The present volume is a collection of eight essays devoted to exploring the extent to which internal debate on tradition and innovation within the Spartan community and non-Spartan contemporary reflections on Spartan ‘national’ identity actively contributed to shaping Sparta’s self-perception and political positioning within a broader pan-Hellenic horizon in the classical and post-classical period. This volume joins the most up-to-date strands of Spartan scholarship engaged in exploring the inner dynamics of continuity and change that have co-operated in ‘inventing’ the Spartan tradition.1 As acknowledged by the editors in the preface, the essays follow a basically biographical approach, which nevertheless often succeeds in sketching out the broader historical and social background underlying the single issue addressed (see in particular Bearzot and Landucci-Gattinoni’s contributions below). This biographical perspective, the limit and strength of the volume, leads the reader through a wide-ranging overview of Spartan history from the sixth century BC (Carlier on Cleomenes I) down to the reformer kings of the third century BC (e.g. Marasco on Cleomenes III). The reader is provided with a brief introduction by the editors, and every essay is followed by an English abstract. Essential cross-references between the contributions are recorded. One might regret the lack of a general bibliography at the end of the volume and of an analytical index of the passages quoted and topics discussed. Here at a glance is a sketch of each paper.
Bearzot’s paper (“Spartani ‘ideali’ e Spartani ‘anomali'”) rightly heads the contributions, inasmuch as its broader spectrum (Sparta’s foreign policy during the fifth and fourth century as the privileged test-bed for assessing Spartans’ attitude towards innovation) provides a useful introduction to a large number of the issues further developed in the volume. B.’s analysis of the pairs Archidamus / Sthenelaidas, Lysander / Callicratidas, Agesilaus / Agesipolis as paradigmatic models of the contrasting dynamics between tradition and change animating Spartan fifth- and fourth-century political debate fulfils at its best the proposed aim of the collected volume by projecting from the very outset the biographical approach onto a broader historical scenario aiming at reconstructing the underlying debate on Sparta’s hegemonic role in Greece. B. persuasively argues that the oppositions between these different personalities (the pacifistic and pan-Hellenic foreign policy supported by Archidamus, Callicratidas and Agesipolis vs. the more imperialistic and aggressive approaches of Sthenelaidas, Lysander and Agesilaus) are to be understood as the broader product of contemporary reflections on Sparta’s political identity and struggle for survival within the new surrounding imperialistic reality. From this perspective, B.’s discussion of Xen. Hell. 5.2.32 (Agesilaus’ claim to the ancient Spartan custom,
Carlier’s paper (“Cleomene I, re di Sparta”2) investigates the Herodotean account of Cleomenes I (Hdt. 5. 38-97 and 6. 48-85) by questioning the constitutional basis of the
Nafissi’s stimulating paper (“Pausania, il vincitore di Platea”) provides a challenging interpretation of the behaviour of the Regent Pausanias (his arrogant conduct towards the allies, the allegation of cultural and political Medism, the conspiracy with the helots), arguing that his conduct is to be interpreted as deeply encoded within (and in response to) the social, political and cultural values of contemporary Spartan society. Pausanias’ actions are read as an exemplary case of the conflict between individual aspirations and the collective body of the polis and its inner stability (pp. 59-60). One of the most welcome features of N.’s essay is his constant attempt to go beyond a merely biographical approach by claiming that Pausanias’ contrasting behaviour is not to be regarded as an isolated case of individual perverseness but must be projected onto the political and moral values and anxieties animating fifth-century Spartan aristocratic culture, which was a highly competitive economy of
Prandi (“Sintonia e distonia fra Brasida e Sparta”) focuses on Thucydides’ idiosyncratic and personal account of Brasidas’ role during the Peloponnesian War (especially the Thracian campaign in 424 BC: see Thuc. 4.81 and 4.108), paying detailed attention to Brasidas’ own relations with the Spartan leadership. P. discusses the apparently contrasting nature of these relations (a general climate of confidence in Brasidas’ capability but at the same time, at least according to the Thucydidean account, the envy of the leading Spartans in refusing to send a military force to Brasidas at the Strymon in the winter of 424/3 BC and the willingness of the Spartan government to forestall the Thracian campaign in 423 BC in order to recover the hostages of Pylos). P. concludes by arguing that Brasidas’ portrait, at least as recoverable through the Thucydidean filter, does not depict an ‘unusual’ Spartan but that Brasidas became the very icon of the loyal Spartan commander simply because he was not different from the expected stereotype of the Spartan soldier. Furthermore, his premature death at Amphipolis prevented him from becoming a ‘dissident’ Spartan.
Sordi’s analysis of the political agenda of the Spartan king Pausanias II (“Pausania II, Spartano atipico?”) focuses on the two trials of 403 BC (i.e., after his armed intervention at the Piraeus and the indirect support given to the Athenian democrats) and 395 BC (after his retreat from Haliartus in Boeotia) as variously recorded by Paus. 3.5.1-6, Xen. Hell. 3.5.17ff and Theopompus in Plut. Lys. 30.28ff. In analyzing the different versions transmitted by ancient sources S. argues that Pausanias the Periegetes’ account of the events must have drawn on a source contemporary with Pausanias and hostile to Lysander (a version of the events which must have been known to Ephorus: cf. Strabo 8.5.5 and Diod. 14.89), whereas Theopompus clearly drew on pro-Theban sources by emphasizing the Spartans’ alleged objections to Pausanias’ decisions (Plut. Lys. 29.1). After a comparison of the literary sources, S. concludes that the accusations against Pausanias were basically the local product of his Spartan enemies, that is, Lysander’s friends and the Agiad king. More to the point, S. persuasively argues that Pausanias’ behaviour in 403 BC, even if in keeping with Sparta’s traditional foreign policy (to avoid shame before Greeks), was subsequently interpreted as a betrayal because Athens was siding at that time with the Spartans’ enemies. S. therefore sees in Pausanias a Spartan traditionalist paradoxically judged as a revolutionary as well as a victim of the new political guidelines introduced by Lysander and Agesilaus.
Bearzot’s second essay (“Lisandro tra due modelli: Pausania l’aspirante tiranno, Brasida il generale”) is a detailed survey of Lysander’s imperialistic politics which addresses the question of what possible model(s) may have inspired Lysander’s agenda and investigates his self-positioning within Spartan history. In analyzing Lysander’s attempt to colonize Sestos by distributing its territory among his pilots (Plut. Lys. 14.3; ca. 404 BC the author compellingly argues that neither the Spartan foundation of Heracleia Trachinia (426 BC) nor an allegedly reversed ‘Herodotean inspiration’ (Herodotus’ histories ending with Sestos being seized by the Athenians) as suggested by previous scholarship can reasonably be adduced as relevant parallels to Lysander’s initiative. Equally persuasive is her argumentation about the inappropriateness of the model given by Plutarch in Lys. 8.4-5 of the tyrant Polycrates of Samos. Plutarch is here probably drawing on a contemporary tradition hostile towards Lysander and inclined to cast a suspicious light on the relations between Lysander and Samos. More to the point, B. suggests that the key for understanding Lysander’s policy must be sought in the precedents of Brasidas (personal charisma, military skill, recruit of non-Spartan, helotic soldiers) and the Regent Pausanias. As regards the former, the author cogently argues that the gift of the ivory and golden trireme and the placement of a statue of him in the treasury of Brasidas and the Acanthians ( Lys. 18.2-3) must be read as a clear sign of Lysander’s willingness to highlight explicitly the continuity between Brasidas’ deeds and his own. In this regard, the image of Brasidas as
Landucci Gattinoni’s paper (“Sparta dopo Leuttra: storia di una decadenza annunciata”) is a most welcome and stimulating survey of the much-debated issue of the Spartan system of land tenure and inheritance and the increasingly chronic
Marasco’s concluding essay (“Cleomene III fra rivoluzione e reazione”), while providing the reader with a general overview of the constitutional and social innovations introduced by Cleomenes III into third-century BC Spartan society, focuses especially on the blatant discrepancy between Cleomenes’ rhetorical agenda (the unceasing appeal for the restoration of a truly Lycurgan past) and his actual policy strongly inspired by the contemporary practice of absolute power as displayed by Hellenistic kings. It is within this framework that M. interprets Cleomenes’ abolition of the ephorate, allegedly a non-Lycurgan institution (cf. Plut. Cleom. 10.2ff.), as a merely formal act of loyalty towards Sparta’s ancestral customs, and envisages in it, and in the radically diminished power of the
In short, the wide-ranging nature of the issues addressed and the constant effort to question the often propagandized immutability of Spartan customs by both Spartan and non-Spartan recipients makes this collected volume a welcome new entry to the body of increasingly stimulating and innovative studies of Spartan society.
1. See, e.g., M.A. Flower, “The Invention of Tradition in Classical and Hellenistic Sparta,” in A. Powell and S. Hodkinson (edd.), Sparta Beyond the Mirage, London 2002, 191-217.
2. This is a revised and updated version of an article previously published in Ktema 2 (1977) 65-84; on the same subject see also Carlier, La Royauté en Grèce avant Alexandre, Strasbourg 1984, 257ff.
3. Cf. C.G. Thomas, “On the Role of the Spartan Kings, ” Historia 23 1974 262, who already noticed that the very fact that Cleomenes died as an enemy of the state “does not vitiate his role in initiating and executing Spartan action etc.”
4. The Homeric instance of Il. 17.183-214 (Hector wearing Achilles’ armour) quoted at p. 69 n. 55 is perhaps not the best parallel: Hector displays Achilles’ armour on the battlefield and in any case we must not forget that Zeus strongly condemns Hector’s arrogant donning of Achilles’ armour: see Edwards, The Iliad, A commentary, vol. 5: books 17-20, pp. 80 and 82.
5. As already pointed out by K.J. Dover, Greek and the Greeks, Oxford 1987, 156-7 (quoted by the author at p. 69 n. 54). The context does not exclude some irony: see now the commentary of Flower and J. Marincola, Cambridge 2002, 252 ad loc.
6. M. Lupi, L’ordine delle generazioni. Classi di età e costumi matrimonali nell’antica Sparta, Bari 2000.
7. See most recently T. J. Figueira, “The nature of the Spartan kleros,” in Spartan society, ed. T.J. Figueira, Swansea 2004, 69 n. 38, on the ideological overtones of such a claim).
9. A stimulating comparandum, mutatis mutandis, may perhaps be seen in the Cretan response to land shortage as analysed by A. Chaniotis, War in the Hellenistic World, Oxford 2005, 80-2.