Herodotus 9.85 and Spartiate Burial Customs

  • Paul Christesen


At 9.85 Herodotus states that after the Battle of Plataia, the Lakedaimonians buried their dead in three separate graves: one for the ἱρέες, one for the rest of the Spartiates, and one for helots. Taken together with 9.71, this passage suggests that all of the Spartiates decorated for bravery at Plataia were priests, which seems prima facie improbable. The interpretive challenges presented by 9.85 have been the subject of lively scholarly debate since the eighteenth century because this passage potentially provides important evidence for Spartiates’ funerary, religious, and educational customs. With an eye to facilitating future research, this article offers a detailed conspectus of the extensive collection of relevant scholarship and, in part by drawing upon evidence from the archaeological excavations of the Tomb of the Lakedaimonians in the Kerameikos, identifies one reading, which involves athetizing part of 9.85, as the preferred interpretive approach.