Book Review: The Spartan Regime: Its Character, Origins, and Grand Strategy


by Paul Anthony Rahe

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 214. Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., indices. $38.00. ISBN: 0300219016

The Evolution of Sparta’s National Strategy

Prof. Rahe (Hillsdale), who has written about the political thought of the French philosophes and Machiavelli, here takes on that of the ancient Spartans, a subject he has already addressed in his 2015 work The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge. Rahe opens with an introduction on the “allure” or perhaps admiration that Sparta has held for many over the centuries, evidenced most recently by the extraordinarily ahistorical film 300.

Rahe then gives the reader four chapters of “Prologue”. In these he covers the origins, hows, and whys of Sparta’s harsh educational/military training regimen, then takes a look at the nature, organization, operation of the Spartan polity. There follows a discussion of the rationale for Sparta’s policy of conquest in the Peloponnesus, and then the interrelation of Sparta’s politics and foreign policy. Rahe weaves into this brief the role of on poetry and music in Spartan society, the evolution of Spartan military practice from “heroic” models to the Phalanx, the “rough sense” of much of the early history handed down in tradition, and more.

At the end, Rahe has a short “Conclusion” in which he tries to bring all these ideas together to define a Spartan “grand strategy.” This is an interesting idea. But it’s also clear that Sparta’s political actions, whether in foreign or domestic matters, was always rooted in the necessity of maintaining the dominance of the Spartiates over the helots, on whose backs the entire political system rested.

A volume in the “Yale Library of Military History,” The Spartan Regime is a complex, thoughtful, and difficult work, this is primarily for the specialist in ancient history.

Note: The Spartan Regime is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-300-22461-0.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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