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Politics and Landscape in the Argive Plain after the Battle of Sepeia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2021

Stefano Frullini*
University of Cambridge*
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Modern studies have emphasized the contradictory nature of the ancient traditions concerning the aftermath of the Battle of Sepeia (494 BC), in which the Argive army was destroyed by the Spartans. This article tackles the most significant point of agreement in these traditions: the theme of Argive ‘oligandry’, the demographic crisis caused by the battle. An analysis conducted on the basis of Ansley J. Coale and Paul Demeny’s Model Life Tables shows that the real impact of the demographic crisis was felt in the age structure of Argos’ population rather than in the sheer size of its citizen body. Consequently, this article argues that the political ramifications of the battle originated not from the demographic crisis alleged by the tradition, but from the state of powerlessness and regional isolation into which Argos was plunged by the defeat of 494. This argument, which supports a reappraisal of Plutarch’s (De mul. vir. 4) version of Argos’ response to Sepeia, also helps explain why Argos embraced a markedly aggressive foreign policy towards the towns of the plain in the following decades.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

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* This article originated as a Cambridge M.Phil. thesis written in 2018 under the supervision of Robin Osborne and examined by Paul Millett and Hannah Willey: I should like to thank them for their support and helpful comments. I also thank the Faculty of Classics of the University of Cambridge and King’s College, Cambridge, for enabling me to spend some time in the Argolid in 2019. I am grateful to Flo Kipps, Lea Niccolai and Matt Simonton, for reading and commenting on the article at different stages, and to the editor and reviewers of JHS for many insightful observations.


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