Chapter 2. Raising Hell? The Helot Mirage—A Personal Review [1]

Paul Cartledge
The first instalment of Larry Gonick’s idiosyncratic and insufficiently known Cartoon History of the Universe, entitled “From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great”, was published in the dynamic year of 1989. In one particularly teasing cartoon a sexy and uninhibited Spartan wife makes a prospective male Helot lover an offer: “Wanna raise hell, Helot?”—an offer it appears he would very much want to refuse. [2] That is one side of the Helot “mirage”, no doubt, playing to the both ancient and modern image of Spartan women as initiators of dangerous sexual liaisons outside marriage, allegedly from as early as the supposed Partheniai “affair” of the later eighth century BCE. [3] But there is another side to the mirage, and, dare I say, an upside. For the Helots, being rightly perceived as of fundamental historical importance, have also been far from neglected by interested outsiders, from the time of the Athenians Kritias (deadly serious) and Eupolis (presumably somehow comic) in the late fifth century BCE to the latest contemporary scholarship (entirely lacking in humour). [4]
Let us begin by naming names, because—whatever Shakespeare’s Romeo might have claimed to the contrary—there is, sometimes, quite a lot in a name. It is for a start a remarkable fact, though too rarely remarked as such, that the Greek word heilos (alternatively heilotes) has spawned some distinctive and revealing linguistic progeny, both among the ancient Greeks themselves, and in our own English language. In antiquity, it generated not only an adjective, heilotikos, but also, more extraordinarily, a generic verb heiloteuein that meant to be, or behave like, Helots—as if the meaning of “Helot” was itself pretty transparently clear. [5] (Alas, if it was so to the ancient Greeks, it certainly is not now to us—as we shall see in section I below.) In more modern times Lord Byron, typically, gave the word a humorous twist when he wrote of the ferociously learned but notoriously crapulent Trinity College Cambridge classicist, Richard Porson, that he “could hiccup Greek like a helot”. That was a coded reference to the Spartans’ regular practice, recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Lykourgos 28, of compelling Helots, who were native Greek speakers, to get disgustingly drunk on unmixed wine and then displaying them before the young in their suskania (communal dining groups or messes) as examples of behaviour utterly inappropriate for a properly brought up Spartan. [6]
Byron’s philhellenism took the shape of a fairly uncomplicated admiration of a heroic and exemplary ancient Greek past. References to Marathon and Thermopylae tripped easily from his silver tongue. On the eve of another, less glorious war, the professional classicist Louis Macneice produced one of the most striking and jarring poems of the last century, the long and meditative Autumn Journal of 1939. It was, he wrote there of the ancient world, “all so unimaginably different/ and all so long ago”. The larger immediate context (the end of section IX) from which those two familiar lines are taken bears full citation:
And when I should remember the paragons of Hellas
I think instead
Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,
The careless athletes and the fancy boys,
The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics
And the Agora and the noise
Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring
Libations over graves
And the trimmers of Delphi and the dummies at Sparta and lastly
I think of the slaves.
And how one can imagine oneself among them
I do not know;
It was all so unimaginably different
And all so long ago.
“[A]nd lastly . . . the slaves”: it is probably never otiose, in an intellectual sense, to be reminded of them and their key role in making Greek culture, especially in connection with “the dummies of Sparta”. [7] But against Macneice’s hard-boiled and essentially pessimistic invocation it is at any rate intriguing to set another much less well known poem of the 1930s, “Spartacus” by James Leslie Mitchell, who is better known, as a novelist, under his pen name Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Here is part of the poem’s apostrophe to the eponymous rebel slave leader:
From out the darkling heavens of misty Time
Clear is thy light, and like Ocean’s chime
Thy voice. Yea, clear as when unflinchingly
Thou ledst the hordes of helotry to die
And fell in glorious fight, nor knew the day
The creaking crosses fringed the Appian Way—
Sport of the winds, O ashes of the strong!
But down the aeons roars the helots’ song . . .
Perhaps it was the assonance of “Sparta” and “Spartacus” that prompted Mitchell’s poetically forceful but historically deeply misleading assimilation of two very different sorts of unfreedom, the chattel slavery of Spartacus and his gladiators and the Helotage imposed by the Spartans.
However that may be, Grassic Gibbon’s novel Spartacus was published in 1933, most baneful among twentieth-century years, and he himself was part of the widespread movement of intellectually-minded communist revolutionaries who found in the rising led by Spartacus in 73 BCE both inspiration and legitimation for their calls for the liberation of the “enslaved” proletariat two millennia later. Of course, the Spartacist League and its distant followers like Mitchell/Grassic Gibbon were a little too misty-eyed about the true nature of Spartacus’s revolt. [8] But at least a faint and distant echo of that battle cry of freedom lies behind the present scholarly project, led by Susan Alcock and Nino Luraghi, and that is yet another side of the Helot mirage worth commemorating and indeed celebrating. For I am one of those who firmly believe that historians should not be ashamed to nail their colours to moral masts, to decry unfreedom and cry up liberation whenever and wherever they can—with all due respect, of course, for the evidence and for the generally accepted historiographical norms and principles for interpreting it.
But even if that belief of mine is not widely shared, it is hard to dispute that the moment in 370/69 BCE when many thousands of Greeks, Messenian Helots, were at last set free, into not just personal but—for the adult males— political emancipation, was a turning-point in historiographical perception. For, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet conclusively established, the liberation of the Messenian Helots by Epameinondas provoked a historiographical coupure. In an area of Greek life that was generally rather murky conceptually and linguistically (as well as morally) speaking, Theopompus of Chios’s apparently original distinction between slaves bought individually for cash on the market and peoples or ethnic groups collectively enslaved in and on their native land represented a major intellectual breakthrough. [9]
To that observation of Vidal-Naquet’s I would add that the liberation of the Messenian Helots may well also have marked a change of sensibility, at least among the more sensitive intellectual Greeks. “God”, opined the contemporary rhetor and philosopher Alkidamas, a pupil of Gorgias, had “made no man a slave”. According to our source for that opinion, a scholiast on Aristotle’s Rhetoric 1373b18, Alkidamas’s general statement had been prompted specifically by the Messenians’ liberation. It was progressive and enlightened Sophistic views like that, presumably, which helped to provoke from Aristotle his philosophically as well as morally retrogressive defence of “natural” slavery. [10]
What is more, the Messenian revolt and liberation of 370/69 changed the course of Spartan and so all Greek history. We have to look only a little further down the line, chronologically, to see just how great was their impact. Sparta, formerly the greatest power on the Greek mainland, was already by 360 condemned to isolationist impotence. Two illustrations, both deft strokes of Macedonian foreign policy, will have to suffice. One of the smartest of Philip II’s many smart diplomatic moves was to leave Sparta in 338/7 deliberately in the cold outside the framework of what moderns refer to as the League of Corinth. [11] One of the most telling of his son Alexander the Great’s authentic bons mots was the inscription that he caused to be appended to the dedication to Athena of the 300 panoplies that he sent back to Athens after the Battle of the Granikos in 334: “Alexander son of Philip and the Greeks—except the Spartans—[sc. dedicate these spoils taken] from the barbarians who inhabit Asia”. [12]
In the remainder of this necessarily very brief Helotological tour dhorizon, I shall focus on what I see as the three major pressure-points of current and likely future scholarly discussions of the Helots and the Helot experience in the Classical fifth and fourth centuries. In order to do so, I shall be privileging very deliberately the contemporary evidence of Thucydides and Aristotle, who have—or in my view ought to enjoy—a better than average reputation for empirical reliability and analytical acuteness (though not necessarily, in all respects, for moral sensitivity).

1. Status

As I understand them, several leading students of the Helots today—Ducat, Hodkinson and Luraghi among them—wish to deny, or at any rate to minimise, the gulf in status between Helots and all (or most) other slaves (or peoples and individuals labelled as douloi or an equivalent term) in Classical Greece. [13] That is, they wish to emphasise, rather, individual ownership (in so far as that term is strictly applicable in any ancient Greek context) and control of Helot douloi, with all that that might be taken to imply for, for instance, an internal “market” in Helots, as opposed to any supposed ownership and control by the Spartans collectively. The well-known and much discussed statements of Strabo (first century BCE/CE) and Pausanias (late second century CE), which seem to be saying that Helots were somehow enslaved to the community as such, or at any rate more so than to an individual Spartan master or mistress, seem to stand against them. [14] But these are dismissed or finessed on the grounds that they apply, if at all in a strict sense, only to the post-revolutionary times of the later third century BCE onwards, that is, to the period after the revolutions of Agis IV and Kleomenes III, and, therefore, only to the Lakonian Helots. [15] Against which revision I wish to lodge a protest, on two grounds mainly, using Thucydides and Aristotle respectively as my witnesses to what I take to be the truth of the matter in the Classical era.
Thucydides at 5.34 makes it unambiguously clear that at least some Helots were then (421 BCE) manumitted, not through private sale or gift by individual masters (or mistresses), but publicly by formal act of the collective entity that we usually call the Spartan State: [16]
The Spartans decreed that the Helots who had fought with Brasidas should be free and allowed to live where they liked, and not long afterwards settled them with the Neodamodeis at Lepreion, which is situated on the border between Lakonike and Eleia; Sparta being at this time at enmity with Elis.
This is far from being the only evidence for the fact of the manumission of Helots, which, indeed, was practised by the Spartans with considerable managerial art and skill. I would argue, furthermore, that it was precisely because (at least some) Helots were collectively, centrally and publicly manumitted that a group of freedmen like the Neodamodeis could come into existence uniquely here. For although the Helots, while they were Helots, might intelligibly be lumped together with some other Greek and non-Greek servile collectivities such as the Penestai of Thessaly, as they are by Aristotle in a fragment from his lost Lakedaimonion Politeia, [17] the Neodamodeis would appear to have no analogues elsewhere whatsoever, and no ancient source compares them in any respect to any other collectivity of manumit- tees. They were, to adapt the label “between free people and douloi” applied by the second-century CE Greek lexicographer Pollux (3.83) to the Helots and other supposedly comparable servile peoples Greek and non-Greek, between full citizens and Helots. Practically speaking, in other words, whatever the technical legal position may have been, the Neodamodeis were liable for collective public duty on their ex-masters’ terms and at their ex-masters’ pleasure, and so suffered collectively, for military purposes of various sorts, something like the condition of paramone imposed on certain individual ex-chattel slaves in the Hellenistic period. [18] It remains to consider Aristotle Politics 1263a31-7:
Such a system [sc. of private acquisition/possession (ktesis), but use in common among friends] exists even now in outline in some cities . . . : for example, in Lakedaimon they use each other’s douloi almost as if they were their own, and horses and dogs likewise, and similarly with produce in the countryside if they require provisions on a journey.
Isn’t Aristotle making it clear that ktesis—acquisition, and so possession or ownership—of Helots was private, but use of them, ideally among friends, common? He is indeed, though unfortunately he does not state explicitly how in his view the ktesis was effected or maintained. But I note, first, that this is stated in the present tense; he may therefore be talking about Lakonian Helots only, since he is writing well after the liberation of Messenia, and about conditions when the ancien regime was on the slide or at least being relaxed. And I note, second, another passage of the Politics a little later on (1264a8-11):
In the upshot no other regulation will have been introduced [in the ideal Kallipolis of Plato’s Republic] except the exemption of the Guardians from farming—a measure that even now [or now too] the Spartans are undertaking/attempting to introduce (poiein).
This formally implies that at least some Spartans were in practice farming, despite the (legally enforceable?) attempt to exempt them from that (otherwise peculiarly Helot) function, in the same way that the ruling philosopher Guardians of Plato’s ideal Kallipolis were supposed to be likewise exempted. Again, that situation would not comport with the continued enforcement of a strict “Lykourgan” regime at Sparta. In other words, how far can we legitimately press Aristotle on the individual ownership as opposed to communal control of Helots? Beyond him, there is no other usable and directly relevant ancient testimony.
Which brings me back, finally in this section, to Thucydides. No doubt, as Figueira has ably argued, the Athenians had their reasons for inventing their own Helot mirage, typically stressing the Helots’ collective ethnic solidarity rather than their class solidarity in opposition to the Spartans. [19] The Spartans, likewise, had their own reasons for insisting on the servility, the slave status, of the Helots. Nevertheless, the public use of douleia as a collective abstract for concrete in their treaty with the Athenians of 421—as reported, surely accurately, in Thucydides 5.23.3—is I think quite remarkable. Again, there is a great deal in a name. That the word douleia was available for use at all, and that it had a unique and unambiguous reference to the Helots, for me these are the key points. Nor do I need to dwell here on the precise nature of the treaty reference, to which I shall be returning. I merely remark that the Athenians were swearing, unilaterally, to aid the Spartans in case the douleia should revolt. [20] No other slaves in Greece taken in the mass, apart perhaps from the Penestai of Thessaly, could plausibly have been so labelled in an official document. [21]
In short, H.W. Singor seems to me to get the Helots’ status just about exactly right when he writes: “The helots never were degraded to the position of slaves of their respective masters though they remained enslaved as a nation to the collectivity of the Spartan state”. [22]

2. Treatment

An important part of what is at stake for modern scholars who wish to explain as well as understand this near-unique historical phenomenon is the general question of how important the Helots were to the entire Spartan political and social and cultural regime, and especially how much of a threat they posed to that regime on a regular, everyday basis—as opposed to the searingly manifest episodes of concerted and open revolt such as those in the 460s and in 370/69. In short, how, and how well or ill, were the Helots as a rule treated? [23]
Much hangs, in this debate, on one’s reading of Thucydides 4.80.3, which irritatingly is not unambiguous:
Fear of their numbers and obstinacy prompted the Spartans to take the action which I shall now relate. For [either] Spartan policy had always been determined by the necessity of taking precautions against the Helots [or] in the Spartans’ relations with the Helots the central issue had always been to keep them under surveillance.
Either, then, Thucydides is saying that, as a general principle of governance, Spartan policy had always been determined by the necessity of taking precautions against the Helots. Or he is making a more restricted claim, about the centrally and fundamentally precautionary nature of the Spartans’ dealings with the Helots. Whichever of those readings is correct, the ambiguity must not be allowed to obscure the fact that his usage of “always” is deliberately emphatic: the Greek word aiei appears first in the sentence. This gives a special significance to the circumstance that it is in this same passage that Thucydides goes on to relate as an illustration of that general state of affairs an instance of extreme Spartan surveillance involving, allegedly, the calculatedly duplicitous slaughter of a round 2000 Helots. Those modern scholars who wish to play down the importance of the Helot “danger” to Sparta or the determining influence of that perceived danger on the whole Spartan regime tend mostly to favour the second, more minimal translation of Thucydides 4.80.3 given above, though even that is a concession too far in the eyes of those who are prepared even to deny the historicity of that reported massacre. [24] In the sharpest possible contrast Thucydides, the contemporary historian himself, not only believed the massacre to have happened but deemed it to be and presented it as an illustration of a general rule of Spartan behaviour towards the Helots: “always”, as—e.g.—in this particular instance. So, not only is the fundamental and essential nature of the Spartan regime at scholarly stake here, but so too are Thucydides’s judgment and reputation.
What, then, might Thucydides’s source(s) for this story have been (as usual, he doesn’t tell us explicitly), and might there have been any ideological or other kind of motive that could have led him to abandon in this case what seem to have been his usual high standards of verification and authentication and so to fall for a contrived and malicious anti-Spartan fiction? As for the first issue, it is vital to take the full measure of his very rare confession, in connection with the numbers of the Spartan dead at the battle of Mantineia in 418, that he could not estimate the Spartans’ casualties with any accuracy “on account of the secrecy of their politeia” (5.68.2). Politeia is also, alas, ambiguous: it could mean either the Spartan state authorities specifically in 418 or the Spartans’ political arrangements more generally (roughly our “constitution”) or, most generally of all, their whole way of life. But for the purpose of interpreting 4.80.2-4 the key inference to be made from 5.68.2 is that in the case of the Helot massacre the awkwardly probing and sceptical Thucydides did not feel such qualms of doubt or ignorance, even though that deceitful outrage had been accomplished, as he rather sensationally reported it, in total secrecy. [25] From what, to him, reliable witness or witnesses could he have received and believed such a report?
Speculation should be kept on the tightest of reins. If we exclude Spartan or Perioikic deserters or defectors on the grounds that they were probably either thin on the ground or non-existent, the likeliest potential sources, direct or indirect, are fugitive Helots. [26] Or, if one requires Athenian or Athenian-connected intermediaries, one’s thoughts might well go to the ex-Helot Messenians settled by the Athenians at Naupaktos in c. 460 and used profitably by the Athenian general Demosthenes (who was surely known to Thucydides personally) both during and after the Pylos success of 425. Why, finally, did Thucydides choose to find the witness or witnesses reliable and believable?
Pro-Athenian patriotic prejudice on big issues such as overall war-guilt has been alleged against Thucydides, though not in my view sustainably. [27] It is, on the other hand, utterly implausible that he should have shared any such fellow-feeling for slaves or Helots as may—perhaps—have been entertained by Athenian ideological democrats. [28] The most economical and satisfying explanation of Thucydides 4.80.2-4 would therefore seem to me to be that the reported massacre of some 2000 Helots at some (unspecified) time before 424 fitted into a pattern already in the eyes of Thucydides firmly established and rigorously tested: a pattern of Spartan precaution to the point of paranoia towards the Helots that might entail exemplary punishments of outstanding brutality. Thucydides’ overall method of historical presentation may in my view appropriately be characterised as paradigmatic. Accordingly, his chilling description at 4.80.2-4 of the massacre of (in round figures) 2000 Helots, whenever exactly that happened, should therefore be read as his paradigm case of the Spartans’ regular treatment of the Helots.
Why should he have so considered it? Thucydides does not mention the Spartan Krypteia (first explicitly attested by Plato and Aristotle), though a version of it undoubtedly existed in his day, nor does he cite the annual declaration of war on the Helots by the Ephors (also first attested by Aristotle), though this too has a good chance of having been in force already in the late fifth century. [29] But he had no necessary cause or obligation to cite them and if, as is likely enough, he nevertheless knew of them, they will have been part and parcel of a reassuringly coherent and consistent picture. Thucydides does, on the other hand, cite and cite emphatically the Spartans’ seemingly paranoid dismissal of the Athenians “alone of their allies” (1.102.3) during the Pentekontaetia, at the time of the great (mainly Messenian) Helot revolt sparked by the earthquake of c. 465. Moreover, in the course of his Peloponnesian War narrative, he relates a number of telling instances of the Spartans murdering free Greeks. [30] He thereby and in other ways testifies crucially to the physical violence that was a striking feature, both literally and metaphorically, of Spartan behaviour at home and abroad. [31] An a fortiori inference by the reader, so far as the Spartans’ treatment of unfree Helots was concerned, would therefore seem entirely justifiable, and I am confident that Thucydides intended just such an implication.
In short, I—still—see no good reason not to believe the authenticity of the report of the massacre at Thucydides 4.80.2-4, and every reason to regard this extreme and typically deceitful precautionary measure as powerful evidence of an all too vivid perception, on the part at least of the Spartans, of the genuine existence of a Helot “danger”.

3. Revolt

The original version of my essay on Helot revolt was published in a Festschrift that I co-edited for G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, one of the most distinguished students of ancient Greek and Roman servitude in the past half-century. [32] For him, slavery and other forms of unfree labour constituted the basis, in a marxist sense, of GraecoRoman civilisation and culture, and he devoted his unusually powerful mind to studying them in all their manifestations, ideological as well as material, since his time as a mature undergraduate student in the late 1940s at University College London, where he was influenced above all by the teaching of A. H. M. Jones. [33]
Slave revolt, or rather its apparent absence from the world of chattel slavery in Classical Greece, is that essay’s theme. But this is just one aspect of a vast subject, the importance of which remains in my view still somewhat underappreciated, or at any rate understudied, by historians of ancient Greece generally. Peter Hunt’s 1998 monograph on the use of slaves in Greek warfare, and the (non)mentions of that use by the great fifth- and fourth-century Greek historians, is of course a shining recent exception to that general neglect—but it is the sort of exception that goes to prove the rule. [34]
My essay of 1985 was also an evangelistical exercise in comparativist method, owing most in its original form to the work of Eugene Genovese on slave revolt in the Americas and something to the systematising historical sociology of slavery of Orlando Patterson. [35] The essay is divided into two parts. In the first and longer one I attempt to apply systematically to Classical Greece those of the criteria for successful servile revolt elaborated by Genovese that I deem relevantly applicable. Here, in other words, I am attempting to account for a null case, the non-occurrence in Greece of servile revolt—as opposed to servile resistance, which is to be assumed and can indeed be sufficiently documented. In the second part of the essay, I apply those same criteria of Genovese’s to the Helots of Sparta, both those of Lakonia and those of Messenia. As was notorious in antiquity and is still a matter for rightful preoccupation today, this servile group—or rather perhaps groups—did actually manage to revolt, more than once, and indeed not merely to revolt but, with a great deal of help from their friends (or at any rate their Spartan masters’ enemies), to achieve full collective civic freedom (for the adult males of the new polis of Messene) as well as individual personal liberty. [36]
No doubt there were many in classical Greece who had special reasons for wanting to end Sparta’s Helotage, and for being prepared to take the appropriate action when the opportunity offered. But I hope it is not controversial to claim that there must also have been something special about the condition or situation of the Helots that both provided the opportunity and prompted the capacity and willingness of outsiders to exploit it. What exactly that special factor or special factors was or were is the issue before us: was it relative numbers? the nature of the terrain? the mode of social and economic existence? ethnicity, i.e. ethnic self-consciousness? or a combination of some or all of those? In my original article of 1985 I concluded that the single most important variable in this complex multivariate process was what Genovese called in shorthand “the master-slave relationship”, that is, the factor comprising slave ideology and psychology (both the masters’ and the slaves’). I should like now to nuance that conclusion a little further by drawing especially on the work of Walter Scheidel (this volume) and Susan Alcock. [37] I shall argue, in effect, that it is a combination of status and treatment (as I understand them) that will give us the key to unlock the conundrum.
The Helots, at any rate the Helots of Messenia, were an unfree people, not just a random collection of individually owned slaves. [38] They were moreover an unfree Greek people—and the fact that the very utterance of that phrase in a context of Greek domestic politics, as opposed to one of external imperial domination, sticks in the gullet is a fair index of just how rare (though not unique) this situation was, and how crucial their condition was in preparing them ultimately for freedom, or rather liberation. Even after the liberation of the Messenian Helots, indeed, Plato could speak of the situation of the remaining, Lakonian Helots as deeply controversial, and his pupil Aristotle, writing up to twenty years later, could liken them to an enemy constantly sitting in wait, as if in ambush, for the disasters of their masters. [39] That constituted a unique situation in ancient Greece, a giant exception within the overall framework of the classical Greek servile regime. But for it to become actively operational, material conditions had also to be favourable.
The shrinking size of the master class through a process laconically defined by Aristotle as oliganthropia—shortage of military manpower—had become conspicuous at least as early as the first phase of the Peloponnesian War. [40] The disproportion between the number of Helots and the number of adult male Spartan citizens, though never precisely quantifiable, can only have increased from the early fifth- century peak of the latter to the demise of Sparta as a great power a century later. Scheidel’s composite mean estimate (really a “guesstimate”) of 30,000 able-bodied adult male Helots in the early fifth century suggests that they then outnumbered their Spartiate counterparts by some four to one. To that we should now add the findings, admittedly preliminary and of course provisional and tentative, of the PRAP survey, to the effect that Messenian Helots lived in agglomerated settlements rather than on dispersed farmsteads: “Community dwelling not only helps to explain pragmatic things (such as how helots could plan rebellion), but provides the day-to-day context for other forms of communication as well . . . [S]uch dwelling together also affirmed emotional ties of kinship and of common concern which could, potentially, ignite into violent resistance.” [41] This returns us to our starting point, the key factor of “the master-slave relationship”.
To conclude these brief reflections on the Helot mirage, I revisit the issue of terminology. The word “helot” is still quite often used figuratively in contemporary English to describe, classify or sympathise with any unusually oppressed, disenfranchised, even enslaved persons, such as, for example, the black indigenous population of South Africa under the former apartheid regime. [42] Actually, it is probably too glib to refer to any oppressed or even enslaved peoples today as “Helots”. Nevertheless, this is an aspect of the Helot mirage that I for one would not wish entirely to discourage. For the Helots’ (in part self-produced) liberation raises up, to borrow Ernst Bloch’s ringing phrase, das Prinzip Hoffnung, [43] a principled hope of better times to come not only in the next world, if there is a next world, but in this world too.

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Footnotes

[ back ] 1. The original version of this paper was delivered as a curtainraising address on 16 March 2001 before the workshop held the following day. I have tried to retain something of the original’s oral flavour in this printed version. To the directors of the workshop, Sue Alcock and Nino Luraghi, I am deeply indebted for their invitation, hospitality and constant intellectual provocation (in the best possible sense). To my fellow-participants, especially perhaps Orlando Patterson, I am most grateful for comradeship and lively interchange. Of other living fellow-labourers in the vineyard of Lakonian studies, apart from those present at the Workshop and in this volume, I owe most to Anton Powell, who is the dedicatee of Cartledge 2002c. See now Powell 2002: ch. 6 (‘Life in Sparta’).
[ back ] 2. In August 2001 I delivered a paper on the Helots at the California State University at Fresno, thanks to the kind invitation of Victor Hanson; I used as my visual prompts a selection of Gonick’s cartoons, a source apparently unfamiliar even to a Californian audience. Of course, Gonick, a non-specialist, sometimes gets his ‘facts’ wrong, but more often than not he is faithful at least to the spirit of the original sources, and he has clearly done a great deal of effective background homework. For further recognition, see now Alcock 2002: 139 n. 13 and Fig. 4.3.
[ back ] 3. The issue of Spartan women’s sexuality and alleged sexual liberality, as presented in the ancient sources (visual as well as verbal) and interpreted by modern historians, is addressed in Cartledge 2001d; cf. now Pomeroy 2002 (though unfortunately, at pp. 159-161, she misrepresents my position rather grossly). On the Partheniai see, e.g., Kunstler 1983.
[ back ] 4. In the ancient ‘mirage’ (the term is originally that of Ollier 1933-43) the Helots may be conveniently traced and tracked through the index to Rawson 1991: s.v.; cf. for the fifth and fourth centuries, Klees 1991-1992. The first scholarly modern study of ancient Sparta as a whole was by J. C. F. Manso; his 3-volume opus (Leipzig, 1800-1805) contains a typically sober appendix on the Helots (vol. I, Beylage 10, pp. 135-155). For pre-1800 ‘Forschung’, see Schulz-Falkenthal 1986, 1987. For an excellent general overview of scholarly Sparta research, see Christ 1986. Recent highlights include Oliva 1971, together with his 1986 review of the literature onthe Helot question, Ducat’s outstanding synthetic study (1990), and Hodkinson 2000: ch. 4 (‘Helotage and the exploitation of Spartan territory’). To give some indication of the pace of current research and level of current interest, I note that in the time that elapsed between my delivering the original oral version of this paper and my writing up this version for publication the sixth chapter of Ducat 1990 appeared in English translation with some editorial comment (Ducat 2002); my ‘Rebels and Sambos’ article (originally 1985) was reprinted with a new introduction and supplementary bibliography (Cartledge 2001a—see further section II below); and major new discussions of Messenian Helot settlement patterns, arising out of the collaborative Pylos Regional Archaeology Project (PRAP) that she co-directs (see below, text and n. 40), were published by Susan Alcock (2002a, 2002b: esp. ch. 4). See also her study of Pausanias’s ‘Messeniaka’ (book IV of the Periegesis): Alcock 2001. Disappointingly, though, Koliopoulos 2001 in his study of Spartan ‘high strategy’ manages to overlook the Helots almost completely.
[ back ] 5. Ste. Croix 1981: 149 does properly emphasise this.
[ back ] 6. The Byron passage is cited and documented in Cartledge 1998: 106. The Plutarch passage is translated as text D8a in Appendix 4 of Cartledge 2001b: 305. That Appendix contains translations of only ‘some’ ancient sources; some others not included there will be translated and/or discussed below. On Spartan education, see now Griffith 2001 passim.
[ back ] 7. Cartledge 1993.
[ back ] 8. Shaw 2001: esp. 14-24.
[ back ] 9. Vidal-Naquet 1986. Victor Hanson (2000: 17-120) has recently, and I think rightly, celebrated Epameinondas as one of history’s great liberators. Further on the historiography of Greek slavery, ancient and modern: Hunt 1998; Cartledge 2002a.
[ back ] 10. Alkidamas = Text E1 in Garnsey 1996: 75-76. Garnsey 1996: 107-127 is a useful discussion of the notoriously difficult Aristotelian defence of a doctrine of ‘natural’ slavery, on which see also Cartledge 2002b: 135-141.
[ back ] 11. The story is best told in one of the greatest achievements in the field of ancient Greek history of the last generation, Guy Griffith’s study of the reign of Philip II of Macedon, his contribution to Hammond and Griffith 1979: see esp. pp. 616-619.
[ back ] 12. Arrian Anabasis I.16.7. C. P. Cavafy, no less brilliantly, picked up on and indeed developed that trope for his own age in one of his very best poems, ‘In the Year 200 B.C.’ (1931). In case it should be wondered why Alexander dedicated precisely 300 suits of armour, surely this was because he was intending a calculatedly cruel reminder of Sparta’s long past glory days of resistance to Persia at Thermopylae in 480 BCE led by King Leonidas and his 300 (on which, incidentally, Cavafy also wrote hauntingly).
[ back ] 13. Ducat 1990: esp. ch. III (‘La relation de propriete’); Hodkinson 2000: esp. ch. 4, and this volume; Luraghi, this volume, and 2002. I do not discuss here the question of the origins of Helotage, whether in Lakonia or Messenia, but I note Luraghi’s confident assertion, this volume, that ‘mass enslavement of an indigenous population is an inherently unlikely explanation’ (p. 109).
[ back ] 14. The texts are respectively Cartledge 2001b: 303 (C.11) and 301 (B.7b).
[ back ] 15. See ch. 4 of Cartledge and Spawforth 2001 (a bibliographically updated reissue of the corrected 1991 paperback reprint of the 1989 original).
[ back ] 16. For once, ‘state’ is probably an accurate enough term. Sparta, odd in this as in so many ways, was not entirely or straightforwardly a ‘stateless political community’, as all other Greek poleis probably were (on this I agree with my former pupil, Dr. Moshe Berent: see Berent 1994).
[ back ] 17. Arist. fr. 586 Rose: ‘[the Kallikyrioi at Syracuse] are like the Spartans’ Helots, the Thessalians’ Penestai, and the Cretans’ Klarotai’. See generally Lotze 1959 and 1985. See also van Wees, this volume.
[ back ] 18. Cartledge, Der Neue Pauly 8 (2000) 823, s.v. ‘Neodamodeis’; cf. Christien 2000: 147-149.
[ back ] 19. Figueira 1999.
[ back ] 20. That is, to be more precise, revolt again; but the legal basis of the Athenians’ assistance to the Spartans during the Helot revolt of the 460s is obscure, and, besides, that aid had been unhappily repudiated (see esp. Thucydides 1.102.3), which may perhaps partly explain the attempt at unilateral quasi-legal codification in an otherwise bilateral treaty of defensive alliance.
[ back ] 21. On the Penestai, see comprehensively Ducat 1994.
[ back ] 22. Singor 1993: 41.
[ back ] 23. What follows is an adapted and, I hope, strengthened version of my new introduction to Cartledge 2001b. Manso (1800: 146) claimed the credit for being the first to appreciate the true significance of Thuc. 4.80.
[ back ] 24. For instance, Roobaert 1977; Talbert 1989 (to which I replied in Cartledge 1991); and Whitby 1994. Whitby’s new collection (2002, index s.v. ‘helots’) does not seriously reopen this particular issue.
[ back ] 25. As he put it, ‘No one ever knew how each of them perished’. For the chilling significance of the phrase ‘each of them’, see Vidal-Naquet 1992: 102-109. On the deceitfulness involved, see Hesk 2000: 31 n. 39.
[ back ] 26. Such fugitive Helots had two main routes of escape from Sparta’s own home territory potentially open to them: either via the fortified position occupied by the Athenians at Pylos in Messenia since 425 (it was the capture of this that in 424, according to Thuc. 4.80.3, provoked the Spartans to extreme fear of Helot ‘obstinacy’ s kaiotSs and numbers), or via the ‘sort of isthmus’ in the Malea peninsula in Lakonia opposite the island of Kythera that the Athenians occupied and fortified in 413, precisely as a place ‘to which the Helots might desert’ (Thuc. 7.26.2).
[ back ] 27. On this big issue see now Powell 2002: 436-448 (Appendix, in successful rebuttal of E. Badian, entitled ‘Did Thucydides write ‘pure fiction’? Ancient history and modern passion’).
[ back ] 28. Thucydides on the Helots is perhaps something of an exception to the rule, convincingly identified by Peter Hunt (1998), that all the major Greek historians underemphasised the role of slaves and the unfree in Greek warfare.
[ back ] 29. On the sources for the Krypteia, see Levy 1988; cf. Jeanmaire 1913; Ducat 1997a, 1997b; Cartledge, Der Neue Pauly 6 (1999) 872, s.v.; Handy 2001. Griffith (2001: 51 n. 92) rightly distinguishes between the Krypteia’s Helot-policing function, restricted perhaps to a specially selected elite squad, and the test in survival skills applied to all immediate pre-adults. On the Ephors in general, and specifically their annual declaration of war on the Helots (Aristotle fr. 543 Gigon), see Ste. Croix 1981: 48, 149; and now Richer 1998: 249-251.
[ back ] 30. At 2.67.3, the Spartans reportedly murdered neutrals as well as Athenian and allied traders at the outset of the war; at 3.68.2, they massacred at least 200 Plataians in 427; and at 5.83.2, they killed all available freemen of Peloponnesian Hysiai in 419 (on this last, see Dover 1973: 39).
[ back ] 31. Hornblower 2000.
[ back ] 32. Cartledge and Harvey 1985. What follows here is partially based on my new introduction to Cartledge 2001b; see also Cartledge 2002a.
[ back ] 33. Ste. Croix on slavery: see items 9 and 40 of the ‘Select Bibliography’ in Cartledge and Harvey 1985: viii-xii, in addition to Ste. Croix 1981 (op. cit., item 45) passim. For the influence of Jones on Ste. Croix, see ‘Editors’ Preface’, ibid. xv.
[ back ] 34. See Cartledge 2002a.
[ back ] 35. Genovese 1979; Patterson 1982.
[ back ] 36. The story is told briefly in Cartledge 1987/2000: 384-385.
[ back ] 37. Esp. Alcock 2002a.
[ back ] 38. Though, as Alcock (1999: 337) rightly observes, ‘It is possible . . . that the ‘Messenians’—as a unified entity, with a self-awareness of group identity—were only created with conquest’ (italics in the original); cf. Figueira 1999; Hall, this volume.
[ back ] 39. Plato Laws 776c = Cartledge 2001b: Appendix 4, Text A2a. Aristotle Pol. 1269a36-b5 = Cartledge 2001b: Appendix 4, Text E2a.
[ back ] 40. Cartledge 2001b: ch. 14, at 266.
[ back ] 41. Alcock 2002: 143, from a section, ‘Spartan Messenia’ (pp. 134-152), of chapter 4 (‘Being Messenian’).
[ back ] 42. This was a fact remarked on by the late and much lamented Elizabeth Rawson in her splendid work on ‘The Spartan Tradition in European Thought’ (1991: 366).
[ back ] 43. On Bloch’s two-volume work (1959), see briefly Hobsbawm 1973: ch. 14.