Department of Classics and Archaeology

Sparta in Comparative Perspective: Ancient to Modern

Sanctuary of the Menelaion and Mt Taygetos  1988 cropped

Sanctuary of the Menelaion and Mt Taygetos (photo: Hilary and Stephen Hodkinson)

Sparta and Mt Parnon cropped

Sparta valley and Mt Parnon (photo: Hilary and Stephen Hodkinson)


Project summary

From antiquity to the present interpretations of classical Sparta have been infused with comparative perspectives. This long history of comparative appropriations has significantly distorted academic interpretations of Sparta. In the 20th century, in particular, the idea of Sparta's exceptional nature became deeply ingrained in historical scholarship.

Historical perspectives

Classical writers often emphasised Sparta͛s distinctive character, portraying it either as deviant from general Greek norms or as the closest example to an ideal polis. In Renaissance and early modern thought Sparta was viewed as a prime exemplar within classical republican thought. From the English Civil War to the French Revolution critics of the 'ancien regime' invoked Sparta as a model for constructing a new social order. In contrast, since the American and French Revolutions it has been viewed as the archetypal contrast to modern political and social systems, an analogue for totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 

Project aims

Our long-term project to address these issues began in 2003 and has continuously evolved as new members have joined the project team. Our original aim was to develop more systematic and dispassionate comparative analyses of classical Sparta, informed by critical study of previous scholarly analogies and their political, intellectual and cultural contexts. It integrates three strands of academic enquiry:

  1. Substantive study of Spartan social institutions from the perspective of comparable institutions elsewhere in ancient Greece and at other times and places.
  2. Historiographical scrutiny of historical writings since the 18th-century which interpret Sparta through comparison with other societies. 
  3. Examination of comparative appropriations of Sparta in Western thought from antiquity to the present, which form the political, intellectual and cultural contexts of modern historical writing. We have subsequently added a fourth public engagement͛ strand:
  4. Active engagement with current appropriations of ancient Sparta in modern culture, including with creative practitioners involved in representing Sparta in modern media and with public and educational audiences for Spartan history.
By combining these strands within a single investigation, we aim to develop a more sophisticated contextualisation of Spartan institutions and a more integrated understanding of Spartan history, historiography and reception. We also aim to convey these new insights to academic and public audiences and to challenge distorted images of Sparta in contemporary politics and popular culture.


Ancient Sparta in Comparative Perspective

Authored and Edited Books

Hodkinson, Stephen and Powell, Anton, eds. (2006) Sparta and War, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea.

Hodkinson, Stephen, ed. (2009) Sparta: Comparative Approaches, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea.

Cavanagh, W.G., Gallou, C. and Georgiadis, M., eds. (2009) Sparta and Laconia from Prehistory to Pre-modern (BSA Studies 16), British School at Athens, London.

Cavanagh, H., Cavanagh, W. and Roy, J. (2013) Honouring the Dead in the Peloponnese, online book available at 

Gallou, C., Cavanagh, W.G. and Roy, J., eds., (2018) Sacred Landscapes in the Peloponnese, from prehistory to the present day. Archaeopress, Oxford.

Gallou, C. and Hodkinson, S. (forthcoming) Luxury and Wealth in the Archaic to Hellenistic Peloponnese, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea.

Lewis, David, (forthcoming) Greek Slave Systems in their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c. 800-146 BC, Oxford University Press, ch. 6 ‘Helotic Slavery in Classical Sparta’.

Chapters and Articles

Cavanagh, William

2009 ‘Settlement structure in Laconia and Attica at the end of the Archaic period: the fractal dimension’, American Journal of Archaeology 113(3), 405-21.

2017 ‘An archaeology of ancient Sparta with reference to Lakonia and Messenia’, in A. Powell (ed.) A Companion to Ancient Sparta, Vol. I, Malden, MA, 61-92.

Davies, Philip

2013 ‘Kalos Kagathos and scholarly perceptions of Spartan society’, Historia 62, 259-79.

2017a ‘The Cinadon Conspiracy as Literary Narrative and Historical Source’, in A. Powell and V. Pothou (eds.) Das Antike Sparta, Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag, 221-43.

2017b ‘Equality and distinction within the Spartiate community’, in A. Powell (ed.)

A Companion to Ancient Sparta, Vol. II, Malden, MA, ch.18

Hodkinson, Stephen

2003 ‘Spartiates, helots and the direction of the agrarian economy: towards an understanding of helotage in comparative perspective’, in N. Luraghi and S.E. Alcock (eds., Helots and their Masters in Lakonia and Messenia: Histories, Structures, Ideologies, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 248-85; updated version in E. Dal Lago and C. Katsari, Slave Systems, Ancient and Modern, Cambridge (2008) 285-320.

2004 ‘Female property ownership and empowerment in classical and Hellenistic Sparta’, in T. Figueira (ed.) Spartan Society, Swansea, 103-36.

2005 ‘The imaginary Spartan politeia’, in M.H. Hansen (ed.) The Imaginary Polis, Copenhagen, 222-81.

2006 ‘Was classical Sparta a military society?’, in S. Hodkinson and A. Powell (eds.) Sparta and War, Swansea, 111-62.

2007 ‘The episode of Sphodrias as a source for Spartan social history’, in N.V. Sekunda (ed.) Corolla Cosmo Rodewald, Gdansk. 43-65; updated version in Luis Filipe Bantim de Assumpção (ed.) Esparta: Política e Sociedade, Curitiba, 187-231; and (in German) in V. Pothou and A. Powell (eds.), Das Antike Sparta, Stuttgart, 57-86.

2009a ‘Was Sparta an exceptional polis?’, in S. Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative approaches, Swansea, 417-72.

2009b (with Mogens Herman Hansen) ‘Spartan exceptionalism? Continuing the debate’, in S. Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative approaches, Swansea, 473-98.

2017 ‘Sparta: An exceptional domination of state over society?’, in A. Powell (ed.) A Companion to Sparta, Vol. 1, Malden MA, 29-57.

Lewis, David

forthcoming  'The Homeric roots of Helotage', in M. Canevaro and J. Burnhardt (eds.) From Homer to Solon: Continuity and Change in Archaic Greek Society, Brill.

Roy, James

2009a ‘Hegemonial structures in late archaic and early classical Elis and Sparta’, in S. Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative Approaches, Swansea, 69-88.

2009b ‘Finding the limits of Lakonia: defining and redefining communities on the Spartan-Arkadian frontier’, in W.G. Cavanagh, C. Gallou and M. Georgiadis (eds.) Sparta and Laconia from prehistory to pre-modern, London, 205-11.

2017 `Sparta and the Peloponnese from the Archaic Period to 363', in A. Powell (ed.) A Companion to Sparta, Vol. 1, Malden MA, ch. 13.

Stewart, Edmund

forthcoming ‘Ion of Chios: the case of a foreign poet in Sparta’, Classical Quarterly.

forthcoming ‘Spartan choruses and foreign poets: an antidote to civil strife?’, in V. Brouma, V. et al. (eds.) Conflict in the Peloponnese: Social, Military and Intellectual (Centre for Spartan & Peloponnesian Studies Online Publication 4).

Sparta's receptions in the ancient world

Authored and edited books

Davies, P. and Mossman, J. (forthcoming) eds., Plutarch and Sparta, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea.

Chapters and articles

Harman, Rosie

2009 ‘Viewing Spartans, viewing barbarians: visuality in Xenophon’s Lakedaimoniōn Politeia’, in S. Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative approaches, Swansea, 361-82.

2012 ‘A spectacle of Greekness: Panhellenism and the visual in Xenophon’s Agesilaus’, in F. Hobden, G. Oliver and C. Tuplin (eds.) Xenophon: Ethical principle and historical enquiry, Leiden & Boston, Mass., 427-53.

Langerwerf, Lydia

2008 ‘The Messenians and their foolish courage in Pausanias’ book 4’, in J. Pigon (ed.) Children of Herodotus: Greek and Roman historiography and related genres, Newcastle, 186-205.

2009 ‘Aristomenes and Drimakos: the Messenian revolt in Pausanias’ Periegesis in comparative perspective’, in S. Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative approaches, Swansea, 331-59.

Macgregor Morris, Ian

2007 ‘Shrines of the Mighty. Rediscovering the Battlefields of the Persian Wars’, in E. Hall et al. (eds.), Cultural Responses to the Persian Wars: Antiquity to the Third Millennium, Oxford, 231-64.

Sparta's modern receptions and related broader topics


Hodkinson, Stephen and Macgregor Morris, Ian, eds. (2012), Sparta in Modern Thought: Politics, History and Culture, Classical Press of Wales, Swansea.

Moore, James, Macgregor Morris, Ian and Bayliss, Andrew, eds. (2008), Reinventing History: The Enlightenment Origins of Ancient History, Institute of Historical Research, London.

Chapters and Articles

Fotheringham, Lynn

2012 ‘The positive portrayal of Sparta in late-twentieth-century fiction', in S. Hodkinson and I. Macgregor Morris (eds.) Sparta in Modern Thought, Swansea, 393-428.

Hodkinson, Stephen

2007 ‘Five words that shook the world: Plutarch, Lykourgos 16 and appropriations of Spartan communal property ownership in eighteenth-century France’, in P. Cartledge, N. Birgalias and K. Buraselis (eds.) The Contribution of Ancient Sparta to Political Thought and Practice, Athens, 417-31.

2010 ‘Sparta and Nazi Germany in mid-20th-century British liberal and left-wing thought’, in A. Powell and S. Hodkinson (eds.) Sparta: The Body Politic, Swansea, 297-342.

2011 (with Edith Hall) ‘Appropriations of Spartan Helotage in British Antislavery Debates of the 1790s’, in E. Hall, R. Alston and J. McConnell (eds.), Ancient Slavery and Abolition: From Hobbes to Hollywood, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 65-102.

2012 ‘Sparta and the Soviet Union in U.S. Cold War foreign policy and intelligence analysis’, in S. Hodkinson and I. Macgregor Morris, eds., Sparta in Modern Thought, 343-92.

Macgregor Morris, Ian

2004 ‘The paradigm of democracy: Sparta in the Enlightenment’ in T. Figueira (ed.) Spartan Society, Swansea, 339-62.

2008a (with James Moore), ‘History in Revolution? Approaches to the Ancient World in the Long Eighteenth Century’, in J. Moore, I. Macgregor Morris and A. Bayliss (eds.) Reinventing History: The Enlightenment Origins of Ancient History, London, 3-29.

2008b ‘Navigating the Grotesque; or, Rethinking Greek Historiography’, in J. Moore, I. Macgregor Morris and A. Bayliss (eds.) Reinventing History, London, 247-90.

2009 ‘Liars, Eccentrics and Visionaries: Early Travellers to Sparta and the Birth of Laconian Archaeology’, in W. Cavanagh et. al. (eds.) Sparta and Laconia: From Prehistory to Premodern, British School at Athens, London, 387-95.

2010 ‘From Ancient Dreams to Modern Nightmares: Classical Revolutions in Enlightenment Thought’, in T. Coignard, P. Davis and A. Montoya (eds.) Lumières et histoire / Enlightenment and History,Paris, 301-23.

2012a ‘Lycurgus in late medieval political culture’, in S. Hodkinson and I. Macgregor Morris (eds.) Sparta in Modern Thought, Swansea, 1-42.

2012b (with U. Degner), ‘Événements de circonstance: The Classical Tradition in the Age of Revolution’, in M. Oergel (ed.) (Re-)Writing the Radical: Enlightenment, Revolution, and Cultural Transfer in 1790s Germany, Britain and France, Berlin, 186-203.
Public engagement with practitioners, wider audiences and political appropriations of Sparta

1 Gun Control in the USA

Hodkinson, Stephen (2013) ‘Did Sparta exercise arms control in its society?’, Ceasefire Oregon, New Trajectory blog, 9 June 2013: [with response by blog owner at]

2 Graphic novel Three

Gillen, Kieron (2014) Three, Image Comics, Berkeley CA.

[A graphic novel set in 4th-century Sparta. Historical Consultant: Stephen Hodkinson. Includes an 11-page conversation between Gillen and Hodkinson in the back matter.]

Fotheringham, Lynn

forthcoming  ‘Doing justice to the past: the representation of violence in a historical comic’, in Ian Hague (ed.) Violence in Comics [ Discussion of Three]

3 Educational engagement

Hodkinson, Stephen

2015 ‘Transforming Sparta: New Approaches to the Study of Classical Sparta’, Ancient History: Resources for Teachers 41-44 (2011-14) [published 2015] 1-42

2017 ‘Introduction to the epigraphy of Lakonia and Messenia’, in M.G.L. Cooley (ed.) Sparta, London Association of Classical Teachers Original Records 21, London, 15-18.

Cavanagh, William

2017 ‘Introduction to Lakonian archaeology’, in M.G.L. Cooley (ed.) Sparta, London Association of Classical Teachers Original Records 21, London, 19-23.

4 Challenging the Alt-Right

Hodkinson, Stephen

2017 Contributions to ‘Scholars respond to Spartan helmets’ ( and ‘This is not Sparta’ ( blogs, Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics, 17-18 November 2017


Who's involved

Prof. Stephen Hodkinson (Principal Investigator)

Emeritus Prof. William Cavanagh

Emeritus Prof. Jim Roy

Dr Lynn Fotheringham

Dr Chrysanthi Gallou

Dr Edmund Stewart

Former University of Nottingham doctoral and post-doctoral researchers

Dr Philip Davies (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)

Dr Rosie Harman (University College London)

Dr Lydia Langerwerf (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) 

Dr Ian Macgregor Morris (Universität Salzburg)


From 2004-2010 the project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council 

From February to July 2012 the project was funded by a Loeb Classical Library Foundation Fellowship 



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