Friday, March 16, 2018


M. G. L. Cooley (ed.), Sparta. LACTOR, 21. London: The London Association of Classical Teachers, 2017. Pp. 309. ISBN 9780903625401. $25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by James Lloyd, Reading University (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

This volume is the twenty-first in the LACTOR series, known to students and teachers as focused source-books on the ancient world. From their website, the volume is described as "invaluable for school and university teaching of ancient Sparta." I would agree wholeheartedly with this statement: the volume is groundbreaking, without doubt a milestone in Spartan studies, and I will certainly be using it for my own teaching.

Several authors contributed to the volume. Brian Wilson translated the passages of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon Const. Lac., and Plutarch Lycurg. Ken Hughes translated Tyrtaeus, Alcman and Aristophanes, with Terence Edwards translating 'a good deal' (3) of Plutarch, and Andrew Harker some of passages of Xenophon. M. Cooley translated the rest.

The book includes 18 illustrations, 7 maps, 5 tables, a timeline (c.650-360 BCE), a useful list of abbreviations, and a helpful glossary of words (from agathoergoi to xenos) in addition to a select (English) bibliography, concordance of passages (literary and epigraphic), and three separate indexes (people; places and peoples; themes).

The illustrations are generally useful, if quite small, and, the maps are all clear. The tables are particularly helpful. The timeline could have been expanded; it only contains core details (the reigns of the Agiad and Eurypontid kings, events in Spartan history, and authors), and therefore leaves out at least one important date, the regency of Pausanias.

Three short introductions precede the sources: one on the literary sources (it is not clear who authored it); Stephen Hodkinson on the epigraphy of Lakonia and Messenia; and William Cavanagh on Lakonian archaeology. These introductions are succinct and provide very good orientation. Further, Hodkinson and Cavanagh are not shy of informing students about the difficulties of interpreting epigraphic and archaeological material as it relates to Sparta. Cavanagh concludes that "uncertainties make the study of archaeology both frustrating and stimulating – this section, perhaps more than any other in this book, will certainly need to be rewritten in the future" (23).

Where the volume also excels is in its inclusion of a rich selection of epigraphic sources (c.100), many of which would otherwise have likely remained inaccessible to sixth-form and undergraduate students. Hodkinson's comment that "this sourcebook aims to redress [the neglected use of epigraphy in Spartan studies]" (15) is very well founded.

Generally speaking, the sources are presented rather than interpreted, though particularly important, controversial or otherwise problematic sources are accompanied with a few lines or paragraphs of contextualisation. This will hopefully encourage the inquisitiveness of sixth-form and undergraduate students alike, while ensuring that sources are not completely misinterpreted.

The sources themselves are divided into nine sections. Each source is numbered according to its place in its section, so A10 = Tyrtaeus fr. 19, and E58 = Xen. Hell. 6.5.21, for example. There is ample cross-referencing of sources throughout, which is useful since many relate to more than one section. The following is a list of the sections as printed in the contents, and a brief review of the contents of each (the title pages and page headers for sections B, G and K have different names from those given in the contents; I have marked the title page titles in brackets).

Section A is entitled "Sparta from Contemporary Spartan Poetry". It makes good sense to start the volume with the earliest surviving literature written by Spartans (adoptive or not), especially since Tyrtaeus and Alcman present such contrasting views of Spartan society. There are few places where students can read translations of Tyrtaeus and Alcman side by side; this is one of them. Section A also includes Simonides' Plataea Elegy, but it is perhaps surprising that A22 (AP 7.25) was included, a dubiously attributed Simonidean epigram for the Spartan dead at Plataea, while Simonides PMG 531, the Thermopylae lyric, is omitted.

Section B, "Historical Inscriptions relating to Sparta" ("Sparta from Mainly Spartan Sources"), brings together several epigraphic texts, many not otherwise easily found in the same place. Sources range from dedications at Olympia (B1-3) to the Spartan War Fund (B12) and a variety of relevant treaties and other inscriptions. Section B is, in effect, a very useful gathering of Spartan "public documents".

Section C, "Sparta in Religion and Religious Festivals", is divided into two parts. C1-38 cover religious dedications and C39-94 relate to games and festivals (including, in addition to Spartan festivals, the Olympic games). The sources that make up the section on religious dedications give "an impression of the range of religious worship within this area and period [Archaic and Classical]" (63). These sources are predominantly votive objects dedicated with an inscription to a specific deity. Many of the inscriptions are not easily (if at all) found in translation anywhere else. Notably, in the section on Artemis Orthia (C84-92), the sources focus on the famous whipping contests which show "the dangers of later tradition … obscuring real history" (86). This section sets a new standard for the study of Spartan religion, especially since it is very up to date, following as it does Christesen's ingenious, forthcoming reading of the Damonon stele (C83), as well as Bayliss's brilliant reading of Sosibius F5 (C75) in Brill's New Jacoby.

Section D, "Spartan Institutions in Theory", and Section E, "Spartan Institutions in Practice", form the core of the source-book and are very well structured. In them, teachers will find the bulk of the material for any course they might want to teach on Sparta in the Archaic and Classical periods. The sources are presented clearly and thoroughly. Section D is divided thematically; Section E is presented chronologically. Both sections are divided into three parts, each focusing on the same Spartan institutions, but from different perspectives. These are: the executive (the kings, the gerousia, the ephorate, and the assembly); social structure (Spartiates, Mothakes, Perioikoi, Helot ownership, Helots and Messenians); and institutions (including laws, property, Spartan women, education, the army, the navarchy, and the Peloponnesian league). Among more easily accessible sources such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch, readers will also find the Xanthus pillar (E149; a Lycian inscription from c.400 BCE that seems to record the Persia-Sparta treaty of 412/1 at Caunus); Polyaenus (E129; on Lysander's treachery at Thasos, an episode not included in Xenophon's or Plutarch's accounts of Lysander); the Xouthis inscription (E73; a bronze plaque from Tegea, c.450 BCE, which might refer to a Spartiate who is unable to deposit money at home); the Rylands Papyrus (E5; which credits Chilon and Anaxandridas with removing the tyrants Aeschines from Sikyon, and Hippias from Athens); and various authors mentioned by Athenaeus.

Section F, "The Spartan Mirage", begins with an introduction to that concept, described here as the "sum of stereotypes that came to dominate the Spartan image" (226). The section focuses on three aspects of the mirage most relevant to students: Lycurgus, Thermopylae, and the Spartan Sayings.

Section G, "Contemporary Athenian Views of Sparta" ("Some Fifth-Century Athenian Views of Sparta"), and Section H, "An Historical Overview", are very thorough, and like sections D and E will make the teaching of modules on Sparta much easier. In fact, Section H is likely to become required introductory reading on Sparta for many. Sources in Section G include an Athenian take on a Spartan song from Aristophanes, Lysistrata 1241-1321 (G7), and Pericles' summary of Spartan weaknesses from Thucydides 1.141-144 (G3). In Section H, sources start with eighth- and seventh-century Sparta and end in 362 BCE with the second battle of Mantineia.

Section K, "Sparta and Environs" ("Sparta and Lakonia"), focuses on questions of geography concerning Sparta and Lakonia, especially how Pausanias influences our understanding. There is a particularly interesting fifth-century inscription here from a stone quarry at Gytheion: "If anyone or his slave digs anything out, let him be cursed." (K6, IG 5.1.115).

This volume is a milestone in the study and teaching of ancient Sparta, and I have no doubt that it will be essential reading for any courses on the subject.

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