Helots and The Masters in Laconia and Messenia: Histories, Ideologies, Structures

  Luraghi, Nino, and Susan E. Alcock, eds. 2003. Helots and Their Masters in Laconia and Messenia: Histories, Ideologies, Structures. Hellenic Studies Series 4. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_LuraghiN_AlcockS_eds.Helots_and_Their_Masters.2003.

Chapter 4. Agreste genus: Helots in Hellenistic Laconia

Nigel M. Kennell

In the aftermath of the battle of Leuctra, Sparta lost a third of its territory, comprising over half its arable land, and the majority of its helots. While their fellows west of Taygetus soon established a free state, Laconian helots, with no similar collective identity invented or genuine to differentiate themselves from their masters, remained under Spartan domination for centuries more. This was not for lack of spirit. Laconian helots joined in a general revolt in the wake of Leuctra, and the majority of the helots who crossed over to the Theban army as it advanced on Sparta must have been Laconian. [1] On the other hand, helots responded to a Spartan call to arms in return for a pledge of freedom in such numbers that they aroused suspicion and fear among the Spartiates. [2] The revolt petered out or was repressed, and the fate of the helot volunteers is unknown.

The history of Sparta in the third and second centuries is marked by a series of attempts, all ultimately unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, to restore Sparta to the predominant military position the city once held. Areus I, king from 309/8 to (probably) 265, and Nabis, last ruler of an independent Sparta (c. 207-192), both aimed for that goal by endeavoring to transform Sparta into a Hellenistic state comme les autres, while the two more famous kings Agis IV (c. 244-241) and Cleomenes III (c. 235-222) drew upon and elaborated the Lycurgan legend. Helots, however, simply did not enter into their calculations: no Spartan reformer or revolutionary ever seems to have decided to tap the immense manpower resources they represented to renew the Spartiate class. Not even Nabis, whose changes to the citizen body were radical, attempted it. Although some have mistakenly thought that he “liberated the helots”, the evidence that he freed any helots at all is at best slight, as we shall see.

Areus need not detain us because we have no means of determining what impact his modernization policy had upon Laconia’s helot population. One might speculate that it facilitated even greater concentration of landed wealth and consequently brought more helots under the control of fewer masters. By the middle of the third century, if the images of an extremely polarized society that have come down to us from Phylarchus are more or less accurate in general outline, the role of the helots had changed significantly. With the land owned by a small minority of plousioi, perhaps as few as one hundred, helots no longer provided a significant portion of their agricultural produce to support contributions from a broad range of Spartiates to the sussitia who thus maintained their status among the homoioi. [5] Instead, as the helots were now working for far fewer Spartiates than before, they would have produced for their masters a surplus increased far beyond what was needed for their survival and for their masters’ contributions to the sussitia. Although, as Stephen Hodkinson pointed out, this pattern of ownership had existed in Laconia well before Leuctra, the loss of Messenia must have exacerbated it. [6] As the trend continued, it produced a vicious circle which caused more and more Spartiates to fail to make their contributions to the sussitia, because they did not own sufficient land from which to obtain the produce. Sussitia thus would have failed, and land passed into the ownership of fewer and fewer people, whose messes {82|83} now became theaters for unreserved display of disposable income. In addition, the Spartan aristocracy’s obsession with breeding and racing horses suffered no setback after 370: Isocrates in the Archidamus has Agesilaus’ son say that Spartans were still rearing teams of voracious horses, in spite of being a people under dire compulsion and lacking even daily necessities. [7] The economic implications of such land use are important; for, although large areas of land for pasturage were needed, fewer helots could manage the herds than were necessary in the more labor-intensive activity of farming. For their masters, horse-breeding and animal husbandry in general significantly mitigated the impact of Leuctra. The helots’ role thus changed from providing the broad economic foundation for a warrior class to being producers of wealth for a small elite.

I think the second solution is the most logical and is the one which fits the almost non-existent evidence for the status of helots following the reigns of Agis and Cleomenes. One vital testimonium for this period has only recently been recognized as such. It appears in a passage of Strabo we will have occasion to revisit later, in which he provides a capsule history of helotage:

Ephorus says that . . . the other (sc. Laconians) submitted, but the Heleians, who held Helos (called Helots) rose up and were swiftly defeated in war and enslaved under certain conditions, namely that it was not permitted for an owner to free them or sell them beyond the borders, and that this was called The War Against the Helots.

Hodkinson recognized that the sentence referring to Agis I’s institution of the heiloteia cannot have come from Ephorus, as it begins with the statement that there were helots until the time of the Romans. [
12] The syntax of the passage confirms this insight. The material taken from Ephorus is presented in indirect discourse, whereas the sentence in question was written in oratio recta and is undoubtedly from Strabo himself. Although this information is therefore irrelevant to the study of helots in the archaic and classical periods, it is of great value for our understanding of helotage after Cleomenes III. In contrast to the earlier period, helots were now state-owned, lived in communities dictated by the state, and provided some of the services normally associated with public slaves in other cities. Such explicit codification of the status of the helot would conform well with Cleomenes’ program of reform, in which traditional practices were reconstituted and reshaped to produce new versions of the citizen training system and the sussitia. [13] {84|85}

The smooth operation of the renewed sussitia depended on all members being able to provide contributions in kind from their own land. Since the Lycurgan ethos prevented Spartans from sowing and reaping themselves, sussitia depended ultimately on helots. Thus, any distribution of land intended to revivify the common messes must inevitably have entailed a corresponding reform of the heiloteia. Along with losing (or giving up) their land, the Spartan elite also lost control of many helots. The state took their place, regulating where helots might live to ensure a stable pool of labor for the new kleros-holders and utilizing them for certain public duties beneath the dignity of the revived Spartiate class. After Cleomenes, individual Spartans could not own helots, but they were able to make use of the products of their labor on the land assigned to them. One final advantage of this “minimalist” version of Cleomenes’ land reforms is that it would have taken only a short time to implement and could have been in place soon after he launched his coup against the ephors in 227.

The fate of these ex-helots after Antigonus Doson’s swift settlement of Spartan affairs remains unclear. Much remains unclear about the settlement as a whole. Polybius describes it twice. In his narrative of the reign of Cleomenes he polishes it {85|86} off in a single sentence: “Securing Sparta after his assault Antigonus for the rest treated the Lacedaemonians with magnanimity and humanity, and having restored the ancestral politeuma within a few days withdrew with his forces from the city”. [18] Later, in assessing the character of Philip V after his vicious destruction of Thermon in 218, Polybius compares Antigonus’ behavior towards the defeated Spartans.

The meaning of politeuma, the key word in both passages, has been the subject of some debate, especially since Cleomenes himself claimed to be reviving Sparta’s traditional or ancestral constitution (politeia). [
20] Against Shimron’s contention that Polybius used politeuma strictly to denote governmental institutions in contrast to politeia, which he used for social institutions in general, Walbank argued that the words were essentially synonymous. [21] According to him, Polybius blamed Cleomenes for destroying the Lycurgan constitution which had survived, albeit in disarray, even Leuctra. Antigonus re-instituted the ephorate, which Cleomenes had abolished tyrannically in 227, and which Polybius evidently believed was genuinely Lycurgan. However, Walbank did agree with Shimron’s distinction between the purely governmental and the social aspects of Cleomenes’ program. But on the crucial question of which, if any, reforms Antigonus left in place, he remained agnostic: “Whether in fact on this occasion some of Cleomenes’ measures remained in force is a matter that can only be determined independently”. [22] {86|87}

Nonetheless, Shimron’s idea that there was a distinction between politeia and politeuma has more support than Walbank allowed, although the words do not have the meanings he thought they did. We can invoke the authority of Aristotle in the Politics: “Since politeia and politeuma mean the same thing, politeuma is the sovereign authority in cities; and it is necessary for that sovereign authority to be either an individual, a few people, or the many”. [23] Politeuma here is “government,” “state,” or, more precisely, “the body of citizens with full rights of participation in government”. [24] Walbank quoted this passage only partially in his rebuttal to Shimron, omitting everything after the first clause and thus passing over the subtle but important difference between the two words. Aristotle moves from the more general term politeia, “constitution,” or “rights of citizenship,” to a discussion of the more specific politeuma. Their meanings did overlap in general usage, like the modern “state” and “constitution,” and Aristotle uses that blurring to his advantage, but there was a real distinction between the two. This distinction can be seen quite easily in epigraphical texts. For example, in the decree of the Smyrnaeans ratifying their sumpoliteia with Magnesia ad Sipylum from the middle of the third century, the demos is described as having “given citizenship (politeia) to the inhabitants of Magnesia,” while later in the document the new citizens are characterized as “those who are being registered in the citizen body” (τοὺς καταχωπιζομένους εἰς τὸ πολίτευμα). [25] In a letter to the people of Larissa, Philip V describes their need for new citizens:

Through a sumpoliteia agreement at the end of the third century, the Milesians enfranchised all citizens of Seleucia/Tralles who lived there up to the date of the {87|88} grant and allowed anyone who became a citizen of Seleucia by decree but who did not live there or was given citizenship (δοθῆι . . . πολιτεία) later also to become Milesian during a grace period of ten years following the original enrollment of the Seleucians into the citizen body (ἀπο τῆς πρὸς τὸ πολίτευμα). [
27] In the sumpoliteia with Herakleia neither Milesians nor Herakleians who had not been resident in either city for more than five years were allowed to be enrolled in the citizen community (προσγπαφῆναι πρὸς τὸ πολίτευμα) of the other city.

As a rule, the inscriptions distinguish between the rights of citizenship (politeia), which can be granted to outsiders, and the community of citizens (politeuma), into which the new citizens were then enrolled. The difference resulted in the words acquiring in the Roman period two quite different meanings—magistracy (politeia) and community (politeuma). [28] Plutarch uses the latter word with almost exactly this meaning when noting the general decline of the state due to pervasive corruption just before the accession of Agis IV (ἐγκεκλικότων ἤδη τῆι διαφορᾶι τοῦ πολιτεύματος ὀμαλῶς ἁπάντων). Polybius also observes this distinction. His summary of the declaration of war against the Aetolians that opened the Social War in 220 contains a pledge to liberate states which were unwilling members of the Aetolian League and to “reestablish them in their ancestral states (ἀποκαταστήσουσιν εἰς τὰ πάτρια πολιτεύματα), with their own territory and cities, ungarrisoned, untaxed, and free, enjoying their traditional constitutions and laws (πολιτείαις καὶ νόμοις χρωμένους τοῖς πατρίοις)”. [29] On occasion Polybius’ usage comes close to that found in inscriptions. In Book 3 he specifies how in his narrative he will touch on the “development of the Rhodian state” (τῆς αὐξήσεως τοῦ ᾽Ρωδίων πολιτεύματος). In a letter Laodice III recounts the benefactions of Antiochos III to the city of Iasos in Caria: “he granted you liberty and laws and for the rest has shown that he will develop the state (συναύξειν τὸ πολίτευμα) and will lead it to a better condition”. [30] Polybius’ use of politeuma thus coincides with Aristotle’s definition and with the epigraphical record. Both it and politeia can denote systems of government, but whereas politeia emphasizes the legal and administrative structure of government, politeuma is concerned with the body of citizens who have effective control of that system.

As for the unfortunate ex-helots, we should not just assume that they simply reverted to their former status. When Philopoemen stripped many people of their Spartan citizenship in 188 he conspicuously did not re-enslave those who obeyed his order to forsake Laconia. As Philopoemen’s attitude to Sparta was much harsher and more unforgiving than Antigonus’ appears to have been, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Macedonian victor took similar or even milder sanctions against the new citizens than did the Achaean three decades later.

Antigonus’ gentleness with Sparta was not entirely altruistic. As events during the next few years would show, there was still a base of support for Cleomenes among the population, and Doson may have thought it wise not to provide that faction with too many ready-made grievances around which to rally. But grievances there were, enough to provide the pretender Cheilon with ammunition for his attempted coup four years later against the ephors’ choice of Lycurgus as king. [34] Although the uprising soon collapsed when he failed to win significant public support for a program of debt cancellation and land redistribution, Cheilon must have gambled that these issues would again strike a chord among Spartans at large. That the populace turned against Cheilon upon hearing his announcements in the agora may have been due more to his connections with Achaea and Macedon, with whom Sparta was then at war, than to its own satisfaction with the status quo. [35] Assuming that Cheilon had not completely misread the situation, it would appear that by 218 Sparta was again suffering from grossly unequal ownership of land. This inequality, I believe, was caused by the disenfranchisement of Cleomenes’ new {89|90} citizens and the subsequent freeing-up of substantial lots of land that had constituted their kleroi. Whether or not those exiled under Cleomenes returned after Sellasia, the action taken by wealthier Spartans to acquire the newly available lots to re-establish their estates would have had serious consequences for the Cleomenean ideal of complete equality among Spartan citizens. It is doubtful that the renewed imbalance in land ownership altered the status of the helots. Our only sure source for their post-Cleomenean status, Strabo, gives no indication that they remained “sort of public slaves” only for the five years of the revolutionary regime. During the unrest and turmoil of the next decade, nothing appears in our sketchy evidence to suggest that helots took part in any agitation to improve their position in Spartan society. The stasis between the remnants of Cleomenes’ party and their enemies was confined exclusively to Spartan citizens. Despite a succession of exilings, massacres, and the like, we hear of no helot revolt.

Nabis did liberate slaves, of that there can be no doubt. Polybius and Livy, again our most important sources, are explicit and consistent. Polybius asserts “He liberated the slaves;” and Livy has Flamininus say to Nabis, “You say that charges of having called slaves to freedom and dividing land up for poor people have been made against you”. [42] Like other kings and tyrants Nabis expanded the citizen body by liberating slaves and enrolling foreigners as citizens. The process, known in Greek as ἀωαπλήρωσις, comes to us through Livy’s Latin version as multitudinem . . . auctam. [43] The enrollment of foreigners, particularly mercenaries who had done their host city service, was quite common. The “Thessalians and other Greeks” that Philip V referred to in his letter to the city of Larissa were almost certainly mercenaries. During the later third century the Milesians gave citizenship to a large number of Cretan mercenaries and their families. [44] At Sparta, as I have mentioned, Cleomenes provided a precedent by enfranchising mercenaries who had served him. Polybius does not say explicitly that Nabis gave his mercenaries citizenship, but it is the logical conclusion to be drawn from his statement that the tyrant gave the property and wives of those he exiled to the most conspicuous of the others in Sparta and to mercenaries. In the language of international relations, he granted the mercenaries the rights of γῆς καὶ οἰκίας ἔγκτησις and ἑπιγαμία. Nabis thus ensured that their ownership of the property was recognized at Sparta under his regime and that any offspring of their unions with Spartan women would be Spartan citizens too. [45] {91|92} Finally, there is welcome epigraphical support for intermarriage with citizen women in the form of a few grave inscriptions erected by women with impeccable Spartan names for their foreign, mercenary husbands. [46]

Livy mentions these people twice, the first time as quae seruitia tyranni liberassent (ea magna multitudo erat), the second as Lacedaemoniis adscriptos (ita enim uocabant qui ab tyrannis liberati erant). [53] In the same context, Plutarch calls them ὅσοι δ᾽ ἦσαν ὑπὸ τῶν τυράννων ἀποδεδειγμένοι πολῖται τῆς Σπάρτης. [54] The consistent references to tyrants in the plural, rather than to a single tyrant, surely echo the language of Polybius in reporting the Achaean actions. Historians have attempted either to identify these tyrants with some of the leaders of Sparta between Cleomenes and Nabis or to discount the plural completely and associate the term solely with Nabis. But “tyrants” as used here is a propaganda term, without precise constitutional significance: one person’s tyrant could be another’s king. Lycurgus, the first king after the period of direct Macedonian rule, was accused of gaining the throne through bribery and Livy refers to him explicitly primus tyrannus Lacedaemone, yet only a few chapters later he has Flamininus style Lycurgus’ son Pelops as rege iusto ac legitimo. [55] Again relying on Polybius, he also calls Machanidas, Lycurgus’ successor, tyrannus Lacedaemoniorum. [56] To his supporters and to the Romans, when it suited them, Nabis was king of Sparta, to his enemies he was the worst tyrant of them all. Therefore, the {93|94} reference to all those liberated and/or made citizens by the tyrants reveal nothing about the policies of any particular Spartan leader.

We are left with Nabis’ reference to his own liberation of slaves. Were they then the only ones expelled by the Achaeans? Livy certainly implies as much when he defines the expression Lacedaemoniis adscripti as the Spartan name for those who had been liberated by the tyrants. [57] In the earlier passage, these same people are simply “whatever persons the tyrants had freed from slavery”. [58] In his version, Plutarch refers to ἀποδεδειγμένοι πολῖται τῆς Σπάρτης without mentioning their servile status. [59] Those who take Livy at his word have interpreted Lacedaemoniis adscripti as a special term reserved for the ex-slaves, whom they identify as ex-helots, which showed that they were not completely integrated into the citizen body and continued to constitute a separate group, analogous to the neodamodeis of old. [60] But there is nothing special about the word adscripti. Livy used adscribere elsewhere for the enrolling of Roman colonists; here it is the Latin equivalent of a Greek term. [61] A literal back-translation of adscribere is προσγράφειν, which is one of a number of verbs that designates the enrolling of new citizens. In 182 the Milesians passed a treaty of sumpoliteia with the city of Pidasa, which gave the Pidaseans who were to be enrolled as new citizens (Πιδασέων τοὺς προσγραφησομένους) exemption from liturgies for ten years. [62] In a sumpoliteia at Xanthus, the prutaneis have the duty of enrolling the new citizens (προσγραφέτωσαν) into tribes and demes as soon as possible. [63] On Delos and Tenos, when foreign benefactors were made citizens, they also received the right to be enrolled (προσγράψασθαι) in the tribe and phratry of their choice. [64] Lists of ephebes from Chaeronea marking their coming of age are headed, “These were enrolled from the ephebes into the brigades” (οἵδε προσεγράφησαν ἐξ ἐφήβων εἰς τὰ τάγματα). [65] In Polybius’ original text the expression he used was most likely οἱ προσγραφέντες πρὸς τοὺς Λακεδαιμονίους. From the epigraphical {94|95} parallels, it is clear that the phrase carried no connotation of inferior or separate status with it beyond that of belonging to a group of newly-enrolled citizens. Sometimes, to be sure, certain restrictions were placed on the eligibility for office of new citizens, such as the Cretans in Miletus, but these were not due to their earlier servile state. [66] Adscripti or οἱ προσγραφέντες were simply the newly enfranchised citizens in a city. In itself, the term had no association whatsoever with the new citizens’ previous status, whether slave or free, but merely with their present condition in relation to the politeuma they had just entered.

If Livy’s definition is an accurate reflection of Polybius’ text, then the Achaean historian was telling only half the truth. Adscripti Lacedaemoniis was certainly what Spartans called the freed slaves who had been made citizens by tyrants, but it was also the designation for all newly-enfranchised citizens. We must not make the same mistake of identifying all the adscripti as ex-slaves, since Nabis had also given citizenship to his mercenaries. In addition, during the years of bloody turmoil between Cleomenes and Nabis it is not difficult to imagine that various leaders selectively rewarded mercenaries and others of non-Spartiate origin with citizenship, and that there was by the early 180s a sizeable group in the population with less than impeccable claims to Spartan citizenship who could be lumped together as those who owed their status to “the tyrants”. Livy’s (and Polybius’) implication that all these new citizens were former slaves is sweeping and inaccurate. Some certainly were, but many were foreign mercenaries, as well as perhaps perioeci, foreign traders, and others, whose offspring (some by now adults) would have been included in the expulsion order.

On the other side, apart from the universal assumption that “slave” is equivalent to “helot”, is Pausanias. He baldly states that when the Spartans were far gone in civil war, Philopoemen expelled from the Peloponnese 300 of those most to blame for the unrest and sold 3000 of the helots. [71] Only Pausanias explicitly identifies the 3000 sold into slavery as helots. According to Livy, some of the Lacedaemoniis adscripti ordered to leave Laconia had scattered into the countryside where many of them were captured by pursuing Achaeans and sold. [72] Plutarch relates that Philopoemen re-settled in Achaea all those who had been made citizens by the tyrants except for 3000 who were unwilling to leave Laconia; these he sold {96|97} into slavery. [73] It is clear that Pausanias made the common mistake of identifying Polybius’ ex-slaves as ex-helots, if indeed he derived his information directly from Polybius. That may be open to some doubt, for, as the analytical table (Table 4.1) shows, Pausanias’ account of the post-Compasium settlement provides only a small fraction of the information Livy and Plutarch convey and what little it does contain is disordered and inaccurate. Pausanias’ inaccuracy is most evident when he reports that 300 ringleaders were exiled, which is almost certainly a result of confusion between the massacre at Compasium, where according to Aristocrates Philopoemen killed 350 leading members of the anti-Achaean party, and the expulsion of Nabis’ mercenaries from Sparta. [74] Pausanias is not a trustworthy authority. {97|98}

Table 4.1 Sources for the post-Compasium settlement
Livy 38.34.5-7 Plut. Philop. 15.12d-f Paus. 8.51.3
1. Exiles Restored Exiles restored ——
2. —— Walls destroyed Walls destroyed
3. Report of mercenaries dismissed —— Expelled 300 ringleaders from Peloponnesus
4. and of Lacedaemonii adscripti (freed slaves) scattering through country Resettled ἀποδεδειγμέοι πολῖται ——
5. General sent after them with light-armed troops 
to capture and sell them 3000 did not want to move from Laconia ——
5a. A great number captured and sold Philopoemen sold them Sold 3000 of the helots
5b. Porticus at Megapolis built with proceeds Built a stoa in Megapolis ——
Belbinatis returned to the original owners Great amount of land restored to Megapolis ——
Agogê abolished Agogê abolished Agogê abolished
—— Restore by Romans later Restored by Romans later

A final indication that Nabis’ new citizens did not include any sizeable number of helots is the attitude towards Philopoemen’s settlement expressed before the Senate in 184 by the very persons whom he had reinstated at Sparta—the so-called “old exiles”. Among the many grievances Philopoemen’s ham-fisted treatment of his city’s old enemy had engendered, even among the very people he had ostensibly invaded Laconia to support, was his forcible deportation of what Polybius calls to πλῆθος and Livy the plebs. [75] That to πλῆθος and the plebs were precisely the new citizens exiled after Compasium is clear from Livy’s statement that they had been abducted into Achaea. [76] The conservative “old exiles,” so called because they had been expelled in the decades before the multiple expulsions that had accompanied each change of government since Compasium, would hardly have been well disposed to any of the tyrant’s policies, especially the wholesale incorporation of helots into the citizen body. [77] To remedy the present situation, a group of old exiles called for the enfranchisement of all those who were worthy of receiving citizen- ship—they surely did not intend to include ex-helots, who owed their citizenship to Nabis, the very ruler who had exiled at least some of them. [78] These considerations, combined with the intimation that there existed perhaps sizeable numbers of chattel slaves in Laconia in the Hellenistic period make it unlikely, in my view, that Nabis liberated any helots.

In Chrimes’ defense, it should be pointed out that Walbank was mistaken in thinking that “a castellum is virtually the same as a pagus or vicus”. The lex Rubria itself shows that they are different entities, listed separately. In the section that lays down the procedures for settlement of claims for unpaid debts in Cisalpine Gaul, the localities where such actions might be laid are “any town, municipium, colony, praefectura, forum, village (uicus), conciliabulum, fortress (castellum), or territory”. [81] A uicus was similar to a castellum in that they were each a type of small, rural community (territorium), but they were clearly not considered the same by the redactors of the lex Rubria. Similar catalogues of settlement types appear in the treaties Livy reports, where castella are always distinguished from vici, oppida, and urbes. For example, the Treaty of Apamea awarded to the Rhodians “the towns, villages (uici), fortresses (castella), and fields that face Pisidia”. [82] In 188 King Antiochus was required to withdraw from “the cities, fields, villages (uicis), fortresses (castellis) on this side of the Taurus mountain”. [83] Such lists can also be found in the epigraphical texts. A senatus consultum of 39 BC confirmed the rights of the people of Aphrodisias/Plasara to the enjoyment of all their οἰκυρωμάτων, κωμῶν, χωρίον, ὀχυρωμάτων, ὁρῶν, προσόδων, where ὀχυρωμάτων is equivalent to castellorum. [84] Castellani, then, are not simply “country folk,” but have something to do with castella, fortresses.

Unlike Latin, which only has castellum, Greek differentiates between a fortress proper, ὀχύρωμα, and the area including the fortress and its surrounding population, χορίον. [87] For example, the στρατιῶται οἱ διαταγέντες εἰς τὸ χωρίον at a fort in Lycia made a dedication in 129 BC on behalf of their commander ἐπὶ τοῦ ὀχυρώμα[το]ς. [88] In the sumpoliteia between Smyrna and Magnesia ad Sipylum, the Smyrnaeans took possession of the stronghold Palaimagnesia, whose inhabitants (τούς οἰκοῦντας ἐν τῶι χω[ρ]ίωι) were to hand the keys of the fort over to a magistrate and accept a garrison. [89] Once again Polybius’ usage is consistent with that of the inscriptions: he refers to fortresses both as ὀχυρώματα and χωρία. [90] On their advance into Laconia, the Macedonians under Doson drove the Spartan garrisons from the forts Cleomenes had constructed (ἐκ τῶν ἐποικοδομηθέντων χωπίων ὑπὸ Κλεομένους) and later forced the Spartans out of their fortified positions (ἐκ τῶν ὀχυρώματων) at the battle of Sellasia. [91] At the outset of the Social War in 221, the Aetolians seized a fort called Klarion (τὸ καλούμενον ὀχύρωμα Κλάριον), while far in the east Antiochus began a campaign against the rebel Molon by occupying two forts, one of which was called Brochoi (Βρόχοι προσαγορεθόμενόν). Polybius also refers to the civilian inhabitants of a fortress as οἱ τὸ κατοικοῦντες χωρίον. [92]

Finally, the end of helotage. Our single source, Strabo, says that the institution lasted at Sparta “until the Roman dominion” (μέχρι τῆς Ῥωμαίων ἐπικρατείας). Strabo uses this vague expression several other times in the course of his Geography and his meaning is clear in none of them. [99] For instance, he helpfully states that the Athenians kept their democracy “until the Roman dominion,” and the Spartans, despite their decline, kept themselves independent “until the Roman dominion”. [100] The other passage in which Strabo mentions helots does, fortunately, provide a {101|102} comfortable chronological context. In describing the founding of the League of Lacedaemonians, whose name he gets wrong, Strabo says it happened that the Eleutherolaconians also got some sort of constitutional arrangement, since the perioeci, including the helots, had gone over first to the Romans, while Sparta was under a tyranny [101] . From these two passages, some have maintained that a form of helotage lasted until the time of Gaius Julius Eurycles, the strongman installed in Sparta after Actium, but, as I and others have pointed out, Strabo is hardly likely to have characterized a protege of Augustus as a tyrant, and the passage’s larger context, as a brief aside within a longer account of the Spartan constitution until 146 and just after an allusion to the Spartans mistreating Roman generals because of being badly governed at the time, makes it certain that the tyrant meant is Nabis. [102] The Roman epikrateia therefore refers either to the establishment of Roman rule in 146 or the period when Rome’s influence was predominant over Greek states in the earlier second century.

More interesting than the attempt to establish a specific date for the disappearance of Laconian helots is to assess Strabo’s statement that the helots also received a sort of constitution along with other perioeci for transferring their loyalty first to the Romans. His Greek is clear and unambiguous: συνέβη δὲκαὶ τοὺς Ἐλευθερολάκωνας λαβεῖν τινα τάξιν πολιτείας, ἐπειδὴ Ῥωμαίοιςπροσέθεντο πρῶτοι οἱ περίοικοι τυραννουμένης τῆς Σπάρτης, οἵ τε ἄλλοι καὶ οἱ Εἵλωτες. The phrase οἱ περίοικοι… οἵ τε ἄλλοι καὶ οἱ Εἵλωτες has a close parallel in Strabo’s catalogue of peoples who live around the Mediterranean coast from Egypt to Pamphylia: καὶ οἱ μετ᾽ αὐτούς Αἰγύπτιοι καὶ Σύροι καὶ Κίλικες οἱ τε ἄλλοι καὶ οἱ Τραχεῖται λεγόμενοι, τελευταῖοι δὲ Πάμφθλοι (“and after them the Egyptians and Syrians and Cilicians, including the so-called Tracheiotai, and finally the Pamphylians”). [103] On this point Strabo is not vague: the helots, being among the perioeci, received “a sort of constitution” as well. As Ducat correctly saw, this is a reference to liberation of the helots by the Romans as a reward for their actions during the campaign against Nabis, but he does not pursue the implications of Strabo’s statement, namely that after 195 both perioeci and helots were grouped together under some very loose union or community of interest, which later evolved into the League of Lacedaemonians. [104] This small, but important piece of evidence sheds some light on the circumstances surrounding the {102|103} disappearance of helotage in Laconia. If Strabo is accepted, then we must entertain the possibility that some at least of the smaller sites in Laconia usually identified as perioecic settlements because Pausanias includes them among the members of the League of Lacedaemonians’ successor the Eleutherolaconian League may actually have begun as fortified helot communities. [105] One possible candidate is the site at Agios Athanasios, which Curtius identified as the kome Selinous, 20 stades from ancient Geronthrai, where extensive ashlar walls have been found. [106]

Excavation at one of the smaller sites in Pausanias’ catalogue might yield physical evidence of its prior existence as a helot settlement, although it is an open question what that evidence would need to be. For the voices of the helots in Hellenistic Laconia are thoroughly silenced. Almost certainly illiterate, they served a people without a living literature themselves; toiling in the country, they left no mark on the city-centered histories that have come down to us. They operated on the shadowy margins of a society famous for its obsession with secrecy. Finally, they lived in a particularly obscure period of Greek history, whose records have mostly vanished. There will never be a definitive picture of the helots in later Sparta, since the evidence is so scarce, even in Spartan terms. All aspects of any reconstruction, including this one, are open to challenge and reinterpretation. My aim in this paper has been to subject what little useful material there is to intense scrutiny and pursue the implications of that scrutiny as far as possible. {103|}


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———. 1975. Nabis. (Centre de recherches d’histoire ancienne 14). Paris.

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———. 1966. “The Spartan Ancestral Constitution in Polybius.” Ancient Society and Institutions: Studies Presented to Victor Ehrenberg on his 75th Birthday, ed. E. Badian (ed.), 303-312. Oxford.

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[ back ] 1. Xen. Hell. 7.2.2.

[ back ] 2. Xen. Hell. 6.5.28-29.

[ back ] 3. Aristot. Pol. 2.9.2 1269a, 10.5 1271b, 10.16 1272b.

[ back ] 4. Plut. Pyrrh. 27.3.

[ back ] 5. Plut. Agis 6.

[ back ] 6. Hodkinson 2000: 65-112.

[ back ] 7. Isoc. 6.55.

[ back ] 8. Plut. Agis 6.2, 10.2, 19.5; Hodkinson 2000: 43-45.

[ back ] 9. Plut. Agis 8.3: ἀναπληρωθῆναι δὲ τούτους ἔκ τε περιοιίκων καὶ ξένων, ὅσοι τροφῆς μετεσκηκότες ἐλευθερίου καὶ ἄλλως τοῖς σώμασι καὶ καθ´ἡλικίαν ἀκμάζοντες εἴεν.

[ back ] 10. Hodkinson 2000: 113-117.

[ back ] 11. Strab. 8.5.4 (365).

[ back ] 12. Hodkinson 2000: 117-118.

[ back ] 13. Kennell 1995: 98-114.

[ back ] 14. Plut. Cleom. 23.3-25.1.

[ back ] 15. Plut. Cleom. 23.1: ὁ Κλεομένης τῶν μὲν ειλώτων τοὺσ πέντε μνᾶσ Ἁττικὰσ καταβαλόνντας ἑλευθτέρους και τάλαντα πεντακόσια συνέλεξε, δισχλίους δὲ προσκαθοπλίας Μακεδονικῶσ άυτίταγμα τοῖς παρ᾽ Ἀντιγόνου λεθκάσπισιν, εργου ἐπὶ νοῦν βάλλεται μέγα καὶ πᾶσιν ἀπροδόκητον.

[ back ] 16. Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 56; Daubies 1971: 675.

[ back ] 17. The doubts of Ducat (1990: 160) and Daubies (1971: 668) as to the correct translation of Plut. Cleom. 23.1 (see above n. 15) are unfounded. The asymmetrical positions of μεν and δε are a result of the suppression of the second τῶν εἱλῶτων (see Kuhner-Gerth II.2 268).

[ back ] 18. Polyb. 2.70.1 Ἀντιγονος δ´ ἑγρατής γενόμενος ἑξ ἐφόδου τῆς Σπάρτης τά τε λοιπὰ μεγαλοψὐχως καὶ φιλανθρώπως ἐχρήσατο τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις τό τε πολίτευμα τὸ πάτριον αὐτοῖς καταστήσας ἐν ὀλίγαις ἡμέραις ἀνέζεθζε μετὰ δθνάμεων ἐκ τῆς πόλεως.

[ back ] 19. Polyb. 5.9.9: Ἀντιγονος ἐκ παρατάξεως νικήσας μάχηι Κλεομένην τὸν Βασιλέα τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων ἐγκρατὴς ἐγέωετο καὶ τῆς Σπάρτης, αὐτός τε ὤν κύριος ὅ Βούλοιτο χρῆσθαι καὶ τῆι πόλει καὶ τοῖς ἐμπολιτευομένοις τοσοῦτον ἀπεῖχε τοῦ κακῶς τοιεῖν τοὺς γεγονότας ὐποχειρίους ὠς ἐκ τῶν ἐναντίων ἀποδοὺς τὸ πάτριον πολίτευμα καὶ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν, καὶ τῶν μεγίστων ἀγαθῶν αἴτιος γενόμενος καὶ κοινῆι καὶ κατ᾽ ίδὶαν Λακεδαιμονίοις, οὔτως εὶς τὴν οἰκεὶαν ἀπηλλάγη.

[ back ] 20. Shimron 1972: 553-555; Polyb. 2.47.3; 4.81.14.

[ back ] 21. Walbank 1966: 303-312.

[ back ] 22. Walbank 1966: 312 n. 41.

[ back ] 23. Aristot. Pol. 3.7.1 1279a: ἐπεὶ δὲ πολιτεία μὲν καὶ πολίτευμα σημαίνει ταὐτόν, πολίτευμα δ᾽ ἐστι τὸ κύριον τῶν πόλεων, ἀνάγκη δ᾽εἶναι κύριον ἢ ἑνα ἢ ὀλίγους ἢ τοὺς πολλούς

[ back ] 24. Miller 1995: 150. See also the discussion of Chrimes 1949: 16-18.

[ back ] 25. I. Smyrna II.1 573 I, lines 35, 36; II, line 72.

[ back ] 26. IG IX.2 517, lines 4-7: Πετραῖος καὶ Ἀνάγκιππος καὶ Ἀπιστὀνους ὡς ἀπὸ τῆς πρεσβείας ἐγένοντο, ἐνεφάνιζόν μοι ὄτι καὶ ἡ ὑμέτερα πόλις διὰ τοὺς πολέμους προσδεῖται πλεόνων οἰκητῶν ἕως ἄν ῏ουω καὶ ἑτέρους ἐπινοήσωμεν ἀξίους τοῦ παρ᾽ ὑμῖν πολιτεύματος, ἐπὶ τοῦ πάροντος κρίνω ψηθίσασθαι ὑμᾶς ὅπως τοῖς κατοικοῦσιν παρ᾽ ὑμῖν θεσσαλῶν ἤ τῶν ἄλλων Ἑλλένων δοθῆι πολιτεία.

[ back ] 27. Milet I.3 143a, lines 17-23.

[ back ] 28. Politeia: IG IV 716, πᾶσαν πολιτείαν ἐπιφανῶς ἐκτελέσαντα politeuma: IG XIV 701, ἱερατεύσασας τοῦ πολιτεύματος τῶν Φπύγων.

[ back ] 29. Polyb. 4.25.7.

[ back ] 30. Polyb. 3.3.7; I. Iasos 93, line 10.

[ back ] 31. Shimron 1972: 60-63.

[ back ] 32. On the survival of some of Cleomenes’ reforms, see Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 58, 201; Kennell 1985: 6-7.

[ back ] 33. Paus. 2.9.3.

[ back ] 34. Polyb. 4.81.1-11.

[ back ] 35. Shimron 1972: 74-75.

[ back ] 36. Polyb. 13.6.1-3; 16.13.1.

[ back ] 37. Tile stamp: IG V.1 885; coins: Grunauer-von Hoerschelmann 1978, Group IX, with Furtwangler 1985; international relations: SIG3 584.

[ back ] 38. Liv. 34.31.11, 14.

[ back ] 39. Liv. 34.32.9.

[ back ] 40. E.g. Shimron 1972: 89; Ducat 1990: 171-172; Mendels 1979: 319; Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 69-70. Abolition of helotage: Texier 1975: 34-35.

[ back ] 41. E.g. Oliva 1971: 271; Texier 1974: 194; Mendels 1979: 319; Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 69-70.

[ back ] 42. Polyb. 16.13.1: ἠλευθέρωσε τοὺς δούλους; Liv. 34.32.9: seruorum ad libertatem uocatorum et egentibus hominibus agri diuisi crimina tibi obici dicebas.

[ back ] 43. Liv. 34.31.14.

[ back ] 44. Milet III 33-38. See also Launey 1950: 652-675.

[ back ] 45. Shimron (1972: 141-142) came to a similar conclusion.

[ back ] 46. Steinhauer 1992: 239-245.

[ back ] 47. Polyb. 16.13.1: ” Οτι κατά τὴν Πελοπόννησον τίνα μὲν έξ άρχῆς προαίρεσιν ένεστήσατο Νάβις ὁ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων τύραννος, καὶ πῶς έκβαλὼν τοὺς πολίτας ἡλευθέρωσε τοὺς δούλους καὶ συνῴκισε ταῖς τῶν δεοποτῶν γυναιξὶ καὶ θυγατράσιν; Ducat 1990: 171.

[ back ] 48. Polyb. 13.6.1-3: ὀ δὲ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων τύραννος Νάβις, ἔτος ἤδη τρίτον ἔχων τὴν ἀρχήν ὀλοσχερὲς μὲν οὐδε πράττειν οὐδε τολμᾶν διὰ τὸ πρόσφατον εἴναι τἠν ὐπο τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἦτταν τοῦ Μαχανίδου, καταβολὴν δ᾽ ἐποιεῖτο καὶ θεμέλιον ὑπεβάλλετο πολυχρονίου καὶ Βαρείας τυραννίδος. διἐφθειρε γάρ τοὺς λοιποὺς ἄπδην ἐκ τῆς Σπάρτης, ἐφυγάδευσε δὲ τοὺς κατὰ πλέον πλούτῳ διαφέροντας ἤ δόξῃ προγονικῇ, τὰς δὲ τούτων οὐσίας καὶ γυναῖκας διεδίδου τῶν ἄλλων τοῖς ἐπιφανεστάτοις καὶ τοῖς μισθοφόροις.

[ back ] 49. Liv. 34.35.4, 6.

[ back ] 50. Liv. 34.35.7, 36.2.

[ back ] 51. Polyb. 21.32C.3.

[ back ] 52. Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 78-79; Kennell 1992: 198-202.

[ back ] 53. Liv. 38.34.2, 6.

[ back ] 54. Plut. Philop. 16.4.

[ back ] 55. Liv. 34.26.14, 32.1.

[ back ] 56. Liv. 27.29.9.

[ back ] 57. Liv. 38.34.5.

[ back ] 58. Liv. 38.24.2.

[ back ] 59. Plut. Philop. 16. 4-9.

[ back ] 60. Ducat 1990: 171-172; Texier 1974: 195; Papazoglou 1993: 18.

[ back ] 61. E.g. Liv. 6.30.9: noui coloni adscripti; 31.49.6: hi colonos Venusiam adscripserunt; 35.9.8: nouos colonos adscribere possent.

[ back ] 62. Milet I 3 149, lines 35-36. See also 150, line 59.

[ back ] 63. Bousquet and Gauthier 1994: 321, lines 21-22.

[ back ] 64. Delos: IG XI.4 547. Tenos: IG XII.5 798; cf. 799, 804-806.

[ back ] 65. IGVII 3294, 3296, 3297. See also Diodorus Siculus 12.11.2; 20.36.3. Other terms for the enrollment of citizens include καταχωπίζεσθαι (I. Smyrna II.1 573 II, line 60) and πολιτογράφειν (SIG3 742, line 40 (Ephesus); OGIS 229 (Smyrna); Polyb. 32.7.3.

[ back ] 66. Launey 1950: 660-664; see also Bousquet and Gauthier 1994: 333.

[ back ] 67. [Pl..] Alcib. 122d.

[ back ] 68. E.g. Texier 1975: 84; Mendels 1979: 321: “The Perioikoi did not sympathize with Nabis as did the liberated Helotes.”

[ back ] 69. Liv. 34.27.2, 8-10.

[ back ] 70. Strab. 8.5.5 (36), συνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἐλευθερολάκωνες λαβεῖν τινα τάξιν πολιτείας, ἐπειδὴ Ῥωμαίοις προσέθεντο πρῶτοι οἱ τε ἄλλοι καὶ οἱ Εἴλωτες. On this passage see most recently, Kennell 1999: 192-194.

[ back ] 71. Paus. 8.51.3, Λακεδαιμονίων δὲ τηνικαῦτα ἐς ἔμφυλον προηγμένων στάσιν, τριακοσίους μὲν τῆς στάσεως μάλιστα αἰτίους ἑξεβαλεν ἐκ Πελοποννήσου καὶ τῶν εἰλώτων τε ἀπέδοτο ὅσον τρισχιλίους.

[ back ] 72. Liv. 38.34.5-7: decretum Tegeae in concilio communi Achaeorum de restituendis iis factum est; et mentione inlata externos auxiliares dimissos ac Lacedaemoniis adscriptos (ita enim uocabant qui ab tyrannis liberati erant) urbe excessise <et> in agros dilapsos, priusquam dimitteretur exercitus, ire praetorem cum expeditis et comprehendere id genus hominum et uendere iure praedae placuit. multi comprehensi uenierunt.

[ back ] 73. Plut. Philop. 16.5-6: ὅσοι δ᾽ ἧσαν ὑπο τῶν τυράωωων ἀποδεδειγμένοι πολῖται τῆς Σπάρτης μετῴκιζεν ἅπαντας εἰς Ἀχαίαν πλὴν τρισχιλίων τούτους δ´ ἀπειθοῦντας καὶ μὴ Βοθλομένους ἀπελθεῖν τῆς Λακεδαίμνους ἐπωλησεν.

[ back ] 74. The number of deaths as reported by Aristocrates: Plut. Philop. 16.4.

[ back ] 75. Polyb. 22.12.2; Liv. 39.33.6

[ back ] 76. Liv. 39.33.6: abductam plebem in Achaiam et uenumdatam.

[ back ] 77. On the “old exiles”, see Errington 1969: 174-180; Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 80-82.

[ back ] 78. Polyb. 23.4.3: τοῖσ ἀξίοις τῆς πολιτείας. See also Walbank 1979: 217-218.

[ back ] 79. Chrimes 1949: 38-42.

[ back ] 80. Walbank 1951.

[ back ] 81. Bruns, FIR7 97-101, no. 16, XXI: in eorum quo o(ppido) m(unicipio) c(olonia) p(raefectura) f(oro) u(eico) c(onciliabulo) c(astello) t(erritorio)ue.

[ back ] 82. Liv. 37.56.6: oppida, uici, castella, agri, qui ad Pisidiam uergunt.

[ back ] 83. Liv. 38.38.4: excedito urbibus agris uicis castellis cis Taurum montem.

[ back ] 84. Reynold 1982: 54, no. 8, lines 58-59: μεθ᾽ ὧν ἀγπῶν τόπῶν, οἰκοδμιῶν, κωμῶν, χωρίων, ὀχυρωμάτων, ὁρῶν, προσόδων.

[ back ] 85. Chrimes 1949: 38: “Livy’s source—presumably here Roman.”

[ back ] 86. Polyb. 5.22.2, ὅς καλεῖται μὲν Εὺρώτας.

[ back ] 87. Robert 1970: 588-589 (= OMSVI, 638-639); Debord 1994: 53-61.

[ back ] 88. TAMV 528.

[ back ] 89. I. Smyrna 573 III (245 or 243 BC), lines 93-97. Cf. SEG 26.1306, line 5, where the inhabitants of a fortress are called τοὺς ἐγ Κυρβισσῶι κατοικοῦντες.

[ back ] 90. E.g. Polyb. 4.61.5 (fortress Ambrakos), ὁ γαρ Ἄμβρακός ὲστιν μὲν χωρίον εὐκατεσκευασμένον καὶ προτεχίσμασιν καὶ τείχει. 4.65.6 (fortress Elaos), προς τι χωρίον ὀχυρόν, ὅ καλεῖται μὲν Ἔλαος ἠσφάλισται δὲ τείχεσι καὶ ταῖς λοιπαῖς παρασκευαῖς; 4.83.3, παρέδοσαν τὸ φρούροιν τῷ Φιλίππῳ, χωρίον οὐ μέγα μὲν ἠσφαλισμένον δὲ διαφερόντως; 5.20.4 (fortress Glympeis), παραγενόμενοι δὲ πρὸς Γλυμπεῖς χωρίον 11.33.6, συνέβη διασωθέντα φυγεῖν εἴς τι χωρίον ὀχυρόν

[ back ] 91. Polyb. 2.54, 69.9.

[ back ] 92. Polyb. 4.6.3; 5.20.5, 46.1.

[ back ] 93. Harrison and Spencer 1998: 160-162. A large country house in northern Messenia near the village of Kopanaki, which was in use for about a hundred years from the second quarter of the sixth century BC, has been tentatively identified as belonging to a Spartiate whose land was worked by helots. The excavator also associated its destruction with the Messenian revolt in the 460s: Kaltsas 1983: 220-221.

[ back ] 94. Liv. 34.35.11.

[ back ] 95. Cavanagh et al. 1996: 325-328.

[ back ] 96. Cartledge 1979: 188.

[ back ] 97. Plut. Agis 8.1.

[ back ] 98. On fortresses as storehouses for agricultural produce, see Debord 1994: 60.

[ back ] 99. Strab. 5.1.1; 9.1.20; 9.2.37; 16.1.19.

[ back ] 100. Strab. 9.1.20, 2.37.

[ back ] 101. Strab. 8.5.5.

[ back ] 102. Chrimes 1949: 435; Bernhardt 1971: 96; Kennell 1999: 192-193; Cartledge and Spawforth 1989: 165-166; Ducat 1990: 195-197.

[ back ] 103. Strab. 2.5.32.

[ back ] 104. Ducat 1990: 193-199. On the foundation of the League of Lacedaemonians, see Kennell 1999: 193.

[ back ] 105. Paus. 3.21.7.

[ back ] 106. Cavanagh et al. 1996: 286. For a list of smaller sites, some clearly non-helot, see Shipley 1997: 261-263.