Philosophy, art, democracy, language, even computers — our world has been shaped by the products of Greek civilisation. Yet most of us know little about a people and a place that have given us so much. Pericles and the Parthenon may be familiar, but what of Epaminondas, the Theban general who saved the Greek world from Spartan tyranny? Alexander the Great’s fame has rolled down the centuries, but the glorious Hellenistic Age that came after him is largely forgotten. ‘Byzantine’ often conjures a vague notion of decadence and deadly intrigue, yet the 1,000-year empire ruled from Constantinople saved Europe twice from invasion and was, in fact, Greek.
The story of modern Greece, too, is a dramatic tale of triumph and catastrophe, from liberation and expansion through schism and home-grown dictatorship, Nazi occupation and civil war to today’s nation — battered by austerity, a transit camp for the casualties of the Middle East, at the front-line of climate change — yet still proud of its values.
In The Shortest History of Greece, James Heneage charts the odyssey of the Greeks through more than three millennia. As he does so, he uncovers a vital lesson — one that may just help us fix our own democracies.
JAMES HENEAGE has been fascinated by history from an early age, in particular the rise and fall of empires. He founded the Ottakar’s chain of bookshops, which grew to 150 branches before being bought by Waterstones. After Ottakar’s, he chaired the Cheltenham Literary Festival before setting up his own festival dedicated to history with author James Holland. The Chalke Valley History Festival is now in its 9th year, drawing audiences of around 30,000 people. He is also the author of four bestselling historical novels set in Byzantium.