ARC Review: Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece by Paul Cartledge

Posted August 7, 2020 by Stephanie in Reviews / 12 Comments

Title: Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece
Author: Paul Cartledge
Publication: September 22nd 2020 by Abrams Press
Genre: Nonfiction, Ancient History
Purchase it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Play | Kobo
Rating: 4/5

The riveting, definitive account of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, by the acclaimed author of The Spartans

Among the extensive writing available about the history of ancient Greece, there is precious little about the city-state of Thebes. At one point the most powerful city in ancient Greece, Thebes has been long overshadowed by its better-known rivals, Athens and Sparta. In Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, acclaimed classicist and historian Paul Cartledge brings the city vividly to life and argues that it is central to our understanding of the ancient Greeks’ achievements—whether politically or culturally—and thus to the wider politico-cultural traditions of western Europe, the Americas, and indeed the world.

From its role as an ancient political power, to its destruction at the hands of Alexander the Great as punishment for a failed revolt, to its eventual restoration by Alexander’s successor, Cartledge deftly chronicles the rise and fall of the ancient city. He recounts the history with deep clarity and mastery for the subject and makes clear both the differences and the interconnections between the Thebes of myth and the Thebes of history. Written in clear prose and illustrated with images in two color inserts, Thebes is a gripping read for students of ancient history and those looking to experience the real city behind the myths of Cadmus, Hercules, and Oedipus.


First of all, wow… I read this book in only three days which is pretty damn for me with a 320 page nonfiction about ancient Greece. Sure, it isn’t the longest book I’ve ever read but the topic is a rather heavy and complex one so finishing it this fast actually surprised me.

Paul Cartledge covers a lot of ground with this latest new book of his. From pre-history to classical Thebes (don’t confuse it with the Egyptian city of the same name) to the downfall and a lot more in between and after. I didn’t know a whole lot about ancient Thebes so it was all highly fascinating and I was very eager so soak up all the knowledge. It made me want to read more titles from the author as well.

I do feel like readers will enjoy reading this more if they already have an interest in this sort of book like I did since the topic in general is a lot and because of the compexity about the ancient world in general. Of course if you just want to learn more about ancient Greece then this is a great book too. It was definitely a surprising one, that’s for sure.

I also really want to buy a physical copy of this book once it releases since I read this as an e-ARC from Edelweiss and because of this I couldn’t see the illustrations and I’m sure they would make this an ever better read.

Overall, I was completely hooked by the fascinating history of the ancient city of Thebes. I could hardly put the book down, it was interesting and a fast read. I couldn’t have wanted more from a nonfiction like this one.

Some interesting facts from the book:

  • Thebes has almost continuously been inhabited for five millennia.
  • The city has been literally lost and forgotten on more than one occasion.
  • The ancient Greeks called themselves Hellenes. ‘Greeks’ is a legacy of the Romans.
  • The historical Greeks called their alphabetic script either ‘Phoenician letters’ or ‘Cadmean letters.’
  • Alexander the Great was a fervent follower of the old Greek gods, especially Dionysus and Heracles.

About the author:

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is also Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. He written and edited over 20 books, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.
Amazon | University of Cambridge | Goodreads


12 responses to “ARC Review: Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece by Paul Cartledge

  1. Oooh now I know why you wanted Gates of Athens even more! This sounds fantastic. Non-fiction books aren’t normally at the top of my pile but this era has really caught my interest at the moment and this sounds so interesting. Great review!

  2. verushka

    If a 320 page non-fiction history book can make you feel like you’re not reading a 320-page non-fiction book, even for a not-often non-fic reader like myself, that’s impressive !

  3. Christine @ LifeWithAllTheBooks

    This one sounds fantastic! I love Ancient Greece – it is one of my favourite time periods – definitely want to read this. Great review ☺️

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