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Sparta and the English Republic

Foxley, R. (2016) Sparta and the English Republic. Classical Receptions Journal, 8 (1). pp. 54-70. ISSN 1759-5142

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/crj/clv015


In 1659-60, James Harrington and Henry Stubbe, two republican authors, engaged in a bad-tempered pamphlet debate about the constitution of classical Sparta. This took place in the context of political collapse after the fall of the Cromwellian Protectorate, as republicans desperately attempted to devise safeguards which could prevent the return of monarchy. Questions of constitutional form were not always at the forefront of 1650s English republicanism, but Harrington’s ideal constitution of ‘Oceana’ brought these questions to the fore in 1659’s discussions. Sparta formed a key plank of the ‘ancient prudence’ which supported Harrington’s theory, and like Stubbe he drew on Nicolaus Cragius’ De Republica Lacedaemoniorum (1593) for evidence, and was attracted to some of the more apparently ‘aristocratic’ elements of the Spartan constitution. However, classical texts and modern scholarly authority, such as Cragius’, were not the only ingredients in the English version of the ‘classical republican’ tradition; sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political thinkers and current exigencies also shaped Harrington and Stubbe’s arguments. Both Harrington and Stubbe ended up challenging the scholarly and ancient consensus that Sparta was an aristocracy or mixed polity, Harrington reinterpreting it to assimilate it to ‘democracy’, and Stubbe attempting to rehabilitate a model of benign ‘oligarchy’.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Language Text and Power
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:44454
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sparta; English republic; Harrington; Stubbe; republicanism; democracy; aristocracy
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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