Spartani ‘ideali’ e Spartani ‘anomali’
The ancient tradition often compares ‘conventional’ and ‘unconventional’
Spartans. In our sources we can find typical Spartans, representing the best local
tradition, and innovating Spartans, who excited suspicion in their own city’s
public opinion and establishment. This paper considers such comparisons in
different historical contexts, without claiming to be exhaustive.
First of all, I consider the comparison between the Spartan king Archidamus
and the ephor Sthenelaidas in the «Spartan debate» in Thucydides’s first book.
Their speeches attempt not only to compare two individuals, but also to focus
on «Spartan and Athenian national characteristics»: Archidamus is the typical
Spartan, representing his own city’s traditional caution, hesitation, and inactivity;
on the other hand, Sthenelaidas is the alternative Spartan, representing a
more dynamic and innovating attitude.
Moreover, I consider two couples, Lysander and Kallicratidas, and Agesilaus
and Agesipolis, whose personalities and politics are often compared in our sources.
On the one hand, Lysander and Agesilaus are innovating leaders and represent
different imperialistic trends that are not consistent with Spartan tradition;
on the other hand, Kallicratidas and Agesipolis (like his father, king Pausanias
II) are more traditional leaders and conceive of Spartan hegemony as an instrument
of panhellenic policy, respecting freedom and autonomy of Greek states,
and following the ancient image of Sparta as the champion of freedom and the
enemy of imperialism and tyranny.
These cases emphasize some unchanging features in the comparison of different
personalities and political orientations. On the one hand, we find men
like Etoimaridas, Archidamus, Kallicratidas, Pausanias II and Agesipolis, representing
sophrosyne and dikaiosyne, traditional moral virtues and self-control, supporting
a panhellenic and ‘pacifist’ foreign policy, defending a panhellenic
balance of power based on dividing spheres of influence, on mutual control,
and on restriction of Spartan hegemonical ambitions. On the other hand, we
find men like Sthenelaidas, Lysander and Agesilaus, representing unscrupulous
military aggressiveness and ethical indifference, innovating capacity but also
paranomia and imperialistic trends on the ‘Athenian’ model. Such parallelism
has a strictly political character: the comparison is not between different personalities
or ethics, but between different ideas about the hegemonic role of
Sparta in Greece.
In any case, it must be noted that in fourth-century Sparta ‘unconventional’
and ‘revolutionary’ behaviour can be perceived as ‘traditional’. Xenophon (Hell.
V, 2, 32) mentions an interesting sentence by king Agesilaus about the case of
Phoebidas, who held the acropolis of Thebes, the Kadmeia, on his own initiative.
The ephors and most Spartiates angrily disapproved of Phoebidas’s behaviour as
he had acted «without authorization by the state»; however, Agesilaus said that
«if what he had done was harmful to Lacedaemon, he deserved to be punished,
but if advantageous, it was a time-honoured custom that a commander, in such
cases, had the right to act on his own initiative». In his contrast with Lysander,
Kallicratidas, at the end of the fifth century, had refused personal initiatives as
inconsistent with Spartan tradition; according to Agesilaus, an ambiguous and
many-sided character, personalism can be considered a traditional element.