Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 37.

Paul Cartledge, Spartan Reflections. London: Duckworth, 2001. Pp. xii + 276. ISBN 0-7156-2966-2. UKú14.99.

Michael Whitby
University of Warwick

Spartan Reflections presents twelve of Paul Cartledge's Spartan papers -- two unpublished, one previously published in Italian, and nine reprints of which one had appeared in a festschrift of limited distribution; all are now provided with short introductions ranging from half a side, in most cases, to three pages where there has been a strong challenge to his views (Chapter 10 'Rebels and Sambos', pp. 127-52). The volume forms part of a substantial republication programme by Cartledge since his two major Spartan books, as well as the co- authored Hellenistic and Roman Sparta, have all now been reprinted.[[1]] This represents Cartledge's status as the expert on all things Spartan: Cartledge modestly describes himself as one of half a dozen international authorities (p. ix), but currently only Steven Hodkinson possesses comparable clout. The material is divided into four parts: a brief introduction on the problems of 'Sparta-Watching' (pp. 3-5); Polity, Politics and Political Thought (pp. 7-75); Society, Economy and Warfare (pp. 77-166); and The Mirage Re-Viewed (pp. 167-91). Inevitably there is overlap between chapters and parts, but the index helps readers to pursue common themes. Of Cartledge's major articles on Sparta all are included or represented by a later publication (as with 'Hoplites and Heroes', which the English translation of Cartledge's 1996 'La nascita degli opliti' replaces), with the exception of 'Sparta and Samos'.[[2]] The omission is a pity, since the study of Samos is a reminder that Sparta had important international connections and was not always the myopic, inwardly-focused state imagined by some historians.

The title Reflections refers to Cartledge's insistence on confronting the problems of the Spartan image, which force scholars to operate with mirages or shadows, to choose terms used by Ollier and Powell respectively.[[3]] There was also the opportunity for Cartledge to reflect on his own early publications, since the reprints are described as revised, rewritten and updated. A quick check on three pieces from the 1980s suggests that there has been updating, primarily in the form of additional citations in the notes, but that rewriting has been minimal and mainly caused by the new publication format. An opportunity has been missed to draw connections and engage in debate with Hodkinson's important work over the past two decades, especially on Spartan property, population and social organisation.[[4]] Much of Hodkinson's analyses are compatible with Cartledge's vision of Sparta, but there are different nuances and emphases as well as divergences. It would have helped Cartledge to demonstrate the strength of his social- scientific approach to Sparta, which is one of the volume's objectives (p. ix, reacting to critical comments by Shaw and Saller),[[5]] if the chapters in Part III, in particular, had discussed Hodkinson's work thoroughly. A minor grouse is that with regard to the importance of the gerousia in Spartan affairs there is no reference to de Ste Croix's Origins of the Peloponnesian War, a work whose importance Cartledge is usually careful to acknowledge; de Ste Croix's advocacy of a central role for the gerousia attracted criticism from others (e.g. Lewis in Sparta and Persia).[[6]]

The decline of Spartan citizen numbers, oliganthropia, and the question of whether Spartans feared their numerous helots are fundamental issues for Cartledge's conception of Sparta; the latter factor crops up as an explanation for aspects of Spartan behaviour in half the chapters. Oliganthropia was relevant to Spartan decline in the fourth century, and already affected its actions in the fifth, but Cartledge anticipates its impact by using it to explain the cultural change from the relatively 'open, progressing -- or at any rate progressive' Sparta of the archaic period down to the mid-sixth century adopted the military regime evident in the classical period (p. 183). Citizen numbers were still substantial in 480 when Sparta already possessed its military reputation; this might suggest that other factors need to be identified to explain changes in the sixth century. The century after Xerxes' invasion is also the period when relations between Spartans and helots deteriorated (p. 183), but the peculiar Spartan system of 'equality', which is explained by the helot threat (p. 74), predated the Persian Wars. This system may also have predated the Spartan conflict with Tegea in the mid-sixth century, when Cartledge accepts that the Spartans wished to acquire more helots (p. 178), which suggests that they were not seen as a problem yet.

Cartledge's views on the helot threat have been challenged, by myself among others.[[7]] Cartledge treats these heretics with courtesy, but the response offered in the introduction to Chapter 10 (pp. 128- 30) is not compelling. Cartledge rightly stresses the significance of Thucydides' description of the elimination of 2,000 helots (4.80) and his accompanying assessment of the general impact of helots on Spartan life. Cartledge defends the accuracy of Thucydides' account by noting his honesty in elsewhere admitting ignorance about a Spartan matter (5.68.2) and claiming that he would have been prepared to acknowledge uncertainty if he had doubted the story of the massacre. Such logic would not be applied to Herodotus' rhetorical strategies for boosting the credibility of his information, but Thucydides' practice might be different. Thucydides' paradigmatic approach to historiographical narrative is used to urge that the story was meant to characterise Spartan treatment of helots: the massacre is then one example of Thucydides' belief in Spartan concern to take precautions against, or monitor, the helots. Thucydides did sometimes treat episodes or individuals in a paradigmatic way but this is not his prevalent mode,[[8]] and so each possible case needs to be considered on its merits; to my mind the Spartan atrocity is presented as an exceptional response to the Athenian occupation of Pylos, not representative of a wider pattern. Thucydides' editorial comment on Spartan behaviour to helots is a general extrapolation from this incident, but also explains Spartan willingness to despatch helot hoplites to serve with Brasidas. In view of the limited evidence and the power of the Spartan mirage, agreement on this fundamental aspect of Spartan society is implausible, but it is very much to Cartledge's credit that his approach provokes reflection in a measured and constructive manner.

It has always been characteristic of Cartledge's writing to campaign against the insularity of academic disciplines, and to locate his discussions of the ancient world within contemporary debates in other branches of history and sociology. This collection amply fulfills his desire to offer thought-provoking material to a broad scholarly community, and should encourage those who want more detailed treatment of Spartan political arrangements, for example, to consult his monographs. There is also his next major work, on political thought in ancient Greece, to look forward to, since Sparta is bound to be prominent in such a study.


[[1]] P. A. Cartledge, Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300-362 BC (London 1979); P. A. Cartledge, Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta (London 1987); P. A. Cartledge & A. J. S. Spawforth, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: A Tale of Two Cities (London 1989).

[[2]] P. A. Cartledge, 'Hoplites and Heroes: Sparta's Contribution to the Technique of Ancient Warfare', JHS 97 (1977) 11-27; P. A. Cartledge, 'Sparta and Samos in the Archaic Period: a "Special Relationship"?' CQ 32 (1982) 243-65.

[[3]] F. Ollier, Le mirage spartiate (Paris 1933-43); P. A. Cartledge, A. Powell & S. Hodkinson, The Shadow of Sparta (London 1994).

[[4]] S. Hodkinson, 'Social Order and the Conflict of Values in Classical Sparta', Chiron 13 (1983) 239-81; S. Hodkinson, 'Land Tenure and Inheritance in Classical Sparta', CQ 36 (1986) 378-406; S. Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta (London 2000).

[[5]] Shaw & Saller = Brent D. Shaw and Richard P. Saller (edd.), M. I. Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece (Harmondsworth 1981) 254f.

[[6]] G. E. M. de Ste Croix, The Origins of the Peloponnesian War (London 1972); D. M. Lewis, Sparta and Persia (Leiden 1977) 36-49.

[[7]] M. Whitby, 'Two Shadows: Images of Spartans and Helots' in A. Powell and S. Hodkinson (edd.), The Shadow of Sparta (London, 1994) 87-126.

[[8]] S. Hornblower, Thucydides (London 1987) 34-44.