Ruzé (Fr.), Christien (J.), Sparte. Histoire, mythes, géographie. Deuxième édition revue et augmentée. – Paris : Armand Colin, 2017. – 432 p. : bibliogr., index, fig., cartes, glossaire. – (Collection U : Histoire, ISSN : 1147.3878). – ISBN : 978.2.200.61814.8.

This is the second edition, updated and modestly enlarged, of a work first appearing in 2007. One immediately notes the slightly changed subtitle, where Géographie, mythes et histoire has been replaced by Histoire, mythes, géographie, which might be a subtle recognition of the impact and volume of recent studies on Sparta. Under either rubric, this volume still constitutes an important resource for its subject. Recent work, including that under the auspices of the International Sparta Seminar, has been conscientiously integrated. This is arguably the best single recent volume on Sparta, as it certainly bears up well against the English language comparisons, now mostly dated. Although the authors have collaborated throughout, Françoise Ruzé claims primary credit for chapters 1-13; Jacqueline Christien for 14-19. This work is not a reader of ancient testimonia on Sparta, but nonetheless deserves credit for its efforts to include a considerable number of significant passages in translation. The « introduction » (p. 3-7) and « conclusion » (p. 381-2) are too slight for my taste. I would have preferred more programmatic, necessarily longer sections which summarized the themes of the work and points of significance to be learned from ancient Sparta.

The balancing of synchronic and diachronic perspectives is always challenging in Spartan studies because the pretensions of the Spartans themselves toward the achievement of stability in the ostensibly timeless enjoyment of Lycurgan legislation thwarts the historian’s imperative to reveal institutional evolution or devolution. The authors have adopted a hybrid approach. In the later sections of the book, they use linear history. They start their exposition, however, one that is necessarily highly reconstructive (using much later literary sources, particularly Pausanias, along with some archaeological evidence), with a first chapter on the occupation of Laconia by the Dorian Spartans and a second on the conquest of Messenia. This is sensible, as it allows for setting the stage for addressing the later, more unique, Spartan sociopolitical order after the treatment of the early periods when Sparta was still on a more conventional path of development, rather more comparable to its Peloponnesian neighbours. In the first chapter, one finds the Dorian occupation, the varying traditions about Tyndarids (as royal antecessors), Heraclids, and Dorians, the Karneian festival, the integration of the town of Amyklai, and status of the Minyan inhabitants, and finally a thumbnail sketch of the situation of the Perioeci, the second-class citizens of Sparta. That discussion is perhaps a bit disappointing. Did it require a larger scale and later placement in the volume (with the reconstruction of Helotage in chapter 8, for example)? The second chapter takes account of the conquest of Messenia from the mythological and legendary material through the eighth-century conflict (including the traditions on the Partheniai and Taras) to the late sixth-century fighting and the poetry of Tyrtaeus. Here and elsewhere touching on the Helots, the work of Jean Ducat guides reconstruction (although its extensions by Nino Luraghi are less congenial to our authors). All Spartan scholars are a bit discomfited here by the absence of a modern study of ethnolinguistic diversity in early Laconia and Messenia, one that utilizes current methodologies for studying ethnicity and tries to incorporate the archaeological evidence. Notably, the findings of the Minnesota Messenian Expedition and the Pylos Regional Project have not made much of an impact here.

Chapter 3, « Lycurgue et l’eunomia politique, jusqu’aux guerres médiques », begins a series of synthetic chapters which deal with Spartan institutions. Throughout there is skillful dipping back into chronological investigation when it becomes necessary to set something in its temporal context, such as the « Great Rhetra » or the origins of the ephorate. Next is « Aristocratie et eunomia sociale », a particularly challenging subject inasmuch as no modern work has as yet fully integrated the evidence on Sparta’s socioeconomic system with a sequential political history of Sparta. This is, by all means, a prudent treatment in which U. Cozzoli and S. Hodkinson join Ducat as authorities. However, I find much with which to disagree over the authors’ imperfect grappling with eccentricities of the Spartan economy as necessary features of its atypical political order ; rather than clutter this review with self‑references, I shall refer the reader to the website where a listing of my relevant works may be found.[1]

The next two chapters deal respectively with Spartan girls and women and with the agōgē, the process of rearing and socializing young males. Both are rather conservative in their exploitation of the rich source material. The treatment of women starts from the evidence of the Partheneia of Alcman, and favors the scholarship of P. Cartledge, J. Ducat, L. Thommen, and E. Millender over the monograph of S. Pomeroy (perhaps somewhat unduly so). My « Gynecocracy » is substantially different in its approach[2]. The traditionalism of this account of Spartan male education is made explicit, and it is of course heavily dependent on Xenophon (and secondarily Plutarch). Christien and Ruzé reject (rightly, I believe) the efforts of N. Kennell to understand the agōgē as largely a construct of the Hellenistic, reforming king Kleomenes III and his advisor, the Stoic Sphairos (or even of the Spartans under Roman dominion). This would have been the best place to incorporate a treatment of Spartan religion, which is unfortunately slighted in the volume[3]. I would have preferred to see chapter 8, « Maîtres et dépendants » placed earlier in the volume and incorporated with the other aspects of the agricultural and alimentary system in chapter 3 (using similar authorities). The fundamental issues are laid out well: basic status and communal ‘ownership’, deployment as dependent agriculturalists, military usage, (mis)treatment, and armed resistance with self-identification as Messenians.

Chapter 9, « Les Lacédémoniens et les mondes extérieurs avant 490 », starts the group of chapters that deal with the diplomatic, military, and political history of Sparta. The effort at a detailed political history sets this work apart. E. Lévy’s volume[4] firmly emphasizes Spartan social and political institutions. The political importance of Sparta has created rich documentation that requires the authors to employ great selectivity of attestation. There will be points arousing criticism, but readers should sympathize with the coverage of such a vast chronological range. The term « mondes » in the chapter title helpfully evokes an important point, namely not only the isolation of Sparta from economic integration with the rest of the Greeks, but also its relative separation from general Hellenic social and cultural trends. Topics treated include commercial relations, Sparta as a colonizing polis (especially in Magna Graecia and Sicily), connections with Ionia and Asia Minor, and the Peloponnesus, where Argos, Arkadia, and the development of the Spartan alliance loom large. I suspect that some readers may question the very short examination of Sparta as an anti-tyrannical influence and the exploration of the policies of Kleomenes I with the Athenians and Aiginetans. The next chapter discusses Sparta from 480 down to 460, dealing with the Persian war, the ceding of anti-Persian operations to the Athenians (complicated by the later career of Pausanias), and the earthquake and subsequent Helot revolt. Their permanent impact demographically and structurally, although marked here, may still be underestimated. Chapter 11, « Le repli spartiate (461-413) », examines the history of the Pentekontaeteia and Peloponnesian War, periods with which Thucydides deals, where the historical evidence is particularly strong. The narrative must proceed summarily in order to cover the material, turning to outlining military affairs in the Archidamian War and subsequent conflicts.

Chapter 12, « À l’assaut de la Grèce d’Asie (413-395) », highlights the turning point in Spartan foreign policy, marked by an expansion of its perspective out of the Greek homeland into the Aegean basin and Asia Minor. Strikingly, this work does not treat the surrender of Athens as the critical dividing point. The first half of the chapter expeditiously recounts the Spartan defeat of the Athenians, while the second half retails the security measures of Lysander over the former Attic allies and Agesilaos’ expedition into Asia Minor. The social convulsions at Sparta also duly appear, with some emphasis on the matter of the infiltration of money. The next chapter covers the Corinthian War, the Peace of Antalkidas and its selfish exploitation by the Spartans, and finally the rise of resistance from 378/7 by a resurgent Thebes and Athens (with its second league). Leuktra and its immediate aftermath are the culmination of this narrative arc. The exposition is well wrought and compendious, but its seventeen pages may strike some as a bit hurried. There is some space, but too few pages, given to Sparta’s mounting social problems.

Chapter 14, « Effacer Leuctres », covering the 360s, begins the final section of this work, for which Christien is primarily responsible. The Theban invasion starts off, followed by the foundations of Messenia and Arkadian Megalopolis. Throughout her chapters the expertise of Christien on the topography of Lakōnikē often enriches the treatment of Spartan regional interrelations and the status of the borders or frontiers of Spartan control. The subsequent revanchism of the Spartans is stressed (quite correctly). After Mantineia, the weakening of our evidentiary base is notable. Here is inserted an examination of societal conditions: effects on the Helots, the status of the full citizen Homoioi, and possible reorganization of Perioecic territory. The authors place here the innovation of the mothakes (children fostered through the agōgē) and a transformation of the krypteia, a period of seclusion with intimidation of the Helots for young Spartiate adults (initially a rite de passage) into an internal security apparatus; in both cases let me register my skepticism. Next is « Règne d’Archidamos III (360-338 av. J.C.) », which illustrates the organization of this chapter and the following around the activities of individual Spartan kings. Here the reader finds a discussion of the Spartan role in the Third Sacred War and the emergence of Philip II as the dominant player on the Greek political scene. Attempts to find countervailing political and military resources will motivate the Eurypontid Arkhidamos III toward Crete and then Italy in support of Taras. Spartan resistance to the Macedonians after Khaironeia down to 310 is treated next, with territorial losses at the hands of Philip II in 338. Then Agis III (son of Arkhidamos) made his effort to raise Greece against Alexander the Great and his Macedonian regent Antipater, only to fail disastrously at Megalopolis. As redressing initiatives, Christien presents the expedition of Thibron to Kyrene and that of Akrotatos (son of Kleomenes II) westward. A fine short consideration of the building of the fortifications of Sparta, dating 317-15, is included here as well.

The same pattern of summarization with a focus on the careers of individual kings prevails for the remainder of the narrative chapters. Chapter 17 focuses on the Agiads, Areos and Leonidas II, after describing the expedition into Italy of Kleonymos, a younger son of Kleomenes II and eventually a rival of Areos. Room for Spartan recovery was possible through the quarrels of the Diadochi. Areos defeated an attack on Sparta of Pyrrhos, and achieved sufficient prestige and military power to join Athens and Ptolemy II in the Khremonidean War against Antigonos II of Macedonia. That debacle led to the emergence of Leonidas II, and the ascendancy of this former figure of the Seleucid court provides a nice hook to append a brief statement of the social and political changes at Sparta in the mid-third century.

In many ways, the next chapter, « Sparte, symbole de révolution sociale: Agis et Cléomène », treats the reemergence of Sparta upon the center stage of Greek history given that the Eurypontid Agis IV (245-41) and Agiad Kleomenes III (235-19) represent the most determined attempts to revivify the autonomous polis in the Greek homeland. Our source material deepens here owing to the biographies of the two kings by Plutarch, which works draw upon the lost history of Phylarchus. Unfortunately, we lack a recent study of late third-century Sparta which avoids the pitfalls both of modern ideologizing and of contaminating the actions of Agis and Kleomenes with features that modern scholars use (or misuse) in order to try and explain the mirage Spartiate, the image of archaic/classical Laconia that is prominent in Plutarch and other late sources[5]. Late third- and early fourth-century Sparta is affected by the biases of Polybius, who recognized in the Spartan kings (in particular Kleomenes and Nabis) not only military rivals of the Achaean League but also dangerous threats to the socioeconomic status quo in the Achaean poleis. Ruzé and Christien do not break new ground – the treatment of debt is, for example, problematic – but they do achieve a sensible overview that reflects well our sources along broad lines and the general tenor of relevant European scholarship. A good example is the reiteration of Christien’s assertion of the historicity of the rhetra of Epitadeus (dating to the late fifth century) against the unreasonable hypothesis that sees it as a Platonizing fabrication. The political, diplomatic, and military events associated with Kleomenes are succinctly and lucidly presented. The chapter ends with a review of the events after the rout of Kleomenes at Sellasia, e.g., the Macedonian intervention, and the reigns of the poorly attested rulers, Lykourgos and Makhanidas. A final chapter, « Nabis, le dernier sursaut (207-192) », deals sympathetically with this claimant to royalty whom tradition, led by Polybius, has branded a tyrant. Nabis was weakened by the Romans, falling prey to the Achaeans and Philopoimen. It is the latter who intervened at Sparta in 192 in manner that caused a decisive break with earlier institutional tradition.

Let me comment on the auxiliary matter. The visual record on Sparta is not an impressive tool for illuminating Spartan history. Nonetheless, this volume does contain seventeen black and white photographs, most fairly modest in scale. A short glossary of terms is also included, and there are six helpful maps. The bibliography is not exhaustive but still useful.

This volume will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in the Francophone intellectual sphere as a tool in famialiarizing students of Graeco-Roman antiquity with the history of Sparta, where it will continue to vie with the volume of E. Lévy. Barring a translation – which would not be an unreasonable proposition – its influence among Anglophone students will be limited to usage as a means to familiarize graduate students (who can be expected to have the requisite skills in reading French) with different traditions of discourse on its subject. The major new resource for Anglophone education on Sparta will doubtless become A. Powell’s just-published A Companion to Sparta[6]. Strikingly, it contains chapters not only by our authors[7] but also five further chapters by Francophone authorities: Cl. Calame, J. Ducat, Y. Lafond, Fr. Prost, and N. Richer. This cross-fertilization of research on Sparta remains notable.

Thomas Figueira, Rutgers University

[1]. Accordingly, I have not amassed a list of putative mistakes, inconsistencies, or disagreements. J. Ducat, reviewing the first edition of this work, offered a list worthy of consideration (RH 648, 2008, p. 924-926).

[2]. S. Hodkinson, A. Powell, Sparta : The Body Politic, Swansea 2010, p. 265-96.

[3]. cf. J. Ducat, RH 648, 2008, p. 924.

[4]. Sparte. Histoire politique et sociale jusqu’à la conquête romaine, Paris 2003.

[5]. cf. K. Mackowiak, « Une synthèse historienne sur Sparte », DHA 34-2, 2008, p. 205‑206, reviewing the first edition.

[6]. 2 vols., Hoboken 2018.

[7]. Fr. Ruzé : « The Empire of the Spartans », p. 404-371 ; J. Christien : « Roads and Quarries in Laconia ».