In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sparta

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Spartan Tradition and Research History, Post-1900
  • Topography of Sparta and Laconia
  • Roman Sparta

Classics Sparta
Lukas Thommen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0153


Alongside Athens, Sparta is considered as the second mighty polis in the Greek world and has always attracted admiration as well as criticism, so that its image has undergone many transformations. Sparta was time and again represented as the counterpart of Athens and assigned the role of a backward oligarchy and legally, rigidly regulated military state. In Antiquity (cf. Xenophon and Plato) the political stability and military efficiency of Sparta were declared an ideal and traced back to the system of public education (agoge). In the course of the 4th century BCE, Aristotle finally proclaimed Sparta a pattern for a “mixed constitution,” which contains monarchic as well as aristocratic and democratic elements (kings, gerontes, and ephors, or the leaders of the popular assembly). Following this outline, it later became also a model for the Romans (Polybius, Book 6). On the other hand, the “equality” of the Spartans, who termed themselves homoioi (“equals”), has always been fascinating. Connected with this equality was the communal life of Spartan men in the form of a permanent military-style camp. The idea of severe regulation of all facets of life and its orientation toward the state resulted in the early 20th century in the denotation of the Spartan community as a “kosmos,” so that Sparta also became a modern myth. Yet the Spartan “mirage” has been continuously deconstructed since the publication of Ollier 1933–1943 (see Spartan Tradition and Research History, Post-1900). Recently, there has been ongoing debate between researchers who think Sparta was more like other Greek states than sources note, and those who think it was unique.

General Overviews

Although there are many general overviews of Spartan history, none of them covers the whole span from earliest times to the Roman epoch, nor does any include all political and social aspects. Most of them concentrate on the Archaic and classical periods, and some end with the defeats of Sparta in 371 and 362 BCE. Cartledge 1979 begins with the Mycenaean epoch; Oliva 1971, Lévy 2003, Christien and Ruzé 2007, and Welwei 2017 include the Hellenistic period; Kennell 2010, Lupi 2017, and Thommen 2017 include a short look into Roman times; and Cartledge 2001 concentrates on selected aspects of Spartan society. A valuable companion to most aspects of Sparta is Powell 2018.

  • Cartledge, Paul. 1979. Sparta and Lakonia: A regional history 1300–362 BC. London and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203472231

    Standard work for the history of Sparta. Reprinted with additions in 2002.

  • Cartledge, Paul. 2001. Spartan reflections. London: Duckworth.

    A collection of essays about central issues like literacy, pederasty, women, and the hoplite phalanx; also important is the chapter “City and Chora in Sparta” (pp. 9–20).

  • Christien, Jacqueline, and Françoise Ruzé. 2007. Sparte: Géographie, mythes et histoire. Paris: Armand Colin.

    A broad survey of Spartan history, geography, and culture, thematizing the Spartan myth without deconstructing it profoundly.

  • Kennell, Nigel M. 2010. Spartans: A new history. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Recent overview of Spartan history, with a useful chapter on Roman Sparta.

  • Lévy, Edmond. 2003. Sparte: Histoire politique et sociale jusqu’à la conquête romaine. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

    Offers useful basic information on the history, society, and government of Sparta.

  • Lupi, Marcello. 2017. Sparta: Storia e rappresentazioni di una città greca. Rome: Carocci Editore.

    An up-to-date survey of Spartan history and society with a short annotated bibliography.

  • Oliva, Pavel. 1971. Sparta and her social problems. Prague: Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.

    Explores important issues of Spartan history in clearly arranged chronological chapters.

  • Powell, Anton, ed. 2018. A companion to Sparta. 2 vols. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Two valuable volumes with articles of international specialist on most aspects of Sparta.

  • Thommen, Lukas. 2017. Sparta: Verfassungs- und Sozialgeschichte einer griechischen Polis. 2d ed. Stuttgart: Verlag J. B. Metzler.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-476-04331-3

    Overview of the history and the political and social conditions from the beginnings to the Roman epoch; vast, thematically arranged bibliography.

  • Welwei, Karl-Wilhelm. 2017. Sparta: Aufstieg und Niedergang einer antiken Grossmacht. 4th ed. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.

    Reliable narrative of Spartan history.

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