Kingship at Sparta has long been an object of fascination amongst ancient historians. Both Carlier (1984) and Cartledge (1987) provide significant overviews of the dyarchy as a political institution from the late Archaic Period through to the Hellenistic rule of Nabis (see also, Cartledge & Spawforth 2001). More delimited studies on the gerea of Spartan kings have been produced by Munson (1993) and Millender (2002; 2009; and 2018) among others. While Carlier offers a series of genealogical studies in conjunction with a list of kings, regents, and military commanders from 590-192 BCE, we still lack a clear understanding of the position of royal families within the Heraclid elite and the Homoioi. This paper provides a survey of all known royal sons or princes who were not direct heirs to the kingship (i.e., first sons). There are nineteen such historical individuals during the period examined, six of whom went on to rule.
This represents a shift away from the study of kingly individuals to the study of royal generations at Sparta, a departure from theoretical constitutional analysis to focus on historical praxis (Lupi 2000 discusses generational dynamics amongst the Homoioi as does Hennige 1974). This approach is critical for removing anachronism from our interpretive models (i.e. projecting an ‘absolutism’ back onto Spartan ritual institutions). In examining such royal “spares” we strike at the nexus of a series of critical relationships for understanding classical Spartan civic institutions: (1) the relationship between the agōgē system and royal houses, (2) the fundamental incongruity in the Spartan ideological schema between kings and the Homoioi, and (3) a better sense of historical individuals who belonged to the Heraclid elite within the broader Homoioi.
In contrast to the interpretations of Cartledge (1987; 2001) and Ducat (2006), I view the evidence for princely participation in the agōgē as normative (Plut. Vit. Ages. 3; Teles On Exile, Fragment 3). Plutarch’s emphasis on the participation of Agesilaos II in the agōgē is a fundamental misunderstanding (perhaps a distortion of Hellenistic biography) as corrected by contemporary witness (Hdt. 5.42.1; 7.205.1). Thus, the proviso that the direct heir to the throne was exempt from the agōgē mattered little as that prince still maintained the Spartiate díaita, likely training with the royal mess or elite hippeis. This corrects an interpretive problem concerning the royal gerea, which did not include any exemptions, but rather offered additional material allotments in the spirit of Homeric and heroic ideology (contra Millender). Royal education was thus in line with Spartiate values and embodied the charismatic status of the dyarchy (though I concede that agōgē-reared kings might have a broader client network). This interpretive framework further complicates the scholarly view of the Homoioi as an egalitarian peer group (as initially explored by Hodkinson 1983 and 1993), since, when we examine the political careers of the nineteen princes that were not in line for the throne, they prove to be critical embodiments of the heroic status of the Heraclids, suggesting a broader aristocratic core amongst the peers.
Myth and History