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“They gave for the war”: The Spartan War Fund as a Public Contract

David DeVore

Ball State University

The famous Spartan War Fund inscription (IG V 1 1) provides a list of poleis and individuals who “gave to the Lacedaimonians for the war” a series of specified contributions. Where most scholarship has focused on the dating of the text, which has now been anchored in the Decelean War (Bleckmann 1993 and 2002, Piérart 1995), the inscription has barely begun to inform our understanding of the Spartan economy (cf. Loomis 1993: 77-80, Smarczyk 1999: 63-64, Hodkinson 2000: 167-170; Thommen 2014, 94-99, 127-129). It seems unlikely that the Spartans would have inscribed such contributions as a display of financial heft, since the values of the gifts specified on the inscription are sometimes strikingly modest and even nonmonetary, including grain and raisins.

We frame the inscription not as a show of financial strength but as a public display of the Spartans’ contract with friendly investors in the Spartans’ war effort who participated in a nonmonetary economy of inter-polis gift exchange (cf. Mitchell 1997). In stark contrast with the forced contributions listed on the obvious precedent for the War Fund, the Tribute Lists of Sparta’s enemy Athens, the War Fund repeatedly points out that poleis and individuals ἔδον τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις ποττὸν πόλεμον, even when space on the stone was scarce. These notices of willing sponsorship reminded the Spartans that they were involved in an array of philiai centered around exchanges of favors: in exchange for these monetary gifts the Spartans were obligated to fight the Decelean War so as maximally to repay their benefactors.

Since all of the donors named on the surviving parts of the inscription are Greek actors outside the Peloponnesian League (whose members were obligated to support Sparta), the inscription set into stone the Spartans’ image as Panhellenic champion of cities oppressed by Athenian imperialism, an image bolstered by the appearance of Aeginetans, Ephesians, Melians, and possibly Thasians and Teians as Spartan benefactors on the inscription. The display of Spartan obligations to these populations was crucial. For in the Decelean War, the Spartans were engaging in negotiations for much greater contributions from Persia. These negotiations endangered the sovereignty of the Greek poleis in Asia, which naturally could severely harm Sparta’s image as a patron of Greek cities and against which the inscription served as a propagandistic counterweight.


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Epigraphic Economies (organized by the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy)

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