Spar'ta (Σπάρτη, 1 Macc. 14:16; Λακεδαιμόνιοι, 2 Macc. 5:9: A.V. "Lacedaemonians"). In the history of the Maccabees mention is made of a remarkable correspondence between the Jews and the Spartans, which has been the subject of much discussion. The alleged facts are briefly these. When Jonathan endeavored to strengthen his government by foreign alliances (about B.C. 144), he sent to Sparta to renew a friendly intercourse which had been begun at an earlier time between Areus and Onias, SEE AREUS; SEE ONIAS, on the ground of their common descent from Abraham (1 Macc. 12:5-23). The embassy was favorably received, and after the death of Jonathan "the friendship and league" was renewed with Simon (1 Macc. 14:16-23). No results are deduced from this correspondence, which is recorded in the narrative without comment; and imperfect copies of the official documents are given, as in the case of similar negotiations with the Romans. Several questions arise out of these statements as to (1) the people described under the name Spartans, (2) the relationship of the Jews and Spartans, (3) the historic character of the events, and (4) the persons referred to under the names Onias and Areus. For the general history of Sparta itself, see Smith, Dict. of Geog. s.v.
1. The whole context of the passage, as well as the independent reference to the connection of the "Lacedaemonians" and Jews in 2 Macc. 5:9, seem to prove clearly that the reference is to the Spartans, properly so called. Josephus evidently understood the records in this sense. and the other interpretations which have been advanced are merely conjectures to avoid the supposed difficulties of the literal interpretation. Thus Michaelis conjectured that the words in the original text were ספרדים, ספרד (Ob 1:20, see Gesen. Thesaur. s.v.), which the translators read erroneously as ספרט, ספרטים, and thus substituted Sparta for Sepharad (q.v.). Frankel, again (Monatsschrift. 1853, p. 456), endeavors to show that the name Spartans may have been given to the Jewish settlement at Nisibis, the chief center of the Armenian dispersion. But against these hypotheses it may be urged conclusively that it is incredible that a Jewish colony should have been so completely separated from the mother state as to need to be reminded of its kindred, and also that the vicissitudes of the government of this strange city (1 Macc. 12:20, βασιλεύς; 14:20, ἄρχοντες καὶ ἡ πόλις) should have corresponded with those of Sparta itself.
2. The actual relationship of the Jews and Spartans (2 Macc. 5: 9, συγγένεια) is an ethnological error which it is difficult to trace to its origin. It is possible that the Jews regarded the Spartans as the representatives of the Pelasgi, the supposed descendants of Peleg, the son of Eber (Stillingfleet, Origines Sacroe, 3, 4, 15; Ewald, Gesch. 4, 277, note), just as in another place the Pergamenes trace back their friendship with the Jews to a connection in the time of Abraham (Josephus, Ant. 14, 10, 22); if this were so, they might easily spread their opinion. It is certain, from an independent passage, that a Jewish colony existed at Sparta at an early time (1 Macc. 15:23); and the important settlement of the Jews in Cyrene may have contributed to favor the notion of some intimate connection between the two races. The belief in this relationship appears to have continued to later times (Josephus, War, 1, 26, 1), and, however mistaken, may be paralleled by other popular legends of the Eastern origin of Greek states. The various hypotheses proposed to support the truth of the statement are examined by Wernsdorff (De Fide Lib. Macc. § 94), but probably no one now would maintain it.
3. The incorrectness of the opinion on which the intercourse was based is obviously no objection to the fact of the intercourse itself; and the very obscurity of Sparta at the time makes it extremely unlikely that any forger would invent such an incident. But it is urged that the letters said to have been exchanged are evidently not genuine, since they betray their fictitious origin negatively by the absence of characteristic forms of expression, and positively by actual inaccuracies. To this it may be replied that the Spartan letters (1 Macc. 12:20-23; 14:20-23) are extremely brief, and exist only in a translation of a translation, so that it is unreasonable to expect that any Doric peculiarities should have been preserved. The Hellenistic translator of the Hebrew original would naturally render the text before him without any regard to what might have been its original form (12:22-25, εἰρήνη, κτήνη; 14:20, ἀδελφοί). On the other hand, the absence of the name of the second king of Sparta in the first letter (12:20) and of both kings in the second (14:20) is probably to be explained by the political circumstances under which the letters were written. The text of the first letter, as given by Josephus (Ant. 12, 4, 10), contains some variations, and a very remarkable additional clause at the end. The second letter is apparently only a fragment.
4. The difficulty of fixing the date of the first correspondence is increased by the recurrence of the names involved. Two kings bore the name Areus, one of whom reigned B.C. 309-265, and the other, his grandson, died B.C. 257, being only eight years old. The same name was also borne by an adventurer who occupied a prominent position at Sparta about B.C. 184 (Polyb. 23, 11, 12). In Judaea, again, three high priests bore the name Onias, the first of whom held office B.C. 330-309 (or 300); the second, B.C. 240-226; and the third, about B.C. 198-171. Thus Onias I was for a short time contemporary with Areus I, and the correspondence has been commonly assigned to them (Palmer, De Epist. etc. [Darmst. 1828]; Grimm, On 1 Macc. 12). But the position of Judaea at that time was not such as to make the contraction of foreign alliances a likely occurrence; and the special circumstances which are said to have directed the attention of the Spartan king to the Jews as likely to effect a diversion against Demetrius Poliorcetes when he was engaged in the war with Cassander, B.C. 302 (Palmer, quoted by Grimm, loc. cit.), are not completely satisfactory, even if the priesthood of Onias can be extended to the later date. Ewald (Gesch. 4, 276, 277, note) supposes that the letter was addressed to Onias II during his minority, B.C. 990-240, in the course of the wars with Demetrius. Josephus is probably correct in fixing the event in the time of Onias III (Ant. 12, 4, 10). The last named Areus may have assumed the royal title, if that is not due to an exaggerated translation, and the absence of the name of a second king is at once explained (Ussher, Annales, A.C. 183; Herzfeld, Gesch. d. V. Isr. 1, 215-218). At the time when Jonathan and Simon made negotiations with Sparta the succession of kings had ceased. The last absolute ruler was Nabis, who was assassinated B.C. 192. (Wernsdorff, De Fide Lib. Macc. § 93-112; Grimm, loc. cit., Herzfeld, loc. cit. The early literature of the subject is given by Wernsdorff.)
Sparti, in Grecian mythology, were the warriors who sprang from the dragons' teeth sown by Cadmus at the behest of Minerva. They slew each other until only five were left alive, whose names were Echion, Udaeus, Pelor, Chthonius, and Hyperenor. These survivors became the builders of Thebes, and from them the five tribes of its subsequent population derived their names" (Apollod. 3, 4, 1; Pausan. 9, 5, 1; 10, 1, etc.).