Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Heather Thornton
Helots are a well-known part of ancient Greek society, yet there remains much debate regarding the definition of a helot, their identity, and their overall influence on Sparta. Most modern scholars generally refer to a helot as a serf, or tend to classify them alongside chattel slaves. They insist that their history and identity was lost during the persistent wars, causing later historians to fill in the blanks with fabricated or generalized associations. There is even heated debate on their value to the Spartan economic system, questioning the plausibility of the agrarian system. This study posits that a helot was neither a serf nor a chattel slave, but prisoners of the many efforts of Sparta to subdue its capable neighbors through war. As prisoners of war from the same cultural background, helots responded as such by revolting and seceding to formerly owned territories. Their presence connected directly to the development of the Spartan political and economic systems of Lycurgus, which caused conflict and war throughout Greece and amongst Spartan allies. Furthermore, this study clarifies that the helot’s identity never truly faltered, and that their contributions to warfare both on side of Sparta and especially against were examples of their desire for freedom. It concludes that the Messenian helot’s persistent efforts to regain their freedom and lost territory, coupled with Sparta’s constant dependency on helotry, inevitably led to Sparta’s demise.
Sheline, Christopher P., "Breaking the Cuffs: The Helots Rise to Freedom A Lesson in the Capacity of Unwavering Identity" (2015). Master's Capstone Theses. 101.
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