Reciprocity in Ancient Greece

By Christopher Gill; Norman Postlethwaite et al. | Go to book overview

9
Reciprocal Generosity in the Foreign Affairs of Fifth-Century Athens and Sparta

ANNA MISSIOU


I. INTRODUCTION

In modern research, Sparta and Athens are usually considered to be archetypes representing opposite political and socio-economic systems; but in studies of their inter-state relations modern scholars usually neglect to refer either to similarities or dissimilarities. However it is useful to explore the differences between these two Greek states not only in terms of socio-economic and military structure but also in terms of the ideology displayed in their diplomatic rhetoric.1 Relatively little archaic and fifth-century Athenian and Spartan diplomatic rhetoric has survived. It is mainly in the works of Herodotos and Thukydides that we find, either in direct or indirect speech or in comments by the historian, versions of the arguments used to express or shape the views of Athenians and Spartans on various occasions in the fifth century. Although I am, of course, aware that a strong subjective element is inherent in the selection of cases presented by ancient historians, I take these versions as expressing the values and norms of contemporary diplomatic rhetoric.

The main question I raise is whether reciprocity was expected to guide the behaviour of Athens and Sparta in their inter-state relations. But I am interested neither in reciprocity embodied in the institution through which citizens of one polis attended in their own city to the interests of another polis (proxenia) nor in reciprocity embodied in objective, determinate actions, such as the ritualized

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1
'Ideology' signifies a society's dual relationship, real and imagined, to its own reality; it is a relatively coherent system of beliefs and values, traditions, and purposes, connecting the institutional networks of a given society with its emotional affinities: see Althusser ( 1970); Ober ( 1989), 38-40.

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