In This Review

The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge
The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge
By Paul A. Rahe
Yale University Press, 2015, 424 pp

In this masterly account of some of the most formative events of the ancient world, Rahe describes how the Greeks resisted the military might wielded by the Persian emperors Darius and Xerxes during the Greco-Persian Wars of the fifth century BC. Rahe puts the Spartans at center stage, providing a vivid description of their society and politics: militaristic in ethos but cautious in diplomacy. The Spartans played a crucial role in forging the Hellenic alliance that repelled the Persian invaders, and their bravery and military talents were critical to such victories as the famous defense of the pass at Thermopylae in 480 BC. Rahe sets the story in a complicated geopolitical context, with a large cast of characters connected through a series of shifting alliances. But his relaxed, even jaunty style and his thorough analysis sustain the narrative and hold the reader’s attention. And his appreciation of the practicalities of ancient warfare—from the challenge of managing large numbers of horses to the difficulty of maneuvering triremes, the chief naval vessels of the era—adds credibility to his accounts of the key battles.