Sparta Storymaps – Using ArcGIS for Classical Studies.

[Image of an oblique profile of an ancient marble bust of a soldier in a plumed helmet,
thought to be Spartan General Leonidas, Sparta Museum].

Author: Dr. James Lloyd-Jones. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 28th May 2021.

Sparta. What image is conjured in your mind? The ancient Spartans are often seen as the venerated, the heroes of Thermopylae. But they are also the villains, the enslavers of the helots, and the supporters of eugenics. In fact, the contemporary view of the ancient Spartans as heroic macho warriors is so widespread, thanks to 300, that when we explore the Spartans in more detail, the image that appears can seem surprisingly complex and uncomfortable.

[Image showing a scenic view of the Spartan theatre as stone remains with the Taygetos mountain range in the background].

Not only do we have to deal with the complications of modern interpretations of Sparta (some of them appropriated by political extremists), but we need to tackle the complications of ancient interpretations too. With the lack of any meaningful historical narratives written by a Spartan, the evidence from Sparta itself can be bitty and difficult to interpret. For example, the Classical agora remains unexcavated, and many inscriptions are still untranslated.

The major accounts about the Spartans that do survive are written by non-Spartans such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, Pausanias, and Plutarch. They come with their own interpretative issues too. Thucydides fought, and lost, against the Spartans. Xenophon was buddies with a Spartan king. Plutarch wrote nearly half a millennium after the period of Spartan hegemony and dealt in writing engaging biographies. And this is all before we get to the historiographical phenomenon known as the ‘Spartan Mirage’. We are not the only generation for whom the image of the Spartans could be decidedly one-dimensional, over-exaggerated, or dowsed in political and philosophical motives. These are all some of the juicy topics that we sink our teeth into in the third-year module “Ancient Sparta” (CL3SP for those who want to look it up).

[Image of Caitlin’s map showing the Mediterranean with marked estimated trade routes from Port Gytheion].

Studying the Spartans can be an interesting exercise in a world with increasingly complicated sources of opinions, facts, and fictions dressed as facts. So, for one of our assessments, I decided that students might benefit from a digital project that would allow them to explore a facet of Sparta that might appeal to, and be surprising for, a general audience. It also presented an opportunity to think about how we present evidence, and the importance of geography in understanding Sparta, in the form of networks, findspots, and battle sites.

 

[Image showing a scatter map produced by student Alfie to show patterns of spartan military defeats at land and sea between 659 – 371 BCE].

The software that we used is ArcGIS StoryMaps, and you can view some of the work that the students created in the links provided. I was really impressed across the board with the work that was turned in, especially under the trying circumstances of COVID. The examples given here represent the broad spread of topics that everyone covered. The topics range from analyses of Spartan military capabilities to helot revolts, Spartan festivals, votives, trade, colonies, and more. Each of the stories presents a compelling case for taking a more nuanced approach when we ask the question “Who were the Spartans?” and I hope that you will find something of interest in each, I know I did!

Lydia’s “The Karneia: Festival or training camp?
Robert’s “The Best Soldiers in the World.”
Eleanor’s “An Insight into Spartan Religious Cults and Sanctuaries.”
Alfie’s “Just How Invincible Was Sparta?
Katie’s “Motives Behind the Votives.”
Daniel’s “The impact of the Helot Revolts on Sparta.”
Katy’s “Revels and Raves: Religious festivals and celebrations in Ancient Sparta.
Jack’s “Sparta the colonizer: Was Taras really her only colony?
Caitlin’s “A Crack in the Spartan Trade: The Journey of Laconian Pottery.

The “Ancient Sparta” module focused on a series of lectures and seminars, as well as some practical sessions on how to use ArcGIS StoryMaps. There was a lively movie night where we got together to watch 300 (meme competition included), as well as an introduction to some of the archaeological material from Sparta in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at Reading. Finally, we were very grateful to have additional video introductions from colleagues, providing the students with some alternative viewpoints and expertise. Many thanks once again to Paul Chirstesen, Stephen Hodkinson, Tyler-Jo Smith, and Paul Cartledge for their generosity of time and knowledge.

All being well, the module is due to run next year too, when, hopefully, we might be able to do some object-handling in the Ure Museum too. There’s something quite special about being up close to an object that a Spartan dedicated in a sanctuary over 2500 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image of three, small metal objects thought to be cult votives made by Spartans].

Recent Research on Sparta

By Dr James Lloyd-Jones, 23rd November 2020.

The last two weeks have been something of a Sparta bonanza, and I’m not just talking about Ted Cruz’s tweet of a photoshopped Gonzalez flag with a roast turkey above the words ‘come and take it’. Those words, spuriously attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, have a long and troubled history.

This is just one of the many ways that the legacy of the battle of Thermopylae manifests today. Last Saturday (21st November) was an occasion to discuss the reception of the battle of Thermopylae in this, the (nearly) 2500th anniversary of the battle. I’d decided earlier on in the year that it would be good to hold an event in the UK to explore the legacy of Thermopylae and mark the anniversary, so got in touch with the Hellenic Society to see if they would be interested in hosting it. The “Thermopylae 2500” conference was also a chance to try something a bit different online by pre-circulating the speakers’ papers with the conference itself consisting of breakout groups and panel Q&As to explore the speaker’s papers and broader themes. We have a range of amazing papers and videos on the website (where they will remain for the foreseeable) ranging from contemporary responses to the battle in antiquity, to how Leonidas and Thermopylae were alluded to during Panamanian independence. Many thanks to everyone who participated in the range of lively conversations that were had on the day.

Alongside the Thermopylae 2500 conference, I’ve been able to participate in a few other events. As part of the SpartaLive! series, run by the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies and the City of Sparti, I was invited to share some of my research into Spartan music (the topic of my doctoral thesis). In my talk, I introduced listeners to some of the key sources and ideas that can be drawn upon to study the importance that music played in Spartan society over time. This ranges from fragments of surviving musical instruments, artistic depictions of musicians (on figured pottery, bronze statuettes, and other media), and of course textual and epigraphic evidence. You will be able to find my talk and others on the SpataLive! website here.

A scene of music on a Lakonian vase, c. 530 BCE. British Museum, 1854,0810.4.

In October, I was invited to present my research on the Spartan lead votives as part of the seminar “Metal Offerings in Greek Sanctuaries: votive gifts, rituals, disposal”, organised by Rita Sassu (Sapienza University of Rome) and Chiara Tarditi (Università Cattolica, Brescia). The lead votives are one of the most unique facets of material religion in Sparta. Over 100,000 were found at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, and many thousands more at other sanctuaries. My talk focused on how archival and scientific analysis are contributing to our re-interpretation of the votives.

As we begin to wrap up this term, I look forward to sharing some of my research on Sparta with our undergraduates, as I convene a new module on Sparta for next term.

Research of Ure Museum interns acclaimed

Every year the Ure Museum welcomes and benefits from the work of several interns from around the world, other UK universities and even Reading. This week two of our interns from Summer 2019 were celebrated for their work in the Ure. At the 2019 UROP showcase last night Ruth Lloyd, a third-year student in Classics, was awarded Best Poster in the Heritage and Creativity theme, for her work on the biography of Annie Dunman Hunt Ure (1893-1976) on a paid internship through the University of Reading’s UROP scheme. Ruth’s poster moreover was one of two singled out for inclusion in a BCUR (British Conference of Undergraduate Research) event — Posters in Parliament — which brings together undergraduate students from universities across the UK to exhibit their research in Westminster. For her research Ruth worked with Ure staff and archives, University archives and conducted oral history with Ure’s family. Some of her research has already been incorporated into Annie’s Box, an interactive museum outreach project funded by The Friends of the University of Reading. We are delighted that through Ruth’s work our museum’s co-founder Annie Ure will finally have her day in Parliament!

Meanwhile a report of Kutsi Atcicek’s internship has been published in the latest volume of Imperial College’s Imperial Engineer. Kutsi, now in his third year of a course in Materials Science with Nuclear Engineering at Imperial, came to Reading through a grant from RSMA (Royal School of Mines Association) to pursue his interest in ancient materials. Working with Professor Amy Smith & James Lloyd, one of our PhD students who has just completed his viva, Kutsi employed various analytical techniques to research the Ure’s collection of miniature votive vessels found at Sparta’s ‘Achilleion’.