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W. G. Forrest (1925–1997)

Autor(a) de A History of Sparta, 950-192 B.C.

6+ Works 274 Membros 3 Críticas

About the Author

Inclui os nomes: W.G. Forrest, W.G. Forrest

Disambiguation Notice:

(eng) This George Forrest, historian of Ancient Greece, who is almost always referred to as W. G. Forrest on book covers and title pages, is not the George Forrest (G. W. Forrest) who was a historian of India.

Obras por W. G. Forrest

Associated Works


Conhecimento Comum

Nome canónico
Forrest, W. G.
Data de nascimento
Data de falecimento
Nota de desambiguação
This George Forrest, historian of Ancient Greece, who is almost always referred to as W. G. Forrest on book covers and title pages, is not the George Forrest (G. W. Forrest) who was a historian of India.



History is written by the victors. Except for Sparta, where it was written by the losers. And they weren’t very enthused about it. W. C. Forrest’s A History of Sparta is rather dated (1968) but seems to be the most recent general history around. Forrest bemoans the fact that historical sources are, well, Spartan (and usually laconic as well). But he buckles down and makes do with what there is.

Thus, as far as can be told from the records, the Sparta government was set up by the possibly mythical (various dates are -1100, -1000, -885, -810, -776, -675, and -600; Forrest likes the most recent) King Lykourgos (Forrest uses a more technically correct transliteration of Greek than is common; thus Lykourgos, not Lycurgus, and Lakedaimon, not Lacedaemon). The result was something that probably would have made Hitler envious. Spartan boys were extracted from their mothers around age 6 and sent a sort of military school where they were under the control of older boys and could only eat what they could forage. One imagines sort of a Tom Brown’s School Days as rewritten by the Marquise de Sade. At age 20, they became eirenes, were eligible for military service, got to beat up younger boys, and were assigned a kleros, helots, and a sussiton by the State. To make things even more interesting, the eirenes were divided into rival groups that were supposed to fight every time they met. A kleros was some amount of farmland; helots were slaves; and a sussiton was a communal eating group. If he survived, at around age 32 the Spartan became an adult. He could now take a wife (couldn’t live with her, though) and had a voice in the Assembly (more on that in a minute). At about age 60 he was eligible to be elected to the gerousia.

Forrest speculates very little on the nature of the State (as opposed to the government). The word “State”, for me, always recalls some sort of faceless gray bureaucracy, and there must have been something like that to assign kleros, helots, and so forth. But there’s not any evidence for it. What is known of the Spartan government is that there were always two kings, from two royal houses; the intent of the dual kingship was apparently to prevent either from gaining too much power. The kings’ function seemed to be limited to leading the Spartan army in battle and being a member of the gerousia; there are records of kings being tried in Spartan courts. The next level down and presumably the de facto government was the gerousia. As mentioned, the gerousia was elected; but it was elected by estimating the volume of applause each candidate received from the assembly. Probably still fairer than a Chicago election, but not by much. The gerousia could propose laws, which were then voted on by the assembly; the gerousia had some sort of power to change laws even after they were approved but it’s not clear what. Forrest speculates that the power (“withdrawal” is the original Greek word used) meant if the assembly changed a proposed law the gerousia could change it back but admits uncertainty.

Sparta came to control a considerable amount of territory in the Peloponnese. Client cities (perioikoi) were allowed their internal laws, but had to provide troops to the Spartan army (thus, the “Allied” troops that came to fight at Themopylai were not patriotic Greek volunteers but conscripts). As might be imagined, Sparta was not exactly popular with her empire, and other Peloponnesian states were constantly revolting (especially when they could get assistance from Athens, Thebes, or other independent states).

My previous exposure to Spartan history came from classics: Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch and bits of Xenophon; these were mostly about Sparta at the peak of her power. Forrest goes into considerable detail on what happened later. The Spartan system kept individual Spartans tough, but not necessarily smart; some of the descriptions of Spartan wars sound something like the comment WWI Germans made about the British Army – “Lions lead by Donkeys”. It was inevitable that the Spartan empire would decline from its peak, but the Spartan attitude was “Once ours, always ours” and the Spartan military was whittled away in fruitless attempts to keep its client states and empire. Sparta won most of these battles, but the maximum size of the Spartan army was around 9000 and the Spartan system wasn’t conducive to increasing that number rapidly. Sparta tried arming helots, with the promise of freedom; however, the Spartan government had second thoughts, decided that giving military training to helots was a bad idea, and massacred a batch of 2000 (after particularly good performance on campaign). This led to recruitment shortfalls. The only thing keeping the empire together was that the various subject states were just as eager to fight each other as Sparta.

The Battle of Leuktra against Thebes in -371 usually marks the end of Sparta. By that time the Spartan army was pared down to somewhere between 1000 and 2500. It’s not clear from ancient sources how many were lost at Leuktra – estimates range from “all” to “700” – but even assuming the largest army estimate and the smallest losses it still was crippling. Leuktra proved that Spartans could be defeated – in fact, routed – and all the subject states began breaking off. Each loss of territory – in some cases land Sparta had controlled since the 6th century BCE – further diminished Spartan resources.

Interestingly, the decline of Spartan military power tended to increase the power of her kings. Forrest doesn’t speculate too much on why; perhaps the kings had sufficient financial power to be able to hold their own. Several Spartan kings hired themselves out to foreign states as mercenary commanders (I Maccabees contains a letter from King Areus to the High Priest Onias, stating that the Spartans considered the Jews their brothers; one expects there was more to it than that). Eventually Sparta fought a final war against Rome and the Achean League and Pergamum and Rhodes and Macedon (all at once) which led to the obvious conclusion.

Short and readable. A couple of usable maps; unfortunately the one that attempts to show terrain (pretty important in Spartan history) is not very readable. References at the end of each chapter; the index seems rather sparse but I was able to find everything I was looking for. Forrest is apologetic about the paucity of sources and makes it clear when he is speculating. One potential drawback is almost all the information comes from historical, rather than archaeological sources; however Forrest points out (and the ancient historians also remarked) that Sparta was notoriously devoid of monuments – there no grand temples, no city walls, and, in fact, not even a city, just a cluster of villages. Sparta didn’t even mint coins (it was considered “soft”) until the very end, relying on foreign coins and some sort of system involving iron spits, so numismatic evidence can’t be used to show the presence or absence of Spartan influence. Forrest notes that Sparta is the only Greek city mentioned by Homer where archaeology has not revealed a Mycenaean presence; either Menelaus’ Sparta was even more Spartan than the later one or he actually ruled somewhere else. As usual, further reading is indicated.
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1 vote
setnahkt | 2 outras críticas | Dec 2, 2017 |
2047. A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C. by W. G. Forrest (read 17 Jan 1987) The author is an Oxford fellow and the book is a short little book. It is quite lacking in dramatic popularization, and so it wasn't too interesting. Not as good a book as the last book I read in Grecian ancient history, Xerxes at Salamis, by Peter Green (read 27 Dec 1986).
Schmerguls | 2 outras críticas | Jul 29, 2013 |
richardhobbs | 2 outras críticas | Nov 28, 2010 |

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