16 Jan 2021
January 16, 2021

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In total, the Greek city states amassed an army of about 30,000 hoplites, 10,000 of whom were Spartan citizens. Still led by Agesilaus II, the Spartans marched north into Thrace and Macedon, laying siege to and eventually conquering Olynthus. However, despite securing Laconia, the Spartans were not done establishing their influence in the Peloponnese, and their next target was the Messenians, a culture that lived on the southwestern Peloponnese in the region of Messenia. 479 BCE- the Spartans lead the Greek force at the Battle of Plataea and win a decisive victory over the Persians, ending the Second Persian Invasion of ancient Greece. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 May 2013. Instead, Spartan society was based around the military. Bradford, Alfred S. Leonidas and the Kings of Sparta: Mightiest Warriors, Fairest Kingdom. Helots could not own property and so could not rise to become full-citizens, and this lack of social mobility would come back to haunt Sparta in later centuries. Shortly after this happened, Corinth announced it would stand against Sparta, a surprising move given the two cities longstanding relationship in the Peloponnesian League. But the Spartan army clarified the situation by gathering and matching into Boeotia. Some factions tried to muster up support for an invasion of Persia in response to these demands, but there was little appetite for war at the time, so all parties agreed to peace. They appealed to Corinth and Thebes for support but did not receive it. But it also had its dark side. The Spartan society was known for its highly-skilled warriors, elitist administrators, and its reverence for stoicism, people today still look to the Spartans as model citizens in an idealist ancient society. Realizing that their chances for survival were now slim if they continued to fight on their own, Athens pleaded with Sparta to take a more central role in the defense of Greece. Spartiates were the descendants of Dorian invaders and Perioikoi and Helots were representatives of the diverse populations found, conquered by Dorians and gave them a different … Because of their history and significance to society, Sparta’s two kings still played an important role in helping Sparta rise to power and become the significant city state it was, despite their role being limited by the formation of the gerousia. The class and social structure of Sparta was very regimented similar to the way they treated everything, methodical and ordered. However, what set the Spartan soldier apart was his loyalty to his fellow soldier. These were the landed aristocracy, and following reforms credited to Lycurgus in the 6th century BCE (or even earlier), citizens could not indulge in agricultural activities - this was the lot of the helots - but they had to devote themselves to athletic and military training and politics. Later on, the village of Amyclae, which was located a bit further away, became part of Sparta. But the instability brought on by their dependence on helots, as well as the realization that their neighbors would invade whenever they had the chance, helped show the Spartan citizens how important it would be for them to have a premier fighting force if they wished to remain free and independent in an increasingly competitive ancient world. 431-404 BCE – Sparta faces up against Athens in The Peloponnesian War and emerges victorious, bringing an end to the Athenian Empire and giving birth to the Spartan Empire and Spartan hegemony. THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SPARTAN SOCIETY The women of ancient Sparta, those who were born to Spartan parents, had many roles. They were also given the freedom to learn to protect themselves whenever necessary. Ancient History Encyclopedia. This was not their war, but it showed that Athens was still interested in picking a fight with Sparta. democracy. There were social classes in the Spartan society, including the Spartan, the Perioikoi, and the Helot. Another important event, or series of events, that took place in the years leading up to the final stage of the war was Athens attempts to expand. The laws of Sparta were developed and written by Lycurgus, a legendary lawmaker who, in the 7th century BCE reorganized the political and social structure of the polis, transforming it into a strictly disciplined and collective society.He also developed the stringent military academy of the agoge, where Spartan boys were trained from childhood to adulthood. Sparta was an ancient Greek city-state whose unique social and political system has fascinated people down the ages. Tegea, an important Greek city state on the Peloponnese, revolted in c. 471 BCE, and Sparta was forced to fight a series of battles to quell this rebellion and restore Tegean loyalty. Each class will be explained below. Those who resisted were dealt with by force, and most of the people who were not killed were made into slaves, known as helots in Sparta. Whether or not the Dorians who later founded Sparta truly came from northern Greece as part of an invasion or if they simply migrated for survival reasons, Dorian pastoralist culture is ingrained into the early moments of Spartan history. The Spartan political system was unusual in that it had two hereditary kings from two separate families. Spartan women enjoyed status, power, and respect that was unequaled in the rest of … It was the famous series of wars between the Persians and Greeks. When they clocked thirty, Spartan men became full citizens of the state, and as such they were granted various privileges. For example, as compared to Athens where women were restricted from going outside, had to live in their father’s house, and were required to wear dark, concealing clothing, Spartan women were not only allowed but encouraged to go outside, exercise, and wear clothing that allowed them more freedom. To link to this article in the text of an online publication, please use this URL: https://historycooperative.org/ancient-sparta-the-history-of-the-spartans/. In ancient times the Spartans were a clever and fierce society who trained their men from a young age to become unbeatable soldiers. Power was held onto by an oligarchic faction, and individual freedoms for non-Spartans were severely restricted, although Spartan women may have had much better conditions than women living in other parts of the ancient Greek world. Spartan boys were also instructed in academics, warfare, stealth, hunting and athletics. They were also fed the same foods as Spartan men, something that did not happen in many parts of ancient Greece, and they were restricted from bearing children until they were in their late teens or twenties. This policy was meant to improve the chances of Spartan women having healthy children while also preventing women from experiencing the complications that come from early pregnancies. Athens won a few surprising victories over the much more powerful Spartan army, the most significant of which was the Battle of Pylos in 425 BCE. Mark is a history writer based in Italy. In fact, women became amongst the richest members of society, as their men were killed in the many wars, and eventually controlled 2/5th of Spartan land. For instance as a member of the state at age twenty, Spartan men were allowed to marry, but they would not share a marital home until they were thirty or older. comedy. It is famous for its powerful army as well as its battles with the city-state of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Athletics in ancient Sparta. Agesilaus II (c. 401-360 BCE) – Commanded the Spartan army during the period of the Spartan empire. Spartan leadership made changes to the policy that helots had to return to harvest each year, and they also established a base at Decelea, in Attica. (the term used for the heavily armored Greek infantry), Sparta also brought some 35,000 helots to support the hoplites and also serve as light infantry. We do not have an exact date for the founding of the city state of Sparta, but most historians place it sometime around 950-900 BCE. This act was condemned by Spartan leadership, but it made little difference to the Athenians, who were now motivated to resume fighting with Sparta more than ever before. Die Helotengefahr und der Peloponnesische Bund," Historische Zeitschrift 273 (2001) 1-24. Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek political and social history from 478 BC. Over time, particularly after the Peloponnesian War during the period of the Spartan Empire, these put considerable strain on the Spartan army. 600 BCE – the Spartans lend support to the city state of Corinth, forming an alliance with their powerful neighbor that would eventually morph into the Peloponnesian League, a major source of power for Sparta. The legacy of Sparta and her impact on Western civilization is perhaps less obvious than that of Athens. This group, known as the Thirty Tyrants, made changes to the judicial system so as to undermine democracy, and they began placing limits on individual freedoms. Only the strongest survived in Sparta, male or female. In ancient Sparta, reading and writing were not very important, so they were taught as a secondary skill for both boys and girls. The professional and well-trained Spartan hoplites with their distinctive red cloaks, long hair, and lambda-emblazoned shields were probably the best and most feared fighters in Greece, fighting with distinction at such key battles as Thermopylae and Plataea in the early 5th century BCE. Books It’s one of ancient Sparta’s defining points that women would partake in sports too, which was not typical in the ancient world. In the years after the Battle of Pylos, it looked like Sparta may have fallen, but two things changed. However, seeing the fighting was likely going nowhere, both sides agreed to a peace treaty, known as The Thirty Years’ Peace, in c. 446 BCE. Spartan women were seen as the vehicle by which the city of Sparta constantly advanced. Feetham, Richard, ed. This finally became apparent during the Battle of Leuctra, which we now see as the beginning of the end for Sparta. They also trained in athletics and exercised. Spartan Classes population of Lacedaemonian state was divided from the oldest time in three classes: Spartiates (the upper class), Perioikoi (The Middle Class) and Helots (The Lower Class and some slaves). Sparta and Lakonia: a regional history 1300-362 BC. Agesilaus II took his troops into Phrygia and began planning for an attack. If they believed that a baby was too weak, they left it out to die of exposure beside a slope on Mount Taygetus. ( 1 , 2 ) This greatly angered the Thebans, something that would come to haunt the Spartans later on. First, the Spartans began offering helots more freedoms, a move that prevented them from rebelling and joining the ranks of the Athenians. His laws configured the Spartan society to maximize military proficiency at all costs, focusing all social institutions on … Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which were supposedly introduced by the semi-mythical legislator Lycurgus. In Greek mythology the founder of the city was Lacedaemon, a son of Zeus, who gave his name to the region and his wife’s name to the city. They invaded the island of Melos, and then they sent a massive expedition to Sicily in an attempt to subjugate the city of Syracuse. In addition, Spartan women could also move around with reasonable freedom, they could enjoy athletics (done in the nude like men), and even drink wine. tragedy. The Lacedaemon Valley, Sparta. The newly granted status meant Spartan men could live at their homes, most of the Spartans were farmers but the helots would work the land for them. Furthermore, archaeological evidence suggests the Messenians at the time were far less advanced than Sparta, making them an easy target for Sparta, which at the time was one of the most developed cities in the ancient Greek world. 499 BCE – The Ionian Greeks revolt against Persian rule, starting the Greco-Persian War. The two sides collided once again in Boeotia, the region to the north of Attica where Thebes is located. However, over the course of the fourth century B.C, Spartan attempts to extend their empire, plus conflicts within the Greek world, undermined Spartan authority and eventually led to the end of Sparta as a major player in Greek politics. For example, the Dorians are believed to have had a strong military tradition, and this is often attributed to their need to secure land and resources needed to keep animals, something that would have required constant war with nearby cultures. This war, often referred to as simply The Peloponnesian War, played an important role in Spartan history as it led to the fall of Athens and the rise of the Spartan Empire, the last great age of Sparta. The League would allow Sparta to establish hegemony over and dominate the Peloponnese until the 4th century BCE. With the rest of the Greek world keenly aware that the Spartans had imperial ambitions, there was an increased desire to antagonize Sparta, and in 395 BCE, Thebes, which had been growing more powerful, decided to support the city of Locris in its desire to collect taxes from nearby Phocis, which was an ally of Sparta. Related Content At the top of society were Spartiate. [Sparta was] everywhere admired and nowhere imitated. Those who were sent to populate this territory, known as “neighbors” were offered large tracts of land and protection in exchange for their loyalty to Sparta and their willingness to fight should an invader threaten Sparta. Spartan citizen was the top of social classes in the Spartan. In the late 8th century BCE, Sparta subjugated most of neighbouring Messenia and its population was made to serve Spartan interests. The Spartans chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most extreme civilisations the world has ever witnessed. With Athens surrendering, Sparta was free to do as it wished with the city. However, by 379 BCE, Spartan aggression was too much, and the Theban citizens launched a revolt against Sparta. However, the Spartans refused to join the Macedons, led first by Philip II and later by his son, Alexander the Great, in an alliance against the Persians, which led to the eventual fall of the Persian empire. When … The lands it controlled were called Laconia and Messenia. Facts about Ancient Sparta 2: The Perioikoi Lysander choice to attack this weakness by sailing straight for the Hellespont, the strait separating Europe from Asia near to the site of modern-day Istanbul. This history, plus the poor treatment the Spartans gave to the helots, made them a frequent problem in Spartan society. The First Peloponnesian War was more of a series of skirmishes and battles than an outright war. So, he gathered an army of around 8,000 men and marched the opposite route that Xerxes and Darius had taken nearly a century before, through Thrace and Macedon, across the Hellespont, and into Asia Minor, and was met with little resistance. Fighting took place at both land and sea throughout 394 BCE, but in 393 BCE, political stability in Corinth divided the city. The region plummeted into turmoil, and Darius I had to campaign for nearly ten years to quell the insurrection. It’s true that the Spartan army had some of the best fighters in the ancient world, but the sheer size of the Persian army meant that likely wouldn’t matter. The city of Sparta was founded by Dorians, and they worked to construct a myth that credited this demographic change with an orchestrated invasion of the Peloponnese by Dorians from the north of Greece, the region where it is believed the Doric dialect first developed. Of course, they were far from equals, but they were afforded freedoms unheard of in the ancient world. Like all Greek societies Sparta was dominated by male citizens and the most powerful of those came from a select group of families. The Spartans spoke Greek. He carried a large bronze shield, wore bronze armor, and carried a long, bronze-tipped spear. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE. Instead, by this point, there were relegated to nothing more than generals, but they were even limited in how they could act in this capacity, meaning most of the power in Sparta was in the hands of the gerousia. "Sparta." In ancient Sparta, athletics was a massive part of life. Facts about Ancient Sparta 2: Battle of Thermopylae. License. There was also an executive committee of five ephors (ephoroi) chosen by lot from the citizen body, able only to serve for a maximum of one year and who were ineligible for future office. However, in 431 BCE, full-scale fighting would resume between Sparta and Athens, and it would last for nearly 30 years. Following the Spartiate were the perioeci and at the bottom, were the helots. This led to the first pan-Hellenic alliance in Greek history, but tensions within that alliance helped contribute to the growing conflict between Athens and Sparta, which ended in the Peloponnesian War, the largest civil war in Greek history. However, the Greco-Persian Wars were just getting started, and soon the city state of Sparta would be thrown into the mix. The leading theory about why this was the case deals with the founding of Sparta. Furthermore, he built a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont, and he installed trading posts throughout Northern Greece that would make it considerably easier to supply and feed his army as it made the long march to the Greek mainland. Many within the Spartan leadership, including Lysander, argued for burning it to the ground to ensure there would be no more war. Though Sparta absorbed this population, it did not integrate the conquered people into society. The Spartan phalanxes were unstoppable on land and known for their professionalism and discipline. In Sparta, which had always been proud of its own autonomy and isolationism, this growth in Athenian influence represented a threat, and their actions to fight against Athenian imperialism helped escalate tensions between the two sides and bring about the Peloponnesian War. To fight as a Spartiate –  a highly-trained Spartan soldier – one had to have Spartan blood. Sparta was a militaristic society in ancient Greece that became mighty and powerful after defeating its rival neighbor, Athens, in the Peloponnesian War. Though Sparta absorbed this population, it did not integrate the conquered people into society. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/sparta/. In fact, in ancient history, Spartan society was considered the very definition of stoic, or without emotion and aesthetics, as opposed to epicurean, which is defined by expression and sentiment. Nonetheless, some women, known as hetaeras, did receive an education with the specific purpose of entertaining men, similar to the Japanese geisha tradition. The Spartan society was known for its highly-skilled warriors, elitist administrators, and its reverence for stoicism, people today still look to the Spartans as model citizens in an idealist ancient society. Fighting didn’t restart until c. 415 BCE. Young and old, male or female, athletics would be something that everyone in Sparta would be involved in. This allowed Athens to establish a base and house the helots it had been encouraging to rebel, a move that was intended to weaken the Spartan’s ability to supply itself. Athens called all the remaining free Greeks together to devise a defense strategy, and they decided to fight the Persians at Thermopylae and Artemisium. Sparta was located in a valley on the banks of the Eurotas River in the south-eastern portion of Greece. In ancient times, the Greeks were divided into four subgroups: Dorian, Ionian, Achaean, and Aeolian. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. However, people had been living in the area where Sparta would be founded starting in the Neolithic Era, which dates back some 6,000 years. During the final stages of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece during the Greco-Persian wars, Sparta had served as the Alliance’s de facto leader, largely because of its military superiority, but this decision to abandon the Alliance left Athens in charge, and they seized this opportunity to assume the position as the Greek hegemon, much to the dismay of Sparta. In 398 BCE, a new Spartan king, Agesilaus II, assumed power next to Lysander (there were always two in Sparta), and he set his sights on exacting revenge over the Persians for their refusal to let the Ionian Greeks live freely. However, in doing this, they escalated tensions even further. In the agoge, the Spartan boys were taught to depend on one another for the common defense, and they learned how to move in formation so as to attack without breaking ranks. For all Spartan citizens there was a strong emphasis on military training and frugal living in communal mess halls where simple food such as barley meal, cheese, figs and wine were the norm. In Ancient Sparta, the subordination of private interests and personal happiness to the good of the public was strongly encouraged by the laws of the city. While Sparta was technically a monarchy governed by two kings, one each from the Agiad and Eurypontid families, these kings were relegated over time to positions that most closely resembled generals. Elsewhere in Laconia, Sparta demanded subjugation from the people living there. Because society was focused on … Indeed, the Spartan king Menelaus instigated the war after the Trojan prince Paris abducted his wife Helen, offered to Paris by the goddess Aphrodite as a prize for choosing her in a beauty contest with fellow goddesses Athena and Hera. Here is a map of Sparta as it relates to the relevant geographical points in the region: Before delving into the ancient history of the city of Sparta, here is a snapshot of the important events in Spartan history: The story of Sparta typically begins in the 8th or 9th century B.C with the founding of the city of Sparta and the emergence of a unified Greek language. Once elected, they held their post for life. Instead of unifying into one large empire under the rule of a common monarch, independent Greek city-states flourished throughout the Greek mainland, the Aegean Sea, Macedon, Thrace, and Ionia, a region on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. Of course, as compared to the world we live in today, these freedoms hardly seem significant. With Messenia now fully under its control and an army that was quickly becoming the envy of the ancient world, Sparta, by the middle of the 7th century BCE, had become one of the most important population centers in ancient Greece and southern Europe. All of these freedoms would have been unacceptable in other Greek poleis. Spartan society has always generated fascination in Western civilization throughout its history. They sent a fleet to confront him, but Lysander was able to lure them into a bad position and destroy them. The ancient Greek city was built alongside the eastern banks of the river, helping to provide an additional line of defense, but the modern-day city of Sparta is found to the west of the river. Although it’s true that Sparta helped Athens remove a tyrant and restore democracy, the two Greek city states were rapidly becoming the most powerful in the Greek world, and the outbreak of war with the Persians would further highlight their differences and eventually drive them to war, a series of events that defines Spartan and Greek history. These names suggest that military strength and success was an important part of becoming a Spartan leader, a tradition that would continue on throughout Spartan history. While we have lots of additional information on the helot class its worth explaining their place in the social rankings of the Spartan society. In addition to serving as a  natural boundary, the river also made the region surrounding the city of Sparta one of the most fertile and agriculturally productive. Cartledge, Paul. However, thinking their fearless leader had won, the Messenian helots launched a full-scale revolt, and Aristomenes managed to lead a short campaign into Laconia. In ancient Sparta, athletics was a massive part of life. A peculiar feature of the Spartans and their military was the great importance given to matters of religion. However, the larger, more powerful city states, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, Argos, etc., refused, choosing instead to try to fight the Persians despite their massive numerical disadvantage. The Spartiate were those who could trace their ancestry back to the original or first inhabitants of the city. Continued Spartan ambitions in central and northern Greece, Asia Minor, and Sicily once again dragged the city into another protracted conflict, the Corinthian Wars with Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Persia from 396 to 387 BCE. 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