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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Leonidas in Sparti

Returning from Kythera last week, my husband and I spent a night in Sparti. Stopping by the statue of a hoplite in front of the stadium by the acropolis, I noted - to my surprise - that it was not identified as Leonidas. At the top of the inscription, instead of a name, were the only the words "Molon Labe." It struck me as the ultimate tribute, as apparently the name was not considered necessary.

My own tribute is a novel in three parts based to the extent possible on the existing historical record. This is so scanty, however, that I unabashedly confess that my Leonidas is a work of fiction. For more about the novel visit my Leonidas website at Book One, Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge, is already available for sale.


  1. Down in the Mani it's hot and spooky. I've seen that statue.

    Did the Spartans...through Lycurgus...start the two King system? One way of going about the checks and balances thingie. When Caesar was co-consul with Bibulus it didn't work that well.

  2. Mani does have an atmosphere of its own, but I always feel safe and comfortable in the Eurotas valley.

    The Spartan version of the dual kingship (according to Herodotus) is that very soon after settling in the Eurotas valley and before the First Messenian War or the Lycurgan Reforms, twins were born to the rulling king Aristodemos. While modern historians dispute this version and believe the kings came from completely different tribes, the first recorded Spartan Kings were Agis I (ca. 930-900 BC), first of the Agiad House) and Eurypon (ca. 895-865), the first Eurypontid.

    Certainly the institution of a dual kingship acted as a kind of check-and-balance which was remarkably effective for centuries. On the other hand, it may also account for much of Sparta's apparent "hesitancy" and "foot dragging" in international affairs. Since the kings were legally equal and until ca. 500 jointly led Sparta's army when it deployed, there would always have been a degree of negotiating and lobbying associated with getting the support of both monarchs for any major policy. If the kings were at loggerheads - as they apparently often were - this would delay Spartan response to any crisis while ephors, Council and Assembly exerted pressure on the kings for a common policy.