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Publisher's Summary

The navy created by the people of Athens in ancient Greece was one of the finest fighting forces in the history of the world and the model for all other national navies to come.

The Athenian navy built a civilization, empowered the world's first democracy, and led a band of ordinary citizens on a voyage of discovery that altered the course of history. Its defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis in 480 B.C.E. launched the Athenian Golden Age and preserved Greek freedom and culture for centuries.

With Lords of the Sea, renowned archaeologist and historian John R. Hale presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the indomitable ships, and the men---from extraordinary leaders to seductive rogues---who established Athens's supremacy. With a scholar's insight and a storyteller's flair, Hale takes us on an illustrated tour of the heroes, their turbulent careers, and their far-flung expeditions and brings back to life a forgotten maritime empire and its majestic legacy.

©2009 John R. Hale; (P)2009 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A well-written, stirring chronicle." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall

Sound narrative history

This is a rather detailed history of Athens focusing on its navy. The writing style is clear, engaging, and very accessible. However, the book suffers from a narrative format that involves a lot a rehashing of topics and history. The author’s thesis is that because the class of men who manned the Athenian navy were lower in status than the hoplites or horsemen who formed the backbone of the army, as the navy increased in power so did the democratic element in relation to the oligarchic element in society. This was reinforced as maintaining a navy involved a great deal of expenditure flowing largely into the pockets of the working class artisans and laborers thus increasing their lot. However, these expenses forced Athens into a program of imperial expansion. The author backs this up with ample evidence from a number of primary sources including some quite creative use of Athenian drama. There is very little to fault in his historical method save perhaps one or two factual
While this is an excellent book it has two flaws. The first is that its narrative format leads to a long series of admirals, battles, and dates. After a while the whole thing becomes a little tedious, especially if you are familiar with the history. If you have not read Herodotus or Thucydides then you may ignore the following: Long stretches of the book are just retellings of one or two ancient sources. I cannot blame him for this because often that is all we have to go on. However, one might as well read the original sources at that point.
Despite these flaws, this is a closely reasoned and well supported piece of narrative history that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has not already studied the subject in great depth (those will find little new). I would also suggest Kagan’s Peloponnesian War; any of the earlier works by Victor Davis Hansen; and of course the primary sources Heroditus and Thucydides.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Roger
  • South Orange, NJ, United States
  • 09-11-09

Thorough and Accessible

As the earlier reviewer noted, this is a very good historical narrative.

The subtitle, however, overstates the argument made on behalf of Athenian democracy. The Athenians had already overthrown their tyrant, and it was a representative government that decided to establish the navy. Therefore, the navy did not give birth to democracy.

Hale does, however, make a compelling argument for the navy strengthening and sustaining the democracy and, perhaps even more telling, being feared as such by rival cities and empires. The symbiosis between the Athenian navy and the Athenian democracy was therefore special, and we cannot, and Hale does not, try to draw more universal connections between navies and democracies.

Hale also explains how the navy, and the riches it allowed to flow from both trade and empire, made possible the golden age of Athenian drama, rhetoric, architecture and philosophy.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • Martin
  • NEWBERG, OR, United States
  • 04-09-13

A must read for any one who likes Greek history.

This book has perhaps become one of my favorite books on the subject of Greek history. It is written in a way that people who do not like history books would like this, he weaves the history in story so that you do not become bored with the dates/places/people.
David Drummond does and excellent job reading

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent naval history

This is a naval history that I will listen to many times. It's like being a sports fan. There are certain team highlights that you want replayed. This book has many highlights of Athenian naval prowess.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Ramming speed

Obviously you are interested in the history of the period or you would not be looking at the reviews, so this book is for you. It is well researched and presented and a good read, but not a casual one. If you have no familiarity with the area or time I might suggest some primers first. It is a rather quick stroke through the Peloponnesian War and surrounding waters. I think the Athenian navy being the source of democracy is a stretch, but points are well made and the history is fascinating. A map will help.

David Drummond does a masterful narration on a difficult script.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Barry
  • Hawthorn East, Australia
  • 03-09-15

A history that that transports you there

One of the best books on the history of classic Greece I have listened to as an audio, so much so that I have purchased the paperback. This rounds off all other history lessons about Sparta Alexander the Great and so much more...it is so well written and narrated every time I listened I was there rowing or standing on a hill overlooking the straights of Salamis witnessing the historical battle that marked the birth of the Greek navy

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  • Michael
  • Madison, WI, United States
  • 12-03-12

Excellent book

I really enjoyed this book. It covers the history of the Athenian navy from the events leading up to the Persian invasion of Greece, to the ultimate downfall of the navy at the hands of the successors to Alexander the Great. The book basically uses the story of the navy to shed light on the political and cultural developments in Athens and the region. I found it to be a very engaging way of dealing with the history. The book is well written, and the narration is perfect for the book. I listened to this on a series of long car rides, and found myself not wanting to leave the car after I arrived. Some people have complained about the long series of battles and people. I knew very little about the history of Greece before listening to this, and I still found that I was able to follow it. It was useful to go to Wikipedia once in a while to look at a map, since the audio format is not ideal for conveying that, and also to remind myself who some of the important people were, but as long as you listen in moderate sized chunks, it is not that big of a problem. I actually found it interesting to follow the long series of events, following people in successive generations starting as young men and women, being affected by the historical circumstances they find themselves in and influencing the circumstances, until they grow old and are replaced by the next generation. As the title says, it is an "epic story".

  • Overall

Must have for fans of nautical history!

Amazing story that reveals both the strength of democracy - the wisdom of crowds and the voice of the majority; and democracy's ironic fault - ignoring that fact that crowds are often unenlightened and seek to preserve the status quo when reality demands otherwise. In the context of naval history, this book is fantastic at illustrating the power of the navy at controlling the flow of resources and there by controling empire. Great survey of ancient naval architecture, strategy and tactics. A great companion to the Hermans' "To Rule the Wave; How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World." The Athenian navy shaped the ancient world.