Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Friday, March 23, 2018

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"...not like we Messenians..." - An Excerpt from "A Peerless Peer"

At the start of the month I provided a short comparison of Athenian chattel slaves and Spartan helots. In this excerpt, Leonidas' Messenian helot-attendant points out yet other differences between the two slave populations.

Leonidas gladly submitted to Mantiklos’ barbering. The Messenian had become quite good at it. Besides, it was a good opportunity to gather more intelligence. “What else have you seen here?” 

“The slaves live rotten lives,” Mantiklos told him bluntly. 

“Don’t tell me worse than Messenians?” Leonidas opened one eye to observe his squire. 

Mantiklos grimaced. “I hate to admit it, but they do. Can you believe it? Slaves are not allowed to testify at a trial of a citizen unless they have been tortured! So anytime a citizen gets accused of one thing or another—as they are all the time around here—the slaves of the household are tortured either by the prosecution to make them testify against their masters, or by their own masters to make them vindicate him! Everyone in the household is terrified that in these unsettled times that their master will get into some lawsuit, and they will be put on the rack and stretched until they come apart at the joints or hung over a fire until the skin falls off their feet. The former housekeeper was put to the rack a couple of Olympiads ago, and he can hardly walk anymore. It’s the most barbaric custom I’ve ever heard of! At least you Spartans only kill us or what we have done or not done, not for what you accuse each other of doing!” 

Leonidas laughed at this conclusion, but Mantiklos only glowered at him more furiously and continued, “None of them are allowed to marry. They are locked up at night to keep them apart from the women—like animals.” 

“I don’t expect that’s terribly effective,” Leonidas remarked, thinking how easy it was for lovers to meet at other times and locations. 

“But if a slave girl gets pregnant, the child belongs to the master, not the father. Usually, if the master doesn’t want it, he leaves it in the agora for anyone who does, or puts it to death right away. And the young Athenian men are no better about keeping away from the slave girls than the Spartans in Messenia. The young master here has had all the women at one time or another, except his old nurse.” 

“I thought you said his wife lived here.” 

“She does, but that doesn’t stop him from taking his pleasure with the slaves.” 

“She must be a singularly stupid woman. Imagine what Hilaira would do to Alkander if he looked sideways at one of the helots on her kleros!” Leonidas laughed at the thought, because it was unimaginable that Alkander would look at another woman—but if he did, Hilaira would make his life hell! 

Mantiklos, however, only shrugged. “What should the poor girl do? She’s only just turned fifteen, and according to the slaves she hardly dares say a word to anyone, though she’s been here almost two years. I caught a glimpse of her and she is very frail and sickly looking—pale white skin and an enormous belly. In fact, she seemed to be all eyes and belly. I don’t expect she’ll survive childbirth. She’s too little and weak for it.” 

Leonidas stared at Mantiklos.... Mantiklos, however, had moved on to the next subject. “The worst thing about the slaves here is that they are all cut off from their families. They have been bought and sold—sometimes more than once. They don’t know who their fathers or brothers are. They don’t know the stories of their ancestors or the names of their household Gods. They are all just individuals struggling to survive in a strange place. They don’t even all speak the same language. There’s a slave here who came from someplace in the far north and knows only a few broken phrases of Greek, and another who is from Africa and talks to himself all the time in his own barbarian tongue. It drives the others crazy, because he is vicious and they are afraid of him. They say he once carved up a man—first killed him and then carved up his body into little pieces and cooked them in a big pot.” 

“Here in this house?” Leonidas asked in horror, sitting bolt upright. 

“No, before he came here; but they swear it is true.” Leonidas looked skeptical, and Mantiklos let it go. Although he was now finished with Leonidas’ haircut and shave, they were content to continue gossiping, sitting side by side in the only patch of sun available in the courtyard. 

“Because they all come from different places, they are always bickering among themselves. The Greeks think they are much better than the rest, of course, but some of the barbarians are just as proud. That is why, although they all hate the Athenians, they will never be a threat to Athens as we Messenians are to Sparta.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Well, if you go out into the streets you’ll see. There are many times as many slaves and metoikoi as Athenians, but they are so different from one another that they would never unite against the Athenians. We Messenians, on the other hand—” 

Leonidas knew about Messenia. He wanted to understand more about Athens. “What are metoikoi?” 

Mantiklos scratched his head and thought about it. “They’re free men from somewhere else in the world. Athens seems to attract human rubbish. I was told they have to find a patron and get themselves registered with a community if they want to live here permanently, and they have to pay a special tax. Anyone who lives here without being registered or who fails to pay the taxes is arrested and sold into slavery. The paidagogos here is an old Thespian who moved here to set up a school for boys but somehow fell on hard times and couldn’t pay his taxes, so he was sold into slavery.” 

“The Paidonomos?” Leonidas asked, horrified—thinking of the headmaster of the agoge, one of the most revered and powerful of all Spartiates. 

“No, the paidagogos. I was told all the wealthy men here in Athens have them: slaves that look after their school-aged boys. You know, escort them places, carry their things for them, recite the Iliad to them, and the like.”  


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Of Slaves and Helots -- A Short Comparison

In 413 BC, according to Thucydides, an estimated 20,000 Athenian slaves ran away to the Spartans, who had established a permanent fortress at Dekeleia.  For these oppressed and exploited individuals, the Spartans were liberators.  Their story, however, is virtually ignored by the usual depictions of Sparta that stress the “exceptionally harsh” lot of Sparta’s helots. 

As I have tried to point out in earlier posts, helots enjoyed significant privileges that chattel slaves in the rest of the ancient world did not. First and foremost, they lived in family units, could marry at will and raise their own children.  Almost equally significant, they could retain half their earnings.  Such income could be substantial, as is demonstrated by the fact that no less than 6,000 helots were able to raise the significant sum of five attic minae necessary to purchase their freedom in 369 BC, according to Xenophon.

In contrast, chattel slaves had no family life and their children belonged – literally – not to them but their masters.  As to the fruits of their labor, these accrued exclusively to their masters, and even freed slaves (at least in the case of former prostitutes) had to surrender some of their earnings in perpetuity to their former masters after their manumission. In Athens, furthermore, slaves could be tortured for evidence in trials against their masters, because the Athenians believed a slave’s word was worthless unless obtained under torture – a bizarre and chilling attitude to fellow human beings.

I would like to note, further, that Athens’ economy was no less dependent on slaves than Sparta’s was on helots. Slaves worked Athens silver mines -- under appalling and dehumanizing conditions worse than any horror story told of helots even by Sparta’s worst enemies. Slaves also provided essential agricultural labor and manned the workshops that made Athens famous for its handcrafts. Even the statues on the acropolis, the wonder of all the world to this day, were largely the work of slaves, who earned “wages” only for their master’s pockets and had to make do with whatever scraps he deigned to give them.

Defenders of Athens are apt to point out that Athens’ laws prohibited the execution of slaves and no one but the slave’s own master was allowed to flog a slave.  In contrast, war was declared on Spartan slaves annually and an organization, the kryptea, allegedly existed solely for the purpose of eliminating potentially rebellious helots.  These Spartan customs are indeed harsh, but they should also be viewed in perspective.

First, according to Plutarch, both the annual declaration of war and the creation of the kyrptea post-date the helot revolt of 465 and have no place in the Golden Age of Sparta, the archaic period.  Second, even after the helot revolt and the onset of Spartan decline, we know of only a single incident in which helots were in fact executed without cause.  According to Thucydides, in ca. 425/424, 2,000 helots were led to believe they would be freed, were garlanded and paraded through the city, only to then “disappear.” Everyone presumes they were killed.  

If this really happened as described, it was an unprecedented atrocity. If true, it besmirches the record of Sparta for eternity. It would nonetheless also still be only an isolated incident. Beside this atrocity, I would like to place as exhibit B the slaughter of the entire male population of island city-state of Melos by Athens in 416. Melos was a free city. It’s only “crime” was to remain neutral in the Peloponnesian war. Yet Athens subjugated the city, slaughtered the adult males and made all the women and children chattel slaves. I’d call that an atrocity too – and every bit as bad as the disappearance of 2,000 helots.

There is no doubt about what happened to Melos. We have many sources and know the fate of many individuals that further verify and illuminate the brutality of the event.  But the story of the 2,000 helots has only a single – albeit usually reliable – source: Thucydides.  As Nigel Kennell in his book Spartans: A New History notes, Thucydides’ dating of the incident must be off because at exactly the same time (425/4) Brasidas was recruiting helots to fight with him – something he did successfully.  Why would young men have been willing to volunteer to fight with Brasidas (which they most certainly did), if they had just seen 2,000 of their fellows slaughtered? It is so unreasonable to believe helots would have volunteered if the alleged massacre had just taken place, that Kennel concludes that Thucydides was referring to an incident that had occurred at some vague/unknown time in the past.

That is surely one explanation, since after Brasidas’ helots had proved their worth as soldiers, i.e. after they had proved just how dangerous they could be to the Spartiates, no less than 700 of them were liberated by a vote in the Spartan Assembly. This means that, if Thucydides is correct and the Spartans had once been so afraid of strong, healthy helots that they slaughtered 2,000 of them before they were trained to bear arms, by 421 a majority of Spartan citizens had no qualms about freeing 700 helots, who were not only healthy, but trained and experienced fighting men. Why would they free these 700 hundred after killing 2,000 others? It doesn’t add up, and so the story of the murder of the 2000 has to be questioned.

While it is possible Thucydides was describing an earlier event, it is almost certain that the only evidence he had was hearsay. The modern historian should not exclude the possibility that the entire “atrocity” was either a gross exaggeration or outright propaganda.

And who would have a greater interest in spreading rumors of such an atrocity than Athens itself? An Athens, whose slaves were deserting in droves by 413.  One thing is clear: those 20,000 Athenian slaves, who turned themselves over to Spartan mercy, did not expect to be slaughtered. Either they had not heard the “truth” about how the Spartans “really” treated their helots, or they didn’t believe the stories they were told by their Athenian masters.

Thucydides is silent on what happened to those 20,000 former Athenian slaves, either because he doesn’t know – or it wouldn’t fit into his neat polemic against Spartan brutality.  We know, however, that Sparta’s citizen population had already declined dramatically by the end of the 5th Century BC and yet Sparta kept fighting and winning battles. It did so by relying more and more on non-citizen soldiers, and a fleet manned by non-Spartiates. It is also in this period that the first references to a curious new class of people, the “Neodamodeis,” emerge in literature.  The most common interpretation of this term is that these “New Citizens” were freed helots or the children of Spartiate men by helot women.  There is, however, no reason to assume that some of these new citizens were not freed Athenian slaves as well. If so, then these men surely found freedom in Lacedaemon.

Spartans and their unique culture are depicted as realistically as possible in all my Spartan novels:


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Spartiate - Perioikoi Pact - An Excerpt from "A Peerless Peer"

At the start of the month I speculated about the Perioikoi-Spartiate pact. In this excerpt from "A Peerless Peer" Leonidas explains about it in different words and on hand of a concrete example.

 "Another thing," Nikostratos went on as they continued their slow, tortured way along the road back to Sparta: "It is not good for you to keep that perioikoi girl, the one picked up for soliciting, on your kleros. People are talking about you."

"People, or my brother Brotus?"

Nikostratos frowned and insisted, "People--including your brother Brotus." He stopped and faced Leonidas. "You're a bachelor, Leonidas; you can't keep a whore on your kleros without people talking about it."

"You mean it would be better if I were married?"

"Yes -- because then your wife would be in charge of your kleros, and since no self-respecting woman would let her husband keep a rival under her roof, people would recognize that, whatever else the girl did, she did not warm your bed."

"I don't see how the temperature of my bed is anyone's business."

"The morality of every Spartan citizen is the business of us all," Nikostratos reminded him.

"The girl was thrown out of her own home for being a victim of Argive brutality, and you want me to throw her out again just because tongues are wagging behind my back? Listen: if you hear anyone say a word against me, tell them to say it to my face!" Leonidas was getting worked up.

"Stop being stubborn, Leo; this doesn't have to be blown out of proportion. This girl isn't your kin. She's perioikoi. You are not in any way responsible for what happened to her."

"Aren't I?" Leonias stopped, making Nikostratos stare at him. "Aren't we all? What happened on Kythera was our fault. We left it undefended, then took over a week to respond. All the while, the Argives were rampaging across the island -- plundering, burning, raping and murdering. There were scores of girls who suffered what Kleta did, only most of them are now dead. Because we failed them."

"We can't be everywhere at once."

"We collect taxes and tolls from the perioikoi, don't we? We demand their absolute loyalty and require them to send their sons with us as auxiliary troops whenever we operate out side our borders, don't we? We even expect them to put down helot unrest if necessary."

Nikostratos was frowning. "What are you driving at, Leo?"

"That we made a pact with the perioikoi, a simple two-part pact: First, they receive the exclusive right to engage in trade and manufacturing in exchange for paying high taxes and tolls. Second, they support us militarily without question in exchange for protection. When we let the Argives sack most of Kythera this past spring, we failed to keep our end of the bargain."

Nikostratos considered the younger man and nodded. "There is truth to that."

"Then you must admit that if it happens too often, we will deservedly lose the loyalty of the perioikoi, and our own strength will diminish accordingly."

"You are probably right," Nikostratos conceded, impressed that Leonidas could be this foresighted, but then he added firmly, "But that has nothing to do with this girl. She has already been rejected by her own family. What happens to her will have no impact on perioikoi loyalty one way or another."

"Maybe not, but I feel personally responsible for what happened to her, and for that reason I owe her all the compensation I am capable of giving."

"What you're doing, Leo, is digging in your heels and refusing to see reason on this out of sheer orneriness!" Nikostratos retorted; then he patted Leonidas on the shoulder to calm his protege before he could reply. "You don't have to dump her on the streets. You own scores of properties -- including, if I remember correctly, a majority share in a flax mill near Kardamyle."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I've never met the girl, but most perioikoi women are excellent weavers. This girl must have spirit and brains, or she would not have survived -- and escaped the Argives. Give her some capital and let her set herself up in business as a weaver, attached to your mill. That gives her an honest way to earn her living -- and puts her on the other side of Taygetos, too far away for even the most hostile detractor to impute sexual motives on your part."

Leonidas thought about it for a moment, and then admitted, "No wonder you were elected treasurer again and again....."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Perioikoi: A Closer Look at Sparta's Neglected Middle Class

It is one of the ironies of recorded history that we generally know much more about the tiny, ruling elite in any society than about the masses that actually composed it. Thus we know about the lives and loves of medieval kings, but little about the peasants that represented more than 90% of their subjects. Likewise, Lacedaemonian history is dominated by the tiny class of Spartiates, albeit a great deal has also been written about the allegedly unjustly oppressed helots. The segment of Lacedaemonian society that has received the least scholarly attention is the “middle class” – the perioikoi. 

The lack of modern literature on the perioikoi is undoubtedly a result of the lack of historical and archeological information about this segment of Spartan society. The fact is, we know almost nothing about them -- not their origins, their history, the density of population, their laws or the nature of their relationship with the ruling Spartiates or their relationship to helots.

The lack of archaeological finds has led some historians to hypothesize that they were an essentially rural population, hardly better off than the helots themselves. Yet the very fact that they provided hoplites in at least equal numbers as the Spartiates casts serious doubt on this conclusion. I would also note that the archaeological finds in Sparta itself hardly reflect the might and wealth that we know Sparta enjoyed. For whatever reasons, the existing archaeological evidence from Lacedaemon is an incomplete, indeed inadequate, reflection of the society that inhabited the region in the 7th to 3rd Centuries BC.

John Chadwick in “The Mycenaean World" claims that the Mycenaeans found a native population on the Peloponnese, which they subjugated. When the Dorians invaded, they conquered the remnants of the Mycenaeans. This sequence of events might explain the three class system in Lacedaemon: the helots were the original inhabitants already reduced to serf-like status by the Mycenaeans, and the Mycenaeans became the perioikoi after the Dorian invasion. All three groups were essentially ethnically distinct and status depended on who had conquered whom. The situation appears to have been stable until the Spartans invaded Messenia and subdued another Dorian population. But all this is speculation.

Yet, while we know almost nothing about the perioikoi, we can infer a great deal. We know, for example, that in the later years of the Peloponnesian war, perioikoi hoplites were fully integrated with Spartan units – and that implies comparable levels of training, equipment and above all trust. While the enemies of Sparta (and modern commentators) make much of the hostility of the helots to Spartiate rule, the loyalty of the perioikoi is rarely questioned – or mentioned, despite its significance. 

We also know that Sparta had a fleet but that Spartiates had virtually no opportunity to gain the extremely complex knowledge necessary to build and sail ancient vessels. We know that Spartiates were prohibited from pursuing any profession other than that of arms and civic service, yet Lacedaemon had extensive international trade. We know further that Lacedaemon produced and exported timber, pottery, and bronze works. It had mines and quarries, and, of course, every kind of craft necessary to daily life in the ancient world from carpentry and metal working to tanning and basket-weaving. Who provided the manpower and the know-how for all these various industries, if the Spartiates were prohibited and the helots were working the land?

The logical answer is the perioikoi. Furthermore, by ascribing to the perioikoi these various urban professions generally held by citizens in other Greek cities, we quickly see a way in which the perioikoi could have been both integrated and co-opted into Spartan society despite their undeniable second-class political status. The Perioikoi had no voice in Spartan policy and yet were expected to risk their lives side-by-side with the Spartiates. It hardly seems credible that they would have accepted this situation for long – particularly in the bad years of the Peloponnesian War – if they had not enjoyed other benefits.

The financial benefits of a monopoly on industry and trade throughout the rich territory of Lacedaemon could be such an incentive. The very restrictive nature of Spartan citizenship, which confined Spartiates to the army and civic duties, opened immense opportunities for the perioikoi to enrich themselves. Even if completely excluded from land-holding (which to my knowledge they were not, but which might have been the case when the Spartiate population was expanding in the archaic era), there would still have been ample opportunities to not only earn a living but make a fortune as well. The experience of other societies shows that a manufacturing and trading middle-class can indeed prosper even when politically disenfranchised (see, for example, Medieval France). This, I believe, is the key to perioikoi loyalty and the essential character of the Spartiate-Perioikoi contract.

While Spartiates reserved political power to themselves and evolved a culture that disdained the public display of wealth; the perioikoi traded political enfranchisement for the dual benefits of economic freedom and security. Behind the shields of Sparta’s incomparable army, the perioikoi were free to enrich themselves for generations. Only after Sparta fell into decline and her citizen ranks grew too thin to guarantee the protection of Lacedaemon did the Spartiate-Perioikoi contract begin to unravel. The decline of Spartiate population forced an increasing dependence on perioikoi troops, which put perioikoi at ever greater risk. As long as Sparta was winning wars, that might have been acceptable, but once Sparta was defeated at Leuktra a perpetual disenfranchisement of the periokoi became untenable. Throughout the archaic period, however, the division of labor between Spartiate and perioikoi appears to have worked admirably.

Perioikoi play an important role in both A Peerless Peer and A Heroic King:



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Monday, January 15, 2018

Military Appointments: An Excerpt from "A Peerless Peer"

Last entry talked about the various ways in which Spartan officers may have been elected/appointed. In this excerpt I describe a concrete case of a lochogos (divisional commander) selecting his deputy with an eye toward influencing the already mad Agiad king Cleomenes.

Kyranios' head was was killing him. He felt as if one of the Titans had clamped his hand around his skull and as pressing inward. Kyranios could picture the plates of his skull fracturing like an egg pinched between the Titan's thumb and forefinger. He put his fingertips to his temples and tried to rub the pain away.

Kyranios did not believe the authenticity of the oracle Cleomens claimed to have received from Delphi. He as not alone in his doubts. King Demaratus had openly scoffed at it, asking Cleomenes what it had cost him.  This, however, had only led to a violent verbal exchange between the two kings that had demeaned and discredited them both.  Leotychidas, however, sensing a new opportunity to discredit Demaratus, had done all he could to ensure a majority in favor of war when the proposal came to the vote in the Assembly.

Had they all gone mad? Kyranios asked, closing his eyes to the pain and fear that was starting to unman him. No, not all. It had been a close vote, repeated three times, but the young men, like young men always, were full of themselves, cocky, spoiling for a fight...

A knocking on the door made Kyranios lift his head, drop his hands, and square his shoulders firmly. "Come in!" he barked, while his quartermaster and clerk looked briefly over their shoulders toward the door.

Leonidas entered, his helmet in the crook of his elbow, his leather corselet gleaming with oil, and his chiton fresh and clean -- as was proper when a junior officer reported to his superior. "You sent for me, sir?"

Kyranios nodded and signaled Leonidas to come forward, but did not stand. He was afraid that getting to his feet would make him dizzy and that Leonidas might notice he was off balance. "I have bad news for you," he announced, watching Leonidas' expression.

Leonidas, he calculated, was thirty-five -- exactly the age he'd been when he'd taken over the lochos. Leonidas admittedly had less experience as a company commander -- just three years -- but he had handled his company, and before that his task force during the expedition with the Corinthian grain fleet, splendidly. And Leonidas was an Agiad. Kyranios felt he had to take a chance on him.

Kyranios drew a deep breath. "You aren't going to like this," he told Leonidas bluntly, "but I have decided to appoint you my deputy; my current deputy will take over your pentekostus."

Leonidas started visibly and then asked simply, "Why?"

"I need you. That will have to be reason enough for you. Now, as my deputy, come with me to the Agiad Palace." Kyranios pushed his chair back and dragged himself to his feet, closing his eyes briefly a the room spun around him.  When he opened his eyes again, Leonidas was holding out to him the white-crested helmet denoting his rank as lochagos and watching him keenly, but he said nothing.

They walked in silence down the long corridor and out onto the porch of the lochogos headquarters.  Kyranios kept waiting for Leonidas to say something. He knew Leonidas enjoyed command -- just as he had. He was sure he did not want the position of deputy, which was a position without direct command authority, a position more like an advisor. 


[The five lochagoi and their deputies] left the palace and dispersed in the direction of their respective headquarters. Kyranios and Leonidas again walked side-by-side in silence, until Kyranios asked, "You understand what needs to be done, don't you?"

"You want me to keep my brother in check."

"Yes, I do."

"I'm not sure it will work. He doesn't respect my opinion -- as you saw this afternoon."

"What I saw was that you made him stop and think for a very long time. That's a good start. Not many men can do even that anymore."

Leonidas sighed and nodded.



Monday, January 1, 2018

Captains and Commanders -- the Spartan Way

Given the importance of the Spartan army in Spartan society and history it is surprising how little is known about the selection of officers. Stephen Hodkinson, in “Social Order and the Conflict of Values in Classical Sparta" (Whitby, Michael. Sparta. Routledge, 2002, pp. 104-130.) rightly stresses the fact that patronage and family background appears to have been at least as important as outstanding ability and success. However, he fails to put his discussion in context or to provide key information about the promotion of junior and mid-level officers.

The issue of context is particularly irritating. Hodkinson’s article criticizes Sparta for failing to promote purely on the basis of merit. Hodkinson sees nefarious influences at work and cites command appointments as evidence that Spartan society was not truly egalitarian. Yet, it should not surprise anyone that in every society -- even those with a goal of creating equality among members such as Communist China or Soviet Russia – there are always some members who are “more equal than others.”

The relevant question is how did Sparta’s system of promotion and appointment to command compare to the systems used by contemporary societies? Weren’t Persia’s armies commanded by her kings and noblemen? Even in democratic Athens, it was only those wealthy enough to finance ship-building, who commanded triremes. Furthermore, even the nominally elected generals were all from the so-called “better families.” Can anyone explain to me why no one appears to think Athens less democratic just because the opulently wealthy Miltiades or Alkibiades were also commanders, but the presence of wealth in Sparta or the appointment of commanders with connections to the royal families is treated as scandalous, dangerous and offensive?

It would also be useful to remember that even in today’s modern Western societies promotion to senior positions whether in the army, politics or business is not a matter of pure objective advancement by merit. As they saying goes, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” The Germans speak of the importance of “Vitamin B” for Beziehungen (contacts). Americans talk of “networking” and “mentoring.” Why should we attach so much approbation to Spartans seeking to capitalize on relationships when we do it ourselves?

Turning to the issue of promotion in the lower ranks, I believe this topic deserves a great deal more attention because promotion to these ranks was probably an essential prerequisite to promotion to higher ranks. To my knowledge, however, no one has attempted to explain how it occurred, which has led me to speculate on possible procedures.

For example, boys in the agoge elected their herd leader so it is not completely unimaginable that they elected their enomotarch. Since an enomotia was a relatively small, close-knit unit similar in many ways to a herd of boys in the agoge, such an arrangement might even have helped solidify cohesion and discipline. 

The same, however, cannot be said for the election of pentekonteres and lochagoi. In these larger units, it would have been difficult for all members to know the qualities of the others and far more difficult to find consensus. Elections and competition for the position of commander would, therefore, have undermined discipline rather than reinforced it. Nevertheless, it is possible that a modified election procedure was used for these more senior ranks in which only the enomotarchs elected the pentekonteres and only the later elected the lochgoi

Yet, while the election of officers is not inconceivable, in the absence of positive evidence to support it, the thesis seems a bit radical. After all, the hippeis were appointed by the hippagretai, who first had been appointed by the ephors. This suggests a top-down approach more consistent with military experience the world-over up to the present time.

Assuming that officers were appointed rather than elected, we are left with the issue of who did the appointing. The kings, of course, took precedence in war and commanded Sparta’s armies, but they were often at loggerheads with one another and for all their vaunted influence, there is to my knowledge no evidence that they could simply appoint officers. Furthermore, as noted above, the ephors appointed the hippagreta, and as Hodkinson outlines they also  played a role in extraordinary appointments such as nauarchos, harmosts and polemarchs.  It would appear that at some level the promotion system entailed a formal process involving the ephors. Yet especially for these more senior posts, it is hardly likely that the ephors acted on their own. The ephors were essentially executives, operating -- except under exceptional circumstances -- on the guidance given by the Gerousia and/or Assembly.

The involvement of the Assembly in the promotions of nauarchos, harmosts and polemarchs is particularly plausible. The Assembly was involved in the declaration of war or peace. It could demand the exile or recall even the kings themselves. It does not seem a stretch to picture the Spartan Assembly at least approving senior appointments or selecting a candidate among a short-list presented by the Gerousia/ephors (as Hodkinson suggests for harmosts and nauarchos) for polemarchs and lochagoi as well. But how practicable would it have been to put forward to the Assembly the names of each candidate for an enomotai? I think this unlikely.

Nor does it seem likely that the Gerousia was the body responsible for appointing junior and mid-level officers. By definition it was composed primarily of old men and their familiarity with the age-cohorts suitable for more junior levels of command would have been limited.

Given the example of the hippagretai, I think it most likely that polemarchs and lochagoi were selected by a combination of Gerousia/ephors making a recommendation that then had to be ratified by the Assembly similar to the procedure used for nauarchos and harmosts, but that they then appointed their pentekoneres, who in turn appointed the enomotarchs. I would suggest further that given the professionalism of the Spartan army and organization of the entire society along age lines, that only men with a set amount of experience would be eligible for each rank.

It would be most logical, as in other military organizations over the centuries, that advancement to a senior rank was only possible after serving in the next lower rank. Thus no man could be a pentekontes without first being an enomotarch, and no one could become a lochagos without first serving as a pentekontes. If this is hypothesized, then the number of men eligible for senior positions would be reduced to a number that would be manageable – the short list that the Gerousia/ephors would present to the Assembly for a final vote. It would also mean that promotion depended heavily on winning the favor of those above you in the chain of command -- a system that can be stifling to the advancement of outsiders, individualists and radical thinkers!

While this procedure seems logical and appears consistent with what we do know, I admit it is almost pure speculation. I’d appreciate your comments on this thesis.

Promotion in the Spartan army plays a role in my novel "A Peerless Peer."