Issue 06, September 2007
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Athens - Sparta
International Archaeological Conference

Dr Aliki Moustaka  spoke about the fragments of terracotta figures found on the Athenian Acropolis

An international conference, entitled 'Athens-Sparta: Contribution to the Research on the Archaeology, and History of the Two City-States', was held on April 21, 2007, at the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation (USA) in New York. The conference was organized in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum of Greece within the framework of the Onassis Cultural Center's groundbreaking exhibition 'Athens - Sparta: From the 8th century BC to the 5th century BC'.

by Leda Bouzali

Over two hundred people attended the conference, which brought together a large number of speakers and scientists of world renown from Greece and other countries. The audience consisted of university professors, archaeologists, museum directors, curators, and other members of the academic world, who were specifically invited to the Onassis Cultural Center from various American educational institutions. The conference was opened by the Executive Director of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, whose address was followed by an introductory speech given by the Director of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece, Dr. Nikolaos Kaltsas.

The opening lecture, given by Dr. Stavros Vlizos, Archaeologist of the Benaki Museum, Athens, was entitled, 'The Amyklaion Revisited: New Observations on a Laconian Sanctuary of Apollo'. The sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios, along with the sanctuaries of Athena Chalkioikos and Artemis Orthia, surpassed the religious needs of ancient Sparta, expressing both the everyday demands of social and political life and the pressing tensions of the city's historical existence. The sanctuary sustained its reputation from the Late Bronze Age until the end of the Roman Age, and the Lacedaemonians celebrated the annual festival of the Hyacinthia there. In his lecture, Stavros Vlizos briefly summarized the up-to-date efforts made to locate and identify the sanctuary of Apollo at Amyklai. Following a critical attestation of Pausanias' detailed description [3. 18.9-19.5], of the various mentions and interpretations by travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, finally, of the results of the three excavation campaigns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the speaker presented the conclusions and new observations of a broader research project that began in 2005.

Top: Head number 536 from Sparta Archaeological Museum was the subject of Dr. Georgia Kokkorou-Alevras' lecture
Bottom: Aghia Kyriaki hill and the sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios from the lecture of Dr Stavros Vlizos
Top: Head number 536 from Sparta Archaeological Museum was the subject of Dr. Georgia Kokkorou-Alevras' lecture Bottom: Aghia Kyriaki hill and the sanctuary of Apollo Amyklaios from the lecture of Dr Stavros Vlizos

Dr. Stella Raftopoulou, Archaeologist of the Fifth Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, gave a lecture on the subject of 'Funerary Banquets in Archaic Sparta'. The symposium is a well-known Greek institution that bears religious and social connotations. Spartan banquets became famous because of their austere character, simple food, and powerful political and military role. Our imagination, said Dr. Raftopoulou, is captured by depictions of symposiasts on Laconian cups, posing the question of whether they illustrate actual events that took place in Sparta. Archaeological finds from the city, comprising a complete dinner service with twenty-two intact vases, offer another dimension to the textual and historiographical tradition.

In an attempt to understand the function of this service, Dr. Raftopoulou analyzed the various foods and equipment that appeared at religious and military meals, and questioned the actual use of each vase. The banquet for which the particular service was made was demonstrated to be among the textually attested categories of political messes and religious meals. It consisted of wine, soup (possibly the 'black broth'), small 'snacks,' vinegar and another liquid (olive oil?), and up to four types of condiments. It obviously took place in a tent or in the open air near a cemetery. The exact occasion cannot be determined. All the vases were dedicated near the tomb, which may suggest a ritual dinner on the occasion of either a burial or a commemorative rite for an important family member, presumably male, the heroized patriarch.

Exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Sparta is an overlifesize male head that is sometimes referred to in the archaeological bibliography as that of a kouros. Dr. Georgia Kokkorou-Alevras, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens, spoke about this head. Known at least since 1906, this very important head (Inv. No. 536) has never been properly published, although it exhibits some interesting features concerning its type, date, and style. According to Professor Kokkorou-Alevras, the systematic examination of all these parameters will throw new light on the more or less obscure picture of Laconian sculpture of the Late Archaic to Early Classical period.

The second part of the conference started with the lecture 'Spartan Self-Presentation in the Panhellenic Sanctuaries of the Classical Period' by Dr. Olga Pallagia, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens. It is generally known that art and architecture did not flourish in Sparta and Laconia during the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Spartan citizens were not encouraged to advertise themselves by patronage of the arts or conspicuous consumption. There is little evidence of portraits of prominent Spartans at home in this period. The Spartan elite, however, found an outlet for self-presentation abroad, beginning with agonistic dedications in Olympia. Between the conclusion of the Persian Wars in 479 BC and the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC, a string of victories in the chariot races in Olympia allowed the Spartan plutocrats who could afford either to breed or maintain horses to erect their portraits in the sanctuary. It was not customary for Spartan kings to have their portraits erected abroad. As Dr. Pallagia reminded her audience, there is evidence of only two such portraits in the Classical period, and both involve kings who died while campaigning abroad. The young king Agesipolis, who died in Aphytis in 380 BC, had his posthumous portrait erected at Delphi privately by his father, the old king Pausanias, who lived in exile at the time. Moreover, the posthumous portrait of Archidamos III was erected by the Spartan state in Olympia after his death in Apulia in 338 BC. Pausanias informs us that the Lacedaemonians set it up because the king's body was never found for proper burial in Sparta. Finally, Lysander, victor of the Peloponnesian War, broke the mold by having his portraits erected in both Olympia and Delphi during his lifetime even though he was neither a king nor a victorious athlete.

Dr Kurt Raaflaub in his talk analyzed the meaning of the term polis from Homer till Solon's time
Dr Kurt Raaflaub in his talk analyzed the meaning of the term polis from Homer till Solon's time

In her lecture 'Disiecta Membra: Early Terracotta Images from the Athenian Acropolis', Dr. Aliki Moustaka, Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, spoke about the mostly unknown fragments of large-scale terracotta figures found on the Athenian Acropolis. According to Professor Moustaka, their special interest and their probable significance for early cult activity are based on their remarkable size, the peculiar technique in at least one case, their richly decorated garments, and their dating to the seventh century BC. In spite of their state of preservation, they can provide further indications about early cult images on the Acropolis during a period that remains scarcely known.

In his lecture ''Thalassa! Thalassa! The Spartans and …the Sea?', Dr. Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at Cambridge University, developed the very original subject of the Spartans' relationship with the sea. The Spartans were the landlubbers of the ancient Greek world. Their city lay inland, well away from the coast, and they were the reigning military force on the land, being the supreme exponents of the hoplite style of warfare. Yet, according to Professor Cartledge, there is also a history to be written — and an interesting one — of Sparta's dealings with, and deeds upon, the sea.

'Early Hellenistic Sparta: Changing Modes of Interaction with the Wider World' was the title of the lecture given by Dr. Graham Shipley, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Leicester. According to Professor Shipley, the history of Sparta after its defeat at Boeotian Leuctra (371 BC) tends to be regarded as a story of terminal, and possibly well-merited, decline. But this is to misrepresent the subsequent two centuries and more of Sparta's independent existence as a significant power in the Peloponnese, and ignore the development of a new urban form. How accurate is the perception of Spartan weakness after the early fourth century BC? In so far as that perception has any reality, was external weakness mirrored by changes within Sparta? How did internal dynamics change between Leuctra and the radical reforms attempted by kings Agis IV and Kleomenes III (in the third quarter of the third century) and for what reasons?

Left: Dr. Georgia Kokkorou-Alevras, professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens
Right: The international conference drew a large audience at the Onassis Foundation (USA) in New York
Left: Dr. Georgia Kokkorou-Alevras, professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens Right: The international conference drew a large audience at the Onassis Foundation (USA) in New York

According to Professor Shipley, to understand Sparta during this period, one must focus on both internal dynamics and external links. The speaker suggested that new economic and cultural interactions with the wider Greek world, combined with a reduced capacity to dominate directly the other communities of Laconia, allowed the Spartans to exercise a more active role in Greek affairs than is usually realized.

The third part of the conference was completed with the lecture 'Plutarch's Sparta: Lieux de mémoire, trous de mémoire' given by Dr. Richard J. A. Talbert, Kenan Professor of History and Classics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Professor Talbert's lecture focused on Classical Sparta and the paradox that, although as a society Sparta was unconcerned with recording itself or with projecting itself to others, it came to exert a widespread fascination among contemporaries that remains potent to this day. In consequence, as the speaker pointed out —borrowing Pierre Nora's pair of opposites—, the memory of Sparta has always overshadowed its history.

Dr. Stella Raftopoulou spoke about the funerary banquets in Archaic Sparta
Dr. Stella Raftopoulou spoke about the funerary banquets in Archaic Sparta

No surviving ancient writer has done more to shape that memory than Plutarch. As an illustration of the multiple ways in which this memory has influenced later thinking, Professor Talbert drew attention to an instructive yet seemingly overlooked instance in late-eighteenth-century France. Attention was also paid to those Lives of special relevance to Sparta that Plutarch either intended to write yet never did or which he did write but are now lost. Finally, the speaker presented his thoughts on how Plutarch was likely to have presented these Lives, and how their completion and survival might have altered posterity's memory of Sparta.

The final part of the event, co-ordinated by Dr. Paul Cartledge, started with the lecture 'Democracy and the Growth of Athens' by Dr. Josiah Ober, Professor of Classics and Political Science, Constantinos Mitsotakis Chair in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University, California. Professor Ober suggested that, by quantifying newly available information, it could be shown that Athens was, according to various measures and over the course of the Classical period, the most successful of the Greek city-states. Athens was also highly democratic, and the growth of democracy correlates with the growth of Athens' capacity to do many things better than its rivals. Athens was able to take advantage of its great size and resources because 'democracy as capacity to do things' addressed the serious public action problems that beset all states.

Modern statue of Leonidas in Sparta
Modern statue of Leonidas in Sparta

The Athenian solution resulted in a new approach to organizing useful knowledge. Knowledge is possessed by individuals and structured by institutional rules; it potentially promotes both innovation and learning. Finding the right balance between individual agency and institutional rules, between innovation and learning, is not easy. Yet, over time, Athens found the right balance. It developed efficient democratic processes to collect, co-ordinate, and codify useful knowledge. As a result, Athens addressed challenges of competition, scale, and change better than even its greatest rivals: Sparta and Syracuse.

The conference was concluded with the lecture 'The Early Greek Polis: From Homer to “Lycurgan” Sparta and “Solonian” Athens' given by Dr. Kurt Raaflaub, David Herlihy University Professor and Professor of Classics and History, Program in Ancient Studies, Brown University, Rhode Island. The term 'polis' is usually translated as 'city-state'. In fact, according to the Greek understanding, it was rather a citizen-state. What mattered was the community of citizens rather than the city as a place. The polis originated in the mist of the late 'Dark Ages'. In Homer, it is already a reality that is taken for granted: the heroes define themselves according to their home polis, and the main places of heroic action are poleis.

Remarkably, the Homeric polis finds a stark contrast in the small community of subsistence farmers represented by Hesiod, who distances himself from the polis, with its quarrels in the market place and corrupt elite leaders. Less than a century later, in 'Lycurgan' Sparta and 'Solonian' Athens, institutions begin to be formalized, political processes defined, and communal problems resolved by law and constitutional reform. These two poleis move in different directions and will soon shape themselves antithetically as the ideals of a traditional aristocratic and a revolutionary democratic polis.

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