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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).


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.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.