Themistocles: The Powerbroker of Athens

Themistocles: The Powerbroker of Athens

Jeffrey A. Smith
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
No need for a classical education to enjoy Jeffrey Smith's biography of the architect of Athenean victory in the Persian wars. Hypermodern concepts such as information warfare sit remarkably comfortably alongside ancient Greek aesthetics, the heroes of the Illiad and the Pantheon of Greek Gods in this beautifully written account which charts the rise and fall of a man few may have heard of, but most indirectly owe their Democratic way of life to.

Whilst King Leonidas, of 300 fame, was oiling himself up at Thermopylae Themistocles was leading the Athenean fleet a few miles away at the far more significant naval battle of Artemisium. That the fleet only existed due to his strategic foresight, bribery, cunning and a decade of Machiavellian political skill is remarkable in itself. The fate of the fledgling democracy relied upon a lower class lad repeatedly beating overwhelming odds against his own aristocray, the infighting of the other Greek city states and the massed hordes of Persian invaders in some of the most famous land and fleet battles of the ancient world.

The book begins with him as a unit commander at the battle of Marathon alongside his aristocratic rival, traces his wonderful corruption and political skill which ensured that Athens became a naval focussed power, the resultant campaign against King Xerxes culminating in the Battle of Salamis which he ably engineered and his inevitable downfall. This is no hagiography however, with Themistocles being portrayed warts and all as he engages in human sacrifice, treason and whatever corruption happened to be necessary to achieve his aims.

The author also provides a rich backdrop to the strategic and cultural situation,with learned but accessible references to Homer's epics and other major works, which in 258 pages is quite a feat for a debut novel and a blaggers delight. Most of the bodacious Greek philosophizer dudes were yet to be born and likely wouldn't have been without the ruthless persuit of victory at all costs against the millions of Persian invaders. As Plutarch observed of Themistocles' humble origins and attitude, "Don't envy them, surpass them", something which the author ably manages in relation to drier, less readable and more academic works.

If you are struggling to place the name then Themistocles is the dude wot banged Eva Green on the Galley in the 300 sequel. Which is, obviously, also well worth a watch.

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