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Imperial Lessons from Athens and Sparta: Eighteenth-Century British Histories of Ancient Greece

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Abstract:

The only perspective through which eighteenth-century British histories of Ancient Greece have been studied is their attitude towards monarchy and democracy. Because these texts collectively depicted monarchy as the ideal type of government and democracy as the worst, scholars have labelled them simply as pro-Spartan and anti- Athenian. Nevertheless, ancient history-writing was then a practice aiming at providing insights into as many contemporary political topics as possible and Ancient Greek history-writing was no exception. The question of empire appears to be a problem that equally preoccupied the historians. In that sense, the eighteenth-century British histories of Ancient Greece serve as an alternative source for arriving at the contemporary understanding of empire in Britain. Furthermore, the tone of the historians' arguments, which was very much determined by the theme selected, was far from always pro-Spartan. Within the context of empire, Athens was presented as the model to be emulated.

Keywords: Ancient Greek history-writing; Ancient-history writing in 18th-century Britain; Athenian empire; Commercial empire; Eighteenth-Century British Empire; John Gast; John Gillies; John Potter; Militaristic empire; Oliver Goldsmith; Spartan empire; Temple Stanyan; Thomas Hind; Thomas Leland; William Mitford; neo-classicism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of History, Bilkent University, Ankara, 06800, Turkey, Email: cakca@bilkent.edu.tr

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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