A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great by John B. Bury

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For the Irish historian John Bagnell Bury, history should be treated as a science and not a mere branch of literature. Many contemporary histories written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were poetic and heroic in tone, blending fact and fiction, myths and legends. They sometimes relied on sources from Shakespeare and classical poets. For Bury, the facts of history may be legendary or romantic in nature, but they should be recounted in a scholarly and non-judgmental manner, without the accompanying emotions. His aim was simply to “tell history as it happened.” A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great was first published in 1900. It went on to become a standard text in many colleges and was used as a definitive guide to our understanding of the pre-Hellenistic kingdoms. Richly supplemented with maps and columnar notes, the book deals with its subject in an academic manner, but it is a work which is easily accessible to the ordinary reader as well. There are many interesting illustrations from antiquities in the British Museum and photographs of busts from various art galleries. There are 18 chapters, portraying the beginnings of Ancient Greece in the Heroic Age. The author is also concerned about how previous histories of Ancient Greece have largely ignored the Greek presence in Persia, Asia Minor, Italy and Sicily while emphasizing the Greek history of Sparta and Athens. Later chapters deal with Athenian democracy, Pericles and the Golden Age, the advance of the Persians, the Peloponnesian war and the decline of Athenian Greece, the rise of Thebes, the Syracusan empire, the rise of Macedonia and the final conquest of Persia and East Asia. There is also an interesting chapter on Aristotle and Alexander. Aristotle's background and how he became Alexander's teacher, the differing visions that tutor and pupil held about the ideal city-state and the ultimate influence that these ideas had on the development of Europe are discussed in the last chapter. Bury was a young genius who became a Fellow at Trinity College Dublin at the young age of 24 and a professor at Cambridge, where he taught both history and Greek, before he was forty. His interests included medieval studies and philology. His works cover a range of subjects including Greek and Byzantine history and the role of the Church and the Papacy in the 19th century. Though some of the information in this book may be a little dated following new studies, technological advances and discoveries uncovered by the latest research, it is extremely readable and interesting. A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great is a historical and interesting read.

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