Questioning militarism in Spartan religion
: analysis of dedications from four Spartan sanctuaries

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The view of Spartan society as dominated by militaristic ideology and policies has been challenged strongly in the past 30 years by ancient historians and archaeologists. Leading work done by Stephen Hodkinson and a series of conferences on ancient Sparta have been central in this debate. Spartan religion has also often been seen as part of the bigger picture of militaristic Sparta. This study looks at archaeological material found at sanctuaries in order to assess how militaristic Spartan religious practices and social concerns were; this material evidence has not been previously examined with that question in mind. Four well-excavated sites have been chosen for detailed analysis: the sanctuaries of Orthia, Helen and Menelaos, Apollo and Athena Chalkioikos. The archaeological evidence for each of these sites is studied in conjunction with literary and epigraphic sources in order to see the full picture of cult practice and to examine whether religious practices attested at these sites support the idea of militaristic nature of Spartan society, or whether instead a more nuanced picture emerges than previously thought. The wide chronological range from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period allows us to examine if there were any peak periods for intensive military concerns in Sparta. What this study shows is that while military dedications were found at all four sites, they did not dominate the material at any of them. Instead, they are found alongside the material reflecting other concerns of the worshippers that have to do with women, children, and structures of society not related to warfare. This study also shows that focusing mainly on literary descriptions of rituals at the sanctuaries, previous research has found supportive evidence for a militaristic society, however, when these sources are studied together with the archaeological evidence, it becomes clear that military concerns were only part of the picture. The wider image we get from studying all the evidence for these sites is of a society with a rich and varied range of concerns for their inhabitants.
Date of Award1 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorIrene Polinskaya (Supervisor) & Hugh Bowden (Supervisor)

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