Bret Devereux is a military historian at North Carolina State University and author of the recent viral article "Spartans Were Losers: The US Military's Admiration of a Proto-Fascist City-State is Based on Bad History."
He joins us to explain why he thinks that the traditional image of Sparta as an egalitarian society of warrior badasses is a lie. You can find his blog, where he writes extensively on Sparta and other topics, here.
This episode is also available as a video:
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Transcript of the Episode's Prologue
There is a massive debate that’s been raging over the past several years about Sparta. On the one hand, you have the traditional image of the Spartans as the ancient world’s most fearless warriors. An image that’s been unquestioned for thousands of years. On the other hand, there’s a group of recent scholars who have been arguing that that whole image is a lie, a fiction, a fabrication. Now, I invited one of those scholars on the show to present his case that the Spartans were, not only unremarkable militarily, but also really bad role models for our society. As you’ll see, our conversation turned into quite a spicy debate about his two main claims which were that, a) the Spartans did not train for battle and were thus not particularly skilled at arms 2) that they could and did habitually murder their slaves with impunity.
As it turned out, we did not reach an agreement on either of these points in the space of this conversation. But we did discuss the main sources that he and his colleagues rely on for making these claims. And if you’re watching the video version of this episode, you’ll see the passages on the screen when we get to them. So, if you make it to the end, I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments. Are you convinced that the Spartans didn’t train for battle and that they routinely murdered their slaves?
And if you’re still undecided, well, at least you’ll be empowered to investigate these questions further, because you’ll know what the sources are that historians have to work with here. And spoiler alert, there aren’t that many.
So, I hope you enjoy this conversation. I want to thank my guest Bret Devereaux for being a good sport and sitting through an entire interview with someone who didn’t necessarily agree with him on all points. And now, here’s my original conversation with Bret Devereaux on Sparta.
Hi, I'm Lantern Jack and in today's episode of Ancient Greece Declassified, we're looking at Ancient Sparta. Now, a few weeks ago, an article came out called, Spartans Were Losers. The US military's admiration of a proto-fascist city-state is based on bad history.
As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir, especially on Twitter or X, where many amateur historians criticized the article and attacked its author for distorting history. In response to which, the author and several other academics pushed back and defended the article's core claims. and the whole thing just exploded into a huge debate. So I reached out to the article's author and invited him on the program to see if we can sort fact from fiction regarding Sparta. Bret Devereux is a military historian at North Carolina State University where he is a teaching assistant professor in the Department of History. His main area of expertise is actually Roman military history, but he has also been writing about Sparta for several years now. He has a quite popular blog, below where he put out an in-depth seven-part series debunking the myth of Sparta and describing its supposedly lackluster military performance and horrible domestic living standards. Bret Devereux, welcome to Ancient Greece Declassified.