by Philip Matyszak
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. x, 166+.
Illus., biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN:9 781473874725
Sparta in Decline
Noted Classicist Matyszak follows his Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation with this account of why the seemingly invincible Sparta failed as a great power, ultimately becoming the ancient world’s equivalent of a theme park.
Matyszak opens with a review of the “State of the Nation” in the aftermath of the great Persian War (480-478 BC), which brought the city enormous prestige. But he reminds us that Sparta’s power lay in its military prowess, which was essentially dependent on the domination of Messenia, which financed the city’s unique military institutions. Control of Messenia allowed Sparta to maintain the only full time army in the Greek world, based on the full mobilization of a relatively small population. Matyszak argues that the need to keep Messenia under control dictated Sparta’s well known cautious approach to “foreign entanglements”.
Matyszak then discusses how those unique institutions gave Sparta temporary dominance of Greece as a result of the Great Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). But the protracted war weakened the city through the loss of citizen manpower. He argues that while political and constitutional reform might have saved Sparta, an inherent conservativism resisted change, and the polis continued to decline, with occasional bouts at reform, civil war, and foreign involvement. This ultimately turned Sparta into Matyszak calls a “sort of gruesome theme park” in Roman times. Matyszak closes with some comment on the influence of Sparta’s institutions more recent political thought, notably Nazism.
Sparta: Fall of a Warrior Nation is a good read for anyone interested in Greek history or the fate of nations.
Note: Sparta: Fall of a Warrior Nation is also available in several e-editions