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Demographic Fluctuation and Institutional Response in Sparta



Demographic Fluctuation and Institutional Response in Sparta


Timothy Donald Doran

Doctor of Philosophy in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Emily Mackil, Chair

The Spartiate population declined from 8000 in the early fifth century to less than 1000 in the mid-fourth, and caused Sparta's political fortunes to drop dramatically from being the unofficial hegemon of the Greek-speaking peoples to a strictly local power in the Hellenistic period. This was the most dramatic population change of any ancient Greek city aside from cases of andrapodismos, and it drew the attention of contemporaries to the process such as Aristotle and Xenophon. Some modern scholars have seen this phenomenon primarily as a personnel loss due to families being demoted from the Spartiate rank or to deliberate elite fertility restriction due to estate preservation. But these explanations neglect the peculiarities of Spartiate reproductive customs maladaptive to demographic recovery. This dissertation first examines what made the Spartiate population regime unique, how it succeeded at first, and why and how it failed to produce a sufficient number of Spartiates to continue Sparta's hegemony. Second, it argues that Sparta's imperial phase was a response to and a result of this attested decline in Spartiate numbers and the attendant addition of non-Spartiates to the Lakedaimonian army. Finally, it examines why efforts at retrenchment in the Hellenistic period failed.

Chapter One surveys archaeological evidence for population expansion in the Archaic period and provides a new analysis of the reproductive peculiarities of the archaic Lykourgan kosmos as a eugenic selection regime.

Chapter Two analyzes the 7th century poet Tyrtaeus' poetry as a unified argument whose purpose was to provide incentives for Spartiate altruism to the community

Chapter Three shows how the unusual reproductive mechanisms of the Spartiates resulted in demographic disaster after the social chaos that followed in the wake of the earthquake of the 460s. By the late fifth century no other alternative existed than to partially enfranchise Helots and other "inferior" groups.

Chapter Four analyzes fifth-century Sparta before the Lysandrean period as a status quo state rather than a revisionist state: that is, it did not seek to expand its rule aggressively until the late Peloponnesian War and the influx of new soldiers. Its attempts at empire were characterized by incompetence and disinterest.

Chapter Five argues that the Spartan admiral Lysander perceived the Spartiate population contraction, and planned an empire that required the aid and enfranchisement of marginal groups, and could not possibly have worked without them. It analyzes the opposition to this program as a last remnant of traditional Spartan ideology, swept away in the fourth century world of mercenaries, money, and Persian subsidies, none of which were traditional to Spartiate customs.

Chapter Six argues that the acceptance of the Peace of Antalkidas in contravention to Agesilaos' previous policies as well as to traditional Spartiate ideology represents a sea change in Spartan foreign policy. The change in the composition of the Spartan army altered its culture and the ideology of its personnel, and this is reflected in contemporary perceptions from Xenophon, Aristotle, and Isokrates.

Chapter Seven argues that the efforts of the Hellenistic Spartan reformers Agis, Kleomenes, and Nabis were characterized by a progressive abandonment of the old Spartiate eugenic concerns.

No existing treatment has strongly linked Spartan foreign policy and ideology to the successive swelling and diminishment of the Spartiate caste through reproduction and enfranchisement. The dissertation also contributes to larger questions: how does state policy, in terms of both meanings of the Greek word nomoi - laws and customs - affect reproductive behavior and population? How much of a society's `implicit fertility policy' shows actual physical population results? Perhaps most significantly, to what degree can population affect policy and ideology? Finally, on a theoretical level, the dissertation advances a reasonable acceptance of our limited evidence about Sparta with a series of arguments against the notion that historians are destined to be permanently befuddled by a "Spartan Mirage."

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