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The First Clash    by James Lacey order for
First Clash
by James Lacey
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2013 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Lacey's gripping The First Clash analyses 'The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and its Impact on Western Civilization' in some (but not too much) detail and gives the author's well informed view of why the Athenian win against the numerically superior Persians required seasoned veterans, strong leadership and good fortune ... but was not quite the miracle that it's been spun into since.

Lacey tells us that 'Twice the Persian armies came to conquer Greece. The first of these invasions ended when the Athenians wrecked a Persian army at Marathon.' He comments that, though the second invasion (and the Spartan stand at Thermopylae) is better known, it was the first success by 'an experienced and battle-hardened army' that gave the Greeks the will to resist the second Persian attack. And the Battle of Marathon was 'the first major clash between a nascent Western civilization and the already old civilizations of the East.'

Readers learn of the reign of Cyrus in Persia; how Darius rose to power in a crumbling empire; the huge discrepancy in wealth between mighty Persia and Athens; how the rule of Pisistratus advanced the Athenian economy; Sparta's military alliances in the Pelopennesian League; the genius of Cleisthenes and the impact of his new political organization; the question of who actually commanded the Athenian army at the Battle of Marathon; and the details of what led up to the conflict and the battle itself (including the weapons and armor used by each side).

What difference did Marathon make to Western civilization? Lacey argues that it's hard to imagine how the 'great minds and independent spirits' of individuals like Pericles, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates 'would have soared as slaves to a despotic empire ... Western civilization owes its existence to a thin line of bronze-encased "men as hard as oak" who went bravely forward against overwhelming odds, to victory and never-ending glory.'

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