Sparta


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Definition

In the British School in Athens started excavations in an attempt to locate Mycenaean remains in the area around Menelaion. Among other findings, they uncovered the remains of two Mycenaean mansions and found the first offerings dedicated to Helen and Menelaus. These mansions were destroyed by earthquake and fire, and archaeologists consider them the possible palace of Menelaus himself. Its area was approximately equal to that of the "newer" Sparta, but denudation has wreaked havoc with its buildings and nothing is left save ruined foundations and broken potsherds.

Definition

The prehistory of Sparta is difficult to reconstruct because the literary evidence was written far later than the events it describes and is distorted by oral tradition. This civilization seems to have fallen into decline by the late Bronze Age , when, according to Herodotus, Macedonian tribes from the north called Dorians by those they conquered marched into the Peloponnese and, subjugating the local tribes, settled there. The evidence suggests that Sparta, relatively inaccessible because of the topography of the Taygetan plain, was secure from early on: it was never fortified.

Nothing distinctive in the archaeology of the Eurotas River Valley identifies the Dorians or the Dorian Spartan state. The legendary period of Spartan history is believed to fall into the Dark Age. It treats the mythic heroes such as the Heraclids and the Perseids , offering a view of the occupation of the Peloponnesus that contains both fantastic and possibly historical elements.

The subsequent proto-historic period, combining both legend and historical fragments, offers the first credible history. Between the 8th and 7th centuries BC the Spartans experienced a period of lawlessness and civil strife, later attested by both Herodotus and Thucydides. During the following centuries, Sparta's reputation as a land-fighting force was unequalled.

The Spartans - Channel 4 documentary with Bettany Hughes

The likely total of 40,—50, made Sparta one of the larger Greek city-states; [32] [33] however, according to Thucydides, the population of Athens in BC was ,—,, making it much larger. In BC a small force led by King Leonidas about full Spartiates, Thespians, and Thebans, although these numbers were lessened by earlier casualties made a legendary last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae against the massive Persian army, inflicting very high casualties on the Persian forces before finally being overwhelmed.

Ancient Sparta: The History of the Spartans

Even though this war was won by a pan-Greek army, credit was given to Sparta, who besides providing the leading forces at Thermopylae and Plataea, had been the de facto leader of the entire Greek expedition. In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens , Thebes , and Persia were the main powers fighting for supremacy in the northeastern Mediterranean.

In the course of the Peloponnesian War , Sparta, a traditional land power, acquired a navy which managed to overpower the previously dominant flotilla of Athens, ending the Athenian Empire.


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At the peak of its power in the early 4th century BC, Sparta had subdued many of the main Greek states and even invaded the Persian provinces in Anatolia modern day Turkey , a period known as the Spartan Hegemony. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia. The event severely damaged Sparta's naval power but did not end its aspirations of invading further into Persia, until Conon the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt.

After a few more years of fighting, in BC the Peace of Antalcidas was established, according to which all Greek cities of Ionia would return to Persian control, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat. This was the first time that a full strength Spartan army lost a land battle. As Spartan citizenship was inherited by blood, Sparta increasingly faced a helot population that vastly outnumbered its citizens.

The alarming decline of Spartan citizens was commented on by Aristotle. Sparta never fully recovered from its losses at Leuctra in BC and the subsequent helot revolts. Nonetheless, it was able to continue as a regional power for over two centuries. Even during its decline, Sparta never forgot its claim to be the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit.

When Philip created the league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, the Spartans chose not to join, since they had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition unless it were under Spartan leadership.

THIS IS SPARTA!!!! (it's not)

Thus, upon defeating the Persians at the Battle of the Granicus , Alexander the Great sent to Athens suits of Persian armour with the following inscription: "Alexander, son of Philip, and all the Greeks except the Spartans, give these offerings taken from the foreigners who live in Asia".

A large Macedonian army under general Antipater marched to its relief and defeated the Spartan-led force in a pitched battle. On his knees, the Spartan king slew several enemy soldiers before being finally killed by a javelin. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League after its defeat in the decisive Laconian War by a coalition of other Greek city-states and Rome and the resultant overthrow of its final king Nabis.

Subsequently, Sparta became a free city under Roman rule, some of the institutions of Lycurgus were restored, [48] and the city became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe exotic Spartan customs. In AD Roman emperor Caracalla , in his preparation for his campaign against Parthia , recruited a man Spartan cohort lokhos. Herodian described this unit as a phalanx , implying it fought like the old Spartans as hoplites, or even as a Macedonian phalanx.

Despite this, a gravestone of a fallen legionary named Marcus Aurelius Alexys shows him lightly armed, with a pilos-like cap and a wooden club. The unit was presumably discharged in after Caracalla was assassinated. Doric -speaking populations survive today in Tsakonia. In the Middle Ages, the political and cultural center of Laconia shifted to the nearby settlement of Mystras , and Sparta fell further in even local importance. Modern Sparti was re-founded in , by a decree of King Otto of Greece.

History of Ancient Sparta | Live Science

Sparta was an oligarchy. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and Eurypontid families , [54] both supposedly descendants of Heracles and equal in authority, so that one could not act against the power and political enactments of his colleague. The duties of the kings were primarily religious, judicial, and military. As chief priests of the state, they maintained communication with the Delphian sanctuary, whose pronouncements exercised great authority in Spartan politics. In the time of Herodotus c.

Aristotle describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" Pol. Civil and criminal cases were decided by a group of officials known as the ephors , as well as a council of elders known as the gerousia. The gerousia consisted of 28 elders over the age of 60, elected for life and usually part of the royal households, and the two kings.

Royal prerogatives were curtailed over time. From the period of the Persian wars, the king lost the right to declare war and was accompanied in the field by two ephors. He was supplanted by the ephors also in the control of foreign policy. Over time, the kings became mere figureheads except in their capacity as generals.

Political power was transferred to the ephors and gerousia. An assembly of citizens called the a pella [22] was responsible for electing men to the gerousia for life. The Spartan education process known as the agoge was essential for full citizenship. However, usually the only boys eligible for the agoge were Spartiates , those who could trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the city.

There were two exceptions. Trophimoi or "foster sons" were foreign students invited to study. The Athenian general Xenophon , for example, sent his two sons to Sparta as trophimoi. Also, the son of a helot could be enrolled as a syntrophos [58] if a Spartiate formally adopted him and paid his way; if he did exceptionally well in training, he might be sponsored to become a Spartiate. These laws meant that Sparta could not readily replace citizens lost in battle or otherwise, which eventually proved near fatal as citizens became greatly outnumbered by non-citizens, and even more dangerously by helots.

The other classes were the perioikoi , free inhabitants who were non-citizens, and the helots , [60] state-owned serfs. Descendants of non-Spartan citizens were forbidden the agoge. The Spartans were a minority of the Lakonian population. The helots were originally free Greeks from the areas of Messenia and Lakonia whom the Spartans had defeated in battle and subsequently enslaved. In contrast to populations conquered by other Greek cities e. Instead, the helots were given a subordinate position in society more comparable to serfs in medieval Europe than chattel slaves in the rest of Greece.

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Helots did not have voting or political rights. In other Greek city-states, free citizens were part-time soldiers who, when not at war, carried on other trades.

Since Spartan men were full-time soldiers, they were not available to carry out manual labour. Helot women were often used as wet nurses. Helots also travelled with the Spartan army as non-combatant serfs. At the last stand of the Battle of Thermopylae , the Greek dead included not just the legendary three hundred Spartan soldiers but also several hundred Thespian and Theban troops and a number of helots.

Early Sparta

Relations between the helots and their Spartan masters were sometimes strained. There was at least one helot revolt c. Slave revolts occurred elsewhere in the Greek world, and in BC 20, Athenian slaves ran away to join the Spartan forces occupying Attica. As the Spartiate population declined and the helot population continued to grow, the imbalance of power caused increasing tension.

According to Myron of Priene [70] of the middle 3rd century BC:. Moreover, if any exceeded the vigour proper to a slave's condition, they made death the penalty; and they allotted a punishment to those controlling them if they failed to rebuke those who were growing fat". Plutarch also states that Spartans treated the Helots "harshly and cruelly": they compelled them to drink pure wine which was considered dangerous — wine usually being cut with water " Each year when the Ephors took office, they ritually declared war on the helots, allowing Spartans to kill them without risk of ritual pollution.

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