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Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300-362 BC Paperback – 22 Nov 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (22 Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415262763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415262767
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 623,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'The most useful history of Sparta to the end of the classical period.' - JACT Review

'An important book on Sparta - the best so far, in many ways ... There are really two books here, one an exceptionally densely documented archaeological book the other a vigorous social and political history of classical Sparta.' - Simon Hornblower, Times Higher Education Supplement --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
This book was first published in 1979, with a second edition in 2002 (when I bought it and first read it). It was, and remains, THE best book on Sparta and Lakonia. It stops just after the battle of Mantinea (362 BC) but a second book by Cartledge and Spanwforth was published in 1989 (with a second edition in 2002) on Hellenistic and Roman Sparta, with Paul Cartledge doing the Hellenistic piece (the most interesting of the two, in my view).

Anyway, I was very much surprised to discover that there was no review of this book on Amazon, and decided that there needed to be one. As Paul Cartledge acknowleged some 30 years ago (perhaps with a bit of exageration), two books on Sparta are published on average every year. This one, however, is apart from almost all others, and is probably among the best of all (together with Cartledge's book on Agesilaus, which is perhaps even better). Readers should be aware that this IS VERY MUCH a scholarly book, but of the highest caliber. It is a very well structured book which starts with a clear presentation of the geographical context (together with climate and boundaries). There are masses of well-drawn maps and very useful annexes.

However, and above everything else, the main strongpoint of this book is the explanations it provides on Sparta's strengths and weaknesses which were the two sides of the same coin
- Sparta had the largest territory of ANY Greek city, including the very rich Syracuse.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of a series on the States and Cities of Ancient Greece and subtitled “A Regional History 1300 - 362 B.C.”, which might suggest it is a synthesis of current knowledge on Spartan and Lakonian history with a reasoned discussion of areas in dispute. For better or worse, it is not that sort of book, but Cartledge’s attempt to create what he calls a new kind of history of ancient Sparta. In his preface, he states that his book is an expanded version of his largely archaeological 1975 thesis on Sparta before 650 B.C.. Around half of it is devoted to the bronze, iron and pre-classical ages; only a third is on the classical period, with a short epilogue. Unfortunately, the early period Cartledge concentrates on is not well known, and he is often reduced to speculation and a selective use of sources. This is the 2002 second edition of a 1979 original with some new material and corrections, but still largely based on 40 year old research.

There is no doubt that Cartledge undertook a great deal of research on the prehistory and history of Sparta and Lakonia, particularly on its early archaeology, but an uneven coverage and presentation does not always do justice to this. To start with the good points, his interdisciplinary introduction covers the geographical setting of Lakonia and its neighbour Messenia, later conquered by Sparta, although his assertion that its climate today is similar to that of three millennia ago is controversial. Dealing with all of Lakonia and its settlements, not just Sparta, gives more than usual breadth to this study. Next, he shows that Spartan government was a mixture of inertia and occasional crisis, not one of successful political equilibrium.
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By julie rock on 18 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Purchased this for a friend for Christmas who is a complete geek when it comes to Greek history. Apparently he didn't put it down until he had read every word and he said that it was accurate and informative. Says it all really.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
An extensive history of Sparta 15 Mar. 2003
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Cartledge of the university of Cambridge is arguably the foremost authority on ancient Sparta in the entire world. His erudition of this culture is unmatched and the bibliography of this book is quite a read in-itself.
In this work Cartledge undertakes the massive task of tracing the history of Lacedamon from 1300-362BCE. In other words, right around the time of the mythical / quasi-historical Trojan war (1283BCE) down to the time of the decisive Spartan defeat @ the battle of Leuctra (371BCE).
The reader should be advised that the opening stanzas of this book are difficult to follow. Cartledge casually alludes to endless archeological digs all over Laconia at such a rapid pace that it's apt to make the reader feel like it's information overload. While grad students in archeology and anthropology might feel right at home, the rest of us may feel a bit lost.
When Cartledge arrives in the more familiar historical territory of Herodotus and Thucydides the book seems to improve a great deal. At least for me, anyway. The exegesis of historical records has always been easier for me to comprehend than the interpretation of pre-literate societal structures.
One of the highlights of the book is Cartledge's discussion of the 3 classes of Spartans (Homoioi, Perioikoi & Helot). I had some degree of knowledge of the Homoioi & Helots before reading this work, but virtually no understanding of the Perioikoi. Thanks to his chapter on these people I now have a much better comprehension.
I would recommend this book only to those who have an ambitious yearning to understand the history of the Spartans. For those who would rather have a more concise and slightly more reader-friendly work I would recommend A HISTORY OF SPARTA 950-192 by W.G. Forrest (ASIN: 0393004813). Forrest's book also goes a few hundred years past Leuctra while the present book does not.
Also, it is imperative that prior to reading the present text that the reader first peruse Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon & a little Plutarch mixed in wouldn't hurt. I do not think it prudent for someone to undertake the present work without at least a working knowledge of the primary sources.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
THE reference on Sparta 14 Mar. 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First posted on Amazon.co.uk on 31 December 2011

This book was first published in 1979, with a second edition in 2002 (when I bought it and first read it). It was, and remains, THE best book on Sparta and Lakonia. It stops just after the battle of Mantinea (362 BC) but a second book by Cartledge and Spanwforth was published in 1989 (with a second edition in 2002) on Hellenistic and Roman Sparta, with Paul Cartledge doing the Hellenistic piece (the most interesting of the two, in my view).

Anyway, I was very much surprised to discover that there was no review of this book on Amazon.co.uk, and decided that there needed to be one. As Paul Cartledge acknowleged some 30 years ago (perhaps with a bit of exageration), two books on Sparta are published on average every year. This one, however, is apart from almost all others, and is probably among the best of all (together with Cartledge's book on Agesilaus, which is perhaps even better).

Readers should be aware that this IS VERY MUCH a scholarly book, but of the highest quality. It is a very well structured book which starts with a clear presentation of the geographical context (together with climate and boundaries). There are masses of well-drawn maps and very useful annexes.

However, and above everything else, the main strongpoint of this book is the explanations it provides on Sparta's strengths and weaknesses which were the two sides of the same coin
- Sparta had the largest territory of ANY Greek city, including the very rich Syracuse. This was because it add annexed Messenia and enslaved its population - the helots - virtually doubling the size of its territory in the process, and giving it the means to sustain a large number of hoplites who could spend their whole life (or at least had the means to do so) training and fighting
- the associated weakness was that the helots, who were Dorians just like the Lacedemonians, retained their identity and never fully accepted their status as slaves, so Sparta always had to be on the look out and ready to put down as quickly as possible any revolt whereas the Helots would take advantage of any Spartan weakness.

Several additional features for which Sparta is known in Ancient Greece are direct consequences of this:
- Sparta had little need to trade, or only for specific items, and used no currency (coins of bronze, silver or gold) for a long time, simply because the size of its territory meant that it was largely self-sufficient. Unlike Athens, for instance, it did not need to import most of its food
- The conquest of Messenia made Sparta self-sufficient but it alsol lead to a major reversal in its foreign policy. While Sparta had been expansionist before this conquest, simply because, with an expanding population, it needed to be, it became the most isolationist of all Greek cities once it was self-sufficient. It was always afraid of a Helot uprising as soon as its army left on campaign. A related point was that part of the army almost always had to be left at home, just in case...

As Cartledge shows so clearly, drawing on Aristotle, the crisis of Sparta came because of oliganthropia: the number of full Spartans - full-time professional warriors - that the city was able to field declined almost constantly from 480 to 362. However, this was not strictly because of demographic reasons. Indeed Spartan families continued to have children, but inherintances were partible and social and financial unequalities grew so that fewer and fewer had the means to qualify as full Spartiates and casualties could not be entirely replaced. Spartans were aware of this, and tried to limit its effects as much as possible, but then they were beaten at Leuctra, lost Messenia and were never able to reconquer it...

A fantastic book and a MUST READ for anyone interested in Sparta...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Idiosyncratic Account 17 Aug. 2014
By S. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is one of a series on the States and Cities of Ancient Greece and subtitled “A Regional History 1300 - 362 B.C.”, which might suggest it is a synthesis of current knowledge on Spartan and Lakonian history with a reasoned discussion of areas in dispute. For better or worse, it is not that sort of book, but Cartledge’s attempt to create what he calls a new kind of history of ancient Sparta. In his preface, he states that his book is an expanded version of his largely archaeological 1975 thesis on Sparta before 650 B.C.. Around half of it is devoted to the bronze, iron and pre-classical ages; only a third is on the classical period, with a short epilogue. Unfortunately, the early period Cartledge concentrates on is not well known, and he is often reduced to speculation and a selective use of sources. This is the 2002 second edition of a 1979 original with some new material and corrections, but still largely based on 40 year old research.

There is no doubt that Cartledge undertook a great deal of research on the prehistory and history of Sparta and Lakonia, particularly on its early archaeology, but an uneven coverage and presentation does not always do justice to this. To start with the good points, his interdisciplinary introduction covers the geographical setting of Lakonia and its neighbour Messenia, later conquered by Sparta, although his assertion that its climate today is similar to that of three millennia ago is controversial. Dealing with all of Lakonia and its settlements, not just Sparta, gives more than usual breadth to this study. Next, he shows that Spartan government was a mixture of inertia and occasional crisis, not one of successful political equilibrium. Finally, it contains a good number of useful maps and figures, and each chapter is supplemented by suggestions for further reading

On the other hand, firstly, Cartledge has strong views on several disputed issues, for example, that Lakonia may not have been inhabited for a century after 1050 B. C., that the Dorians did not arrive there before 950 B.C., that Argos never ruled Kynouria or that the perioikoi were autonomous communities except in military matters. He gives credible arguments for his views but does not present the opposing ones fully, so his account is one-sided. Secondly, his overall approach is not consensual but combative, not only against other contemporary archaeologists and classicists, but also ancient sources such as Thucydides and Herodotus. Thirdly, the section on the classical period contains little on the Spartan social or educational system or its internal politics. Finally, it is not an easy read; it is written in the impersonal, highly technical style of a thesis and can be pedantic, but it lapses into clichés and stock metaphors, presumably to give it more popular appeal.

This is not a definitive history of Sparta and Lakonia; the lack of sources makes it unlikely that there could ever be one. It is not even a balanced summary of the current state of knowledge on that topic. It is a leading scholar’s particular view on the pre-history and history of Sparta and Lakonia, biased towards the early centuries and to his particular interests. As such it is valuable, but its limitations should be recognised.
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