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Xenophon's "Cyropaedia" and Military Reform in Sparta

Paul Christesen
The Journal of Hellenic Studies
Vol. 126 (2006), pp. 47-65
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30033399
Page Count: 19
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Xenophon's "Cyropaedia" and Military Reform in Sparta
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Abstract

Xenophon's Cyropaedia can be read as a proto-novel, a biography, or as an essay on leadership or constitutional theory. This article argues that the Cyropaedia can and should also be read as a pamphlet on practical military reform with special relevance to the Spartan state. The inclusion of a series of proposals for the reform of the Spartan army in the Cyropaedia has not heretofore been recognized because Xenophon presented those proposals in the guise of a reform of the Persian army undertaken by Cyrus. There was no historical basis for this part of the Cyropaedia, and there is no trace of a major military reform in either the Greek or the Persian tradition about Cyrus as it existed before Xenophon. Cyrus' military reform was thus an authorial invention that presumably served some important narrative purpose. Xenophon inserted a military reform into the Cyropaedia as a way of presenting a proposal for the restructuring of the Spartan army. When Xenophon wrote the Cyropaedia, the Spartans were struggling desperately to maintain their position in the face of a powerful Boeotian army. The Boeotians could put many more hoplites into the field and had a large cavalry force that they were using to excellent effect. The obvious response on the part of the Spartans was to take whatever measures were necessary to increase the number of men in their phalanx and to assemble a sizeable, highly trained group of horsemen. The programme of military reform enacted by Cyrus in the Cyropaedia produces just this result. If implemented in Sparta, this programme would have involved the wholesale addition of non-Spartiates to the Spartan phalanx and the conversion of the Spartan homoioi into an all-cavalry force. Xenophon thus used Cyrus' army in the Cyropaedia to show what a revamped Spartan military might look like. The use of fictional narrative to explore ideas with immediate application to the real world has long been recognized as an integral part of the Cyropaedia. This aspect of the Cyropaedia has in the past been explored largely in regard to Xenophon's thinking about leadership and ethics, but it can and should be extended to include military reform in Sparta.

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