Book Review: After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian War

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by Paul Cartledge

New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xxx, 204. Illus, maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $24.95. ISBN: 0199747326

As the primary source of the Graeco-Persian Wars, the historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote that the Battle of Plataea (479 BC E) was “the most splendid victory of all those about which we have knowledge.” Even so, the charge of the Greek hoplites through the hail of Persian arrows on the plain of Marathon over a decade earlier, the glorious last stand of the 300 Spartans and the 700 Thespians at Thermopylae, and the crushing defeat of the Persian armada at Salamis in 480 BCE have all eclipsed Plataea in distinction.  Nonetheless, it is this seminal event which Paul Cartledge,  Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor,  has examined in this, his latest book.

The central theme of After Thermopylae is not the battle itself, though Cartledge gives it adequate attention, but rather the controversy surrounding “The Oath of Plataea” and whether it was allegedly sworn by the Athenians, and presumably the rest of the Greeks, prior to the battle.  After much deliberation, he concludes that it does not appear credible as that such an oath was sworn by the “Hellenes” prior to the decisive engagement at Plataea, despite its putative authenticity.  The "Oath" is not mentioned  by Herodotus, and the "evidence" for it suffers from narrative and linguistic inconsistencies.  Cartledge attributes this fabrication to efforts by some of the Greeks to amplify their role in the victory, seeking a greater share of the glory.

In discussing Plataea, Cartledge considers its legacy.  The overwhelming victory of the Greeks, enabled an era of intellectual and artistic development to continue to flourish.  Cartledge, in his latest work, has extricated the battle from where it has languished as “unheralded,” and elevated it to a position in which it is firmly entrenched in the pantheon of the other celebrated Greek battles.  Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis will now share their laurels with the definitive triumph at Plataea, which essentially ended Persia’s quest for the subjugation of Greece.  This is an excellent work for anyone interested in the history of the Greeks or in historical memory

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Our reviewer:  John Trikeriotis is a lecturer of ancient Greek warfare and a member of the archaeological group, “The Leonidas Expeditions.”  He is also the adviser to “The Hellenic Warriors” living history association, which appears at schools, museums and universities presenting the armor, weapons, tactics and formations used by the ancient Greeks during the Graeco-Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. In addition, he maintains the website 300spartanwarriors.com , which provides a more authoritative summation of the events as they happened during the Battle of Thermopylae, in comparison to their depiction by Hollywood.  His review of the History Channel episode on the Battle of Plataea was cited by Professor Cartledge in After Thermopylae.

Reviewer: John Trikeriotis    


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