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Spartan Cultural Memory
in the Roman Period
Nigel M. Kennell
The Spartans of the Roman period were famous. In the words of Cicero (Flacc. 63), they
were “the only people in the whole world who have lived now for more than seven hundred years with one and the same set of customs and unchanging laws”. Roman Sparta
was typified by its citizens’ desire to advertise themselves as unique, particularly in their
adherence to venerable custom (see Lafond, Chapter 15, this volume). On the other
hand, the city’s later periods of unrest, revolution, and impotence were also well known
(Strabo 8.5.5; Plut. Philop. 16.9; Inst. Lac. 42 [239e–240e]; cf. Philostr. VA 17). These
apparently contradictory perceptions of contemporary Sparta’s relationship with its history expose the tension between the historical record and Sparta’s powerful later image
as a city whose institutions and traditions were vital embodiments of the Hellenic past.
With this in mind, the literary, epigraphical, and even archaeological evidence for Roman
Sparta, scanty though it is, provides the means for understanding how one particular
group, the Spartans, articulated a cultural memory informed by a (largely) created past
which they utilized to protect and further their interests during years of domination by
the external power of Rome.
Cultural memory is to a society what individual memory is to a person (Assmann
(2011) 4–5, 26). While the analogy has some shortcomings, in that a society has no
physical neural networks, the term does usefully characterize the preservation through
various institutions, both cultural and social, of the knowledge of certain events or persons and the sinking into oblivion of others. The set of things whose remembrance is the
function of cultural memory forms a sort of canon for a society (Assmann (2008) 100–2).
They are recalled, lived out, and celebrated through festivals, monuments, and especially
A Companion to Sparta, Volume II, First Edition. Edited by Anton Powell.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Nigel M. Kennell
at specific locations (lieux de mémoire), which provide strong stimuli for remembrance.
That which is commemorated in this way need not be historically accurate, or even true,
but it still constitutes the essence of a group’s identity and individuality and, as such, is
held to be unchanging through time.
A past must be selected and constructed, processes that typically occur after some form
of break – social, political, or religious – in continuity (Assmann (2011) 18–19, 248–9,
cf. 39). After the defeat and exile of King Kleomenes III (235–222 bc), who briefly
managed to restore a portion of Sparta’s old status through his military and social
reforms, the city certainly suffered major ruptures in its institutional and social fabric
during the second and first centuries bc, despite later claims to Spartan continuity. First
came enforced membership in the Achaean League from 186 to 146 bc (on these dates,
see later below) and the loss of “ancestral” institutions such as the citizen training system,
called the agōge ̄ from the Hellenistic period onwards. Only after the Roman victory over
the Achaeans in 146 bc were Spartans able to recover what was called their ancestral
constitution, and even then only in limited fashion (Plut. Philop. 16.9; Paus. 8.51.3).
But the restored city was significantly diminished even from its years under the rule of
Nabis (205–192 bc), the last independent Spartan ruler before the Achaean hegemony.
Now Sparta no longer controlled most of Laconia, let alone long‐independent Messenia,
for the old perioecic cities had formed the Lacedaemonian League at Nabis’ fall, when
helotage also disappeared, with helots probably comprising a notable portion of the new
League’s population (Kennell (1999)). Although post‐Achaean Sparta appears to have
shared in the relative prosperity enjoyed by other Greek cities in the later second century,
with almost completely tranquil relations with its former dependent cities, Rome’s civil
wars soon swept over the city, as over mainland Greece generally. Spartans were not foolish enough to ally themselves with the Pontic king Mithridates in his anti‐Roman
­crusade – indeed they may have provided troops for Sulla’s Italian campaign (App.
BC 1.79) – but insatiable requisitioning by Roman generals would soon ravage Laconia
(App. BC 1.102). Laconian cities such as Gytheion were forced to accept loans at exorbitant interest rates to pay off the debts they incurred meeting Roman demands (IG V.1
1146), and even Sparta itself was in desperate straits following another extortionate tax
assessment (IG V.1 11; cf. Cic. Verr. 1.60, 2.80).
On the whole, though, Sparta was lucky in its manoeuvring during these perilous
years. While it had supported Pompey against Caesar (Caes. BC 3.4.3), the city won a
favourable decision in its boundary dispute with the Messenians in 44 bc (Tac. Ann.
4.43) and switched allegiance, sending troops to aid Octavian against the republicans at
Philippi (Plut. Brut. 41.8, 46.1). Nonetheless, this did not prevent Sparta being treated
as a pawn later, when the Treaty of Misenum (39 bc) ceded control of the Peloponnese
to Sextus Pompey for five years (Vell. Pat. 2.77.2; App. BC 5.72). Although the treaty
soon became a dead letter, Antony had an excuse for another round of oppressive requisitioning in the region (App. BC 5.77, 80). When the civil wars drew to a close and the
former allies Octavian and Antony fell out, Sparta found itself in an unusually advantageous position. Eurycles, the son of a prominent local man (IG II2 3885) executed as a
pirate by Antony (Plut. Ant. 67.3), personally commanded a contingent of ships on
Octavian’s side at the battle of Actium. The victor awarded Sparta the presidency of the
Actian Games at Nikopolis (Strabo 7.7.6; Plut. Ant. 67.2–3) and installed Eurycles himself in power at Sparta (Strabo 8.5.1, 5.5), where he and his descendants, with some
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
notable interruptions, exercised considerable sway until the end of Nero’s reign (Kennell
(2010) 183–6), probably without holding any official position, in a style reminiscent of
archaic tyranny (Kennell (1997) 351–4, 356; Balzat 2005).
Attempts by modern historians to assign to Eurycles and his descendants a constitutional position through which they wielded power at Sparta have foundered on the
ambiguous or contradictory evidence (Balzat 2005). Strabo’s references (8.5.1, 5.5) to
Eurycles as leader (he ̄gemōn) and to his power (epistasia) have particularly resisted explanation. Legends on coins minted in Eurycles’ name, for instance, indicate that they were
struck “in the time of Eurycles” or “at the expense of Eurycles” (Grunauer‐von
Hoerschelmann (1978) 63–71, taf. 19–21). Moreover, while his children may have
joined elite religious groups (IG V.1 141), the few scraps of epigraphical evidence available from the first century bc seem to show the revived Kleomenean constitution functioning smoothly. In the early 20s the ephors and the city addressed a letter to the city
of Delphi (IG V.1 1566); a list of patronomoi, Roman Sparta’s eponymous magistrates,
from six consecutive years in the first century indicates that upper‐class Spartans
continued to fill positions in this Kleomenean institution (on the patronomate, later
below and Kennell (1997); pace Lafond, this volume, Chapter 15). As well, bricks from
the second half of the first century bc were stamped with names of patronomoi (Kourinou
(2000) 54–7). Euryclid power actually rested on imperial favour, traceable back to the
official friendship (amicitia) Augustus bestowed on Eurycles. Political life, at least the
advertising by the elite of their achievements on behalf of their city, seems to have been
dormant, if not actually suppressed in this period, only to develop again following the
end of the family’s power in the Flavian period.
The excavators of Sparta’s late‐Hellenistic or early‐Roman theatre on the south‐west
flank of the acropolis tentatively suggest that the change in government may be associated with a radical transformation in the theatre’s fabric in 78 ad and the first inscribed
careers of prominent Spartans, which appeared soon after on the east parodos wall (Walker
and Waywell (2001) 294). The theatre is a good place to begin an examination of how
cultural memory manifested itself at Roman Sparta. In fact, it might stand as an emblem
of that phenomenon. Built under Eurycles, the theatre boasted an unusual feature, a
movable scene building of a type now attested also in the theatre at Messene (Walker and
Waywell (2001) 294). Its construction methods were up‐to‐date, with Roman‐style
foundations of layered rubble and concrete. Despite this modernity, and of course the
incongruity of a theatre at a Sparta increasingly self‐conscious about its tradition of austere rejection of the arts in any form, its exterior aspect was thoroughly Greek, even
classicizing, in its use of stone and Pentelic marble in the Doric style – “a grandiose
recreation of the fine Classical Greek theatre design … stressing in its appearance the
Dorian heritage of Sparta” (Waywell, Wilkes, and Walker (1999) 103).
Eurycles dominated political life in a fashion that was more characteristic of a Roman
“strong man” (Balzat (2007) 343) than of a Spartan leader but he may well have had a
hand in the concerted promotion of aspects of Spartan “tradition” which formed the
core of the city’s cultural memory. The Leonideia, games in honour of the hero of
Thermopylai, which were reorganized in the late first century ad (IG V.1 18–19), may
have been first resurrected or even founded under Eurycles, with orators delivering
encomia of Leonidas and Pausanias, victor of Plataia, at the new theatre (Spawforth
(2012) 122–30). In addition, it is possible that Eurycles was responsible for the
Nigel M. Kennell
remodelling of the famous Persian Stoa with columns of “white marble”, building
material characteristic of the Augustan age (Paus. 3.11.3; Spawforth (2012) 118–20).
Augustus’ visit to Sparta in 22/1 bc signalled not only his support for Eurycles, at least
for the time being, but also his approval of the martial Spartan values the training system
(agōge ̄) had come to represent by his joining the Spartan ephebes in their common meals
(phiditia) (Strabo 8.5.1; Dio Cass. 54.7.2; Paus. 3.26.7, 4.31.1; Spawforth (2012)
90–1). Whether Eurycles took an active role in promoting the agōge ̄ as a Spartan tradition cannot be determined due to the lack of evidence from this period, but in the later
first and second centuries ad, when inscriptions become more plentiful, the training
system had undoubtedly become a key component of Spartan cultural memory and the
main vehicle by which Spartans represented themselves to themselves and the world.
The agōge ̄ of the Roman era was the product, after two periods of desuetude, of
revivals, the first under Kleomenes III and the second after the Roman victory over the
Achaean League in 146 bc. At that time the imperial power approved Sparta’s recovery
of her “ancestral” institutions, as far as was practical after the city’s misfortunes and so
much degeneration, according to Plutarch (Philop. 16.9), following four decades (188–
146 bc) of forced membership in the Achaean League under an Achaean‐style constitution
in which Spartan youths were no longer trained in the Spartan way (Livy 38.34.9).
Recent doubts as to the likelihood of Roman involvement in the revival of the agōge ̄, and
that traditional citizen training at Sparta was actually in abeyance for all forty years of the
Achaean period (Lévy (1997) 153; Ducat (2006) x–xi), stem from a misapprehension
about the significance of ephebates to the Hellenistic city. As a source of citizen soldiers,
these training systems were quite definitely an object of interest to the ruling powers
such as the Romans, as recent research has made clear (Chaniotis (2005) 46–51; Kennell
(2005) 19–20). Roman permission to revive the agōge ̄ would have been, if not needed,
then certainly desirable.
Although the latest revival of the agōge ̄ just after 146 bc would have taken place within
the limits of the communal memory of aged Spartans, the training system they recalled,
which served as the model, was not the Classical system but that revived under
Kleomenes III. Thus, true continuity between the Classical training system and that of
the Roman period is tenuous at best and arguably non‐existent. In any case, even were
the Roman‐era institution to reproduce the Classical in every detail, every act of revival
entails a break from the natural evolution of a tradition and a conscious effort to reconstruct a past that is relevant to the present.
Since the Archaic period, maturation rituals for both males and females had been performed at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia near the Eurotas river. In the third century bc,
the goddess’s cult statue appeared on coins struck by King Kleomenes, thus advertising
the training system’s prominence in his reform programme. It has been suggested that
he was also responsible for reconstructing Artemis’ temple (Grunauer‐von Hoerschelmann
(1978) 11–16, gr. III). Kleomenes’ institution of the patronomate (pace Lafond, this
volume), whose main charge at least later was oversight of the agōge ̄, also points to its
centrality in his vision of Sparta (Kennell (1995) 11). The earliest eyewitness to the
agōge ̄ of Roman Sparta is Cicero, who, like Libanios our latest witness (Or. 1.23), confined himself to mentioning the infamous contest of endurance (Tusc. 2.34, 2.46, 5.77),
when naked youths submitted to flagellation by the altar of Orthia to mark their coming
of age. The ritual had been drastically transformed from an earlier ceremony involving a
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
battle with whips over cheeses placed on Artemis’ altar (Xen. Lak. Pol. 2.9) either under
Kleomenes in the third century bc (Kennell (1995) 79) or at a later date after the restoration of the Spartan constitution in 146, with some even detecting Augustan influence
(Spawforth (2012) 92–4). At any rate, the bloody spectacle suited Roman views of
Spartan toughness and contributed to the establishment of a well‐defined Spartan civic
identity within the Roman Empire.
Apart from the Endurance Contest, Spartan youths also competed in several less
violent events whose names, in an artificial version of the ancient Laconian dialect, were
redolent of antiquity. The mōa was a singing contest, the keloia a competition in hunting
calls, and the kaththe ̄ratorion a hunting dance. This last seems earlier to have been called
the kunagetas or “hunter” – a name appearing in three very fragmentary inscriptions
from the first century bc (IG V.1 260, 267, 268) – and to have acquired its more recondite name sometime in the Flavian period, thus displaying the process of Laconization in
keeping with an increased emphasis on Spartan “heritage” in the later first and second
centuries ad. Ironically, its former name, kunagetas, is itself an artificial creation whereby
a Doricised version of the Attic word kune ̄gete ̄s was preferred to the proper Doric form,
kunagos (Kennell (1995) 51–4).
Language in the agōge ̄ also functioned in a more systematic way to preserve and promote Spartan cultural memory, in the inscribed victory dedications. From as early as the
fourth century bc evidence survives that victors (more accurately, their fathers) erected
bronze sickles won in the singing and dancing contests that were attached to stone slabs
(ste l̄ ai) as dedications in the sanctuary of Artemis (IG V.1 255). After a lengthy hiatus,
these sickle dedications appear again in the first century, with texts in a lightly Doricised
form of the koine ̄ (common) dialect of Hellenistic Greek. In the second century, however,
words in some inscriptions appear in what is supposed to be the ancient Laconian dialect
spoken in the sixth and fifth centuries bc. Use of artificial archaizing forms increases
through the century to the point where even Roman names such as Iulius (Julius) are
given Spartan form, producing oddities such as Ioulior (Kennell (1995) 87–92).
The evocation of Sparta’s primitive origins can be seen also in the later agōge ̄’s
­structure. For much of the Roman period, youths passed through an elaborate five‐step
system of age grades from ages sixteen to twenty, each with an archaizing name: mikkichizomenos, pratopampais, hatropampais, melleire ̄n, and eire ̄n. Within each grade,
youths served in bouai (cattle herds) under bouagoi (cattle leaders), terms heavy with
pastoral imagery. Each boua was notionally attached to one of Sparta’s ancient, and
apparently obsolete, ōbai or villages, which, clustered against the low hills forming the
upper city, had famously survived unwalled until the Hellenistic period. Passing out of
the agōge ,̄ young Spartan eirenes competed in a ball contest in the city’s theatre in teams
of sphaireis (ballplayers) representing the ephebic ōbai (Kennell (1995) 28–41). The
sphaireis game, like the theatre where it took place, is typical of how later Sparta preserved aspects of its cultural memory. Alone among the ephebic contests attested in the
Roman period, it has an unimpeachable Classical pedigree, appearing in Xenophon’s
Constitution of the Lakedaimonians (9.5) as a contest open to all Spartan warriors
(Kennell (1995) 131). Since the Spartans also claimed to have invented ball‐playing
(Hippasos ap. Athen. Deipnos. 1.25 (FGH IV 430)), the incorporation of the sphaireis
game into the agōge ̄ as a coming‐of‐age ritual can be viewed as a part of the training
system’s later role as the pre‐eminent repository of Spartan memory.
Nigel M. Kennell
Thus, visitors to Sparta in the mid‐second century would have witnessed ephebes
contending in the theatre in a competition Spartans claimed as their own, and at the
sanctuary of Artemis participating in ancient‐sounding contests, divided into age grades
and teams whose names evoked the original districts of the city. They would have seen
ste ̄lai around Artemis’ temple and altar bearing tangible witness to the Roman city’s continuity with its illustrious past. In addition, I believe they may have heard the ancient
dialect spoken once again during the various ceremonies of the agōge ̄ (Kennell (1995)
87–93). The effect would have been powerful, to say the least.
The agōge ̄’s importance as the primary vehicle by which Spartans of the Roman period
engaged with their cultural memory is thrown into relief when one considers how unexceptional were the other aspects of life in the city. The public institutions of Roman
Sparta, though ephors and the gerousia still existed, exhibit few differences from those of
other provincial cities of the Greek East (Kennell (1985); Cartledge and Spawforth
(2002) 143–59). Houses excavated under the modern city show a Spartan elite that
enjoyed the luxurious rentier lifestyle found everywhere in the empire, in urban villas
boasting private bathing facilities, attached workshops, and a wealth of elaborate mosaics
to decorate their floors, while Roman‐era cemeteries are typical of their period
(Spyropoulos, Mantis, et al. (2012) 94–5). Thus, Sparta’s urban fabric in the second and
third centuries of our era as revealed by (mostly) salvage excavation was that of a prosperous middling settlement, with public amenities such as baths, gymnasia and broad
streets, including at least one street lined by colonnades (Steinhauer (2009) 273).
Although the city was by no means a “theme park” or “museum of living history” during
the Roman period, it cannot be denied that many of the ways in which cultural memory
was performed and expressed in cities of the Greek East are most evident and fully articulated at Sparta.
Through regular performances of the ceremonies in the agōge ̄, Spartans re‐enacted
the most salient features of their traditions. The message of the city’s fidelity to its ancient
heritage was also carried by buildings and areas within the city that functioned as lieux
de mémoire for visitors and citizens alike through their evocations of mythological and
historical events, often linked to the activities of ephebes, central to Spartan self‐­
perception. Pausanias, author of a well‐known second‐century guide to the antiquities of
Greece, remains our main informant, due to the paucity of archaeological remains.
At the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, the temple retained throughout the Roman period
the form Kleomenes had given it in the late third century bc, while the altar was significantly enlarged, surely to make room for those undergoing the rigours of the Endurance
Contest. Monumentalization to accommodate spectators also began at this time – a sign
of the conscious appreciation of the agōge ̄’s importance to Spartan cultural memory – in
the form of stone seats for distinguished visitors, probably in the second half of the first
century bc (IG V.1 254). Not until late in the third century, in fact after the devastating
incursion of the Heruli into the Peloponnese in ad 267, was built the site’s most visible
structure, the amphitheatral seating for the mass of visitors attracted to the whipping
contest, which was so vital that it was still held in the 340s (Lib. Or. 1.23).
Just north of the sanctuary, Pausanias saw the shrine of Sparta’s legendary lawgiver
Lykourgos, whom Spartans worshipped as a god (3.16.6). Although the British excavators at the beginning of the twentieth century hopefully identified it with a large
Hellenistic altar they found in the area (Dickins (1905–6)), the identification has been
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
authoritatively refuted (Kourinou (2000) 149–51). As is now appreciated, Lykourgos
was a totemic figure for Spartans in the Roman period. A shadowy figure even to scholars
in antiquity (Plut. Lyc. 1–3), Lykourgos was supposed to have lived in the earliest days
of Spartan history. Unanimous consensus credited him with the establishment of almost
every institution and custom, usually held to be legally binding, that had characterized
Sparta’s supposedly unique style of life and had brought Spartans hegemony over the
Greeks. With the agōge ̄’s function in the Roman period as the primary vehicle for the
expression of Spartan exceptionalism, Lykourgos was its natural figurehead. The agōge ̄
was called the “Lykourgan customs”, and patronomoi were sometimes honoured for
their presidency (epistasia) of the customs (e.g. IG V.1 500, 527, 543, 544), probably in
return for providing financial subsidies (Kennell (1995) 44). As with venerable codes of
law, the Lykourgan customs had their own interpreters (IG V.1 177, 554; see DS
13.53.3) and teachers (IG V.1 500, 542, 543). Lykourgos was also responsible for the
Endurance Contest, though the Roman‐era version was so different from the ritual
described by Xenophon (Lak. Pol. 2.9) six centuries previously that the account Pausanias
heard (3.16.9–11), crediting Lykourgos with the founding of the contest he witnessed,
can only have been a relatively recent invention (Kennell (1995) 78–9). At the city’s
theatre, Lykourgos’ statue stood in front of the lists of officials and careers of notable
Spartans that were inscribed on the east parodos wall and overlooked the site of the
sphaireis contest that marked passage from the agōge ̄ to the community of adult citizens
(Kennell (1995) 62). On the occasions when Sparta’s coffers were depleted, Lykourgos
himself assumed the office of patronomos, although mortal proxies (epimele ̄tai) carried
out his actual duties in the agōge ̄ (Kennell (1995) 43–4). For Spartans in the Roman
period Lykourgos was a emblematic figure. Assigned definitely to Sparta’s distant past,
with his role as the creator of the Spartans’ distinctive style of life and with the continuing
evolution or even invention of stories about him, Lykourgos’ function was to stimulate
and focus memory on a major element of Spartan traditions (Assmann (2011) 23–8).
Other elements of those traditions can also be traced in the urban topography of
Roman Sparta. A statue of Lykourgos and another of Herakles, both probably of
Hellenistic or later manufacture, presided over the bridges to an island surrounded by
plane trees called the Platanistas (Plane‐Tree Grove), where two teams of ephebes met in
combat with each other (Paus. 3.14.7–10). A recent study has placed the Platanistas in
the well‐watered region of the Mousga river north of the acropolis and north‐west of the
sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, where the landscape may show signs of the river having
been dammed in antiquity in order to create an artificial lake suitable for the Platanistas
island (Sanders (2009) 199–200). Herakles and Lykourgos, both evoking powerful
associations for Spartans, here unite two threads of cultural memory: the creation of the
Spartan state and its laws (Lykourgos) and the Spartan claim to possession of Laconia
(Herakles) and by extension Messenia, both of which would be recalled through the
actions of Spartan ephebes.
Lykourgos’ role is obvious, but the figure of Herakles leads to another narrative which
continued to hold rich meaning for later Spartans: the conflict between Herakles and the
sons of Hippokoon. In preparation for the Platanistas fight, ephebes sacrificed puppies at
the Phoibaion near Therapne, south‐east of the city (Paus. 14.9), which has been seen as
an allusion to a key incident in this myth (Gengler (2005) 318). The Spartan version can
be reconstructed as follows. Herakles came to Sparta seeking purification for his killing
Nigel M. Kennell
of Iphitos, but Hippokoon, now king of Sparta after dethroning his brother Tyndareus,
refused. Herakles’ cousin Oionos killed a dog belonging to the sons of Hippokoon
(Hippokoontidai) after it attacked him. In revenge, they bludgeoned Oionos to death.
Enraged, Herakles set upon Hippokoon and his sons but was wounded and so withdrew
to Taygetos, where Asklepios tended him. Returning to Sparta, Herakles killed all his
new enemies and set up sanctuaries and trophies, while according heroic honours to
Oionos and the Hippokoontidai (Paus. 3.15.1–5; Gengler (2005) 317).
Near the theatre, venue for the sphaireis game, Herakles founded the sanctuary of
Hera the Goat Eater (Aigophagos) in return for her allowing his revenge on Hippokoon
and his sons (Paus. 3.15.9). In the area of the Platanistas were located the he ̄rōa of the
Hippokoontidai Alkimos, Enaiphoros, Dorkeus, and Sebrios, while a little further away
at the ephebic exercise ground known as the Dromos (Racecourse) was another he ̄rōon,
to Hippokoon’s son Alköon (Sanders (2009) 198), and nearby, the sanctuary of Athena
of Just Requital (Axiopoinos), another related foundation of Herakles (Paus. 3.15.6).
Close by, Eumedes, a sixth son, had his tomb near a statue of Herakles, to whom the
sphaireis sacrificed (Paus. 3.14.6). Herakles’ retreat from Sparta and his victorious return,
like other related myths, had long served to mirror and justify Heraklid, and Spartan,
claims to control of Laconia and the southern Peloponnese (Calame (1987)). In the
Roman period, notable families recorded their descent from Herakles, to the exact
number of generations, to mark their inherent right to dominate public life through
magistracies and hereditary priesthoods. Tyndareus and his sons, Kastor and Polydeukes,
were also popular ancestors (e.g. IG V.1 529, 536, 559, 562), since they fought beside
Herakles against the Hippokoontidai, a detail suppressed by Pausanias (Calame (1977)
This particular genealogy also had territorial implications, for in the Messenian version
Tyndareus spent part of his exile in the district of Thalamai in Messenia near the border
with Laconia, where the Dioskouroi were born on the islet of Pephnos (Paus. 3.26.2–3).
According to the Spartans, by contrast, Tyndareus went to Pellana north‐west of Sparta,
so the Spartan genealogies serve to counter Messenian pretensions. They may also have
expressed, if not a desire for some sort of hegemony over the cities of the Free Laconian
League, then the Spartan position in the ongoing border disputes over this and other
areas between the Messenians and Laconians (Gengler (2005) 328; cf. Tac. Ann. 4.43).
Back in the area of the Platanistas, near the tomb of Alkman, whose poem Partheneion
may have concerned the rivalry between the Hippokoontidai and Dioskouroi, were
shrines of Helen and, closer to the city wall, of Herakles, where one could see an armed
statue of the god as if in combat with the sons of Hippokoon (Paus. 3.16.3).
Helen, sister to Kastor and Polydeukes, figures in several myths which left traces in the
topography of Sparta. Pausanias mentions a sanctuary of Artemis Knagia, named after a
certain Knageus who joined Kastor and Polydeukes on their expedition to Attica to
rescue their sister (Paus. 3.18.4). Possibly located somewhere in the northeast of the city,
though its exact position is unknown (Kourinou (2000) 99), the sanctuary may have
marked the route Kastor and Polydeukes took out of the city and would have lain within
the urban area most associated with ephebic activity. Although cult worship of Helen and
her husband Menelaos on the promontory east of the Eurotas died out in the Hellenistic
period, she and the Dioskouroi were objects of a lively cult during the Roman empire at
the Phoibaion sanctuary on the west bank of the Eurotas just outside the city on the
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
southeast (Kourinou (2000) 202–3) where, as mentioned above, the sphaireis teams sacrificed before proceeding to the city’s centre (Cartledge and Spawforth (2002) 195).
Within the city walls, Helen’s shrine was one of several sites that prompted remembrance
of stories associated with Sparta’s role in the Trojan War. Near the Dromos one could
visit the house of Menelaos, where his marriage to Helen took place (Paus. 3.14.6;
Sanders (2009) 199).
Sparta’s most important and historic street was the Aphetaïs road running southwards
to the city wall from the agora, which is now securely identified as the plateau on
Palaiokastro hill lying to the east of the acropolis (Kourinou (2000) 104–8). The road’s
name, the “starting”, supposedly came about because Ikarios set it out as the race course
for the suitors of his daughter Penelope in the contest that was won by Odysseus (Paus.
3.12.1). Nearby was the statue of Aphetaios, where the race began (Paus. 3.13.6). As
they went along the Aphetaïs, passers‐by would have seen the three sanctuaries of Athena
of the Path (Keleutheia) which Odysseus erected some distance apart, starting with the
one just south of the agora (Paus. 3.12.2–5; Kourinou (2000) 137–8). Penelope herself
was another memory figure in the Roman period, with the title “New Penelope” available to noble women who emulated her in wifely virtue (IG 5.1 598, 599). Towards the
end of his itinerary along the Aphetaïs, after noting some of the most ancient shrines in
the city, such as the her̄ ōa of Iops and of Lelex, the aboriginal king of Lakedaimon
(Calame (1987)), Pausanias comes upon an area called the Hellenion, where, according
to one story, the Achaeans met to plan revenge on Paris for his outrage on Menelaos.
This particular Spartan account draws on the old assertion of a prominent role for
Spartans in the pre‐Dorian Peloponnese, which probably was also the impetus for,
among other things, the establishment of the cult of Kassandra‐Alexandra and
Agamemnon at Amyklai, another sanctuary obviously evocative of the Trojan myth
(Salapata (2011); see also Hall (1997) 91–3).
Objects and places linked to major characters in Homeric epic formed a loose web of
associations to prompt memory of the great mythical Panhellenic campaign against an
eastern enemy, whose central element was the Spartan location where Greeks met to plan
the war of vengeance for the wrong done to Menelaos. In light of this, it is unsurprising
that the Hellenion exercised another claim on the collective memory, for here Spartans
held that the Hellenic states had assembled to prepare their defence against an even
greater eastern menace: Xerxes’ invasion of 480 bc (Paus. 3.12.6). Though the local tradition was unhistorical – the Hellenic coalition met at the Isthmos of Corinth (Hdt.
7.172.1) – it does reflect the later Spartans’ intense identification with the period of what
had long been considered their city’s finest achievement: leading the Greek cities in the
Persian Wars. This acquired greater immediacy after the Romans under Augustus adopted
rhetoric and symbolism associated with the Persian Wars in their conflicts with the
Parthians (Spawforth 1994), and they were no longer “a normal historical occurrence,
but a founding myth, which marked the consecration of Hellenism as such” (Pernot
(1993) 2:452).
Around the Hellenion were several other sites to excite reminiscences of this crucial
period in the city’s history. Nearby was the tomb of Talthybios, herald to king Agamemnon,
where the Trojan and Persian Wars were bound together, for, as Pausanias relates, it was
his wrath that afflicted the Athenians and the Spartans for their maltreatment of the
ambassadors Darius had sent to demand earth and water (Paus. 3.12.7; Hdt. 7.133).
Nigel M. Kennell
Maron and Alpheios, second only to Leonidas in bravery at Thermopylai, were also honoured in an adjacent sanctuary (Paus. 3.19.9). Back in the agora, the Persian Stoa mentioned above, though much modified over the centuries, continued as a powerful
emblem of Spartan triumph. On the acropolis, next to the famed temple of Athena
Chalkioikos (of the Bronze House) where he was starved to death at the ephors’
command (Thuc. 1.134.2–4), stood two bronze statues of Pausanias, the victor of
Plataia, while his later tomb and that of Leonidas himself (Paus. 3.14.1) were situated in
the lower city, visible to audiences in the theatre, at least until the permanent scene
building was constructed in the second half of the first century ad (Walker and Waywell
(2001) 294). At the Leonideia festival, its contests open only to Spartans (Paus. 3.14.1),
the Persian Wars were remembered, above all in the competition in funerary orations
praising Leonidas, Pausanias, and the other heroes, particularly those at Thermopylai,
whose names could be seen inscribed on a nearby stēlē (IG V.1 660; Spawforth (2012)
124). Near Lykourgos’ altar in the north‐west of the city, was the tomb of Eurybiades,
the commander of the Spartan fleet at Artemision and Salamis (Paus. 3.16.6).
Unfortunately, the location of Lykourgos’ tomb is not revealed by Plutarch in a passage
about an omen that occurred upon the return of his remains to Sparta (Lyc. 31.3). A site
near his altar is far from impossible.
This area in the city’s north‐east not only provided a mythic framework for ephebic
activity but also, rich as it was in allusions to early Spartan history, served as a node of
cultural memory more generally. Tradition had assigned Lykourgos, originator of the
Spartan discipline, a son called Eukosmos (Good Order), whose grave was of course
close to his father’s altar (Paus. 3.16.6). On the way to the north‐east gate was a her̄ ōon
to the sixth‐century sage Chilon (Paus. 3.16.4; Kourinou (2000) 72–3), whom some
considered the founder of Sparta’s most powerful office in the Classical period, the ephorate (DL 1.68). Chilon may also have been a motive force for the successful pursuit of
hegemony in the Peloponnese through diplomacy (Cartledge (2001) 120), which was
commemorated in the agora by the grave containing the bones of Orestes (Paus. 3.11.10)
“reclaimed” from Tegea in the mid‐sixth century (Hdt 1.67–8). Somewhere in the
region of the acropolis also stood a temple of Athena Ophthalmitis, a dedication of
Lykourgos to commemorate his loss of an eye in an assault by Alkandros, a young aristocrat who objected to his laws (Paus. 3.18.2; Kourinou (2000) 98–9).
Spartans remembered Lykourgos and Chilon for founding central features of their
collective identity: the organs of state, the Spartan discipline, and the city’s role as a military power of the first rank in Greece. They also commemorated other beginnings.
Memory of the primeval differentiation and naming of the landscape was kept alive
though temples, sacred areas, and statues associated with such figures as Iops, who lived
before Lakedaimon received its name (Paus. 3.12.5; Calame (1987)); Kynortas, son of
Amyklas, the eponym of Amyklai (Paus. 3.13.1); Eurydike, daughter of Lakedaimon
(Paus. 1.13.8); and Tainaros, son of Poseidon, after whom Cape Tainaron was named
(Paus. 3.14.2).
Two lieux de mémoire evoked the return of the Heraklids with their Dorian allies. On
his itinerary through “another exit” from the agora, either to the north (Kourinou
(2000) 141) or to the south (Sanders (2009) 202), Pausanias mentions a house traditionally regarded as that of Krios, a seer at Sparta under the Achaeans before the Dorian
conquest (3.13.3–5), which contained a cult of Karneios of the House (Oiketas).
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
This Karneios, whom Pausanias is keen to distinguish from the better‐known Dorian
divinity Apollo Karneios, was venerated in the city before the arrival of the Heraclids
(Sanders (2009) 201) and thus represents the pre‐Dorian “Achaean” phase of Spartan
history. But Krios, its former owner, was part of the story of the Heraclids through his
daughter, who passed information to them on how to capture Sparta. Ever since the
Hellenistic period, many historians had considered that the return of the Herakleidai
marked the threshold between myth and history (Diod. Sic. 4.1.2–3). Thus the house of
Krios provides a pivot between the pre‐Dorian (mythical) and Dorian (historical) stages
in Sparta’s development. Inscriptions from the second century ad record the names of
two ancestral priestesses and a priest of Karneios of the House (Boiketas), who conjointly
held the priesthood of Karneios of the Racecourse (Dromaios) (IG V.1 497, 589, 608).
That a deity from Sparta’s Achaean period had a connection with the ephebic exercise
ground is unsurprising, given the strong archaizing tendencies of the agōge ̄ at the time.
A similar juxtaposition occurred with the hero shrines of Kleodeios, son the Heraklid
Hyllos, and the mythical, therefore Achaean, Oibalos, father of Tyndareus and
Hippokoon, whose story, as we have seen, is so bound up with the agōge ̄. Both structures were, Pausanias tells us (3.15.10), not far from the theatre, site of the ephebic
sphaireis game and, on its east parodos wall, of political display by the elite.
While reminiscences of the establishment of Dorian Sparta appear only fleetingly in
Pausanias’ Spartan itineraries, more prominent are traditions about the extension of
Spartan power in Laconia and its conquest of Messenia in the early years of the city,
which made Sparta the state controlling the largest land area in mainland Greece and laid
the foundations for its later primacy. At the bottom of the Aphetaïs, in the vicinity of the
Hellenion, where a multitude of military memorials clustered, Pausanias saw the sanctuary of Zeus Tropaios (Turner of Armies) (Paus. 3.12.9), built by the Dorians after
conquering Amyklai and the other Achaean communities of Laconia. His use of the
ethnic designations “Dorian” and “Achaean” securely fixes this monument in the city’s
primordial past and gives an air of objective reality to his narrative about Sparta’s gradual
extension of power in Laconia under the early kings of the Agiad dynasty (Paus. 3.2.5–6),
whatever the historicity of these traditions (Kennell (2010) 31–3). The sanctuary of
Zeus Tropaios, whose epithet is the masculine form of tropaion (battle trophy), may or
may not have contained an object thought to be the very trophy the Dorians erected, but
its placement surely conveyed an equivalent meaning. Situated towards the southern
limit of the city, near where, we may reasonably suppose, the procession for the Hyakinthia
made its way out of the city toward the festival site at the shrine of Apollo Amyklaios
(Athen. 4.173–4; Mellink (1943) 17; Kourinou (2000) 415), the sanctuary would surely
have reminded participants and spectators of the events that had bound Amyklai to
Sparta. Likewise evoking the city’s early days, even though unrelated to this particular
thread of historical memory, were the graves of the Eurypontid kings located in this
­district (Paus. 3.12.8).
Teleklos, the Agiad king who according to tradition had subjected Amyklai to Sparta
(Paus. 3.2.6) and whose death at Messenian hands on the border with Laconia had supposedly precipitated the First Messenian War, had his hērōon near the start of the Aphetaïs,
to the left of the Boöneta (Paus. 3.1.4; Kourinou (2000) 146–7). This building was
called “Ox Bought”. because it was sold to the state for oxen by the widow of King
Polydoros, another king who figured in the Messenian Wars (Paus. 3.12.3). In the agora,
Nigel M. Kennell
by the grave of Orestes, stood a statue of this king, perhaps visible from the Boöneta
(Paus. 3.10.11). By Pausanias’ time, Polydoros had become a particularly prominent
figure of Spartan tradition. He had evolved from simply being the joint author of the
so‐called “rider” to the Great Rhetra, as viewed by Aristotle (Plut. Lyc. 6.7), into a
democratic hero of sorts, “according to Spartan opinion very favourable to the people”
(Paus. 3.3.2), whose image appeared on the city’s official seal in the second century ad
(Paus. 3.10.11) and who in the Hellenistic period had been assigned a key role in the
allotment of equal lots of land (kle ̄roi) among citizens by adding 3,000 lots to Lykourgos’
original 6,000 (Plut. Lyc. 8.6; BNJ 596 Comm.; see also Figueira, this volume,
Chapter 22). Pausanias’ characterization of Polydoros as a fair but humane judge with
never a harsh or insulting word for anyone fits his later image, while his murder by a disgruntled young aristocrat recalls the assault on Lykourgos and has been thought to echo
the fate of the ill‐starred Agis IV, the forerunner of Kleomenes III in attempting reform
at Sparta. Third‐century reformist propaganda may even have been behind the promotion of the “legend of Polydoros” (Marasco (1978) 125–6).
Polydoros’ Eurypontid co‐king Theopompos, under whom Sparta won control of
Messenia, was commemorated appropriately as well, with a statue in the city’s north‐east
opposite the temple of Lykourgos in a highly charged district near the statue of
Eurybiades, commander at Salamis and Artemision. Here, two prominent Spartan military victors were linked with Lykourgos, the emblematic figure of Spartan memory. In
addition to his military exploits, Theopompos had joined Polydoros in drafting the
“rider” to the Great Rhetra and, according to a tradition earlier than that crediting
Chilon, had actually founded the ephorate (Arist. Pol. 1313a 26–7). His statue’s
placement in the vicinity of both Eurybiades’ image and the lawgiver Lykourgos’ shrine
is consequently significant.
Memorials of the Messenian Wars, like most others Pausanias records, were almost
certainly not authentic relics from early Archaic Sparta. For the most part, the statues
and buildings just mentioned probably dated from the Hellenistic period, or at least the
traditions connecting them with the city’s legendary history were later creations. This
is also the case with the last lieu de mémoire for the Messenian Wars, the shrine of Thetis
in the region Theomelida, north‐west of the theatre, where the graves of the Agiad
kings were to be found (Paus. 3.14.3; Kourinou (2000) 93). Pausanias heard from his
guides that Leandris, wife of the Agiad king Anaxandros son of Polykrates, had
established the cult when she learned that a sacred statue of Thetis was in the possession
of a Messenian priestess whom her husband had captured in a raid against the rebellious
Messenians. Although a kernel of history about the Second Messenian War may have
survived in this tradition unchanged for eight centuries until Pausanias heard the account,
the story is more likely to have been a later invention, particularly since the captured
priestess’s name, Kleo, is best suited to the Hellenistic period; it is attested only rarely
in the fifth century and no earlier (s.v. http://clas‐ (consulted
13 April 2015).
Between the agora and the theatre lay the cenotaph of Brasidas (Paus. 3.14.1), Sparta’s
most talented general in the last years of the Archidamian War of the 420s. However,
Lysander, the victor at Aigospotamoi and for a brief period the most powerful man in the
Aegean, received substantially more mementoes, despite his less‐than‐stellar posthumous reputation (Kennell (1995) 95). A statue of Agias, his seer at the battle, occupied
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
a central location, in the agora by the altar of Augustus (Paus. 3.11.5); the temple of
Ammon prompted an account of how Lysander encouraged Spartans “to revere the god
even more” after a dream during the siege of Aphyta in Thrace (Paus. 3.18.33; Plut. Lys.
20.6); and Lysander’s dedication of two Victories was conspicuously set above eagles in
the pediment of the west stoa on the acropolis (Paus. 3.17.4).
In addition to these static stimuli scattered throughout the city, memory could be
evoked by certain activities, notably rituals and festivals. As we have already seen, the
battle at the Platanistas served to bring the battle against the sons of Hippokoon to the
minds of spectators and participants alike. In a similar fashion, the Hyakinthia, an ancient
festival of lasting prestige, also evoked the distant past and, as is the case with such festivals, effaced the distance between the present and the distant mythical past (Assmann
(2011) 37–8) by annually recalling the fate of Apollo’s lover Hyakinthos. Still celebrated
at the sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios, the later festival lasted three days, according to the
Hellenistic historian Polykrates (FGrHist 588). The first day was spent in symbolic
mourning for the dead youth. The next was devoted to music, equestrian processions,
and dances in the ancient style by Spartan youths. On the last day, young girls tried to
outdo one other in the elaborate ornament of their carriages in a colourful procession
to Apollo’s sanctuary where many sacrifices were made, and all citizens and slaves then
dined at the same time. The feast day was so popular that the city emptied from dawn
to dusk.
How many of these elements of the festival survived into the Roman period is impossible to determine. On the other hand, Pausanias describes the different sorts of sacrifice
offered Apollo and Hyakinthos (3.18.3) and refers to women called “the daughters of
Leukippos” (Leukippidai), who were charged each year with weaving a robe (chitōn) for
Apollo at Amyklai, which may have occasioned the parade on the last day of the
Hyakinthia (Hupfloher (2000) 67; Richer (2012) 318–19, 361). Spartan women had a
lengthy tradition of participating in the festival which is reflected in the only Roman‐era
inscriptions to mention the festival. On two occasions, the city honoured women who
held the post of archeïs and “theōros‐for‐life” of the most revered contest of the Hyakinthia
(IG V.1 586, 587). Archeïs denoted a sort of priestess peculiar to the cult of Apollo
Amyklaios, while in this particular case the theōros probably held the agōnothesia, which
entailed administrative and financial duties connected with the contest (Hupfloher
(2000) 63–9). The “contest” (agōn) itself may have been a formalized version of the
competition in decorating carriages Polykrates mentioned or, as is likely in the Roman
period (for which there is some earlier evidence: Mellink (1943) 22–3), either an equestrian (hippikos agōn) or athletic contest (gumnikos agōn). Unfortunately, no extant
Spartan inscription records a victor in the Hyakinthia.
The most important festival of Apollo at Sparta was the Gymnopaidiai (Richer (2012)
383–422), when, as later sources relate, nude ephebes and boys (paides) performed
dances and sang hymns to the god (Paus. 3.11.9; Athen. 24 631 b–c). A chorus of men,
attested in the Classical period, no longer appears as an element in the Roman‐period
festival. Of all the Spartan festivals, only the Gymnopaidiai had a structure built specifically to serve as its venue, the Choros (Dancing Place), which can be identified with a
raised theatral area supported by a well‐built Classical retaining wall situated on the west
side of the agora (Kourinou (2000) 114–27). The Gymnopaidiai also had a long tradition associating the festival with Spartan military exploits. Ever since, or soon after, the
Nigel M. Kennell
victory over Argos at Hysiai (ca. 544 bc) that brought the borderland of the Thyreatis
back under Spartan control, the dancers had sung commemorative songs and worn special wreaths, once called thyreatic crowns but later simply “feathery” (psilinoi) crowns,
which were actually made of palm leaves (Sosibios FGrHist 595 F5). The tradition
continued into the Roman period, as makers of these crowns (psilinopoioi) appear in two
lists from the first century bc (IG V.1 208 l.4; 209 l.24). A later source relates that
paeans at the Gymnopaidiai were also sung for the fallen “at Pylaia”, which, if not to be
corrected to the phrase “at Thyrea”, would point to an association with Thermopylai
(Richer (2012) 409), a battle whose significance for Spartan identity was foundational.
In contrast, many at the Gymnopaidiai would also no doubt have recalled the dramatic
moment in 371 bc when news of the crushing defeat at Leuktra arrived at Sparta on the
last day of the festival, when the men’s chorus had taken its place (Xen. Hell. 6.4.16).
Performed in an old elevated structure with a panoramic view over the city, over its
ancient monuments and southward to the thirteen‐metre‐high statue of Apollo Amyklaios
five kilometres away, the old, traditional dances (Lucian, On Dance 12) of the Gymnopaidiai
would have embodied Spartan military tradition for spectators and participants alike. The
absence of the men’s chorus from a festival so resonant with Spartan tradition shows
that, as in the case of the agōgē, the city’s youth were considered the most suitable actors
to promote and transmit Spartan cultural memory in the Roman period.
Sparta’s other major festival for Apollo, the Karneia, whose first victor was reputedly
the poet Terpander, was considered to be even older than the Gymnopaidiai (Hellanikos
FGrHist 4 F85a; Plutarch, On Music 9.1134 b–c). The festival consisted of contests in
singing and perhaps dancing (Cartledge and Spawforth (2002) 194). At the time of
Demetrios of Skepsis, the first half of the second century bc, and probably before, the
Karneia was celebrated over nine days in a quasi‐military fashion, with nine tent‐like
structures erected, one for each of the groups of nine men representing the three
Spartan fraternities (phratriai) (Athen. 4.141e). The fraternities have been thought to
reflect the original three Dorian tribes that conquered Laconia (Ehrenberg 1924,
24–5). If this was the case, then the Karneia would have served to stimulate the
collective memory of Dorian Sparta’s ultimate origins, a function for the festival that
would conform particularly well to Spartans’ self‐conscious archaism during the Roman
Unfortunately, hard evidence for details of the post‐Hellenistic Karneia is almost
completely confined to a single, non‐musical activity, a pursuit of “grape‐runners”
(staphylodromoi). Grape‐runners were young adult males wearing wreaths who were
pursued and, with any luck, caught for the good of the city, in a form of fertility ritual
to promote the grape harvest (Anec. Graec. Bekker 1.305). The grape‐runners, two of
whom appear in now‐lost inscriptions from the first and second centuries ad, were
drawn from unmarried young men called Karneatai, themselves chosen by lot for a
four‐year period to oversee the festival (Hesychius s.v. staphylodromos). Like the
Hyakinthia, the Karneia may also have included an athletic contest, since a victor in the
Karneia (Karneonike ̄s) was among those sharing in feasts in honour of the Dioskouroi
and Helen in the later first century bc (IG V.1 209 l.20). In general, though, like the
Hyakinthia and Gymnopaidiai, the Karneia would have stood for the continuity of cult
and culture over many centuries and as such represented Spartan cultural memory as it
was configured under the Roman Empire.
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
The monuments and images Pausanias describes, along with the epigraphical evidence,
show that local traditions about the Spartan collective past focused on several discernible
points, or nodes, of memory. First were beginnings: the articulation and naming of
Laconia’s topographical features by its aboriginal inhabitants. Next was Herakles’
struggle with the Dioskouroi against the Hippokoontidai, which provided justification
for Dorian dominance in Laconia and Heraklid rule in Archaic and Classical Sparta.
Prominent families in the Roman period who traced their descent from Herakles and the
Dioskouroi were doubtless drawing on this mythic tradition to support their positions in
the city and the wider region generally (e.g. IG V.1 471, 529, 530, and 971). Early
Sparta’s “conquest” of Laconia permeated the Hyakinthia. Memories then collected
around the figure of Lykourgos, the author of every institution and custom which set
Spartans apart and whose spirit the citizens of the Roman city endeavoured to present as
continuing to imbue certain aspects of their public life. After him, the conquest of
Messenia is the next memory node, since the great expansion of land available for exploitation by Spartans established their city on the path to primacy in Greece.
The advance of Spartan power in the sixth century was represented by Chilon, whose
tomb physically associated him with the legendary lawgiver. Chilon’s institution of the
ephorate would also have been recalled at the Old Office of the Ephors in the agora,
where in Pausanias’ day dignitaries were honoured with public feasts (Paus. 3.11.11;
Kennell (1987)). Nearby was the grave of Epimenides, the Cretan seer who had prophesied Sparta’s defeat by the Arkadians in the sixth century, which led to a change in
Spartan policy away from open aggression towards their neighbours. Memories of this
stage in Spartan history would also have been stimulated in this region of the agora by
the sight of the grave containing Orestes’ bones, “reclaimed” from Tegea as part of that
new Chilonian policy of assertive diplomacy (Hdt. 1.67–8).
The Persian Wars were undoubtedly a major element in Spartan cultural memory. But
the monuments Pausanias saw and the ritual activities connected with the Persian Wars
tended to focus on persons rather than events. Plataia had the “Freedom” Games
(Eleuthereia) (Spawforth (2012) 130–8), but Spartans celebrated the Leonideia, competing in oratory in praise of Leonidas, the regent Pausanias, and the other heroes of the
struggle. Tombs of prominent leaders against the Persians were on view throughout the
city, as well as the place where the Greeks met to plan their strategy. Individuals also
provided the means for recalling the Peloponnesian War, the other event from the fifth
century thought worth remembering. A cenotaph commemorated Brasidas’ heroic
death at Amphipolis, and Lysander’s memory was promoted through his dedications on
the acropolis, a statue of his prophet, and a temple. The fourth century, far from the
most auspicious in the city’s history, featured Kyniska, sister of Agesilaos II, the first
female victor at the Olympics in the chariot races of 396 and 392 bc, whose he ̄rōon was
fittingly at the Platanistas (Paus. 3.15.1), and the latest figure from Sparta’s history
before the Roman period, Euryleonis, another female chariot victor at Olympia in 368 bc,
whose statue stood on the acropolis (Paus. 3.17.6).
In addition to the emphasis on the stimulation of memory through individual historical personages, the other bias visible in the Roman city is towards Archaic history until
the Persian Wars. The tendency is also manifest in Sparta’s image in the Greek East generally under the Empire. The professional orators who entertained the educated public
with speeches based on historical themes could find many suitable Spartan subjects from
Nigel M. Kennell
the Archaic period, when all the laws of Lykourgos were faithfully obeyed, or they might
honour Spartan leaders in the Persian Wars, such as Leonidas, but despite Sparta’s victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian War, the rigorous Panhellenic sentiment that held
sway among the Greeks of the Roman period would not allow a personality like Lysander
to be held up as a model of correct behaviour (Kennell (1995) 94–7). In the first century bc
Romans began to identify the Parthians, their rivals over control of the Levant, with the
Greeks’ historical foes the Persians, a process which allowed Rome to assume the role of
Hellenism’s champion against its deadly eastern enemy (Spawforth (2012) 103–6). As a
consequence, Rome’s utilization of the ideology that had coalesced around the Persian
Wars tradition substantially shaped Spartans’ attitudes to this part of their own history
and gave them considerable cultural capital to be exploited in their relations with other
Greek cities and with the dominant power.
The force of Sparta’s image as a city with a particularly close connection to Greece’s
ancient past is manifested in its attraction for cultivated non‐Spartans. Visitors came to
witness the ephebic re‐enactments of Sparta’s incomprehensibly ancient rituals. Others
made the greater commitment of becoming patronomos, which put them nominally in
charge of the agōge ̄; that post probably entailed financial contributions rather than assiduous administration (Kennell (1995) 44–5). In the Roman period, as one of the three
most distinguished Greek cities (Dio Chrysostomos, Or. 46.6) – the others were Argos
and Athens – Sparta was an especially attractive destination for those desirous of affirming their connection with a continuous living tradition from the earliest days of Greek
civilization. These individuals, to be considered below, were part of a widespread trend
in the second century ad. The Panhellenion, founded in ad 131/2 as the focus of the
Imperial cult in old Greece, the Roman province of Achaea, proved a magnet for those
cities eager to identify themselves more closely with the Greece of the pre‐Hellenistic
past (Spawforth (2012) 351–2) by sending representatives to its meetings and the festival of the Panhellenia. In like manner, the men from cities within and outside the
Panhellenion who became patronomoi were associating themselves with one of
Hellenism’s original poles.
The earliest known non‐Spartan patronomos was the emperor Hadrian in ad 127/8.
Later foreign holders of the office came from the highest echelons of the Greek civic
elite: C. Claudius Demostratus, a senator from Pergamum and quaestor of Achaea in the
middle of the second century, and A. Claudius Charax of Ephesos, historian and suffect
consul for ad 147 (Spawforth and Walker (1986) 92–3). As neither city belonged to the
Panhellenion, Demostratus and Charax must have followed their own personal inclinations by holding the patronomate. The motivations of C. Cascellius Aristoteles may have
been slightly different, as his home city, Kyrene, was a member with long‐established ties
with Sparta, something Hadrian had stressed in official communications to the city in the
130s (Kennell (1995) 86–7). Tiberius Claudius Atticus of Athens, headquarters of the
Panhellenion, became patronomos soon after its founding and had himself passed through
the agōge ̄ when he lived in Sparta during his father’s exile from Athens under Domitian.
His own son, the celebrated sophist Herodes Atticus, who wrote in a style echoing that
of the notorious fifth‐century Laconizer Kritias, later maintained an extensive estate in
northeastern Laconia (Kennell (1995) 86; Cartledge and Spawforth (2002) 113).
The powerfully attractive image that Spartan cultural memory projected drew cities to
highlight kinship ties with Sparta, however tenuous, or in their absence to invent them.
Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period
In Asia Minor, the cities of Kibyra and Selge celebrated their Spartan kinship on coins
and city walls. Synnada and Alabanda hedged their bets by proclaiming mythic connections to both Athens and Sparta (Kennell (1995) 84; Jones (1999) 119). Further afield,
the historian Josephus in the first century ad kept alive Jewish claims to kinship with the
Spartans that may have originated in the late Hellenistic period and were bolstered
by a purported exchange of letters supposedly initiated by the Spartan king Areios I
(309–364 bc) (I Macc. 12.20; Jos. Ant. Jud. 12.225; BNJ F8a and b Comm.).
A strong case has recently been made for reassessing the part Romans played in the
privileging of the Classical past among Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire (Spawforth
2012). Far from manifesting anti‐Imperial sentiment among Rome’s subjects, Greek
archaism, as it has been called (Kennell (1995) 83–4), was in fact a product of the shaping of Greek attitudes by Roman authorities from Augustus onwards. The Greeks were
led to identify themselves with a “true” Greece free of anti‐Roman inconveniences such
as the resistance shown by the Macedonian kings and the Achaean League in the later
third and second centuries bc. Also dangerous were any recollections of the Mithridatic
revolt against Rome in 90–85 (App. Mithr. 29) in which several prominent states,
including Athens, took part. Even the Roman civil wars of the 40s and 30s, in the first
of which Spartans chose the losing republican side before cannily allying themselves with
Octavian against Brutus and then Antony, might stir subversive passions. Arranging a
version of Greek history acceptable to the Romans meant consigning martial and cultural
achievements to a distant and unthreatening past.
Thus Augustus constructed and Hadrian strengthened Hellenism’s role as a respectable component of Roman identity (Spawforth (2012) 271–2). Sparta especially profited
from this process. As early as the second century bc, Spartans and Romans were considered kinsmen (Posid. FGrHist 87 F59), and Sparta’s martial image naturally accorded
with Roman self‐perception. Distilled into the agōge ̄, Spartan traditional values might
serve as a template for others, as in Hadrian’s letter to Kyrene mentioned above. Safely
incorporated into Roman culture, the products of Sparta’s agōge ̄, like the ex‐ephebes of
other cities, could fruitfully use the military skills they had learned in the service of the
Empire, and not just to protect their own hinterlands from thieves and brigands (Kennell
(2009)). Young Spartans served with the emperor Lucius Verus against the Parthians
(ad 161–6) and in the early third century Spartans joined Caracalla’s procession across
the East in a contingent called the lochos of Laconia and Pitane, an allusion to the Spartan
military unit that may (Hdt. 9.53.2) or may not (Thuc. 1.20.3) have fought at Plataia
against the Parthians’ predecessors.
At Sparta, cultural memory did not crystallize around the traditions of Classical Greece
as occurred at Athens and elsewhere. Archaic history provided most of the material for
the canon of Spartan memory. Because of the city’s turbulent history in the Hellenistic
period and its immense significance as “something good to think with” among philosophers, historians, political scientists, and moralists of every sort from the fifth century
onwards (Tigerstedt (1965–77)), non‐Spartans also shaped this canon significantly. The
lengthy period of domination by the Achaean League that ended with the Roman victory in 146 bc and the return of Sparta’s battered “ancestral” constitution and way of life
(see above) effectively ruptured communal memory of the city’s institutions. In order to
revitalize the institutional life of the city, later Spartans would probably have supplemented whatever memories their old compatriots had of the Kleomenean system, which
Nigel M. Kennell
survived his fall more or less intact, by consulting some of the many works on Sparta by
non‐Spartan intellectuals. Foremost among these, I believe, would have been the books
on the constitution and Lykourgos by Sphairos the Stoic philosopher and ally of
Kleomenes III (Kennell (1995) 98–114; contra Ducat (2006) 29–34). In any case, we
do know that “for a long time” Spartan ephebes assembled at the offices of the ephors
for an annual reading of the Constitution of the Spartiates by Dikaiarchos of Messene
(Suda, s.v. Dikaiarchos), a practice that would fit the Roman period well (Kennell (1995) 19).
The recitation of a study on their ancient laws, customs, and lifestyles written by a non‐
Spartan scholar was surely intended to provide a paradigm for young Spartans’ behaviour
and legitimation for Spartan cultural memory in the form it assumed during the Roman
period. An analogous practice exists among the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation of coastal
British Columbia, who prominently display texts by the anthropologist Franz Boas to
prove the worth of their culture to the white intellectual world; through them they can
moreover assert their aboriginal rights in disputes with Canadian governments
(Whitehead (2010)). Similarly, the image, validated by centuries of ancient scholarship,
that Spartan cultural memory projected was doubtless a factor in Roman sympathy for
the city’s interests at the defeat of the Achaean League, while both Sparta and Messenia
deployed historical evidence in their boundary dispute of ad 25 (Tac. Ann. 4.43).
The canon of Spartan cultural memory developed over time but was essentially the
product of the later Hellenistic and Roman periods, when elements of the “Spartan
mirage”, to which non‐Spartans made substantial contributions, were incorporated into
expressions of civic identity and cultural practices revived or invented, through which
Spartans could live out and project a particular self‐image. So powerful was Sparta’s
active cultural memory that it effectively collapsed time between the Archaic and Roman
periods, inducing visitors (and probably Spartans themselves) to believe that many of the
city’s institutions and customs really had survived unchanged since the time of Lykourgos.
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Political Imagination. Trans. D. Wilson. Cambridge.
A study of how ancient societies constructed and handed down authoritative views of their pasts,
by the originator of the influential theory of cultural memory.
W. Cavanagh, G. Gallou, and M. Georgiadis, eds. (2009), Sparta and Laconia: From Prehistory to
Pre‐Modern. London.
A compendious collection of colloquium papers covering a wide range of archaeological and
historical subjects.
N. Kennell (1995), The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. Chapel
A study of the Spartan citizen system, in particular the relationship between its Classical and
Roman‐era phases.
E. Kourinou (2000), Σπάρτη: Συμβολὴ στὴ Μνημειακὴ Τοπογραφία της. Athens.
An important study, based on close familiarity with the archaeological evidence, of the monuments, roads, and walls of ancient Sparta. In Greek with an English résumé.
A. Spawforth (2012), Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution. Cambridge.
A re‐examination of later Greek views of the Classical past which argues that the Roman state
played the decisive role in shaping them.
E. Tigerstedt (1965–77), The Legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity, 3 vols. Stockholm.
A discursive study of the development of the image of Sparta held by non‐Spartan writers, with
bibliographically useful footnotes.
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