Women's History and Ancient History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy | Go to book overview

CLAUDE MOSSÉ Translated by Sarah B. Pomeroy


Women in the Spartan Revolutions of the Third Century B.C.

In the third century B.C., Sparta, the city which all Greeks envied because of its stability and excellent constitution, underwent a period of revolution which ended with the victory of the Romans and of the Achaean League over the tyrant Nabis in 193 B.C. and the assassination of Nabis the following year. 1 The Spartan revolutions are known to us essentially through three sources: Plutarch Lives of Agis and Cleomenes (which are based on a work of Phylarchus); fragments of Polybius concerning Cleomenes and Nabis; and, on Nabis, chapter 34 of Livy, which is drawn from Polybius. That Phylarchus was an admirer of the Spartan revolution is clear from Plutarch's text; in contrast, the Achaean Polybius and the Roman Livy are hostile to it. I do not intend to review all the problems concerning the different attempts at revolution but shall confine myself to merely recounting the principal stages and characteristics.

What we customarily call the Spartan revolution began toward the middle of the third century B.C. It was initiated by the young King Agis IV, of the Eurypontid dynasty. To revive the supposed ancient Spartan egalitarianism, the only means of allowing the city to regain its bygone power, Agis proposed an abolition of debts and a new distribution of land. In order to put into effect this last measure, which would permit the apportionment of klēroi ("lots") to forty-five hundred Spartiates and to fifteen thousand perioikoi ("free inhabitants"), everyone would be required to contribute his or her own private property. Opposed by his colleague, Leonidas, and by the people with wealth, Agis found support only among the poor as well as among certain rich men, including his uncle Agesilaus, who had incurred debts.

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