The Birth of Classical Europe
Author: Simon Price and Peter Thonemann
Rating: 5 Stars
There are thousands of books about the classical world so one might ask if we really need another. The answer is yes we do. Our understanding of the past is constantly changing as new information is discovered. New writers have new ways of looking at old subjects. Most of all as the world we live in changes we need new books to help us connect with a past that is constantly moving.
The Birth of Classical Europe is a wonderful introduction to the ancient world. The authors focus on Greek history and then move on to Rome. They do not spend a lot of time on the civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Ancient Near East, and Egypt. That is not because of any Eurocentric prejudice, but rather they focus their story on one specific region. They spend a lot of time on Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. Using archeological discoveries from the last 20 years they build up a picture of the ancient world that is a little less catastrophic than the previous pictures that we have had. They argue more for a story of a sequence migrations that ends with assimilation. This is a little less sudden than the image of hordes of invaders wiping out the natives and resettling the region.
The authors spend a lot of time with ancient authors and recognize the value of the ancient sources. They do not accept the ancient stories at face value, that would of course be a mistake. Instead they look at the archeology and see how that illuminates the stories. Often credible theories of the past can be built when one uses this method.
This book is not meant to be a comprehensive history of the ancient world. Instead it is an introduction to the period. As the first volume of The Penguin History of Europe its purpose is to give the reader an understanding of the foundations of European civilization. The book is designed for the general reader. If you are not well read in the period you can pick this book up and learn a lot. I consider myself to be moderately well read in the period and I learned a lot. The Further Reading section at the end has a wonderful list of books, both scholarly and general reader, that should keep the person interested in the period satisfied for a long time to come.