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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
December 2023
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Book description

The tough Spartan soldier is one of the most enduring images from antiquity. Yet Spartans too fell in battle – so how did ancient Sparta memorialise its wars and war dead? From the poet Tyrtaeus inspiring soldiers with rousing verse in the seventh century BCE to inscriptions celebrating the 300's last stand at Thermopylae, and from Spartan imperialists posing as liberators during the Peloponnesian War to the modern reception of the Spartan as a brave warrior defending the “West”, Sparta has had an outsized role in how warfare is framed and remembered. This image has also been distorted by the Spartans themselves and their later interpreters. While debates continue to rage about the appropriateness of monuments to supposed war heroes in our civic squares, this authoritative and engaging book suggests that how the Spartans commemorated their military past, and how this shaped their military future, has perhaps never been more pertinent.


‘At a time when the image of the Spartan has been used to justify white supremacy, military aggression, and controversial commemorative monuments, this book takes an in-depth look not only at Spartan society, military practice, and history, but also at the ways in which the Spartans viewed themselves. Through an examination of ancient literature, art, and archaeology, Matthew A. Sears calls into question many modern presumptions and assumptions about what we ‘know' of the Spartans. This volume is certainly a must read for any historian studying the Spartans, but more importantly also for those attempting to use the Spartans as a model for contemporary practice.'

C. Jacob Butera - University of North Carolina, Asheville

‘It would be an exaggeration to say that commemoration of war is all the rage today, but there does seem to be an awful lot of it about, as war remains sadly something we humans can't yet do without. Same goes for the ancient Greeks, only more so, and the Spartans fought more wars than most of the other thousand or so Greek states, so it was a brilliant idea of Prof. Sears to construct an intelligent and thoughtful monograph around this centrally important theme of ancient historical studies.'

Paul Cartledge - University of Cambridge

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