Author: Rosalind Thomas
Publisher: Cambridge University Press – 490 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

Much of Western civilization as we know it and live it, here in the United States and as it exists in much of present-day Western Europe, began during the period of classical Greece that lasted for around 200 years from the fifth to the fourth centuries BC. At the end of that classical Greek era, the Hellenistic period began in 323 BC, shortly upon  the death of Alexander the Great. When that happened, the Greek heartlands were annexed by and became part of the Roman Republic.

We provide you the above perspective so that you may have a better understanding of the background upon which this book by Rosalind Thomas is based. She teaches the history of Greece at Oxford University in England.

Professor Thomas informs us about the influence the writings of Felix Jacoby had upon her studies and research on the Greek political community, comprising of cities.

Jacoby, who was born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1876, converted to Christianity at age 11 and grew up to become a historian who specialized in the multi-century Greek classical period, with a special interest in the life and influence of the Greek historian Herodotus. Jacoby is known for weaving together fragments of  descriptions of life in small Greek cities written by various residents. These are named ‘polis histories’ by this book’s author Rosalind Thomas.

To provide you an overview of what else you will find between the covers of this nearly 500-page book, we list below the titles of its chapters, along with an Introduction.  



  1. What Are Polis Histories? What Are Local Histories? Popular History and Its Audiences
  2. Tales from the Telling
  3. Ethnography of the Greeks? The Polis as a New Subject for Historiography
  4. Fostering the Community: Accumulative Historiography
  5. Origins, Foundations, and Ethnicity: Greeks and Non-Greeks
  6. Saving the City: Political History or Paradoxa? Miletus and Lesbos
  7. Polis in Flux: Dislocation and Disenchantment in Samos
  8. Athenian Polis Histories
  9. The Aristotelian Politeiai and Local Histories
  10. Polis and Island Histories and the Late Classical and Hellenistic World: A New Hellenism?

In a section of this book about 30 pages in length – from page 415 to 445 (Appendix 3) – you will find a listing of the cities, islands and other territories that existed in the multi-century era of classical Greece. These areas being the main subject of this book, you will find a lot of useful and relevant information, especially if you are a researcher or historian. The data compiled in this section of  the book includes: names of the historians, names of areas, the periods during which these areas existed, and more.

Each of the chapters begins with introductory paragraphs on the main subject or topic of the chapter, and in the Conclusion, essential points are stated or restated. So while there are lots of names of people, places, ideas and events mentioned in this book, its theme is clear: the discussion of the socio-political nature and history of the polis. Perhaps the important word ‘politics’ likely had its origin in Greece.

Whether or not this is true, the subject of politics elicits interest in most people, so I think most readers will find this book interesting and hopefully enlightening, whether or not you are interested in political histories. But if you are interested in the history and origins of politics, this is the book you should not miss reading.



Rosalind Thomas is Professor of Greek History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Balliol College at that university. Her publications include Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 1989), Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 1992) and Herodotus in Context: Ethnography, Science and the Art of Persuasion (Cambridge, 2000).