Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.02.16

Charlotte Schubert, Athen und Sparta in klassischer Zeit. Ein Studienbuch.   Stuttgart/Weimar:  J.B. Metzler, 2003.  Pp. xiv, 255.  ISBN 3-476-01940-3.  EUR 29.95.  

Reviewed by Mischa Meier (
Word count: 2366 words

After years of histories of Athens and Sparta written separately, now three monographs have been published aiming to describe simultaneously the development of both poleis, especially their mutual relationships.1 All these books are addressed more to students and the general reader than to scholars. No wonder, therefore, that Schubert prefers to present a summary of events and developments instead of analyzing and interpreting the material in a wider perspective.

Schubert's book is divided into nine chapters. In the first chapter ("Der Sturz der Peisistratiden und die Phylenreform des Kleisthenes", 1-25) she surveys the events in Athens from the end of the tyranny to the introduction of the Cleisthenic constitution. She centres her description on the division of Attica and the Athenians into trittyes, demes and phylai and on the consequences of these reforms for the Athenian citizens (7sqq.), emphasizing in particular that citizenship was independent of legal and economic differences and that the demes and phylai served as the nucleus of the Athenians' social and religious identity (21). She rightly points to the great importance of cults and feasts in creating and preserving a singular civic identity (21-25). Also noteworthy are her well-balanced considerations on isonomia, which she convincingly explains as a concept mainly developed within the Athenian aristocracy (15-19).

The second chapter ("Die Perserkriege: Die Grundlagen für den Aufstieg Athens", 26-56) deals, in chronological order, with the Ionian revolt, the expedition of Mardonius, the battle of Marathon, the situation in Athens after Marathon, the expedition of Xerxes, the foundation of the Hellenic League and the battles against the Persians at Salamis and Plataea. In the second part of this chapter Schubert looks at the beginning of the differences between Athens and Sparta and the foundation of the Delian League.

Her third chapter ("Von Kleomenes zu Pausanias: Die Krise Spartas", 57-75) gives a short survey of Spartan history from the First Messenian War to the great earthquake in the 460s, dealing in detail with Cleomenes I and Pausanias.

In the fourth chapter ("Die athenische Politik der 70er und 60er Jahre", 76-96) Schubert returns to Athens again. She discusses the politics of Cimon and Themistocles, the problem of the so-called peace of Callias (stating that it is not possible to prove its existence), chronological problems and the background of the reforms of Ephialtes concerning the Areopagus. Schubert assumes that these events were not an important turning point in the history of Athens and the development of democracy.2

Athenian foreign policy and the Delian League are treated in the fifth chapter ("Athens Reich", 97-120), which is also concerned with the rise of Pericles (117sqq.).

The sixth chapter ("Lebenswelt und Politik", 121-135) introduces the reader to some aspects of Greek Presocratic philosophy, rhetoric and medicine. Schubert tries to outline connections between philosophical and scientific thinking on the one side and political developments in the 6th and 5th centuries on the other.

In her seventh chapter ("Der Peloponnesische Krieg", 136-157) she gives a chronologically arranged description of the war between Athens and Sparta, emphasizing the internal affairs in Athens during this conflict.

The eighth chapter ("Spartas Politik und Gesellschaft in der 2. Hälfte des 5. Jahrhunderts: Die Stabilisierung", 158-166) is dedicated to Sparta again. Schubert describes the particular social order of Sparta, the development of the Spartan military system in the 5th century, the concept of kalokagathia in Sparta and the ideology of the homoioi. She interprets this ideology -- following Lukas Thommen3 -- as a product of the 5th century (165). The arguments for this late date, however, are not convincing. The main turning point in Spartan history was not the 'crisis' between the wars against the Persians and the middle of the 5th century, but rather the situation after the Second Messenian War and the subjugation of all Messenians: the Spartans were forced to suppress their own social and political conflicts to keep the Messenian helots under control. In this situation the ideology of the homoioi was developed and propagated to obscure social differences in Sparta. Of course, the earliest reference to the word 'homoioi' describing Spartan citizens is Xenophon (Lac. pol. 10.7 and 13.1+7), who is a late source. But, as B. Shimron has shown, already Herodotus has implicitly used the word 'homoioi' for the Spartans (Hdt. 3.55.1).4 The passage of Herodotus is highly ironic. Thus, if Herodotus is able to ironize the ideology of homoioi, this ideology must be older than both Thommen and Schubert assume.

The last chapter ("Athen und Sparta im 5. Jahrhundert: Gleichheit und Verschiedenheit", 167-173) presents a short comparison between Athens and Sparta, which is meant to be a summary of the book.

What follows are some notes (174-198), "Quellenhinweise" (199-201), a list of abbreviations (202-203), a list of ancient authors (204-207), bibliographical references for each chapter (208-211), the bibliography (212-221), a glossary of Greek terms (222-223) and various maps and illustrations (237-255). Though one may regret the absence of an index, at first sight the book seems to be well arranged.

Nevertheless, there are problems concerning the general concept, the interpretations of major events and developments, the didactic aim and its realization, and, lastly, some errors, bibliographical omissions and misprints.

Looking at the concept of the book one wonders why the author gives such an unbalanced picture of Athens and Sparta: Six chapters are concerned with Athens (there Sparta is only considered as part of the Athenian history), whereas only two chapters are dedicated to Sparta. Even the comparison between Athens and Sparta at the end of the monograph is mainly written from an Athenian perspective. Schubert compares the different social and political structures of both poleis, but she does not mention that these different structures are the result of varying developments of two so-called city-states and that these developments must be interpreted within a wider context. In general, social and political developments in Greece are not discussed in the book. Therefore, the author fails to point out what is exceptional in Athens and Sparta. M. Dreher and R. Schulz, in their monographs on the history of Athens and Sparta, have recently shown the importance of this wider Greek perspective.5

The omission of some general remarks on characteristic features of Greek city-states in archaic and classical times has serious consequences, which are obvious on the first pages of Schubert's book. The author starts her account with the end of the Peisistratid tyranny, but nowhere she does explain why she begins just at this point. What is lacking here, are some introductory remarks on tyranny in archaic Greece, on the characteristic features of Greek aristocrats, their role in the process of the development of the polis, and on the reasons of conflicts between aristocrats and the 'demos' in archaic times. Instead Schubert just enumerates the events after the end of the tyranny and describes the reforms of Cleisthenes in great detail, but she does not explain which structural causes did lead to this reforms and why they are so important within the context of the Greek polis in archaic times.

There are also some points in Schubert's description of Spartan history that are problematic. On a few pages she presents a survey of the Messenian Wars, the helots, problems of land-ownership at Sparta, the syssitia and the perioikoi (58-62). In contrast to her description of the history of Athens, where she follows chronological order, Schubert deals exclusively with some aspects of the so-called Spartan kosmos. Only when she describes the activities of Cleomenes I does she give a more detailed account (64sqq.). Thus, the complex process of the emergence of the Spartan kosmos is reduced to some factors and events, which are only listed but not analyzed. Schubert fails to explain why the unique Spartan social and political system did emerge.

Also the end of Schubert's book is questionable. The author's aim is to present a description of Athenian and Spartan history "in klassischer Zeit", but she concludes her account with the end of the Peloponnesian War, which is interpreted as an epoch-marking turning point justifying her conception (XIII). However, recent scholarship has repeatedly pointed out that the 4th century must be seen as an important period within classical times,6 and hence Dreher and Schulz did not conclude their books with the Peloponnesian War.

It should be noted that Schubert, in most cases, avoids outlining actual scholarly debates. There are only few exceptions, e.g. the debate on the peace of Callias and its historicity (80-83) or on the reforms of Ephialtes concerning the Areopagus (86-90). Apart from that Schubert mentions "eine lebhafte Bautätigkeit" of the Athenian tyrants without noting the detailed debate on this matter (14). The legend of Lycurgus is presented as a product of the 5th century in a general statement without further investigation. However, it is not clear at all why Schubert begins the account on Sparta with some short remarks (only a few lines) on Lycurgus. Describing the krypteia (59sq.) the author avoids mentioning the numerous problems which are now under discussion. She only presents the krypteia as a product of the 5th century, emphasizing that "Gerade die Krypteia zeigt eine eigentümliche Verbindung zwischen archaisierenden Riten und gesellschaftlicher Struktur in Sparta" (69) -- but what does such a general remark mean? And what does it mean for the Spartan kosmos and its emergence? The perioikoi are defined oversimplistically as "vermutlich [...] die achäischen Ureinwohner Lakoniens, die von den Spartanern in die Berg- und Küstenregionen zurückdrängten [sic] worden waren" (61f.) -- Schubert mainly refers to G. Busolt to corroborate this interpretation ignoring nearly all scholary efforts since the 1920s (with the exception of P. Cartledge's book on Sparta of 19797)!

Frequently Schubert gives general remarks without any detailed explanation. Thus, she reproduces commonplaces such as: "Gleichzeitig ist dies mit einer politischen Entwicklung Athens verbunden, die ausschließlich von Bürgern getragen und geprägt wurde" (55) -- but what does that mean against the background of Greek city-states in general? "Das Eigentümliche der spartanischen Ordnung ist das mit der Gesellschaftsordnung eng verknüpfte Doppelkönigtum" (62) -- however, which kind of kingship is not connected with society in some way? It must be asked how this relationship between king and society was defined and which consequences such an interrelation had for the social and political order in Sparta.

In many cases Schubert is not familiar with modern scholarship. In her description of the expedition of Mardonios (32f.) one misses the important article of M. Zahrnt.8 Discussing the problems of land-ownership in Sparta (60) she ignores the fundamental works of St. Hodkinson.9 She fails to reflect upon the recent debate on the Great Rhetra and the fragments of Tyrtaeus, which usually are connected with this document (62).10 Dealing with the Peloponnesian League (66f.) she does not refer to E. Baltrusch.11 She omits quoting the article of K.-J. Hölkeskamp on Thucydides Melesiou (118)12 and the book of W. Furley on Andocides and the herms (146-148).13

However, it could be said that Schubert did not intend to write a book for scholars, but for students and general readers ("ein Studienbuch") and therefore deliberately avoided referring to recent discussions. But some passages of her book can be understood only by a reader who is familiar with the work of specialists. Schubert, for example, stresses that Herodotus draws parallels between Miltiades and Cleomenes (35) without saying anything about Cleomenes, whose activities are described only in the following chapter (64sqq.). She criticizes the "korrupte Verhalten des Pausanias" (50), but explains his behaviour only many pages later (68sqq.). In a general statement she hypothesizes an "attische[...] Ideologie" (118), but it is not clear at all what is meant with this notion. Frequently she does not explain termini technici, e.g. Phyle (5), Archontat, Areopag (7), Realteilung (20), Eponym (21), Heloten (33), Ephoren, Periöken (45), Pentekontaetie (46), Hybris (51), Metöken (55), Hermenstelen (146). Of course, there is a glossary at the end of the book explaining most of the terms (222-223). Nevertheless, the reader would be grateful to find these explanations at those places where he needs them. It should be added that such a glossary cannot analyze central concepts within specific and different contexts.

In some instances Schubert quotes from the original sources without integrating these citations into her argument, and so they are confusing rather than useful for the reader (7, 34, 36, 40, 43, 46, 59, 71, 80).

Some further points. On the reforms of Cleisthenes Schubert says: "Es ist nicht leicht festzustellen, seit wann die Vorstellung existierte, daß alle Einwohner Attikas zu dem Kreis derjenigen gehörten, die die kollektive Verantwortung für das Ganze der Polis trugen" (19). However, this idea can already be grasped in the poems of Solon. Concerning the ostrakismos Schubert does not take into consideration its important role in aristocratic conflicts, stating that the ostrakismos gave "die Möglichkeit für das Volk, den Führungsanspruch der adligen Politiker zurückzuweisen und zu begrenzen" (37). This is an idealizing point of view, which does not consider that the ostrakismos mainly was an instrument used in the rivalries of Athenian aristocrats.

Schubert is certainly not right in stating that the helotage was a result of the First and Second Messenian Wars (58). Already at this time the inhabitants of South-Laconia were helots. Nor is the following statement convincing: "Kernbestand der spartanischen Helotie ist eine Ertragsabgabe von 50% der landwirtschaftlichen Produktion auf dem jeweiligen Land, das in archaischer Zeit an die Spartiaten verteilt wurde" (58), since it is well-known that the fragment of Tyrtaeus, which is the source of this hypothesis (fr. 5 D = 5 G/P = fr. 6 W), is difficult to interpret (including some difficult textual problems).14 A further problem is raised by Plut. Lyc. 8.7, which seems to contradict the verses of Tyrtaeus -- a problem which at least should be mentioned.

Schubert rightly states that there is evidence of the Spartan ephorate only from the 6th century onwards. However, this does not necessarily imply that the ephorate must be younger than the other Spartan institutions (63). Perhaps it did already exist in earlier times but without much importance.

To sum up: Schubert intended to present an introductory comparison between Athens and Sparta. However, taking into account the various shortcomings and substantial omissions which I have mentioned I am rather inclined to recommend the books of Dreher and Schulz.


1.   M. Dreher, Athen und Sparta, München 2001; R. Schulz, Athen und Sparta, Darmstadt 2003.
2.   See also Ch. Schubert, Der Areopag - Ein Gerichtshof zwischen Politik und Recht, in: L. Burckhardt/J. von Ungern-Sternberg (eds.), Grosse Prozesse im antiken Athen, München 2000, 50-65; 258-262; Ch. Schubert, Der Areopag als Gerichtshof, in: ZRG (Rom. Abt.) 117 (2000), 103-132.
3.   See L. Thommen, Lakedaimonion Politeia. Die Entstehung der spartanischen Verfassung, Stuttgart 1996, 135sqq.
4.   B. Shimron, Ein Wortspiel mit HOMOIOI bei Herodot, in: RhM 122 (1979), 131-133.
5.   See note
1.  .
6.   See, for example, W. Eder (ed.), Die athenische Demokratie im 4. Jahrhundert. Vollendung oder Verfall einer Verfassungsform?, Stuttgart 1995.
7.   P. Cartledge, Sparta and Lakonia. A Regional History 1300-362 BC, London 1979.
8.   M. Zahrnt, Der Mardonioszug des Jahres 492 v. Chr. und seine historische Einordnung, in: Chiron 22 (1992), 237-279.
9.   See especially St. Hodkinson, Land Tenure and Inheritance in Classical Sparta, in: CQ 36 (1986), 378-406; St. Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta, London 2000 (esp. p. 462: further literature).
10.   H. van Wees, Tyrtaeus' Eunomia: Nothing to Do with the Great Rhetra, in: St. Hodkinson/A. Powell (Hgg.), Sparta. New Perspectives, London 1999, 1-41; St. Link, Das frühe Sparta. Untersuchungen zur spartanischen Staatsbildung im 7. und 6. Jahrhundert v. Chr., St. Katharinen 2000; M. Meier, Tyrtaios fr. 1b G/P bzw. fr. 14 G/P (= fr. 4 W) und die große Rhetra - kein Zusammenhang?, in: Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 5 (2002), 65-87; H. van Wees, Gute Ordnung ohne Große Rhetra - Noch einmal zu Tyrtaios' Eunomia, in: Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 5 (2002), 89-103; A. Maffi, Studi recenti sulla Grande Rhetra, in: Dike 5 (2002), 195-236.
11.   E. Baltrusch, Symmachie und Spondai. Untersuchungen zum griechischen Völkerrecht der archaischen und klassischen Zeit (8.-5. Jahrhundert v. Chr.), Berlin/New York 1994; E. Baltrusch, Mythos oder Wirklichkeit? Die Helotengefahr und der Peloponnesische Bund, in: Historische Zeitschrift 273 (2001), 1-24.
12.   K.-J. Hölkeskamp, Parteiungen und politische Willensbildung im demokratischen Athen: Perikles und Thukydides, Sohn des Melesias, in: Historische Zeitschrift 267 (1998), 1-27.
13.   W. D. Furley, Andokides and the Herms. A study of Crisis in Fifth-Century Athenian Religion, London 1996.
14.   See M. Meier, Aristokraten und Damoden. Untersuchungen zur inneren Entwicklung Spartas im 7. Jahrhundert v. Chr. und zur politischen Funktion der Dichtung des Tyrtaios, Stuttgart 1998, 266sqq.; Link, Das frühe Sparta, 47sqq.

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