by Andrew J. Bayliss
Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Pp. xiv, 166.
Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $13.95 hard cover. ISBN: 0198853084
An Introduction to Greece’s Iconic Warrior Nation
Dr. Bayliss, Senior Lecturer in Greek History at the University of Birmingham, has produced a short, concise, nuanced, and very informative introduction to the most enigmatic of the ancient Greeks.
Bayliss opens, naturally, with the most well-known episode in the history of Sparta – and perhaps all of Ancient Greece – Leonidas and the 300 at Thermopylae. He follows this with chapters on Sparta’s civic institutions, far more complex than is usually thought, its “life style”, the education of a Spartan, Spartan women, arguably the most “liberated’ in Greece, and the downtrodden Helots who labored to keep it going. Bayliss concludes with a chapter titled “The Later Reception of Sparta”, on the shaping of the quasi-mythic image of the state, and its influence on and portrayal in the arts, literature, and more down to the football teams and the motion pictures of our times.
Bayliss often reminds us that almost literally all we know about the Spartans derives from non-Spartan sources in Antiquity, mostly – but not all – written by enemies of the Spartans, much of it set down many centuries after the events they purport to describe. Nevertheless, he rejects the assumption by many scholars that all of these sources are of little value, offering a critical analysis of their pluses and minuses.
A good example is the criticism, repeated by a number of scholars, that while our sources mention them hunting, dancing, engaging in athletic competition, and so forth, none seems to mention how much time Spartans spent in military training. But skills learned for hunting and various athletic pursuits are useful in war, and – as a drill sergeant once observed– drill is line dancing without the music. Another little surprise is that some Spartans distinguished themselves in the arts.
Intended as “a short, succinct introduction to the topic”, Bayliss has produced just that, The Spartans will prove of value not only to the layman interested in learning something about this most famous ancient warrior culture, but also the seasoned student of the subject.
Note: The Spartans is also available in several e-editions.
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