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 8. The Demography of the Spartan Helots

Thomas J. Figueira

The size of the Helot population under Spartan control in the classical period has not often been the focus of separate studies, although it has been an issue very often addressed in general appreciations of Spartan society and political history. Until recently, the estimates of Helot numbers have had an impressionistic coloration, serving to shed light on their authors’ appreciation of the basic qualities of Spartan life and the structures of Laconian society rather than investigating this subject in its own terms. I shall attempt to show, however, that it is feasible to situate within useful limits the carrying capacity of the Laconian agrarian system for various social classes.

The nature of ancient demographic studies and Sparta

In instances from the former category, an ancient authority will state the size of a specific demographic segment or a total population. As an apposite example vis-à-vis servile groups like the Helots, I would note the notorious passage in Athenaeus that provides us with slave numbers in excess of 400,000 for each of the cities of Athens, Corinth, and Aigina (6.103.272C–D; cf. Westermann 1941; Sallares 1991:50–55). Athenaeus’ sources help to illustrate the quality of the information contributing to such figures. For Corinth, the important west Greek historian Timaeus is cited (FGrHist 566 F 5), and for Aigina the constitutional treatise on that city attributed to Aristotle (fr. 475 Gigon; cf. Schol. Pind. Ol. 8.30i). For Athens, a census conducted by Demetrios of Phaleron (probably in 317/16) is the original source cited by the intermediary Ktesikles (FGrHist 245 F 1). This composite citation nicely combines three modes of demographic testimonia: descriptive historiography, constitutional historiography, and documentary historiography. And all three figures strain credulity beyond its breaking point. Through the process of transmission and homogenization, whatever was originally valid has been distorted or prejudiced, and is only to be restored through conjecture (e.g. Figueira 1981:22–52; Canfora 1982:36–45). We happen to lack any similar ancient summary for the number of Laconian Helots, in large part because their place in Spartan society did not activate even these limited modes of commentary. Nonetheless, if the daimones of evidence survival had so graced us, it is most unclear not only to what degree such a figure could be credited, but also whether its point of reference could even now be determined.

Figures for troop and ship mobilizations comprise the second class of evidence. Naturally they need considerable massaging in order to render population totals. The relevant classes of individuals serving have to be determined relative to the sum of adult male citizens, who in turn must be defined in relation to the total for adult males. A model life table, ideally, or some other reckoning of the likely proportion of adult males to the entire population, must then be applied (note, e.g., Coale and Demeny 1966:782–783). Examples of this type of data are the figures for the mobilization of Spartan troops that provided one basis for my article in 1986. For Sparta, this line of analysis has a venerable history, extending back into the nineteenth century. I reproduce here my table from 1986, with some additions and corrections, as Table 8.1. Its basic conclusions have not, to the best of my knowledge, been systematically challenged. [5] {194|195}

  Context Spartan Army Morai Spartiates (20–49) Perioeci (20–49)* Spartiate Decline
1. Plataia (479) 10,000 (20–49) 9400 (20–49) 5000 5000 N/A
2. First Army Reorganization (455–446) 8004–8196 (20–49) 7104–7296 (20–49) 3055 (?) 4541 (+ 600 Skiritai) 39% (1. to 2.)
    (300 Hippeis, 600 Skiritai)        
3a. Pylos (425) 7320 (20–49) 6720 (20–49) 2755 3965 (+ 600 Skiritai) 45% (2. to 3a.)
3b. Pylos Adjusted for Perioeci 7704–7896 (20–49) 7104–7296 (20–49) 2755 4349–4541 (+ 600 Skiritai) 45% (2. to 3b.)
4a. Mantineia (418) 7744 (20–54) 6144 (20–54) 2251 3239 (+ 600 Skiritai) 18% (3b. to 4a.)
4b. Mantineia Adjusted 7744 (20–54) 6144 (20–54) 2086–2141 3349–3404 (+ 600 Skiritai) 25% (3b. to 4b.)
5. Nemea River (394) 6600 (20–54) 5400 (20–54) < 1833 2991 (+ 600 Skiritai?) 12% (4b. to 5)
6. Leuktra (371) 4000–5000 3456 (20–54) 938 2150 (+600 Skiritai?) 51% (5. to 6.)
7. Post-Leuktra 4000–5000   876+   7%> (6. to 7.)

* This column estimates only the number of Perioecic hoplites.

TABLE 8.1 The decline of Spartan manpower

The number of Helots under Spartan control has long been a matter of scholarly interest. It was the essence of the Spartan social order that the Helots supported the class of full citizens or Spartiates, so that their numerical strength conditioned the size and prosperity of the civic body. Moreover, the measures taken to control the Helots strongly influenced Spartan life. The Spartans themselves negotiated terms for Attic assistance in the event of a Helot revolt in their alliance with Athens of 421 (Thuc. 5.23.3), and these terms may recapitulate provisions in place as early as the Hellenic League of 481 (Figueira 1993:107, 294). Thucydides said that the design of Spartan institutions was predicated on security vis-à-vis the Helots, and outlined a Spartan atrocity to underline his point (4.80.2–4). Plato in the referred, perhaps inaccurately, to Spartan anxieties over Helot unrest circumscribing their response at a critical moment, specifically the Persian incursion of 490 (698E; note Dusanic 1997). Aristotle {195|196} vividly described the Helots as lying in ambush for the Spartans (Pol. 1269a37–b5). And Critias discussed a series of precautions taken by the Spartiates in daily life because of perceptions of danger from the Helots (fT. 37 DK [Lib. Or. 25.63]).

Unfortunately, our two categories of ancient demographic evidence are bound to serve us poorly in gauging the population of Spartan Helots. As a dependent group, the Helots were unlikely to generate the conventional type of literary reference. Nonetheless, several passages have been customarily cited for our question of Helot numbers. First, Thucydides observes that the people of the island of Chios had the most slaves except for the Spartans (Thuc. 8.40.2; cf. Theopompus FGrHist 115 F122a–b; Athen. 6.88–89, 265B–266F). That surely implies that the Spartan Helot population exceeded slave numbers not only at late fifth-century Athens, but also at other maritime centers such as Corinth, Aigina, and Samos. [7] Hence, Thucydides could intuitively place Helot numbers in a sequence of populations, the amounts of which can unfortunately no longer be determined. Second, Herodotus gives a number that might (marginally) count in either of our categories. Each Spartiate serving as a heavy infantryman mobilized for the campaign that led to the battle of Plataia was accompanied by seven Helots (9.28.2). That amounted to 35,000 Helots with 5,000 Spartiate hoplites. Third, in his discussion of the Spartan manpower crisis, Aristotle remarks that Spartan territory could support 1,500 cavalry and 30,000 infantry (Pol. 1270a29–31). That observation {196|197} naturally reflects on the carrying capacity of whatever segment of Spartan territory Aristotle was considering. Suffice it to emphasize again that even such valuable comments as these stand removed by several interpretative stages from actual estimates of a population for the inhabitants of Lakônikê and, specifically, for the Helots.

In the earliest scholarship, informed speculation mainly prevailed concerning the number of the Helots. This quality has persisted in more recent, cursory considerations. I say this not to belittle—since thoughtful and learned historians have been at work—but chiefly to rein in expectations. I list some earlier estimates in Table 8.2. Their wide range is noteworthy. [8] An investigative approach, emerging somewhat later, bypassed the absence of ancient evidence by focusing on the agrarian assets of the Spartans available to support the Helots and on modern economic and demographic parallels. This methodology was pioneered by Karl Julius Beloch in his groundbreaking monograph of 1886 (note Gallo 1990). After {197|198} refinement, this line of analysis could exploit data from modern Greek censuses, surveys on land usage, and research on the Greek and Mediterranean agrarian economy (see Gallo 1984:7–22).

Authority Estimate Relevant date Spartiates:Helots
Manso 1800:127–140 312,000–800,000 479 >1:14
Müller 1839(2):44–45 224,000 479 1:7
Beloch 1886:146–148* 175,000 c. 400  
Guiraud 1893:412 220,000   1:7
Grundy 1908:81 375,000 c. 480 1:15
Cavaignac 1912:272–274 140,000 5th century 1:7
Kahrstedt 1919:291 180,000    
Jardé 1925:109–112 240,000–320,000 5th century 1:10
Busolt-Swoboda     1:20
GSK 1926:641–642      
Coleman-Norton 1941:63 250,000 c. 600 1:10
Ehrenberg 1960:31 140,000–200,000 371 1:16–29
Cartledge 1987:174 175,000–200,000    
Talbert 1989:23 170,000–224,000    

* Beloch offers alternative minimum figures both of 100,000 based on Helot numbers exceeding Chian, Athenian, and Corinthian slave totals and of 60,000 based on an emended deployment of the Spartiates at Plateia and Herodotus’ ratio of 7 helots to 1 Spartiate.

TABLE 8.2 Estimates of Helot numbers

Moreover, unusually, in the case of Sparta, this methodology could be enriched by a quantitative appreciation of the actual processes of the Laconian economy, because the sort of speculative investigation of alimentation common for other poleis could in the case of Sparta be supplemented by data on the movement of products. Spartan subsistence was dominated by fixed or stereotypical transfers of output. The nature and scale of these movements of goods can be read backward to illuminate their implications for the nature of the underlying classes that sustained or were sustained by them. Moreover, our purpose in positing values for variables such as grain production per hectare and food consumption per capita is not predominantly to offer suppositions about lost data, although we may strive for the most accurate quantitative estimates. Rather we utilize the best hypotheses for the economic data to enable well designed “thought experiments” that test theories about the nature of the relevant social processes (such as a klêros system involving either sharecropping or fixed rents).

Some recent treatments

My earlier synthesis and reconsiderations

In my article in 1984, I took my departure from the rents in kind paid by the Helots to their Spartiate masters (Plut. Lyc. 8.7; cf. Myron FGrHist 106 F 2). These included 82 of barley each year, which I estimated to equal c. 2,493 kilograms (kg) of barley by weight, to which I added a sixth to account for grain to be reserved for seed for the next harvest. That gave me an amount of 2,992 kg of barley for the annual rent and associated seed grain from each klêros or allotment. These figures for the weight of barley per medimnos and for the weight relationship of barley to wheat have been largely confirmed by the recently published Attic grain law of 374/73 (Figueira 1984:92–94 [esp. n. 14]; cf. SEG 36.146.21–25; Stroud 1998:54–55). For the productivity of klêros-land in barley, I adopted a range of yield of 750 kg to 900 kg for a hectare (ha = 10,000 square meters), having based myself on ancient and modern analogies (Figueira 1984:99–100). Thus I reasoned that the rent-producing land of each klêros was c. 3.3–4.0 ha, which I doubled to allow for alternate year fallowing. To my resultant units of 6.6–8.0 ha (for producing the klêros rents in grain), I next added 0.6 hectares for grape production to allow for payment of the monthly mess dues in wine of each klêros-holder (Plut. Lyc. 12.3; Dicaearchus fr. 72 Wehrli). So my rent-producing klêros land was c. 7.2–8.6 hectares.

One Spartan tradition going back to Tyrtaeus puts the rents of the Helots at 50% of their production (fr. 6 W; Paus. 4.14.4–5; Ael. VH 6.1). Such an even split of output or assets between an invader and his victim is a feature of Dark Age raiding (Il. 18.509–512; 22.114–121). Furthermore, a 50% maximum rent is common in share-cropping arrangements (Figueira 1984:103–104; Hodkinson 1992). Naturally, the question arises about the currency of this rule during the classical period, when fixed rents were in place (according to the Peripatetic authors of constitutional treatises on Sparta). Some have chosen to take the fixed rent and the levy of 50% as alternative traditions or as separate arrangements that were perhaps employed successively (see, most recently, Hodkinson 2000:125–131). In that case, {199|200} however, it would be passing strange if the simpler 50% rule superseded the more specific amounts.

There are a number of further considerations that support this reconstruction. First of all, the combination of the two stipulations was practically helpful whenever land had to be assigned to a klêros-holder or a klêros had to be reconfigured. The klêros could not in fact comprise a fixed amount of land—let alone, a discrete, unified block—for that would require periodic wider redistribution to accommodate the creation of any new allotments. [13] Instead, it was merely any set of nearby parcels for which 50% of the likely output met the criteria for rent payment, such as 82 medimnoi of barley. [14] Second, a fixed rent was administratively easier, because the klêros-holder need not concern himself with concealment of production in normal years (unlike someone supervising a sharecropping arrangement). Furthermore, since the stipulations added two ceilings to the income from the klêros for its holder, both a fixed amount and 50% of the crop, the incentives for a Spartiate to manage his klêros in the conventional manner of Greek landholders were greatly lessened. That inhibition promoted the Spartiate’s concentration on {200|201} political and military communal activities (cf. Plut. Ages. 26.6–9; Mor. 213F–214). [15] Spartiates were non-khrêmatistic and non-oikonomic klêros-holders in their own terms and non-opportunistic or non-optimizing property holders in ours. Third, high fixed rents and relative stability of the configuration of a klêros offered strong incentives to the Helots to meet or exceed the expected output, because they appropriated that addition, while protecting themselves against their masters’ displeasure (itself a punitive incentive). Finally, we shall discover below that a system of simple 50/50 sharecropping is hard to reconcile with the actual resource base of Lakônikê.

Consequently, if 50% is a default rent for the klêros, my calculation of the rent-producing part of the allotment had to be doubled to produce an estimate for a minimum size of the klêros that is consistent with any amount of rent in kind. Total minimum size of each klêros would be 14.4–17.2 ha. Unsurprisingly, the klêroi were larger than the size of ordinary Greek family farms (3.6–5.4 ha), even those supporting the families of hoplites (Burford Cooper 1977–78:168–172; Gallant 1991:82–87; Jameson 1992:137; Isager and Skydsgaard 1992:77–80).

There are five aspects of this reconstruction that I might now reconsider. First, I am now more tempted by the possibility that the measures of volume in this Plutarch passage are Aiginetic measures and not Attic, comparable to the citation of the mess dues in the same work (Lyc. 12.3). I would still note that such a stipulation does make it difficult to accommodate the system on the ground, because each klêros would require significantly more land. That revision would entail reworking all my calculations to account for rents about 50% higher in barley. Secondly, I would shift the seed grain into the portion of the output from the klêros that was retained by the Helots. Thirdly, I would emphasize more forcefully that there were rents levied in olives or in olive oil from each allotment, and that mess dues, calculated in terms of oil, were contributed by each Spartiate. These amounts, however, happened not to have been transmitted by the Peripatetic authors of constitutional works on Sparta.

To sum up, the cumulative force of these reconsiderations (of which the first is the most significant) might be to displace upward the range of the size of the klêros toward 18 to 21 hectares.

At this point, I could have crudely estimated the number of Helots for any number of equal klêroi, so long as I observed the rule that the rents were fixed and could not exceed 50%, and that seed grain (at least a sixth) was subject to provision. The non-rent-producing land committed to grain would support about 8 people at bare total subsistence, which I take to be around 250 kg of wheat or its equivalent a year (Figueira 1984:91–92, 107). Therefore, 6,000 such allotments would support 48,000 persons, and 9,000, 72,000 people. Adopting Aiginetic measures in place of Attic measures brings the number of people supported for each klêros to around 12 and for 9,000 klêroi 108,000. We ought to bear in mind this range of magnitude when we later consider the number of Helots more intently.

In point of fact, in my article in 1984, I did not take this approach. In the first place, it was clear that the Spartiate population had fallen from its high point by the period (450–370) for which I was investigating the operation of the messes (see pp. 224–7 below). That meant not only an aggregation of property, but also the likelihood that the procedure for the transmission of that property was evolving and land unit sizes were differentiating. More important, however, was my intention to illustrate the way in which the highly articulated material transfers in the Spartan social order tended to intertwine the economic and demographic destinies of citizen and dependent to an unusual degree.

Nevertheless, in 1984, I was compelled to focus on the allotments in Messenia and their Helot inhabitants. The Laconia Survey (Cavanagh et al. 1996, 2002) and the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) lay well in the future (Davis et al. 1997; Zangger et al. 1997; Davis 1998; Alcock 2002). Yet the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (MME) provided some valuable material on ecology and settlement patterns (McDonald and Rapp 1972; Rapp and Aschenbrenner 1978). Accordingly, I joined my estimates for the output and size of klêroi with the figure of 6,000 that I took to be not only a traditional number for a sub-unit of the klêroi, but one that also roughly fit the relative areas available for allotment in Messenia and Laconia (1984:101–102). The total area of Messenia was 2,872 square kilometers (km2), of which 1,276 km2 was cultivated in 1960 (or 44%, well above the average for Greece). My figures for labor inputs for cereal farming were taken from modern Greek surveys, where the effects of modern mechanization could be discounted (cf. Gallant 1991:75–76). {203|204}

To be factored into our judgment is the tradition that the mid-eighth-century Spartan king Teleklos founded three towns, Ekheiai, Poiaessa, and Tragion, from the temple of Athena Nedousia (Strab. 8.4.4). These could be mythological names for some of the archaeologically or textually attested and possibly Perioecic sites in this area. Yet the tradition could also represent a later archaic “charter” myth, in which Messenian rebellion, hostility, or sacrileges against Athena Nedousia were intended to justify the creation of klêroi here. Hence it cannot be ruled out that southeastern Messenia provided some additional land for klêroi.

When this analysis, however, is combined with my closer review of modern Greek communities in the appendix, only slight changes to our view of the classification of {206|207} Messenian land results. Non-klêros-land appears to have constituted at least 28% of Messenia (with 33% standing as an upper limit).

Let me note first the discussion of J. Ducat (1990:61–62). He compares the daily siege rations for the Spartans on Sphakteria of 2 khoinikes of alphita and 2 kotylai of wine that were agreed upon with the Athenians in 425 (Thuc. 4.16.1), and objects that the mess ration of alphita only exceeds the siege ration by 20%. I had been less impressed with this disparity in discussing the same comparison (1984:88), but it is important here to make my position more explicit.

First, the regime for food provision at Pylos was to provide the total intake of food, while only a single, albeit the main, meal of the day was consumed in the mess. Second, the meal in the mess was supplemented by cheese, figs, opsônion, meat from hunting, olives and olive oil, and other edible contributions, while the siege ration included only a portion of meat (probably small, as the amount is unspecified by Thucydides). Third, Ducat did not offer an explanation for the mess dues in wine, which are quite remarkably 220–240% of the Pylos siege ration in wine. As noted above, wine was a particularly convenient means for conveying or redistributing value in a barter economy, centering on natural goods (see Figueira 2002). {207|208}

Fourth, I emphasized the extraordinary total value of the mess dues, when expressed in terms of wheat, equaling at least c. 1280 kg, that is, enough economic output to support 5 people at bare subsistence. Furthermore, a mess of 15 Spartiates contributed annually an immense store of foodstuffs, equivalent in economic value to at least 20 metric tons of wheat. Truly it mattered not to a Helot whether he carried away a kotylê of alphita or the wine, figs, cheese, olives, vegetables, and meat from the mess contributions that could be traded for barley and wheat (cf. 1984:91–96). Finally, the mess dues were indeed not the only source for grain and other products for redistribution. After each Spartiate had tendered his mess dues, he still possessed 44 medimnoi of barley from each intact klêros, not to mention other agricultural output that cannot now be quantified (Figueira 1984:98–99). Any portions of this rent not consumed in a Spartiate oikos constituted a large supply from which to pay wages and offer emoluments in kind during recirculation to the Helots.

Even were we, however, to accept the validity of Ducat’s comparison of unlike alimentary regimes and downplay the assets for redistribution other than mess contributions in grain, it would still not entirely vitiate my earlier hypothesis of recirculation. Even on Ducat’s reckoning, 0.25 medimnos individually or 3.75 medimnoi for a whole mess of 15 Spartiates would be available monthly from surplus grain, enough to support 6 additional Helots at their Pylos rations, and (in Ducat’s view) a maximum of 2,000 Helots in all. That last estimate is erroneous even on its own terms. The actual adult Spartan manpower of 8,000 c. 480 is roughly compatible with the traditional and conventional number of klêroi of 9,000 (Hdt. 7.234.2; Figueira 1986:167–170). Eight thousand mess members gives us 3,200 more Helots supportable under Ducat’s conditions, a number that comprises a substantial increment of additional adult males to the entire servile population and to the dependent labor force.

Comments of M. H. Jameson

In a paper delivered in 1990 and published in 1992, Michael Jameson drew attention to several features of the rural economy of Sparta that have a bearing on the issue of Helot numbers.

1. He compared the output of the klêros to the 200 medimnoi production of the zeugite census class at Athens, the class from which the bulk of the Athenian phalanx was raised (Jameson 1992:137). This comparison, however, would perhaps be better made with the next census class, that of the Attic hippeis, whose estates produced 300 measures of wet and dry agricultural product annually. If the Helots’ rent was in Aiginetic measures and constituted 50% of production, the normative klêros produced at least 246 dry measures and 12 wet measures of wine (specifically for paying the mess dues). That gives a total of 258 measures, without considering all the production of olive oil, whatever wine production was not paid over in dues, and other products tendered in rent. Certainly, this analogy reminds us that one of the outstanding features of the “Lycurgan” order was its blending of aristocratic warfare patterns with a hoplite polity. The more elite quality of Spartan full citizenship demanded a notably broader base in agrarian and human assets than comparable institutional orders elsewhere. {210|211}

2. Jameson also revisited the issue of the land available for Spartan klêroi, focusing on the Eurotas valley and the Helos plain in Laconia. He concluded that no more than 21,000 hectares were available, which allowed for 2,000 10.8 hectare klêroi, his lower limit (cf. Wagstaff 1982:48–64). Above, we have found that lower limit unrealistically low. At his upper limit for klêros size, which was 18 hectares, Jameson notes that only 1,200 klêroi could be accommodated in Laconia. Jameson graciously sent me a draft of a part of his research some years before this paper’s delivery, so that I commented on some of his calculations in 1984 (n. 48, p. 102). At that time, I estimated that his appraisal of the arable land in the Eurotas valley and Helos plains would support 1,221 to 1,456 klêroi. Jameson also criticized Paul Cartledge for offering figures between 50,000 and 75,000 hectares for the land available for klêroi in Laconia (Cartledge 1987:174–174). Although Jameson was not offering exhaustive discussion here, my fairness to both parties compels me to observe that Jameson is actually criticizing a long tradition of discussion on the topic, one that included such prominent representatives as Jarde (1925:112–113), Kahrstedt (1919:280–281), and Bolte (1929:1339–1340; cf. Figueira 1984:102; Hodkinson 2000:132, table 1). With Cartledge, I believe that there were probably more than 1,500 klêroi in Laconia at the height of Spartan population between 480 and 465. Mobilization figures seem to support this conjecture.

Moreover, Laconian klêroi had probably undergone some evolution in their composition. It may be that subdivision, along with the creation of new klêroi, had occurred as Spartiate and Helot numbers had increased over the sixth century. More marginal farming land may have been incorporated into existing klêroi, with teams of Helot families conducting their operations in several proximate locales. In fact, it may make sense to envisage the Helots themselves as the motor of these changes, attempting to increase their production so that more was left after their payment of the fixed rents. Concealment of production doubtless played some role in this {211|212} process. If we suppose that the 50% calculation was not constraining in non-exigent periods, and that klêroi were only examined at intervals for their output (as I have hypothesized above), the resultant periods of stable occupation were probably long enough to justify more intensive cultivation practices. The Spartans could be seen as periodically identifying and appropriating the advances of longer duration made by Helot farmers.

3. Jameson recognized that Aristotle’s observation about the carrying capacity of Spartan territory is problematical for his understanding of the limitations of the arable land available within Laconia (117,536 ha in modern Lakonia and Kynouria {212|213} in 1961). He countered by applying Aristotle’s estimate of 1,500 cavalry and 30,000 heavy infantry to Lakônikê prior to 371, when the Spartans held all Messenia as well (Jameson 1992:137–138n14).

While not an impossible inference, since Aristotle does refer implicitly to the battle of Leuktra in this passage, this conjecture does seem a little incongruous when the refounding of Messene would have preceded the earliest forerunner of the Politics by a considerable lapse of time. At the time of the Persian wars, Sparta had at least 16,000 Spartiate and Perioecic hoplites (18 or older). Adult male Perioeci of non-hoplite rank may have numbered as many as 30,000, a good number of whom would have been hoplites in almost any other city-state than Sparta. After all, a figure of 30,000 Perioecic allotments is found in the “constitutional” tradition (Plut. Lyc. 8.3; cf. Agis 8.1; note Lotze 1993/94). Messenia alone could perhaps support, solely from agriculture, 60,000 male and female Perioeci at bare subsistence (Figueira 1986:182–183). Thus it hardly makes for a striking point if Aristotle observed that all of Lakônikê, as constituted before Leuktra, could have produced 30,000 men of hoplitic rank under a different, more egalitarian social order and with a conventional Greek economy (cf. Polyb. 2.38.3).

Comments of Stephen Hodkinson

Finally, let us consider Stephen Hodkinson’s recent contributions, which build on his piece published in 1992. I call attention to several of his conclusions that are particularly relevant to the subject of Helot numbers.

2. Let us turn to his estimate of Helot numbers (2000:385–395). Hodkinson begins his estimate of the population of the Helots from the 35,000 Helots taken on the Plataia campaign, which he reduces by 5,000 for the Helot batmen regularly accompanying their masters on campaign, so leaving 30,000 Helot farmers. That distinction looks artificial to me, and I would probably collapse this category into his reduction that is made to account for young males. For him, that implies 45,000 adult male Helot farmers between 20 and 60, by applying the two-thirds levy to the Plataian mobilization, and 52,000 of all ages. With 20% unmarried males, the remaining 41,600 Helot family units give a total Helot population of 187,000 by applying a multiplier of 4.5. He believes that this reconstruction is consistent with a Helot land holding of 3.25 ha for each family. Thus, these Helot land holdings must occupy 135,200 ha, or virtually all the arable land available for klêroi in Lakônikê (in Hodkinson’s view). Alternatively, Hodkinson offers the 7 to 1 ratio of the Plataia campaign as the Spartan perception of Helot numbers vis-à-vis themselves. Hence 8,000 Spartiates give ca. 56,000, and, subtracting batmen and youths, a sum of 36,000 Helot families and 162,000 Helots. This yields an average farm of 3.75 ha. {214|215}

This reconstruction is useful in my view because it illuminates the upper limits of a feasible Helot population. Its 3.25 ha average holdings would produce in barley between 1056 and 1463 kg, if we apply respectively a low output of 0.65 metric ton (mt) and a high output of 0.9 mt per ha and crop in alternate years. A 50/50 sharecropping arrangement will leave the Helots between 528 and 732 kg of barley each year. These incomes in barley are equivalent to between 323 and 476 kg of wheat. These outputs will not have supported Helot families, even if we adopt high incomes from non-agricultural sources. A population of 187,000 needs at least 46,750 mt of wheat equivalent to survive, or the output of a little below 100,000 ha of barley (at 0.75 mt per ha; 79,915 ha at 0.9 mt per ha); 200,000, with alternate-year fallow; 400,000 with 50/50 sharecropping. I shall not repeat my calculations to discuss Stephen Hodkinson’s lower alternative (36,000 Helot families), but note that it differs from his higher estimate by a reduction of 13% in any of our calculations. This reconstruction demands either much more fertile land than Lakônikê could offer or a very high and unrealistic output from sources other than annual crops.

This Helot population seems too high in absolute terms for the agricultural base of Lakônikê, but that is not the only difficulty with this interpretation. A large contributing factor to its unfeasibility lies in the conjecture of 50/50 sharecropping without recirculation of food. That arrangement draws off far more output from the Helots than does the hypothesis of a system of fixed rents and an exigent exaction of 50% of production. That is because the achievement of higher levels of productivity for individual units of grain-producing land does not yield benefits in the short or middle term to the Helot farmers. Moreover, the hypothesis of fixed-rent klêroi suggests a much more workable system when the number of Spartiates had fallen below the level of 8,000 or 9,000 (the scenario imposed by conventional reconstructions of Spartiate demography). On the assumption that each klêros-fragment was to pay its set share of the fixed rent, handed down from an earlier intact klêros, the demographic decline of the Spartiates removed the pressure of marking off new klêroi so that any increases in production were retained by the Helots for their own subsistence. In contrast, 50/50 sharecropping is immune to such amelioration, as it does not correlate with changes in Spartiate numbers.

Simple sharecropping on a 50/50 basis shares the drawbacks of all reconstructions that do not incorporate a cycling of foodstuffs back to the Helots, whether through the messes or by individual Spartiate dispensation. The Spartiate class was never large enough to consume all the food that would have been extracted from the klêroi through 50/50 sharecropping. Unless redistribution is posited, the entire surplus of rent left over after Spartiate consumption must be imagined to have exited a closed klêros system either to other groups within Lakônikê (e.g. the Perioeci) or to consumers outside Lakônikê. While there is no impediment to visualizing such flows {215|216} in principle, their scale—on the basis of estimates offered below for recirculation— would be surprising prima facie and because of the silence of our sources. In the absence of recirculation too few Helots are left behind to satisfy traditional estimates of their numbers and, more significantly, to account for the 35,000 males mentioned by Herodotus. Admitting the necessity for redistribution not only changes the reasoning by which the population of Helots is estimated, but it calls into doubt the supposition of a 50/50 sharecropping system. Recirculation mediated by individual Spartiates is in practice variable rate sharecropping.


After this welter of figures and estimates, one may well ask what firm basis is left for estimating the number of Spartan Helots. Our answer is that the work of the last several decades has marked out considerable common ground. Five important premises are these.

2. The amount of arable land available for klêroi probably lay between 115,000 and 145,000 hectares, a range that is once again much lower than that prevailing in an important portion of the earlier scholarship (see the appendix for discussion of the agricultural land of Messenia).

3. Further investigation of our topic seems to generate new constraints for the Spartan agrarian system to operate within, such as limitations on available land or lower cereal yields. While it is possible to mitigate the impact of such parameters in our modeling of the problem (as the arguments above suggest), there has been no breakthrough in recent scholarship in the opposite direction, that is, on behalf of hypothesizing significant new sources for output for Spartan agriculture. One might concede that some latitude to our calculations is provided by hypothesizing Helots working on non-klêros land, but that is not only conjectural but also relatively modest in its impact. Therefore, any emerging impression envisages Spartan landholding as characterized by both a fragile equilibrium and a prodigality in its use of resources. {216|217}

4. High multiples of Helots to Spartiates seem increasingly improbable. While earlier scholars were comfortable with ratios of 10 to 1 or higher, the proportion of 7 to 1 implied by the mobilization for Plataia now seems a high upper limit. There remain, however, significant differences about the aggregates to which any such ratio may be applied.

5. Consequently, the very high numbers sometimes offered for the Spartan Helots that once appeared everywhere in accounts of Sparta appear more and more unlikely.

A new synthesis

If we raise the total food consumption of these persons to 310 kg of wheat equivalent per year (to align with the common daily ration of one khoinix of wheat), we shall have to posit 462 kg of wheat equivalent as redistributed from the rent (or 16% of the rent in grain). Further, we might assign the Helots a total annual consumption of all goods of 360 kg of wheat equivalent in order to bring our Helots in line with nineteenth- and twentieth-century subsistence agriculturalists. We could do that by positing an additional 50 kg per capita of non-cereal production. That would give the Helots only a tiny output on the klêros outside of production of grain and grapes of 7%. {217|218}

Nonetheless, 9000 klêroi of 17.4 hectares would need 156,600 hectares, an amount that seems too large an area of cultivated territory compared to the best estimates. To bring down the amount of land required, we may well be forced to admit that income in kind flowed to the Helots from non-klêros land, as has been hypothesized above. That device might help to reduce the total needed below the hectares that appear a reasonable upper-limit for the klêros-land of Lakônikê. Alternatively, we could surmise some mixture of higher yields, higher work incentives outside the klêroi, and higher non-agricultural income to generate smaller average klêroi, enough to offset the 11,000 or more hectares that cannot be found on the ground.

To continue, let us posit exempli gratia that our 35,000 Helots were the males between 15 and 65 years of age, minus 10% or 3,500 left behind to maintain the klêroi, who were in turn assisted by boys, very old men, and women. The entire Helot population might then number 118,000, using a model life table (Coale and Demeny 1966, stable population, mortality level 4). Thus, our range for the Helot population in Lakônikê c. 480–479, when the Spartans were themselves close to their apogee in numbers, is 75,000 to 118,000, perhaps 3–5 times the number of the Spartiates.

Helot population in perspective

Therefore the status of Messenia and its population was at all times critically important for the status of Helotage. Some features of Messenian ecology were constants throughout the Spartan hegemony. First, Messenia was comparatively fertile. Second, the high density of Bronze Age settlement transformed the environment so dramatically that the very topography of later Messenia probably offered a ready-made template for human exploitation (even absent the possible reception of oral traditions about land resource utilization). In this light, the legacy of the massive cultivation of olive trees by the Mycenaeans is particularly relevant (McDonald and Coulson 1983:424–425; Zangger et al. 1997:592–593). Thirdly, Iron Age Messenia was relatively secure from extra-regional intervention behind mountainous terrain in its sea-girt corner of the Peloponnesus, until the Athenians mastered and put to use large-scale amphibious, flotilla naval warfare in the fifth century.

The conquest period

The significantly greater task of subduing all Messenia could not, however, be consummated without the thorough implementation of a hoplite polity, a painful evolution also reflected in Tyrtaean poetry. This challenge brought to acute significance the issue of division of spoils. I would hypothesize that the distribution of shares in a colony became a model for the creation of the system of klêroi and syssitia involving the entire citizen body. That reorganization affected conquered, Helot-tilled land, but left the core of civic property in Laconia with its hierarchy of holdings intact. Under prevailing administrative and military conditions, incremental expansion was possible with or without reduction to servile status of the conquered. So extensive an incorporation, however, as all Messenia with all its population in situ, however, was probably infeasible, so that its pacification in the second half of the seventh century involved another depopulation. Once again, the relict population, whether it became Perioecic or was Helotized, was a partial beneficiary along with the Spartiates of any reduction in regional inhabitants. Non-compliant Messenians had an escape route in colonial Greece, where settlers were needed, a phenomenon clearly attested at Rhegion and much dramatized by the later Messeniaka (local histories written from the standpoint of liberated and [re]founded Messene). That alternative may have simplified Spartan policy, as it provided a viable alternative to death or subjugation for some Messenians. {222|223}

The consolidation period

The scale of the Spartan conquest decoupled a usage of hoplite tactics from the pressure for political inclusivity that was the rule elsewhere. Yet the system of klêroi, rents, and messes labored under massive disabilities in the form of disincentives to productivity and a lack of coordination between asset holding and managerial behavior. Its heyday was the later archaic period. At first, a low population put little pressure on agricultural resources. Isocrates reports a tradition that the Spartans originally numbered 2,000 when they occupied Laconia (12.255). Such a tradition cannot derive from a mythic Dorian invasion, but might rather transmit an archaic Spartan contention that an appropriate social dispensation, one true to mythological precedent, ought to include a civic body of this size.

If the early archaic Spartiates (prior to 600) did indeed at some point number 2,000, that tradition would help substantiate the conjecture, reasonable in its own terms, that Spartiate and Helot numbers grew in conjunction during the sixth century (contrast Figueira 1986:181–182). Any rigidities within procedures for assigning klêroi or tensions over their transmission were mitigated by availability of unoccupied land for distribution. The powerful inducement of allowing young Helot males to marry and to form households early promoted the formation of new klêroi and lowered restiveness among the dependent population. Internal colonization mixed the Helots, creating the single identity that is attested in the fifth century (Figueira 1999:223–225). During this period, the demographic morale of the Spartans is clear in their willingness to suffer casualties in the duel of champions with the Argives, to undertake a distant expedition to Naxos and Samos, and to send out colonists under Dorieus (see Figueira 1986:170–175).

The early fifth century

The later fifth and early fourth centuries

The Great Earthquake of 465 changed the socio-economic order of Lakônikê dramatically, because it lowered the number of Spartiates significantly (Table 8.1). [57] It struck Sparta and Laconia more directly than Messenia, so that the proportionate reduction in the number of Spartiates was probably much greater than any immediate fall in numbers of the Helots. Secondarily, the earthquake led to a great Helot revolt that killed many Spartiates and subtracted from the Helot workforce. The difficult in subduing the Helot rebels short of reaching terms for their withdrawal indicates that thousands of Helot fighters remained under arms to the end. The emigration of these and their dependents marked still another of the depopulations that characterized the history of Messenia during the Spartan hegemony. In principle, fewer Spartiates meant more numerous and more affluent Helots. Not only was the pool of resources for recirculation increased, but the marginal costs of policing Helot adherence to the norms of dependency (including scrupulous rent payment) were also heightened, so that concealment of production became more viable. The earthquake and revolt also meant more economic differentiation among the Spartiates. The ensuing period appears to have opened an era of more intense social competition among non-aristocratic Spartiates. [58] It was also a period when the Messenian civic identity was constructed, both within and without Messenia, although a substratum of earlier rural populism doubtless underlay the later ideological structures. [59] {224|225}

Therefore, regarding the Helots as a demographic resource for warfare was counterbalanced by the fear of the Helots, so eloquently discussed by Thucydides. In the aftermath of the Athenian and Messenian raids from Pylos, he comments upon Spartan counteractions with these remarks (4.80.2–4):

καὶ ἅμα τῶν εἱλώτων βουλομένοις ἦν ἐπὶ προφάσει ἐκπέμψαι, μή τι πρὸς τὰ παρόντα τῆς Πύλου έχομένης νεωτερίσωσιν· ἐπεὶ καὶ τόδε ἔπραξαν φοβούμενοι αὐτῶν τὴν νεότητα καὶ τὸ πλῆθος—αἰεὶ γὰρ τὰ πολλὰ Λακεδαιμονίοις πρὸς τοὺς εἵλωτας τῆς φυλακῆς πέρι μάλιστα καθειστήκει· προεῖπον αὐτῶν ὅσοι ἀξιοῦσιν ἐν τοῖς πολέμοις γεγενήσθαι σφίσιν ἄριστοι, κρίνεσθαι, ὡς ἐλευθερώσοντες, πεῖραν ποιούμενοι καὶ ἡγούμενοι τούτους σφίσιν ὑπὸ φρονήματος, οἵπερ καὶ ἠξίωσαν πρῶτος ἕκαστος ἐλευθεροῦσθαι, μάλιστα ἂν καὶ ἐπιθέσθαι. καὶ προκρίναντες ἐς δισχιλίους, οἱ μὲν ἐστεφανώσαντό τε καὶ τὰ ἱερὰ περιῆλθον ὡς ἠλευθερωμένοι, οἱ δὲ οὐ πολλῷ ὕστερον ἠφάνισάν τε αὐτοὺς καὶ οὐδεὶς ᾔσθετο ὅτῳ τρόπῳ ἕκαστος διεφθάρη.

Moreover, to believe Thucydides, the here-mentioned liberated Helot benefactors, who had been singled out for honors for their earlier services, had been subjected to an effective covert attrition at the hands of the Spartiates. In the context of this period of trial after the disaster at Pylos, however, Sparta’s need for its Brasideioi, freed Helots enlisted to accompany Brasidas to Thrace, and later the Neodamodeis was too acute to permit any systematic mistreatment, however secret. Nonetheless, the Spartans did exhibit a willingness to keep soldiers of Helot extraction occupied on distant campaigns (in accordance with the sentiments attributed to them here) and, at least initially, were uncertain where they, with their families, were to be accommodated.

Not only was the proportionately larger Helot population of the period 455–371 paradoxically both an asset and a liability simultaneously, it was also both superfluous and insufficient at the same time. We have just noted the ability of the Spartan government in these years to redress the imbalance between free and servile Laconians by freeing and elevating favored Helots to the status of Perioeci. Yet, it is also clear that there was a significant reduction in the number of homoioi in the 420s and 410s, owing not only to losses on campaign, but also to their incapacity to tender their mess dues. While some of this shortfall in income from the klêroi is to be attributed to direct damage from raids, whether by Attic flotillas or from forays mounted from Pylos and Cape Malea, the flight of Helot workers was a more decisive factor. That is why at several junctures Thucydides emphasizes Helot flight in his descriptions of the Spartan predicament after the debacle on Sphakteria (4.41.3; 5.14.3, 35.7; cf. 4.56.1–2; 56.2–3).

Just as the earthquake triggered intensified social competition among Spartiates, the vicissitudes of the war seem to have created a competition over Helot labor, in which Spartiates lost workers to flight and conscription differentially. The winners moved upward socially; the losers became hypomeiones, ‘Inferiors’. Let me note one scenario to aid in accounting for this phenomenon. We have supposed that some Messenian klêroi had been gradually established in the sixth century through internal colonization. These new klêroi benefited persons with less access {226|227} to other assets like private property, such as younger sons. These lineages were the least able to endure economic vicissitudes in the late fifth century, when Messenia was more vulnerable to Attic attack and Helot flight (Figueira 1986:203)

The result for Lakônikê of the Spartan demographic crisis of the late fifth and early fourth centuries was still another depopulation. Xenophon describes Lakônikê in general as typified by erêmia ‘depopulation’ (Hell. 6.5.23, 25). Messenia had a low population even after the refoundation of Messene as a polis and the repatriation of thousands who claimed Messenian extraction. At the summons of Epameinondas, these claimants had gathered from Italy, Sicily, and Libya (Paus. 4.26.3, cf. 27.2; Plut. Ages. 34.1, Pelop. 24.9; cf. Dipersia 1974). The Sicilian contingent clearly drew on the refugee community at Tyndaris that included many naturalized “Messenians” (Diod. 14.78.5). Volunteer settlers were also enlisted to constitute πολλοὺς … οἰκήτορας ‘many … settlers’ (Diod. 15.66.1). The impressive fortifications of refounded Messene surrounded ample open spaces, intended to be built upon in a comprehensive urban program (cf. Themelis 1993:36–37, 1994; Morizot 1994), and also protected agricultural land (Alcock 1998:180–182). Furthermore, the palynological evidence is instructive. Cultivation of olive trees in the area of Pylos only reached its post-Helladic apogee after Messene had been refounded (Zangger et al. 1997:594; Yazvenko 1998). The new community was militarily weak, dependent on Arcadian and Boiotian aid against even an enfeebled Sparta. In conjunction, these circumstances indicate that there were no longer all that many Helots living in pre-liberation Messenia (see also Luraghi, this volume, pp. 121–4). The demographic state of the region mirrored the fate of the Spartiate class, although the Perioeci and Helots in Messenia experienced a less dramatic decline.


Using the material collected in MME 1, NSS 1978, and various other topographical aids, I attempted to assign all the communities of the modern Nomos of Messenia to the categories of klêros-land and non-klêros-land. The vast majority of the latter category is composed of the territory of Perioecic communities, although some territory in the valley of the Neda or lying to its north or northeast probably lay completely outside Lakônikê. Such a classification labors under that customary disability of investigation of the ancient rural economy. Even though we possess extensive survey work on Messenia, attested or hypothetical ancient sites fall far short of demonstrating a cultivation of the territory of many modern communes. I shall not claim that this classification represents the final word on the subject, hoping that scholars with active field experience with Messenian topography will offer corrections. The census of 1971 states the extent of all the enumerated agricultural holdings in Messenia to have been c. 119,977 ha. It is hardly surprising, granted the movement from agricultural labor to other modes of production, that this total is reduced from 1951. My interest was less with the total of arable land in 1971, but in assigning it to, or withholding it from, the klêroi. This distribution is 72% klêros-land and 28% non-klêros-land. The strongest reservations in our analysis concerned communities in southeast Messenia (marked with an asterisk below) that were only doubtfully perioecic (cf. pp. 134–6 with ns. 21–6). This adjustment might add c. 2% to the amount of klêros-land.

Inasmuch as modern Messenia is characterized by a commercial agricultural economy that includes significant viticulture and olive cultivation, a determination of the extent of land producing annual crops is not likely to be indicative of ancient conditions (c. 31,634 ha). Because non-klêros-land is for the most part more elevated, less fertile, and more marginal, proportionately more of it is devoted to grain cultivation (for example) than vineyards and olive groves in contemporary Messenia. If one considers the proportions of the klêros-land and non-klêros-land as suggested by acreage of annual crops, the division becomes 67% and 33%. This 67% may represent a lower limit for the proportion of klêros-land in ancient Messenia. {228|229}

Eparchy of Kalamata:



Ágrilos, Aíthaia, Alagonía, Altomirá, Áno Ámfía, Ánthia, Arfará (25%), Artemisía, Avía*, Áyios Nikólaos, Áyios Níkon, Elaiochóri, Exochóri, Faraí, Kalamáta (50%), Káto Dholí*, Káto Vérga*, Kámbos*, Kardhamíli, Kariovoúni, Karvéli, Kastanéa, Kéndro, Ladhá, Lanádha, Mikrí Mandínia*, Nédhousa, Neochóri, Nomitsí, Pídhima, Pigádhia, Pírgos, Piyés, Plátsa, Polianí, Proástio, Prosílio, Rínglia, Saïdhóna, Sotiriánika*, Stamatinoú, Stavropiyí*, Thalámai, Trachíla, Tséria, Velanidhiá.


Áyios Flóros, Alónia, Ammos, Anemómilos, Andikálamos, Arfará (75%), Ariochóri, Áris, Aspróchoma, Aspropouliá, Kalamáta (50%), Léïka, Mikrománi, Miléa, Platí, Sperchóyia, Thouría, Vromóvrisi.

Eparchy of Messini:





Agriliá, Agrilóvouno, Amfithéa, Análipsi, Andhroúsa, Andhanía, Áno, Mélpia, Áno Voútena, Anthoúsa, Aristodhímion, Aristoménis, Arsinóï, Avramioú, Dhasochóri, Dhesíla, Dhiavolítsi, Dhiódhia, Dhraïna, Ellinoklisiá, Éva, Fília, Ichalía, Iléktra, Kalamará, Kalívia, Kalliróï, Kaloyerórachi, Karnásion, Karteróli, Káto Mélpia, Katsaroú, Kefalinoú, Kefalóvrisi, Kendrikó, Klíma, Konstandíni, Koromiléa, Koutífari, Lámbaina, Levkochóra, Likótrafo, Loutró, Mádhena, Magoúla, Málta, Mándhra, Mandzári, Mánesi, Manganiakó, Mavromáti (Ithómis), Mavromáti (Pamísou), Meligalá, Merópi, Messíni, Míla, Neochóri (Aristoménous), Neochóri (Ithómis), Paliókastro, Parapoúngi, Pilalístra, Piperítsa, Platanóvrisi, Políchni, Polílofos, Poulítsi, Soláki, Rematiá, Siámou, Skála, Spitáli, Steníklaros, Stréfi, Tríkorfo, Tríodhos, Tsoukaléïka, Valíra, Velíka, Zerbísia, Zevgolatió.

Eparchy of Pylia:



Adhrianí, Akritochóri, Charokopió, Chrisokelariá, Chomatádha, Evangelismós, Falánthi, Finikoús, Iámia, Kainoúryio Chorió, Kallithéa, Kapláni, Kómbi, Koróni, Lachanádha, Longá, Mesochóri, Methóni, Milítsa, Néa Koróni, Pídhasos, Vasilítsi, Vounária.


Adhrianí, Akritochóri, Charokopió, Chrisokelariá, Chomatádha, Evangelismós, Falánthi, Finikoús, Iámia, Kainoúryio Chorió, Kallithéa, Kapláni, Kómbi, Koróni, Lachanádha, Longá, Mesochóri, Methóni, Milítsa, Néa Koróni, Pídhasos, Vasilítsi, Vounária. {229|230}

Eparchy of Triphylia:


Agalianí, Ambelióna, Armeníï, Avlón, Áyios Sóstis, Elaía, Kakalétri, Kalítsena, Kaló Neró, Kariés, Koúvela, Kyparissia, Mírou, Mouriatádha, Nédha, Pétra, Platánia, Pródhromos, Ráches, Sidherókastro, Skliroú, Spiliá, Stásimo, Stasió, Vanádha, Vríses, Xirókambos.


Aëtós, Agriliá, Ambelófito, Amfithéa, Áno Dhórion, Áno Kopanáki, Artíki, Chalazóni, Chalkiá, Chóra, Chrisochóri, Christiánou, Dhórion, Dhrosopiyí, Exochikó, Farakládha, Filiatrá, Flesiás, Flóka, Gargaliáni, Glikorízi, Kaloyerési, Kamári, Kefalóvrisi, Kókla, Krionéri, Landzounátou, Levki, Likoudhési, Máli, Málthi, Marathópoli, Metaxádha, Monastíri, Mouzáki, Palió, Loutró, Perdhikonéri, Pírgos, Pláti, Polithéa, Psári, Raftópoulo, Rodhiá, Selá, Sírrizo, Sitochóri, Tripília, Válta, Vasilikó. {230|}


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[ back ] 1. Note Hansen 1988, but with the observations of Golden 1987.

[ back ] 2. For recent overviews on ancient population studies, see Golden 2000; Scheidel 2001.

[ back ] 3. Hansen 1986 (note Golden 1987), 1988, 1989, 1994; Rhodes 1980, 1981, 1984; Ruschenbusch 1979, 1981a, 1981b, 1982, 1983, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1988a, 1988c; Sekunda 1992.

[ back ] 4. Cf. Bradeen 1964, 1969, 1974:3–34. Note Figueira 1991:211–212.

[ back ] 5. Valzania 1996 does offer a type of contestation, accompanied by a limited citation of scholarship and an unusual selection of the ancient evidence in order to dismiss some attested figures. He specifically denies the sharp declines after the earthquake and between Mantineia and Leuktra, opting for a constant strength of 2,000 Spartiates! Cf. Valzania 1996:34, 45, 47.

[ back ] 6. Talbert 1989 is particularly wrong-headed, especially in its dismissal of Helot resistance during the Peloponnesian War (cf. Figueira 1986:196–198, 1999; Cartledge 1991 and this volume, pp. 21–3). Cf. also Roobaert 1977; Baltrusch 2001.

[ back ] 7. Note Jameson 1992:138–140. There is no reason to believe that Thucydides was referring to the density of slave population measured against the free population (cf. Finley 1959:151, 163; HCT 5.86–87). That interpretation is not only unsupported by the text, but would also be an unusual way for a fifth-century observer to view the issue. It does remain uncertain whether the Chians had more slaves than the Athenians when Attic slave numbers peaked during the Pentakontaeteia. By winter 412/11, however, Athenian slave numbers were reduced through impoverishment, defection, military action, and manumission (cf. Thuc. 7.27.5).

[ back ] 8. Oliva 1971:53n3 has a helpful conspectus of authorities.

[ back ] 9. Figueira (forthcoming) will speak to this complex of problems.

[ back ] 10. Earlier examples of this type of analysis are more useful on other features of the Laconian economy. Note Kahrstedt 1919; Lotze 1971; Buckler 1977.

[ back ] 11. See the commentary on Paus. 4.14.4–15 of van Wees (this volume, pp. 36–7) and Luraghi 2002a:235–236.

[ back ] 12. Moralia 239E (Instituta Laconica 41): οἱ δὲ εἵλωτες αὐτοῖς εἰργάξοντο τὴν γὴν ἀποφορὰν τὴν ἄνωθεν ἱσταμένην τελοῦντες. ἐπάρατον δ᾽ ἦν πλείονός τινα μισθῶσαι, ἵν᾽ ἐκεῖνοι μὲν κερδαίνοντες ἡδέως ὑπηρετῶσιν, αὐτοὶ δὲ μὴ πλέον ἐπιξητῶσιν. Note also here, however, the defensive and propagandistic tendency.

[ back ] 13. The incremental settlement of the area of the Laconia Survey which started after 600 (especially regarding the south-eastern sector) would be consistent with this practice. See Catling 2002:157–161, 224–225; cf. pp. 233–237.

[ back ] 14. As many kleroi experienced later fission and consolidation in the fifth and fourth centuries, these underlying assignments of various sub-rents to portions of the kleroi may have demarcated Helot responsibilities to klêros-holders. Cf. Hodkinson 2000:126.

[ back ] 15. Again Plut. Mor. 239D–E (Inst. Lac. 41) transmits a useful summary of the idea: ῝Εν δὲ τι τῶν καλῶν καὶ μακαρίων ἐδόκει παρεσκευακέναι τοῖς πολίταις ὁ Λυκοῦργος ἀφθονίαν σχολῆς· τέχνης μὲν γὰρ ἅψασθαι βαναύσου τὸ παράπαν οὐκ ἐξῆν· χρηματισμοῦ δὲ συναγωγὴν ἔχοντος ἐργώδη καὶ πραγματείας οὐδ᾽ ὁτιοῦν ἔδει διὰ τὸ κομιδῇ τὸν πλοῦτον ἄξηλον πεποιηκέναι καὶ ἄτιμον.

[ back ] 16. Appalachian farmers often arrogated the right to convert grain into more easily transported whiskey in defiance of the U.S. tax law, partly in order to overcome the challenges set by geography and a primitive transportation system. Concomitantly, the Spartans may have imposed high rents in wine on the Helots to simplify their problems of manipulating agricultural output.

[ back ] 17. Occasional years of high yield should not distort our estimates: there was not only considerable interannual variation because of climatic conditions, but also significant local variability from year to year (as G. Shipley reminds me per litt. [5/5/02]).

[ back ] 18. Note Gallant (1991:75–78) who observes: “… I suspect ancient yields might well have been higher” (p. 78).

[ back ] 19. Lakônikê: Strab. 8.5.6 C366. Messenia: Tyrtaeus fr. 5 W; Eur. fr. 1083 N; [Plato] Alcib. 122D; Paus. 4.4.3. See Roebuck 1945:150–151. Lakonia: Polyb. 5.19.7 (Helos plain). See Jameson 1992:137.

[ back ] 20. Although it was approached by a different methodology, I should note in comparison Roebuck’s estimate of 789 km2 available for all cereal cultivation in liberated Messenia and 875 km2 for total cultivated area (1945:156–157).

[ back ] 21. Of the 13 possible perioecic communities with which I dealt, Shipley 1997 classifies as contemporaneously-attested poleis: Aithaia (Shipley #18 = MME #136), Asine (19 = 512), Aulon (20 = 601), Thouria (21 = 137), and possibly Methone (36 = 412). Among Hellenistic/Roman poleis that are attested as archaic/classical settlements, he places Thalamai (33 = 150) and Kardamyle (34 = 147). Archaeological remains generally support their status as perioecic communities. Christien (1992:154–163) prefers a different site for Aithaia, equating it with Aipeia/Korone, but a location at Rizomilo/Nichoria (MME #100) is problematical. It is hard to reconstruct the effect for our estimate of this placement, which would exchange one good agricultural site for another. Shipley has provided me with a tentative, reconsidered classification (per litt. 5/5/02). Definite: Asine, Mothone (Methone); probable: Aithaia, Thouria; possible: Aulon, Kardamyle, Korone, Kyparissos, Pharai/Pherai, Thalamai.

[ back ] 22. Shipley classifies Leuktron = Leuktra (48 = 148) as a retrospectively attested polis (1996:190, 239), and Pephnos as an unconfirmed polis (122 = 549); cf. Shipley 2000:385–386, 387.

[ back ] 23. Shipley classifies them as poleis attested in post-classical sources: Alagonia (38 = 548), Abia (55 = 144), and Gerenia (57 = 146). More recently, Shipley classes these sites as places that “cannot be shown to have existed as a settlement in Ar(chaic)/Cl(assical) times” (per litt. 5/5/02).

[ back ] 24. Pharai = Pherai (79 = 142) is classed by Shipley as an early or legendary polis, but this status is probably a trick of the survival of our evidence, if Pharai is modern Kalamata (with remains dating back to the archaic period). Note Xen. Hell. 4.8.7, cf. Nepos Conon 1.1 (coloniam Lacedaemoniorum); Steph. Byz. Eth. 658; note also the heroic oecist in Paus. 4.30.2.

[ back ] 25. Shipley classifies under “legendary or early poleis (and possible) poleis” (1997:263 for #102). His more recent classification (per litt. 5/5/02) denies the presence of an “Archaic/Classical settlement.”

[ back ] 26. Christien (1998:437–439) puts the new border further south. Yet the Boiotian character of Leuktron, Kharadra (= Pephnos?), and Thalamai (Strab. 8.4.4), and the Argive oecist of Oitylos (Paus. 3.25.10), are better interpreted as indicative of the heroic pedigrees fabricated as precedents that preceded an archaic reception by Sparta of immigrants from central Greece and the Argolid as Perioeci.

[ back ] 27. IG V.1 1421 = SIG 3 952 = SEG 11.1026, 22.314; SEG 11.1025; Shipley 1997:242–243 on #35. Shipley’s more recent classification (per litt. 5/5/02) lists Kyparissos as a possible perioecic polis.

[ back ] 28. Hom. Il. 2.593; Diod. 15.77.4; Strab. 8.4.1–2, 6 (citing Homer); Paus. 4.36.7; also Scylax Periplus 45; Ptol. Geog. 3.14.31; Plin. NH 4.5.15; Steph Byz. s.v. Κυπαρισσήεις, Eth. 395.3–5 (citing Homer).

[ back ] 29. Strab. 8.3.22–25; Steph. Byz. s.v. Κυπαρισσία, Eth. 395.1–2.

[ back ] 30. Compare Scheidel (this volume, pp. 241–5) where a “simplified model” for Helot numbers posits recirculation along with higher yields and higher arable totals as means to account for higher estimates for the Helot population.

[ back ] 31. For positive and negative incentives in the antebellum south, see Fogel and Engerman 1974:144–157, 239–243. On Louisiana sugar plantations, slaves grew corn for their own advantage, selling it to their masters, who used it for the slave rations of the plantation (McDonald 1993:279–282).

[ back ] 32. Note Figueira 1984:108 for its discussion of Athen. 14.74.2 657C with Theopompos FGrHist 105 F 22. Here a Thasian offer of delicacies to Agesilaos and the Spartiates is refused as illicit, while such an offer was properly made to the Helots, who might more appropriately be corrupted by such fare.

[ back ] 33. Note my earlier specific rejection of this approach: Figueira 1984:95–96n25.

[ back ] 34. On such constraints, see now the discussion in Halstead and Jones 1989:47–50.

[ back ] 35. Yet the preserved economic hierarchy of the core territory was not static. The western zone of the Laconia Survey on the margins of the Eurotas plain experienced sixth century settlement on land to which earlier claim was probably laid by elite Spartiates and so presumably outside the system of klêroi. Helots and poorer Perioeci may have provided the workforce. See Shipley 1996b:332–335, 355–377, 380–389; Catling 2002:166–167, 180.

[ back ] 36. Shipley 1992:216–228, 1996b:423–438; Catling 2002:164–166, 178–180, 224–225, 235–237, 244–248.

[ back ] 37. There may be some unappreciated literary evidence for such nucleation in a fragment of the Philolakon of Stephanos, a poet of New Comedy (fr. 1, PCG 7.614–615 [Athen. 11.469b]; cf. T 13): {Σ.} τούτῳ προέπιεν ὀ βασιλεὺς κώμην τινά. / {Β.} καινόν τι τοῦτο γέγονε νῦν ποτήριον; / {Σ.} κώμη μὲν οὖν ὲστι περὶ τὴν θυορίαν. / {Β.} εἰς τὰς Ροδιακὰς ὅλος ἀπηνέχθην ἐγὼ / καὶ τοὺς ἐφήβους, Σωσία, τοὺς δυσχερεῖς. While various candidates, including Philip II, Pyrrhos, and Alexander the Molossian, have been suggested for the king in line 1, surely there is a more economical hypothesis. A play about a Laconizer mentioning a grant of a kômê ‘village’ near Thouria in Messenia suggests a Spartan king. The context may be that an early Hellenistic Spartan king intends to reconquer southeastern Messenia so that he can reduce to dependency the formerly Helot communities in its vicinity, enabling him to make land grants (not traditional kleroi) to his supporters. Compare the foundation by an Athenian of Kolonides (Paus. 4.34.8). The kômê in question could derive from a nucleated Helot settlement.

[ back ] 38. Note especially the sites of Romanou Romanou and Romanou Glyfadaki in survey area VI. See Davis et al. 1997:454–469; Harrison and Spencer 1998:158–162; Alcock 2002:192–196.

[ back ] 39. Note van Wees 2000 for a spirited argument on behalf of the thesis that hoplites at Athens were recruited from more prosperous thetes, in which he uses 150 medimnoi as an important threshold level.

[ back ] 40. One reservation, however, concerns the argument that the Malea fortification of the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War (Thuc. 7.26.2) necessitates the existence of kleroi in the vicinity of Neapolis on the southern end of the peninsula (Shipley 1997:203; Hodkinson 2000:141). The modest population of potential Helot defectors from an out of the way, small district could not have justified such a base on their own account. A strongpoint there was well placed, however, to receive runaways by boat from throughout the Laconian Gulf, while it accommodated raiders in a spot conveniently distant from Spartan bases.

[ back ] 41. Cf. Catling 2002:161–163, 193–195, where some sites within the study area of the Laconia Survey may imply farmsteads controlling estates of 10–20 ha. I hasten to add, however, that kleroi need not have been contiguous estates of any certain size, but merely obligations of groups of Helots exploiting assets that yielded rents of an appropriate scale.

[ back ] 42. C. 3740 kg of barley @ 900 kg per ha requires 4.2 ha. At alternate year fallowing, 8.4 ha is needed for rent-producing land. On the supposition of a 50% klêros rent, that amount is doubled again to make 16.8 ha. We shall again add 0.6 ha as a minimum for grape production.

[ back ] 43. Using a ratio of 1 kg of alphita = 0.77 kg of wheat, which is halfway between my earlier ratio of 0.72 kg and the 0.82 kg of Foxhall and Forbes 1982:75–81.

[ back ] 44. Nichoria, likely to have been an eighth-century site affected by Spartan domination over Lower Messenia, exhibits a pattern of intensive raising of livestock, among which cattle are notably prominent; see Sloan and Duncan 1978:76–77; Stein and Rapp 1978:256.

[ back ] 45. That is a considerable level of output for subsistence agriculturalists. Clearly, however, we could manipulate redistribution, lower consumption, and reduce non-cereal output to lower per capita output to a certain degree.

[ back ] 46. Roebuck (1945:162–165) estimates a population of 90,000 (upper limit of 112,500) for free Messenia.

[ back ] 47. Note the low numbers posited for the Bronze Age kingdom: McDonald and Rapp 1972:128, 141, 254–256; Carothers and McDonald 1979.

[ back ] 48. Hunt 1997 is ill-judged in its revival of the hypothesis (Cornelius 1973) that the Helots provided the bulk of the Spartan phalanx, which was fronted by the 5,000 Spartiates. It would take a lengthy presentation to untangle all its improbabilities. Let me outline some counter-arguments instead: 1) the presence of Helot dead does not entail activity in the phalanx; service as skirmishers and flank guards would be sufficient (ἐφύλασσον in Hdt. 9.28.2 has this technical sense; cf. 9.85.1); 2) the Helots are not functionally differentiated from the other psiloi makhimoi in 9.29.1–2; 3) one rank is too shallow a Spartiate frontage, especially when the area of lethality of the phalanx is remembered; 4) the engagement of the second and third ranks in active fighting made light-armed troops this far forward very risky (Cornelius suggested a deeper phalanx); 5) this mass of Helots to the Spartiate rear without a rearguard posed a safety risk to their masters; 6) the Helots ought not be thought to have usurped the Perioecic role as comprising the rear ranks of the Spartan phalanx; 7) Helot training and social conditioning ill suited them for this role; 8) Helots later fought with the promise of emancipation or after emancipation and they served in separate units; 9) there remain doubts over the feasibility of a 5 km. front for any hoplite army and its practicality on the ground at Plataia.

[ back ] 49. Hdt. 9.10.1: καὶ ἑπτα περὶ ἕκαστον [Spartiate] τάξαντες τῶν εἱλώτων; 9.28.2: περὶ ἄνδρα ἕκαστον [Spartiate] ἑπτὰ τεταγμένοι; 9.29.1: πλὴν τῶν ἑπτὰ περὶ ἕκαστον [Spartiate] τεταγμένων Σπαρτιήτῃσι; 9.29.1: ὡς ἐόντων ἑπτὰ περὶ ἕκαστον ἄνδρα [Spartiate].

[ back ] 50. Legrand (1954:15) recognizes a problem that he addresses by emending καὶ to κατ᾽ or excising on the grounds of omission from some manuscript traditions.

[ back ] 51. Powell (1977:351) opts for a rare non-military connotation of τάσσω in this passage (9.10.1). Yet Powell’s other comparable examples can be seen as metaphorical or extended usage based on the military (75 examples) and administrative (33) senses of τασσω (cf. 3.68.5; 8.98.1; 7.36.3). Another passage (3.91.4:… ες τὠυτὸ τεταγμένοι …), speaking of a classification for tribute payment, points us toward a better solution. The deployments of τάσσω relating to the Helots belong to the significant financial/taxational connotation (13 instances) where levies or fines are imposed (e.g., 2.65.5; 2.109.2; 3.89.1; 3.90.1; 6.42.2 ter, 6.79.1 [Kleomenes at Sepeia]).

[ back ] 52. E.g. Pollux Onom. 3.83. See Lotze 1959:53–56; van Wees, this volume, pp. 38–54, 64.

[ back ] 53. Compare Luraghi this volume, pp. 110–5 and van Wees this volume, pp. 34–7; cf. Bockisch 1985. Our view differs in that Spartan expansionism conditioned or even modulated Messenian depopulation. The hypothesis that the assemblage of the demographic components of classical Messenia was a complex evolution may reconcile the insights won from both approaches, seeing them as valid about distinct elements of the classical population. See Raaflaub this volume, pp. 171–2, who notes the importance of “homogenization of various forms of dependent labor.”

[ back ] 54. Witness the shared motifs between Dark Age II pottery at Nichoria and sherds from Sparta and Amyklai (Coulson 1983a:78–9, 111).

[ back ] 55. For an independent, parallel exploration of similar insights, see Link (forthcoming). Contrast Luraghi this volume, pp. 132–3. Note also Bockisch 1985:33–34.

[ back ] 56. Thuc. 1.132.4; Nepos Paus. 3.6; cf. Aris. Pol. 1307a1–5. Note Figueira 1999:224–225.

[ back ] 57. The considerable reduction of the number of sites in the study area of the Laconia Survey during the mid-fifth century indicates the scale of the upheaval, and suggests that valuable workers were relocating to more productive locations. See Catling 2002:175–178, 248–252.

[ back ] 58. The large building at Kopanaki in the Soulima valley of northern Messenia, initially mistaken for a Roman villa, may instead be an establishment designed for a mode of industrial or plantation agriculture c. 450/25 (for which Catling 1996:34n13) and be indicative as well that a threshold in property concentration and entrepreneurial/managerial engagement had been passed. See Kaltsas 1983; Harrison and Spencer 1998:161–162; Alcock 2002:195–196; Hodkinson this volume, p.271. A date earlier in the century might lead us to hypothesize a royal estate.

[ back ] 59. See Figueira 1999; also Christien 1998:454–459; Luraghi 2001:293–301; Luraghi 2002b. See also Alcock 1999 for the role of tomb cult in this process, and Coulson 1983b:334–336 for the classical tomb cult at Nichoria.

[ back ] 60. Yet many of the 20,000 direct casualties of the earthquake were Perioeci (cf. Diod. 11.63.1). See Figueira 1986:177–178.

[ back ] 61. Both νεότητα and οκαιότητα have manuscript authority, and a paleographical judgment cannot be made between the two alternatives. Gomme seems prudent to note that τὸ πλῆθος makes better sense with τὴν νεότητα (HCT 3.547). Hornblower (1996:264–265) agrees, but complicates the issue with the translation ‘youthful vigour’. Thompson 1987 is helpful for its discussion of the textual issues. His attempt to defend σκαιότης as Spartan conceptualization (inspired by the suppression of the great revolt) of Helot persistence as stupidity misreads the past and present contexts.

[ back ] 62. I should like to thank the other participants in the conference Helots and their Masters, and especially the organizers, Professors Nino Luraghi and Susan E. Alcock, for their invitation, hospitality, and intellectual encouragement and assistance with this paper. I also express my gratitude to Professor Graham Shipley of the University of Leicester, who was kind enough to read this piece in draft and offer me criticisms and suggestions.