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Sparta

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A celebrated town of the Peloponnesus, mentioned several times under this name or under that of Lacedæmon in the Bible ( 1 Maccabees 12:2-23 ; 14:16-23 ; 15:23 ; 2 Maccabees 5:9 ). Letters were exchanged between Onias I, high priest of the Jews, and Arius I, King of Sparta, about the years 309 or 300 B. C. (I Mach., xii, 7-8, 19-23; Josephus, "Ant. Jud.", XII, iv, 10). Arius, who sought to maintain the independence of his country against the Syrian successors of Alexander by creating a diversion against them in Palestine, pretended to have found a writing relative to the Spartans, showing that they themselves and the Jews were two peoples — brothers both descending from Abraham. This assertion has little foundation, although perhaps there had been such a tradition. Later Jonathan wished to renew this friendship with the Spartans and sent them a letter by the delegates Numenius, son of Antiochus, and Antipater, son of Jason, recalling to them that "we therefore at all times without ceasing, both in our festivals, and other days, wherein it is convenient, remember you in the sacrifices that we offer" (I Mach., xii, 2, 5-18; Josephus, "Ant. Jud.", XIII, v, 8). After Jonathan's death the Spartans renewed with his brother Simon the friendship and alliance which they had concluded previously and sent him a letter on this subject by the same Numenius and Antipater who had undertaken the first embassy ( 1 Maccabees 14:16-23 ).

Although the relationship of the two peoples may well be called in question, there is no proof that the documents are not authentic — everything indicates the contrary, as the coexistence of the King Arius and the high-priest Onias, and the fact that under Jonathan the Bible does not speak of kings of Sparta, as in fact the last tyrant Nabis died in 192 B. C. We see again towards the year 170 B. C. the high priest Jason took advantage of the bonds of relationship of the Jews with Sparta to take refuge there — where he died ( 2 Maccabees 5:9 ). In 139 B. C. the Romans addressed to Sparta, and likewise to other kingdoms and cities a circular in favour of the Jews ( 1 Maccabees 15:23 ); this would seem to prove that there was already a Jewish community established in this city. The belief in the consanguinity of the two peoples existed even in the time of Josephus (Bel. Jud., I, xxvi, 1), and Sparta participated in the generosities of Herod the Great (Bel. Jud., I, xxi, 11), perhaps because he had there a Jewish community.

Christianity was introduced into Sparta at an early date. Eusebius (Hist. eccl., IV, xxiii) reports that under Marcus Aurelius, the Bishop of Corinth, Denis, wrote to the Lacedemonians a letter which is "a catechism of orthodoxy and which has peace and unity for its object". Le Quien (Oriens christ., II, 189-92) mentions fifteen bishops, among them Hosius in 458, Theodosius in 681, Theocletus in 898, finally the metropolitan Chrysanthus, who must have become a Catholic in the seventeenth century. In the beginning suffragan of Corinth, then of Patras, the see was made a metropolis in 1082 and numbered several suffragan bishoprics, of which there were three in the fifteenth century (Gelzer, "Ungedruckte . . . Texte der. Notitiæ episcopatunm", 635). In 1833; after the Peloponnesus had been included in the Kingdom of Greece, Sparta was reduced to the rank of a simple bishopric ; it remains the same today, but the see is called Monembasia and Sparta. The bishop resides at Sparta and exercises his jurisdiction over all the district of this name. When the region fell into the power of the Franks, Honorius III established there in 1217 a Latin see which by degrees became a titular and finally disappeared (Eubel, "Hier. cath. med. ævi", I, 302; II, 188; III, 234). The city numbers today 5000 inhabitants.


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