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Jackie Whalen

Spartan austerity between 650 to 350 BCE

Supervised by: Prof. Rebecca Sweetman

The aim of this work is to provide a diachronic study of Spartan history to establish the extent to which Classical Sparta was uniquely austere.  Ancient and secondary sources have connected austerity to various elements of both Archaic and Classical Sparta, such as the agoge or syssitia, rather than identifying a singularly austere society.  Moreover, this problematic array of disparate and sometime dichotomous information is not convincingly borne out by the archaeological evidence.  

Over the past century only a small number of short, individual studies have specifically focused on the issues of Spartan austerity. More recently only two scholars, Hodkinson and Fitzhardinge, have tackled the wider issue of whether Sparta was ever a uniquely austere society and there has been no in-depth, contextual analysis of the ancient literary sources specifically in relation to this research question. Furthermore, the small corpus of specialist scholarship, most of which focuses on isolated datasets, has yet to be considered within a single unified study.

This research applies new approaches to the problem that the existence of a uniquely austere Sparta has not been convincingly argued, by the ancient or secondary sources, and presents a synthetic study of all the evidence for a less ascetic Sparta than traditionally assumed.

Academic biography and research interests

MLitt Ancient History from University of St Andrews & BA Publishing from Napier University, Edinburgh

My main interest is Spartan society, particularly of the Archaic & Classical periods, and moving beyond the traditionally held views of its militaristic and authoritarian regime by analysing both the literary and archaeological evidence.  I have a long-held fascination with the Battle of Thermopylai and my Masters dissertation analysed the impact of the conflict landscape on its eventual outcome. I have wider interests in ancient warfare, especially conflict landscapes and the capabilities of the human body on military campaign or in battle, and more general interests in Alexander the Great, Ancient Persia and the Roman Republic to early Empire.  Research papers include ‘Hellenic Black Sheep: Fighting the Spartan stereotype’ and ‘Looking for an austere identity in the sacred landscapes of Sparta’. I will shortly complete the pilot 2 year ‘Communicating Ancient Greece & Rome’ course run by Oxford and Royal Holloway Universities, which focuses on widening access to academic research through public engagement.

Jackie Whalen