Now, let's see. We are in the middle of a cold war with a powerful enemy. And this cold war is getting warmer by the minute. We have an empire made of of resentful subjects and recalcitrant allies. Oh, and we are still at war with the greatest military force currently on the planet.
For the Athenian assembly of 415 BC this was the perfect moment to send a fleet across the Mediterranean and start a totally unnecessary war with the people of Sicily. No matter that the principal city of Sicily - Syracuse - was by itself almost as rich and well-defended as Athens. All the better, really, because once Syracuse was whipped, the rest of Sicily would fall into line. And as went Sicily, so would go Italy, Greece and then the world.
This scheme was hare-brained idiocy, except for the fact that it came within an ace of success at the first and most difficult stage. That it was attempted at all is a tribute to the daring and sheer audacity of the Athenians of the age of Pericles. Had the invasion not suffered a series of misfortunes, the world might have seen a Pax Athena in place of the Pax Romana.
This book tells the story of the Athenian expedition to Sicily - an expedition which set out full of hope and ambition and ended in crushing and total defeat. Between lies a story full of skullduggery, political machinations, heroism, stirring speeches and dirty tricks all against an epic background of siege, counter-siege and full-scale battles by land and sea.
The end result is a true Greek tragedy, but it is also the story of how a single city took on the world, and - by a combination of courage, brilliance and ruthlessness - almost won.