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Rise and Fall of Classical Greece

by Josiah Ober Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 464 pages
AU$86.99 NZ$89.56
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Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterisation more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanised. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialised occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth and classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years.

Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period - and why only then? And how, after “the Greek miracle” had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall.

Ober argues that Greece’s rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory made possible by the Macedonians’ appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander’s death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans—and to us.

A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die.

List of Images and Tables xi

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xxi

Abbreviations xxv

1 The Efflorescence of Classical Greece 1

2 Ants around a Pond: An Ecology of City-States 21

3 Political Animals: A Theory of Decentralized Cooperation 45

4 Wealthy Hellas: Measuring Efflorescence 71

5 Explaining Hellas' Wealth: Fair Rules and Competition 101

6 Citizens and Specialization before 550 BCE 123

7 From Tyranny to Democracy, 550-465 BCE 157

8 Golden Age of Empire, 478-404 BCE 191

9 Disorder and Growth, 403-340 BCE 223

10 Political Fall, 359-334 BCE 261

11 Creative Destruction and Immortality 293

Appendix I: Regions of the Greek World: Population, Size, Fame 317

Appendix II: King, City, and Elite Game, Josiah Ober and Barry Weingast 321

Notes 329

Bibliography 367

Index 401

'his could turn out to be Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for classical Greece.'--Jonathan Sturgeon, Flavorwire
Josiah Ober is the Mitsotakis Professor of Political Science and Classics at Stanford University. His books include 'Democracy and Knowledge', 'Political Dissent in Democratic Athens', 'The Athenian Revolution', and 'Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens' (all Princeton). He lives in Palo Alto, California.