The archaic 'anti-citizen': poverty, destitution and land in archaic Sparta

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


This paper arises from an interest in the emergence of the Spartan system of private property and the inequality it engendered. The development of this system alongside the emergence of citizenship as a more solidified concept in archaic Greece has not previously been recognised and in general many of the major narratives of Greek history remain political ones. On the other hand, Greek economic history can remain siloed off from other branches of the discipline. With that in mind, I present in this paper a close reading of an elegiac, martial fragment of the Spartan poet Tyrtaios, examining it as a literary object in the wider context of archaic poetry, and the ways the fragment and his poetry more generally reflected social and economic realities. In this fragment (fr. 10, ll. 1-10 West), the poet includes a vivid description of a landless beggar who was forced to wander around with his wife, children, and parents. I argue that whilst was working with and further embellishing pre-existing figures in archaic poetry, his verses were also constructed in such a way that they reflected something of the social and economic reality. At least some of Tyrtaios’ verses were composed during a renewed period of conflict with Messenia, conventionally referred to as the ‘Messenian Wars’. In his martial elegies, he urges young men to fight bravely for their patris and instructing them in the proper methods of hoplite fighting. The invective against the beggar, an unpropertied figure excluded from the community, the ‘anti-citizen’, is an additional component of this politically-motivated elegy. It is also possible that just as the martial components of his poetry reflected the reality of an ongoing conflict with the Messenians, so too does the vivid description of destitution reflect the real inequality that existed within Spartan society.
Period28 Apr 2023
Event titlePoverty and Vulnerability in Classical Antiquity: Gender and Life-Cycle Approaches
Event typeConference
LocationManchester , United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational