On the Spot: Paul Cartledge

What’s the most exciting field in history today? The history of political thought.

The Pnyx
The Pnyx plateau in Athens, with the Acropolis in the background. Photographed February 2021. Wiki Commons/George E. Koronaios.

Why are you a historian of Ancient Greece?

I knew from the age of eight that I loved Homer and wanted to be a historian.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That it’s historians who make history.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (by the historian who’s most influenced me).

What book in your field should everyone read?

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

The democratic assembly on the Pnyx hill in 448 BC when the Athenians voted for the building programme that would produce the Parthenon.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

Sir Walter Ralegh.

How many languages do you have?

Speaking: English and French. Reading: Greek (ancient and modern), Latin, German, Italian.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

That historiography is bound to continue getting better and better.

What is the most common misconception about your field?

That ancient history is ancient. All history is contemporary.

Which genre of history do you like least?

I like them all but I am least enamoured with econometric history.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

The history of political thought.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

Where to start? The Code of Hammurabi in its original Akkadian, perhaps.

What’s your favourite archive?

Attic Inscriptions Online.

What’s the best museum?

The Acropolis Museum, Athens.

What technology has changed the world the most?

The internet.

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?

The Mediterranean.

Historical drama or documentary?

Documentary (without the re-enactments).

The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

The Parthenon (no contest).

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Destroying the planet.


Paul Cartledge is Emeritus A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, Clare College, Cambridge and author, most recently, of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece (Picador, 2020).