Professor Paul Anthony Cartledge is widely acknowledged as one of the world's leading experts on the subject of Sparta and the Spartans. He is the Professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge and Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor at New York University.
In 2002, Dr. Cartledge was awarded the Gold Cross of the Order of Honour of the Greek Republic (by the President of Greece), and in 2004, was elected an Honorary Citizen of Sparta.
Presented below are reviews of several of the books on Sparta written by Dr. Cartledge as is a complete listing of all his titles which are currently in print.
'Thermopylae - The Battle that Changed the World'
From Booklist The stand by 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae in northern Greece is one of the most revered foundation stories of Western civilization. In 480 BCE, the Spartans heroically delayed the advance of a massive Persian invading force. Thus, so the story goes, the blossoming culture of a "free" Greece was rescued from the domination of oriental despotism and "barbarism."
Cartledge, a Cambridge professor of Greek history, reveals a far more complex story. Much of mainland Greece refused to embrace the emerging free and democratic culture associated with Athens. Persians were hardly barbaric, and their imperial control generally left subject peoples, including the Ionian Greeks, considerable latitude. Still, as this beautifully written and stirring saga asserts, the history of Western civilization would almost certainly have been fundamentally different had the Persians prevailed. When describing the actual military conflict, Cartledge's account has a special urgency and poignancy.
This new look at what might just be the most important battle in Western history - even if "we" lost it - is both an enthralling account of the battle itself, and a fascinating argument about it.
Cartledge is one of the world's acknowledged experts on Sparta, and his understanding of that grim warrior people - the samurai of their day, he suggests - is impressive. He vividly reconstructs their finest hour, first examining mobilisation and preparation, and then the broiling August day when 300 of their finest, under the command of Leonidas, took up their positions at the Hot Gates ("Thermopylae" in Greek) and fought to the death against a numerically vastly superior Persian army under Xerxes.
The tale has been told before, of course, but, where Cartledge really scores is in his subsequent overview of how this crucial confrontation between East and West came to occupy a central place in the West's view of itself, from antiquity right through to modern times. An epilogue and three quite brilliant appendices (which might simply have formed additional chapters in the book) examine in particular the genius of Herodotus, Father of History and chief source for this period. Cartledge shows how Herodotus's invention of a new, would-be objective and fair-minded form of reportage has been so vital to the West and to its capacity, at its best, to tolerate and understand other cultures. It also suggests why certain other cultures are so poor at developing a similar tradition of tolerance. The West's cheerfully magpie approach to the rest is not a recent, multi-culti thing either. Boccaccio drew on Arabian tales, Chaucer knew his Avicenna, Longfellow created Hiawatha...
The defeat at Thermopylae - and it was a total wipe-out, but for one poor man almost blind with an eye infection, who survived, to the utmost contempt of his own people - nevertheless inspired the rest of the Greeks incalculably. It would be interesting to know to what extent this original heroic set-piece (Marathon apart) of freedom-loving Greeks versus tyrannical Orientals inspired European warriors in later clashes: when the forces of Islamic imperialism first made themselves felt in Spain and then in the very heart of France, for instance, to be defeated by Charles Martel; or 800 years later, at the gates of Vienna. Likewise, did Salamis inspire Lepanto? Though his overview of the later mythologising of Thermopylae is interesting, there might have been more.
All is forgiven however, for his devoted analysis of Herodotus. Herodotus wrote his Histories in his own words, in order "that the great and wondrous deeds of both Greeks and barbarians may not lack their due glory", and it might not be over-stating the case to say that in Herodotus, and his express intention here, is the foundation stone of all that is best about the West. True, there is plenty of reason to see much that is worst about the West foreshadowed in the ruthless city state of Sparta. Yet the sins of the Spartans - intense militarism, way beyond any ordinary soldierly valour, or their appalling suppression of their own "helot" underclass - are sins mirrored in many other cultures around the world. The even-handedness and open-mindedness of Herodotus is unique, for its time. You don't get much sense, from the surviving triumphal reliefs and friezes of ancient Persepolis, depicting the King of Kings enslaving and destroying his enemies, that Persia had embraced or could ever embrace anything like the spirit of free enquiry of the Greeks. "There was no Persian Herodotus," says Cartledge, "nor... could there possibly have been one."
Herodotus was no cultural relativist, believing that all cultures are equal. He knew very well that Eating People Is Wrong, though enthusiastically practised amongst the anthropophagous barbarians of Scythia. But all cultures were of interest to him. He was "an ethical pluralist", argues Cartledge, not a relativist. This is the key to the Greeks' "capacity for almost limitless self-criticism as well as unstinting criticism of others". One without the other of these leads either to ferocious intolerance, or ludicrous cultural self-repudiation of the "Dead White Males" variety. Cartledge is also interesting on the role of religion, too glibly equated with intolerance nowadays. Herodotus was able to empathise with the Other not in spite of but "because he was pious".
In sum, Cartledge's unpicking of the way in which the Spartans both won and lost at Thermopylae is impeccable, and he engages in genuinely important historical argument with passion and a rare philosophical clarity. I even like the way he refers to his colleague, Bettany Hutghes, in the acknowledgements, as his "Laconological collaboratrix". Fowler condemns such polysyllabic humour, in his inimitably frosty way, as "a weakness incident to youth". But I've always been a sucker for it myself.
'The Spartans - The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece'
From Publishers Weekly
Legendary for their ferocious combat skills, the Spartans built a warrior culture in ancient Greece unsurpassed for its courage and military prowess. Eminent historian Cartledge (Spartan Reflections) provides a remarkable chronicle of Sparta's rise and fall, from its likely origins around 1100 B.C. to the height of its fame and glory in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. and its fall in the fourth century B.C. The Spartans built their society through conquest and subjugation, ruling over their subject peoples with an iron hand and putting down revolts with devastating might. Between 490 and 479, Sparta joined Athens in fighting the Persians in three key wars-Thermopylae, Plataea and Mycale-that contributed to the demise of Persian power and the rise of Hellenistic power on the Mediterranean. Cartledge punctuates his absorbing tale with brief, engaging biographies of the city-state's kings from Lycurgus, the earliest Spartan leader, who brought constitutional law to the city, to Leonidas, who led the Spartans at Thermopylae. According to Cartledge, the Spartans' legacy to Western culture includes devotion to duty, discipline, the willingness to sacrifice individual life for the greater good of the community and the nobility of arms in a cause worth dying for. Cartledge's crystalline prose, his vivacious storytelling and his lucid historical insights combine here to provide a first-rate history of the Spartans, their significance to ancient Greece and their influence on our culture. It ties in to a PBS series to air this summer. 27 b&w illus., 3 maps. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.