Nigel Kennell

Research Interests

History of Sparta, Greek Epigraphy, Greek Civic Culture in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

I became interested in Greek history and epigraphy during my undergraduate years at UBC and developed my expertise at the U of T under the tutelage of John Traill and Christopher Jones. In Greece as a Regular Member of the American School (1978/79) I found myself drawn to Greece in the Roman period, a field relatively unstudied at that time. The epigraphical evidence for Roman Sparta, in particular the mass of inscriptions on the west parodos wall of the city’s theatre, intrigued me and led to my PhD dissertation, The Public Institutions of Roman Sparta.

During my research, I discovered that the later agoge, the Spartan citizen training system, whose description by Plutarch in his Life of Lycurgus and Roman-era inscriptions had formed the basis of generally accepted reconstructions of the Classical agoge, was in fact almost completely invented in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods. Much influenced by the work of Ranger and Hobsbawm on the invention of tradition, I developed this idea into a full-length examination of the agoge, The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta, a book that has fundamentally changed how historians approach the history of the training system and of Classical Sparta in general.

This study sparked my interest in training systems elsewhere in the Greek world. And so I began a long-term project on the history, development, and sociocultural importance of the institution, attested in more than 200 cities, from its invention in Athens during the early 4th century to its demise in the 4th century CE.

While collecting material for Citizen Training in the Greek World, I published a collection of all the available evidence, both epigraphical and literary, for ephebes, ephebic institutions, and officials (Kennell 2006) that has encouraged more scholars to study the later ephebate. As well, I published Spartans: A New History, a narrative survey of Sparta from its foundation to Late Antiquity that is now widely read by both students and non-specialists.

Current Projects

As I approach the final stages of the ephebic project, my work has become increasingly informed by the concept of cultural memory, the means by which communities promote social cohesion by ensuring certain seminal events or personalities are remembered, even if what is remembered is not historically true. I realised that this approach provided a tool to understand the invention of the Classical agoge by the later Spartans. Beyond that, cultural memory can also help to illuminate the process by which ephebates in other Greek cities functioned as repositories of traditions that reinforced their citizens’ sense of identity in the shifting circumstances of the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

My two most recent articles are products of this new approach: “Memory and Identity among the Ephebes of Second-Century Achaea,”forthcoming in The Province Achaea in the Second Century CE (ed. A. Kouremenos), and “Cultural History and Memory in the Stadium-Gymnasium Complex at Messene.”

I am an alumnus of UBC. I studied with Malcolm McGregor, Anthony Barrett, and Philip Harding in the mid-1970s, who introduced me to Greek epigraphy and history. I earned my MA and PhD at the University of Toronto; during that time, my lifelong association with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens also began. My teaching career developed at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, where I remained until 2003. I then moved to Athens, Greece, to pursue research more intensively. For the next decade I taught for College Year in Athens, a US semester-abroad programme, after serving for a time as Director of the Canadian Archaeological Institute at Athens (now the Canadian Institute in Greece). I have also been a Research Assistant at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (1992-1993), a chercheur associé at the Collège de France in Paris (1994), and a Visiting Fellow at All Souls’ College in Oxford (2009). In 2012, I returned to Canada and have taught for CNERS since then.

Selected Grants and Awards

Elizabeth A. Whitehead Distinguished Scholar, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2021 – 2022
Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 2009
Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 1996 (Gymnasium of Virtue)
Chercheur associé, Centre de recherche d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, Collège de France, Paris 1994
Research Assistant, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ 1992-1993.



  • Spartans: A New History, 2010
  • Ephebeia: Citizen Training Systems in Greek Cities of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.
  • Nikephoros Beiheft 12. 2006
  • Ancient Greece at the Turn of the Millennium Co-editor with J. E. Tomlinson. Publications of the Canadian Archaeological Institute at Athens 4, 2005
  • The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta, 1995

Selected Articles

  • “Memory and Identity among the Ephebes of Second-century Achaea,” forthcoming in The Province Achaea in the Second Century CE, A. Kouremenos, ed.
  • “Youth and War,” forthcoming in A Cultural History of Youth in Antiquity, V. Vuolanto and C. Laes, eds.
  • “Gymnasium and Polis,” forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, A. Futrell and T. Scanlon, eds.
  • “A Victor List from Heraclea Pontica,” in Sport and Social Identity in Classical Antiquity: Studies in Honour of Mark Golden, S. Bell and P. Ripat, eds. BICS 61-1 (2018), 79-93
  • “Spartan Cultural Memory in the Roman Period,” in The Blackwell Companion to Ancient Sparta, A. Powell, ed. (Chichester, 2017), 643-662
  • 596. ANONYMOI, Brill’s New Jacoby (translation & new commentary of FGrHist F596 FF1-48), October 2015
  • “The Hellenistic Ephebate,” in The Blackwell Companion to Ancient Education, M. Bloomer ed.(Chichester, 2015), 172-183.
  • “Boys, Girls, Family and State at Sparta,” in The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World, J. Evans Grubbs and T. Parkin, eds. (Oxford, 2013), 381-395.
  • “Age-Class Societies in Ancient Greece?” Ancient Society 43 (2013), 1-74.
  • “Who were the Neoi?,”in Epigraphical Approaches to the Post-classical Polis: 4th century B.C. to 2nd century A.D., P. Martzavou and N. Papazarkadas, eds. (Oxford, 2013), 217-232.
  • “Citizen Training in the Roman Peloponnese,” in Society, Economy and Culture under the Roman Empire: Continuity and Innovation. The Roman Peloponnese III, A. Rizakis and C. Lepenioti, eds. (Athens, 2010), 205-216
  • “The Greek Ephebate in the Roman Period,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 26 (2009), 323-342
  • “Laconia and Messenia,” with N. Luraghi, in A Companion to Archaic Greece, K. Raaflaub and H. van Wees, eds. (Chichester, 2009), 239-254
  • “Marcus Aurelius Alexys and the ‘Homeland Security’ of Roman Sparta,” in Sparta and Lakonia from Prehistory to Pre-modern, W. Cavanagh, C. Gallou, and M. Georgiadis, eds. (London, 2009), 285-291
  • “New Light on 2 Maccabees 4:9-15,” Journal of Jewish Studies 56 (2005), 11-24
  • “Most Necessary for the Bodies of Men: Olive Oil and its By-Products in the Later Greek Gymnasium,” in In Altum: Seventy-five years of Classics in Newfoundland, M. Joyal, ed. (St. John’s, 2001), 119-133
  • “The Status of the Ephebarch,” TYCHE. Beiträge zur Alte Geschichte, Papyrologie und Epigraphik (2000), 103-108
  • “Age Categories and Chronology in the Hellenistic Theseia,” Phoenix 53 (1999), 249-262
  • “From Periokoi to Poleis: the Laconian Cities in the Late Hellenistic Period,” in Sparta: New Perspectives, S. Hodkinson and A. Powell, eds., (London, 1999), 189-210
  • “Herodes Atticus and the Rhetoric of Tyranny,” Classical Philology 92 (1997), 346-362
  • “An Early Byzantine Constitution from Ziporea,” Epigraphica Anatolica 25 (1996), 129-136
  • “Heresy at Ephesus,” Epigraphica Anatolica 24 (1995), 131-136
  • “NERON PERIODONIKES,” American Journal of Philology 109 (1988), 239-251

Selected Book Reviews

  • J. Friend, The Athenian Ephebeia in the Fourth Century BCE, in AHBOR 10 (2020), 50-54 E. Zingg, Die Schöpfung der pseudohistorischen westpeloponnesischen Frühgeschichte: Ein Rekonstruktionsversuch in Revue des Études Anciennes: notes de lecture ( Feb. 2018
  • S. Remijsen, The End of Greek Athletics in Late Antiquity, in BMCR 2016.04.11 O. Curty, Gymnasiarchika: recueil et analyse des inscriptions de l’époque hellénistique en l’honneur des gymnasiarques, in BMCR 2015.07.04
  • A. Chankowski, L’ Éphébie Hellénistique, in BMCR 2012.07.06
  • E. Perrin-Saminadayar, Éducation, culture et société à Athènes, in BMCR 2009.09.43
  • J. Ducat, Spartan Education, in Journal of Hellenic Studies 128 (2008), 228-229
  • P. Nigdelis and G. Souris, Anthupatos legei. Ena diatagma ton autokratorikon chronon gia to gymnasio tes Beroias, in BMCR 2007.08.31
  • M. Hoff and S Rotroff, eds, The Romanization of Athens, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.10.08
  • G. Cordiano, La ginnasiarchia nelle “poleis” dell’occidente mediterraneo antico, in Echos du Monde Classique/Classical News and Views 17 (1998), 194-196
  • K. Arafat, Pausanias’ Greece, and J. Bingen ed. Pausanias Historien (Entretiens Hardt), in Phoenix 51 (1997), 229-233
  • Review of M. Golden and P. Toohey, eds., Inventing Ancient Culture: Historicism, Periodization and the Ancient World, in BMCR 1997.06.13
    (1989), 276-79
  • Review of G. Marasco, Commento alle Biografie Plutarchee di Agide e di Cleomene, in PLOUTARCHOS 4 (1988), 13-14