Neodamodeis – The Freed Helots of Sparta

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6th Century Spartan Hoplite Figurine

I have been looking back into Spartan history lately and so I thought I’d share with you some of the more interesting less known parts of Spartan society. A huge part of the Spartan population was made up by those who were not actually Spartan, the helots; a cause of great concern to the Spartans throughout their history. These helots were slaves that were usually captives of the Spartans forced into the service of their captors. But some of these slaves were awarded their freedom after spending time in the service of the hoplites of the Spartan Army. These freed helots of military service were known as the ‘Neodamodeis’.

Neodamodeis (νεοδαμώδεις) literally means those who are new to the people; ‘lately made one of the people’. This comes from the Greek words νέος meaning ‘new’ and δῆμος meaning ‘people’ or ‘community’. A simple use of terminology to describe a simple concept. While the study of helots has been a topic of great interest in modern scholarship there is little to be said on the helot who was freed or became a part of the wider Spartan society.

The first available apparition of the term Neodamodeis comes from Thucydides who uses it in passing without explaining the term or its origin. Ducat does attempt to place an approximate date on the origin of the term and the idea. Ducat’s book Les Hoplites (1990) asserts that the term originated in line with the episode concerning the Brasidians where the Helots were freed after taking part in the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BC. Neodamodeis are certainly attested after 424BC from at least 396 BC in relation to the part of the Spartan army in Agesilaus II’s campaign in Ionia.

Image from the Chigi Vase showing Spartan hoplites in battle

Lazenby explains that the neodamodeis could still serve in the Spartan army but were distinct from the helot soldiers they had once been. This assertion is made in relation to Brasidas again when they are first mentioned in connection with his soldiers return from Thrace in 421BC. This is recorded in Thucydides who explains that these neodamodeis were not in fact free at the time of returning but were earmarked for freedom and hence distinguished from the remaining helots. Thucydides tells us that these men were given their freedom shortly after the event and were then settled with the neodamodeis already settled at Lepreon on the border of Spartan territory. This tells us that neodamodeis were named so before actually being freed on the understanding that they would soon be freed. That they were given extra status on that understanding alone, and then that when freed they were kept in close association with Sparta still. The episodes at Lepreon in Thucydides also shows that neodamodeis likely stayed under the direction of the Spartan army though no longer slaves and served as non-citizen hoplites. Hesychius of Alexandria explains that the neodamodeis, while freed from the helot status, never acquired full citizenship.

There are few other references to neodamodeis in the ancient texts in comparison to those for helots (Εἵλωτες).

Athenaeus makes mention of them in his Deipnosophists, 6.102:

Μύρων δὲ ὁ Πριηνεὺς ἐν δευτέρῳ Μεσσηνιακῶν ‘ πολλάκις, φησίν,ἠλευθέρωσαν Λακεδαιμόνιοι δούλους καὶ οὓς μὲν ἀφέτας ἐκάλεσαν, οὓς δὲἀδεσπότους, οὓς δὲ ἐρυκτῆρας., δεσποσιοναύτας δ᾽ ἄλλους, οὓς εἰς τοὺςστόλους κατέτασσον, ἄλλους δὲ νεοδαμώδεις, ἑτέρους ὄντας τῶν εἱλώτων.

And Xenophon and Plutarch make a few mentions of them in relation to their analysis of Spartan society and history. Not much can be said for the freed slaves of the Spartan world. But the Neodamodeis give us a brief glance into the lives of those without voice.

Further Reading:

Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War

Xenophon, Hellenica

Xenophon, Minor Works

Plutarch, Agesilaus

Lazenby, J.F., The Spartan Army (2012)

Sabin, P., et.al., The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare: Volume 1 (2007)

Hanson, V., Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (1993)

Atkinson, K., Ancient Sparta: A Re-Examination of the Evidence (1949)

Hunt, P., Slaves, Warfare, and Ideology in the Greek Historians (2002)

Cartledge, P., Sparta and Lakonia: a regional history, 1300-362 BC (2002)

Cartledge, P., Sparta and Lakonia & Hellenistic and Roman Sparta (2001)

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One thought on “Neodamodeis – The Freed Helots of Sparta

    GraecoMuse Turns One « GraecoMuse said:
    October 13, 2012 at 12:52 am

    [...] Neodamodeis – The Freed Helots of Sparta – 07/10/12 [...]

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