CSPSCentre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

Adapting Slavery to Spartan Society

Microsoft Teams online event
Thursday 18th March 2021 (17:00-18:00)
Registration URL
Panel from a graphic novel showing a group of people in ancient Greek clothes working in a field. Digital coloured line drawing.

Adapting Slavery to Spartan Society 

Join leading experts for a discussion about Spartan helotage 

According to G.E.M. de Ste Croix (Origins of the Peloponnesian War, London 1972, p. 91), Sparta's distinctive institutional structure evolved as a response to the conquest of the Helots. In his view, through conquest of Messenia Sparta suddenly acquired a large, ethnically homogeneous slave population whose proclivity to revolt meant that an internal revolution was required should Sparta hope to survive and continue exploiting Messenian labour. Accordingly, Sparta transformed itself into an armed camp, a move that profoundly shaped its subsequent history and reception in the modern world.

In this paper, I want to suggest something rather different. Taking stock of the last few decades of research into Sparta's institutions, militarism, and the chronology of its archaic transformations, I will argue that Helotage itself shows the hallmarks of adaption to broader imperatives of the Spartan state - that is, the re-tooling of the slave system to fit cultural patterns to do with communal intervention in private property, practices distinguishing rank and enforcing deference, dress, speech codes, and physical violence.

Far from some archaic survival that persisted intact from the early archaic period down to the time of Aristotle, Helotage was, like other areas of Spartan society, subject to change; and its particular features show that it was brought into alignment with Sparta's broader institutions and cultural practices.

All are very welcome. Free to attend. 



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(Image: The Helots, from Kieron Gillen’s graphic novel THREE (copyright: Kieron Gillen).)

Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0)115 951 4800
fax: +44 (0)115 951 4811
email: csps@nottingham.ac.uk