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The Greek Wars: The Failure of Persia.

The Greek Wars: The Failure of Persia. By GEORGE CAWKWELL. Oxford: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2005. Pp. viii + 316. $115.

Cawkwell's book is another welcome addition to the Persian perspective on the Greek source material for Achaemenid Persian history. In ten chapters, Cawkwell tracks Persian interaction with the Greeks from Cyrus through Alexander the Great. Nine appendices cover in more detail various problems within this interaction, and Cawkwell offers detailed perspectives on the Persian army and navy and the so-called Peace of Callias, among other topics. The book, as Cawkwell himself implies (Preface, p. v) is not an easy read. The non-specialist in Greek history and historiography may have trouble following the intricacies of Cawkwell's obvious command (manifest in his own voluminous works over the years) of the Greek sources and the interplay within them. This is not a criticism. In fact, it is a virtue for the intended audience of Classical historians, many of whom will be well served by a thorough reassessment of traditionally held beliefs about Greek-Persian relations.

Cawkwell seems apprised of Near Eastern sources--both their possibilities and their shortcomings--as well as modern scholarship thereon. But non-Greek primary sources are not cited with much frequency, and when they are, the citations themselves present their own foibles. For example, the citations for DPe, DNa, and DB on p. 53 nn. 1-2 are represented as "D Pe," "D Na," and "D B," respectively. The former, without intervening spaces, is the accepted nomenclature in Achaemenid epigraphical citations.

Cawkwell does not shy away from interpretive assessment of the historical problems involved with our understanding--and, for that matter, the ancient Greeks' understanding--of the Persians. In sum, there are a number of controversial (in the positive sense) contentions herein, and on the whole this is an insightful work. That a Classicist of Cawkwell's stature has not only taken the time to consider thoroughly this period from a Persian perspective, but has also taken the trouble to broach numerous problematic elements of Greek historiography of Persia on such a scale, is remarkable in its own right. For example, the contrarian perspective (see chapter 5 and especially p. 91) that Xerxes' failed invasion of Greece is attributable more to Persian mistakes than to Greek facility offers much grist for the mill. This work joins the serious works on Achaemenid history that scholars must consult.


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Author:Waters, Matthew
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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