SPARTA, city in Greece; ancient city-state in the Peloponnesus, called Mistra in Crusader times. The earliest information on the relations between Sparta and the Jews is the letter said to have been sent by Areus, king of Sparta (309–265 B.C.E.), to the high priest *Onias I (I Macc. 12:20–23). In this letter Areus sends his greetings to the Jews and proposes a full alliance in the words, "your cattle and goods are ours, and ours yours." It also refers to a written tradition that the two peoples are of the stock of Abraham (cf. Jos., Ant., 14:255; see *Pergamum). This was apparently included in one of those books dealing with the genealogy of the various nations, which were widespread in the Hellenistic era, or it may have been based on the well-known work of *Hecateus of Abdera. It is possible that the contemporary political situation, the relations between the *Ptolemies and Sparta on the one hand and the Jews on the other (idem, 109) forms the background to this alliance, as well as perhaps some sympathy of ideas (cf. Y. Baer, in: Zion 17 (1952), 35). Josephus, who quotes the text of the letter (Ant. 12:22–26), adds some details which do not appear in I Maccabees. I Maccabees (12:6–18) also quotes a letter of Jonathan the Hasmonean to the Spartans and (14:20–23) a letter of the Spartans to Simeon the Hasmonean. Some scholars regard these letters as either wholly or in part fictitious (see F.M. Abel, Les Livres des Maccabées (1949), 231–3). Corroborating evidence for these relations is to be found in II Maccabees (5:9) which describes the flight of the high priest Jason to Sparta because its people were close to his. The inhabitants of Sparta are also mentioned in I Maccabees (15:23), but it is doubtful whether the existence of a Jewish settlement can be inferred from there, as some scholars have attempted to do. There is no explicit mention of a Jewish settlement in Sparta, though Jews were living in the Peloponnesus during the first century C.E. (Philo, Legatio and Gaium, 281).

[Uriel Rappaport]

During the tenth century there were Jews in Sparta; they were engaged in commerce. When a plague broke out in Sparta, the monk Nikon (10th century) refused to come to the village's aid as long as the Jews, who were an obstacle in the spreading of Christianity, were not expelled. His incitement was without effect. The presence of Jews is mentioned during the reigns of the Palaeologi emperors (1261–1453). When Sigismondo Malatesta conquered Mistra in 1465, he burnt down the Jewish quarter. There is evidence of the presence of Jews again during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were engaged in the silk industry and in commerce. The French author Chateaubriand, who visited Greece in 1806, mentions the Jewish quarter of Sparta. During the Greek Revolution (1821–1829), the Albanians, who invaded Peloponnesus, destroyed the Jewish community.

[Simon Marcus]


F.R. de Chateaubriand, Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, 1 (1859), 161, 166; M. Schwab, Rapport sur une Mission de Philologie en Grèce (1913), 117f.; A. Andréades, in: Economic History, 3 (1934–37), 1–23; Rosanes, Togarmah, 3 (1938), 129–200.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.