’s navy sailors were depicted in comedy and the ties between sport and warfare.  

Athenian Democracy at War throws a good deal of fresh light on the military aspects of Athenian democracy, and reminds us that historically – despite the claims of some pundits – democracies very often have made war, even against each other, and can be imperialistic.


Note: Athenian Democracy at War is also available in hard cover and several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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