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A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War (ePub)

Ships, Men and Money in the War at Sea, 431-404 BC

Ancient History Maritime > Naval Military

By Marc G DeSantis
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 1.5 MB (.epub)
Pages: 261
Illustrations: 10
ISBN: 9781473861602
Published: 29th November 2017


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Naval power played a vital role in the Peloponnesian War. The conflict pitted Athens against a powerful coalition including the preeminent land power of the day, Sparta. Only Athens’ superior fleet, her ‘wooden walls’, by protecting her vital supply routes allowed her to survive. It also allowed the strategic freedom of movement to strike back where she chose, most famously at Sphacteria, where a Spartan force was cut off and forced to surrender.

Athens’ initial tactical superiority was demonstrated at the Battle of Chalcis, where her ships literally ran rings round the opposition but this gap closed as her enemies adapted. The great amphibious expedition to Sicily was a watershed, a strategic blunder compounded by tactical errors which brought defeat and irreplaceable losses. Although Athens continued to win victories at sea, at Arginusae for example, her naval strength had been severely weakened while the Spartans built up their fleets with Persian subsidies. It was another naval defeat, at Aegispotomi (405 BC) that finally sealed Athens’ fate. Marc De Santis narrates these stirring events while analysing the technical, tactical and strategic aspects of the war at sea.

“A Naval History of the Peloponnesian War” is not for the faint-hearted. A solid grounding in the major actors, places and politics that shaped this conflict are recommended before diving into this book. Alternatively, reading this analysis of the maritime aspects of this war alongside Strassler’s “The Landmark Thucydides”, which includes glossaries, margin notes, maps and detailed annexes, is highly recommended. DeSantis’ book suffers from the extensive amount of detailed narration and re-telling of the Peloponnesian War, yet it makes a number of important points about the enduring nature of maritime conflict, its relationship to politics and strategy, and the impact of navies on the social structures of maritime nations. It is a very worthwhile read for those interested in the enduring manner in which navies shape our economies, our politics and our wars in the modern world.

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Australian Naval Institute

This war has had many books written about it. In actuality Thucydides, an Athenian general, wrote the first history of the war. The book we are looking at is one of the best on the subject, but also one of the best books about any war. As the author points out, Greece's coastline is actually longer than Italy's. So almost all of the fighting took place fifty miles or less near the Aegean or Ionian Seas. This was a well written and fascinating book on ancient warfare. From the physical problems that the rowers themselves endured (read for yourself), to how the Corinthians strengthened their bows, it is in this book. I am looking forward to reading more from the author.

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A Wargamer's Needful Things

I very much enjoyed this book, especially as I was reading it at the same time as Great Battles of the Classical Greek World. There was some overlap between the two books so taking an alternate view on some matters was a benefit.

If you are a naval tragic like me, and an ancient history addict as well, this book will serve well as an overview of the Peloponnesian War from the naval perspective. Thucydides and Xenophon are still the main sources to read but DeSantis’s book is both easy to read and factual.

This is a good book providing a good amount of detail and covering one the more exciting stories from Ancient Greece. I am now looking for my copy of Thucydides to read further into this conflict again, one that I have not looked at for about 30 years. Recommended.

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Thomo's Hole - Reviewed by Ian Thompson

Most of it written in an approachable and digestible style, allowing the reader to understand how it was that the foremost land power of Sparta managed to beat the all-powerful navy of Athens, at sea.

The Armourer, May 2018

About Marc G DeSantis

Marc G. DeSantis is a historian and attorney who has written extensively on military historical subjects for such publications as Military History Quarterly, Ancient Warfare, and Military Heritage.

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