Ancient Spartans have long been defined by their reputation for having lived a life of austere self-discipline in a city that resembled an army camp. I seek to radically revise our understanding of the Spartans by showing that Sparta was a community founded in and fanatically dedicated to a particular form of luxury: leisure. Spartan citizens (Spartiates), both male and female, young and old, were forbidden to engage in any kind of economically productive activity. The withdrawal of Spartiates from the agricultural labor force (which was possible because of the mass enslavement of the indigenous population of territories conquered by Sparta) freed Spartiates from the back-breaking manual labor involved in farming. It also significantly reduced the output from the Spartiates’ estates and thus was, by any reasonable definition of the term, a luxury and a rather expensive one at that. Luxury in the form of leisure thus played a key role in Spartiate society. This new understanding of ancient Sparta has wider ramifications because it sheds new light on of the history of citizenship and leadership in ancient Greek communities.
Paul Christesen is William R. Kenan Professor of Ancient Greek History in the Department of Classics at Dartmouth College. He has written three and more than 30 articles, and he is currently working with Paul Cartledge of Cambridge University on the Oxford History of the Archaic Greek World. His areas of expertise include ancient Greek history (with a particular focus on Sparta) and the relationship between sport and political systems.