The Sparta Game: Violence, Proportionality, Austerity, Collapse

Josiah Ober (Stanford University)
Barry R. Weingast (Stanford University)

Abstract: Although archaic/classical-era Sparta shared many features in common with other Greek city-states, Sparta was atypical in certain ways. Among features of Spartan society regarded as striking by historians, ancient and modern, were the stability of the constitutional system, which seemed impervious to the regime changes that affected many other Greek states; the strict caste system, whereby some native residents were hereditary serfs, whereas other natives lived entirely by the fruits of the serfs’ labors; the systematic use of violence against serfs by their masters, justified by an annual declaration of war; norms of austerity and equality in respect to public consumption, along with substantial and growing inequality in wealth, among the ruling class; sudden collapse from leading state to minor regional state standing. These various features are related and can explained by a positive theory of political economy.

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