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Sparta: Unfit for Empire, by Godfrey Hutchinson, Frontline Books, Barnsley, United Kingdom, 2015, $44.95

Sparta emerged from the Peloponnesian War as the dominant power in the Mediterranean world. Yet in less than 40 years it was reduced to a second-class Hellenic city-state.

In Sparta: Unfit for Empire, Hutchinson, author of Xenophon and the Art of Command, investigates the causes behind those years of military decline between the 404 bc end of the Peloponnesian War and the 362 bc Battle of Mantinea.

Hutchinson seeks to explain how Sparta’s own institutions led to its rapid fall. After developing what it regarded as an invincible military structure, it refused to modernize its army, adopt more flexible field units (e.g., peltasts) or accept cavalry as equal in importance to infantry in military operations. The structure of its hoplite phalanx remained quite basic. Meanwhile, Epaminondas, of Spartan rival Thebes, modernized the phalanx to be more flexible, allowing him to concentrate his forces where they could best achieve superiority on the battlefield. Sparta’s closed society was equally impervious to change, and ultimately the combination proved fatal.

 —Thomas Zacharis