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BSA Friends’ Lecture Series (Hybrid Event)


Prof. Tony Spawforth, ‘The Athenian Family of Herodes Atticus and the Spartan Contest of Endurance’

Abstract: This talk introduces the Sparta of Roman times, before focusing on a new Greek inscription from Sparta published last year by Georgios Steinhauer. The talk argues that this inscription records acclamations shouted by spectators at lads competing in the Contest of Endurance at the Spartan sanctuary of Artemis Orthia. This bloody spectacle formed the high point of the ‘Lycurgan’ training of Roman Sparta’s juvenile males. Highly-placed Romans, including emperors Augustus and Hadrian, admired this contest—in fact a faked tradition—as emblematic of the age-old discipliina, the militarised lifestyle of the Spartan warriors of legend.

The talk goes on to identify the first in this list of competitors, ‘Herodes son of Hipparchus’, as none other than the Roman senator and suffect consul in AD 133, Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes. This Athenian grandee and his son and namesake, the famous Herodes Atticus, consul, plutocrat and orator, are already known to have passed through Sparta’s re-invented agoge. The inscription shows that the father as part of this training had submitted, in effect, to a public whipping, something remarkable for a future Roman consul. The talk briefly considers the implications of this new finding for values and attitudes in the topmost tier of Roman society in the High Empire, and for the light that it sheds on the enduring importance of military traditions in provincial Greek cities under the pax Romana

Bio: Tony Spawforth is emeritus professor of ancient history at Newcastle University. He first joined the Classics department there in 1982, arriving from three years as assistant director of the BSA. Roman Sparta was the subject of his Birmingham PhD. This later became one half of a book co-authored with Paul Cartledge, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta (2nd ed. 2002). A former Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, he has published 12 further books, including the 3rd and 4th editions of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, coedited with Simon Hornblower and Esther Eidinow (1996; 2012). His last but one book, The Story of Greece and Rome, with Yale University Press (pb 2020), has been translated into six languages, including Modern Greek and Chinese. His latest book, also with Yale (2023), is called What the Greeks Did for Us.

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When: 2 May, 2023 @ 7:00 pm EEST
Where: – –