The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Sparta and Samos: a Special Relationship?

L. H. Jeffery and Paul Cartledgea1

a1 Clare College, Cambridge

The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States seems to embody most fully the type of the ‘special relationship’ today. It is a relationship founded ultimately (and now of course remotely) on biological kinship, structured by mutual economic and strategic interests and cemented by a sense of political and ‘spiritual’ affinity. At least the broad contours of such contemporary ‘special relationships’ are sufficiently clear. This is far from being the case with those of the Archaic and Classical Greek world, for two main reasons. First, and more decisively, our sources for the history of that world – literary, epigraphical, archaeological – are normally scrappy, discontinuous and variously slanted. Second, and only in part because of the nature of the evidence, the workings of all ancient Greek interstate relationships, whether ‘special’ or not, are in principle controversial. For in the absence of governments and parties in the modern sense it is frequently impossible to explain confidently a particular foreign policy decision taken by a Greek state. A fortiori it is in principle even more difficult to describe and account for ‘special’ relationships between states that apparently transcended purely immediate, local and narrowly self-interested considerations.