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Sparta

Sparta

Overview
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state
City-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

 in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas
Eurotas River
The Eurotas or Evrotas is the main river of Laconia prefecture and one of the major rivers of the Peloponnese, in Greece. The river's springs are located just northwest of the border between Laconia and the prefecture of Arcadia, at Skortsinos. The river is also fed by underwater springs at...

 in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c.
Circa
Circa , usually abbreviated c. or ca. , means "approximately" in the English language, usually referring to a date...

 650 BC it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

.
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Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state
City-state
A city-state is an independent or autonomous entity whose territory consists of a city which is not administered as a part of another local government.-Historical city-states:...

 in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas
Eurotas River
The Eurotas or Evrotas is the main river of Laconia prefecture and one of the major rivers of the Peloponnese, in Greece. The river's springs are located just northwest of the border between Laconia and the prefecture of Arcadia, at Skortsinos. The river is also fed by underwater springs at...

 in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c.
Circa
Circa , usually abbreviated c. or ca. , means "approximately" in the English language, usually referring to a date...

 650 BC it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

. Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

 during the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, from which it emerged victorious, though at great cost. Sparta's defeat by Thebes
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

 in the Battle of Leuctra
Battle of Leuctra
The Battle of Leuctra was a battle fought on July 6, 371 BC, between the Boeotians led by Thebans and the Spartans along with their allies amidst the post-Corinthian War conflict. The battle took place in the neighbourhood of Leuctra, a village in Boeotia in the territory of Thespiae...

 in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece. However, it maintained its political independence until the Roman conquest of Greece
Roman Greece
Roman Greece is the period of Greek history following the Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC until the reestablishment of the city of Byzantium and the naming of the city by the Emperor Constantine as the capital of the Roman Empire...

 in 146 BC
Battle of Corinth (146 BC)
The Battle of Corinth was a battle fought between the Roman Republic and the Greek state of Corinth and its allies in the Achaean League in 146 BC, that resulted in the complete and total destruction of the state of Corinth which was previously so famous for its fabulous wealth...

.

Sparta was unique in ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 for its social system and constitution, which completely focused on military training and excellence. Its inhabitants were classified as Spartiates (Spartan citizens, who enjoyed full rights), Mothakes (non-Spartan free men raised as Spartans), Perioikoi
Perioikoi
The perioeci, or perioikoi, were the members of an autonomous group of free but non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta. Concentrated in the beach and highland areas of Laconia, the name περίοικοι derives from περί / peri, "around," and / oikos, "dwelling, house." They were the only people allowed to...

 (freedmen), and Helots
Helots
The helots: / Heílôtes) were an unfree population group that formed the main population of Laconia and the whole of Messenia . Their exact status was already disputed in antiquity: according to Critias, they were "especially slaves" whereas to Pollux, they occupied a status "between free men and...

 (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population). Spartiates underwent the rigorous agoge
Agoge
The agōgē was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one's group, military training The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic...

 training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanxes
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

 were widely considered to be among the best in battle. Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical world.

Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in the West following the revival of classical learning. Sparta continues to fascinate Western Culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

; an admiration of Sparta is called laconophilia.

Names


The earliest attested term referring to Lacedaemon is the Mycenaean Greek ra-ke-da-mi-ni-jo, "Lacedaimonian", written in Linear B
Linear B
Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek. It pre-dated the Greek alphabet by several centuries and seems to have died out with the fall of Mycenaean civilization...

 syllabic script and transliterated as Λακεδαιμόνιος (Lakedaimonios) in the Greek alphabet.
The ancient Greeks used one of three words to refer to the home location of the Spartans. The first refers primarily to the main cluster of settlements in the valley of the Eurotas River
Eurotas River
The Eurotas or Evrotas is the main river of Laconia prefecture and one of the major rivers of the Peloponnese, in Greece. The river's springs are located just northwest of the border between Laconia and the prefecture of Arcadia, at Skortsinos. The river is also fed by underwater springs at...

: Sparta. The second word was Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων); this is the name commonly used in the works of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and the Athenian historians Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 and Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

. Herodotus seems to denote by it the Mycenaean Greek
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 citadel at Therapne, in contrast to the lower town of Sparta. It could be used synonymously with Sparta, but typically it was not. It denoted the terrain on which Sparta was situated. In Homer it is typically combined with epithets of the countryside: wide, lovely, shining and most often hollow and broken (full of ravines). The hollow suggests the Eurotas Valley. Sparta on the other hand is the country of lovely women, a people epithet.

The name of the population was often used for the state of Lacedaemon: the Lacedaemonians. This epithet utilized the plural of the adjective, Lacedaemonius (Greek Λακεδαιμὀνιοι, Latin Lacedaemonii). If the ancients wished to refer to the country more directly, instead of Lacedaemon, they could use a back-formation from the adjective: Lacedaemonian country. As most words for "country" were feminine, the adjective was in the feminine: Lacedaemonia. Eventually, the adjective came to be used alone.

Lacedaemonia was not in general use during the classical period and before. It does occur in Greek as an equivalent of Laconia and Messenia during the Roman and early Byzantine periods, mostly in ethnographers and lexica glossing place names. For example, Hesychius of Alexandria
Hesychius of Alexandria
Hesychius of Alexandria , a grammarian who flourished probably in the 5th century CE, compiled the richest lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words that has survived...

's Lexicon (5th century AD) defines Agiadae as a "place in Lacedaemonia" named after Agis. The actual transition may be captured by Isidore of Seville
Isidore of Seville
Saint Isidore of Seville served as Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades and is considered, as the historian Montalembert put it in an oft-quoted phrase, "le dernier savant du monde ancien"...

's Etymologiae (7th century AD), an etymological dictionary. He relied heavily on Orosius
Orosius
Paulus Orosius , less often Paul Orosius in English, was a Christian historian, theologian and student of Augustine of Hippo from Gallaecia...

' Historiarum Adversum Paganos (5th century AD) and Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

's Chronicon
Chronicon (Eusebius)
The Chronicon or Chronicle was a work in two books by Eusebius of Caesarea. It seems to have been compiled in the early 4th century. It contained a world chronicle from Abraham until the vicennalia of Constantine I in 325 AD...

(early 5th century AD) as did Orosius. The latter defines Sparta to be Lacedaemonia Civitas but Isidore defines Lacedaemonia as founded by Lacedaemon, son of Semele, relying on Eusebius. There is a rare use, perhaps the earliest of Lacedaemonia, in Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

, but probably with Χὠρα ("country") suppressed.

The immediate area around the town of Sparta, the plateau east of the Taygetos mountains, was generally referred as Laconice (Λακωνική). This term was sometimes used to refer to all the regions under direct Spartan control, including Messenia
Messenia
Messenia is a regional unit in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese region, one of 13 regions into which Greece has been divided by the Kallikratis plan, implemented 1 January 2011...

.

Lacedaemon is now the name of a province
Provinces of Greece
The provinces of Greece were sub-divisions of some the country's prefectures. From 1887, the provinces were abolished as actual administrative units, but were retained for some state services, especially finance services and education, as well as for electoral purposes...

 in the modern Greek prefecture
Prefectures of Greece
During the first administrative division of independent Greece in 1833–1836 and then again from 1845 until their abolition with the Kallikratis reform in 2010, the prefectures were the country's main administrative unit...

 of Laconia
Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

.

Geography


Sparta is located in the region of Laconia, in the south-eastern Peloponnese. Ancient Sparta was built on the banks of the Evrotas River, the main river of Laconia, which provided it with a source of fresh water. The valley of the Evrotas is a natural fortress, bounded to the west by Mt. Taygetus
Taygetus
Mount Taygetus, Taugetus, or Taigetus is a mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. The name is one of the oldest recorded in Europe, appearing in the Odyssey. In classical mythology, it was associated with the nymph Taygete...

 (2407 m) and to the east by Mt. Parnon
Parnon
Parnon or Parnonas or Malevo is a mountain range, or massif, on the east of the Laconian plain and the Evrotas valley. It is visible from Athens above the top of the Argive mountains. The western part is in the Laconia prefecture and the northeastern part is in the Arcadia prefecture. The Parnon...

 (1935 m). To the north, Laconia is separated from Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

 by hilly uplands reaching 1000 m in altitude. These natural defenses worked to Sparta's advantage and contributed to Sparta never having been sacked. Though landlocked, Sparta had a harbor, Gytheio
Gytheio
Gytheio , the ancient Gythium or Gytheion , is a town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality East Mani, of which it is a municipal unit. It was the seaport of Sparta, some 40 km north...

, on the Laconian Gulf.

Mythology



In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Lacedaemon
Lacedaemon (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Lacedaemon was a son of Zeus and the Pleaid Taygete. He was father of Amyclas and Eurydice of Argos, by Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas....

 was a son of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 by the nymph Taygete
Taygete
In Greek mythology, Taygete was a nymph, one of the Pleiades according to Apollodorus and a companion of Artemis, in her archaic role as potnia theron, "Mistress of the animals". Mount Taygetos in Laconia, dedicated to the Goddess, was her haunt....

. He married Sparta
Sparta (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Sparta was the daughter of Eurotas by Clete. She was wife of Lacedaemon by whom she became the mother of Amyclas and Eurydice of Argos . The city of Sparta is said to have been named after her; however, the city was often called Lacedaemon as well. The two names were used...

, the daughter of Eurotas, by whom he became the father of Amyclas
Amyclas
In Greek mythology, Amyclas refers to three individuals:*Amyclas was the son of Lacedemon and Sparta, and he was the brother of Eurydice . According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, he was the father of Hyacinth and Cynortas; according to Pausanias, he was also the father of Laodamia or Leaneira, wife of...

, Eurydice
Eurydice of Argos
In Greek Mythology, Eurydice was wife to Acrisius, king of Argos, mother of Danaë and therefore maternal grandmother to Perseus. She was said to have been a daughter to Lacedaemon and Sparta, the legendary founders of Sparta.-References:...

, and Asine
Asine
Asine was an ancient Greek city of Argolis, which was the first city mentioned by Homer as part of the kingdom of Diomedes, king of Argos.In 740 BC, the Argives destroyed the city because its citizens had helped the Spartans in their war against Argos...

. He was king of the country which he named after himself, naming the capital after his wife. He was believed to have built the sanctuary of the Charites
Charites
In Greek mythology, a Charis is one of several Charites , goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility. They ordinarily numbered three, from youngest to oldest: Aglaea , Euphrosyne , and Thalia . In Roman mythology they were known as the Gratiae, the "Graces"...

, which stood between Sparta and Amyclae, and to have given to those divinities the names of Cleta and Phaenna. A shrine
Heroon
A heroon , also called heroum, was a shrine dedicated to an ancient Greek or Roman hero and used for the commemoration or cult worship of the hero. It was often erected over his supposed tomb or cenotaph....

 was erected to him in the neighborhood of Therapne.

Archaeology of the classical period


Thucydides wrote:
Suppose the city of Sparta to be deserted, and nothing left but the temples and the ground-plan, distant ages would be very unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at all equal to their fame. Their city is not built continuously, and has no splendid temples or other edifices; it rather resembles a group of villages, like the ancient towns of Hellas, and would therefore make a poor show.


Until the early 20th century, the chief ancient buildings at Sparta were the theatre, of which, however, little showed above ground except portions of the retaining wall
Retaining wall
Retaining walls are built in order to hold back earth which would otherwise move downwards. Their purpose is to stabilize slopes and provide useful areas at different elevations, e.g...

s; the so-called Tomb of Leonidas, a quadrangular building, perhaps a temple, constructed of immense blocks of stone and containing two chambers; the foundation of an ancient bridge over the Eurotas
Eurotas
In Greek mythology, Eurotas was a son of Myles and grandson of Lelex, eponymous ancestor of the Leleges, the pre-Greek people residing, in the myth, in the Eurotas Valley. He had no male heir, but he did have a daughter, Sparta. Eurotas bequeathed the kingdom to her husband, Lacedaemon, the son of...

; the ruins of a circular structure; some remains of late Roman fortifications; several brick buildings and mosaic pavements.

The remaining archaeological wealth consisted of inscriptions, sculptures, and other objects collected in the local museum, founded by Stamatakis in 1872 and enlarged in 1907. Partial excavation of the round building was undertaken in 1892 and 1893 by the American School at Athens. The structure has been since found to be semicircular, retaining wall of Hellenic origin that was partly restored during the Roman period.

In 1904, the British School at Athens began a thorough exploration of Laconia
Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

, and in the following year excavations were made at Thalamae, Geronthrae, and Angelona near Monemvasia
Monemvasia
Monemvasia is a town and a municipality in Laconia, Greece. The town is located on a small peninsula off the east coast of the Peloponnese. The peninsula is linked to the mainland by a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea level, up to...

. In 1906, excavations began in Sparta.

A small circus described by Leake
William Martin Leake
William Martin Leake, FRS , British antiquarian and topographer, was born in London.After completing his education at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and spending four years in the West Indies as lieutenant of marine artillery, he was sent by the government to Constantinople to instruct the...

 proved to be a theatre-like building constructed soon after AD 200 around the altar and in front of the temple of Artemis Orthia
Artemis Orthia
The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, an Archaic site devoted in Classical times to Artemis, was one of the most important religious sites in the Greek city-state of Sparta.- Sanctuary :...

. Here musical and gymnastic contests took place as well as the famous flogging ordeal (diamastigosis). The temple, which can be dated to the 2nd century BC, rests on the foundation of an older temple of the 6th century, and close beside it were found the remains of a yet earlier temple, dating from the 9th or even the 10th century. The votive offering
Votive offering
A votive deposit or votive offering is one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favor with supernatural...

s in clay, amber, bronze, ivory and lead found in great profusion within the precinct range, dating from the 9th to the 4th centuries BC, supply invaluable evidence for early Spartan art.

In 1907, the sanctuary of Athena "of the Brazen House" (Chalkioikos) was located on the acropolis immediately above the theatre, and though the actual temple is almost completely destroyed, the site has produced the longest extant archaic inscription of Laconia, numerous bronze nails and plates, and a considerable number of votive offerings. The Greek city-wall, built in successive stages from the 4th to the 2nd century, was traced for a great part of its circuit, which measured 48 stades or nearly 10 km (Polyb. 1X. 21). The late Roman wall enclosing the acropolis, part of which probably dates from the years following the Gothic raid of AD 262, was also investigated. Besides the actual buildings discovered, a number of points were situated and mapped in a general study of Spartan topography, based upon the description of Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

. Excavations showed that the town of the Mycenaean Period was situated on the left bank of the Eurotas, a little to the south-east of Sparta. The settlement was roughly triangular in shape, with its apex pointed towards the north. 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.

Prehistory


The prehistory of Sparta is difficult to reconstruct because the literary evidence is far removed in time from the events it describes and is also distorted by oral tradition. However, the earliest certain evidence of human settlement in the region of Sparta consists of pottery
Pottery
Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 dating from the Middle Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 period, found in the vicinity of Kouphovouno some two kilometres south-southwest of Sparta. These are the earliest traces of the original Mycenaean
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

 Spartan civilisation, as represented in Homer's Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

.

This civilization seems to have fallen into decline by the late Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

, when, according to Herodotus, Macedonian tribes from the north marched into Peloponnese, where they were called Dorians and subjugating the local tribes, settled there. The Dorians seem to have set about expanding the frontiers of Spartan territory almost before they had established their own state. They fought against the Argive Dorians to the east and southeast, and also the Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

n Achaeans to the northwest. 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 prehistory of the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Dark Age (the Early Iron Age) at this moment must be treated apart from the stream of Dorian Spartan history.

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 testified by both Herodotus and Thucydides. As a result they carried out a series of political and social reforms of their own society which they later attributed to a semi-mythical lawgiver, Lycurgus. These reforms mark the beginning of the history of Classical Sparta.

Classical Sparta


In the Second Messenian War
Second Messenian War
The Second Messenian War was a war between the Ancient Greek states of Messenia and Sparta. It started around 40 years after the end of the First Messenian War with the uprising of a slave rebellion. This war lasted from 685 to 668.-Prelude:...

, Sparta established itself as a local power in Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece. During the following centuries, Sparta's reputation as a land-fighting force was unequaled. In 480 BC a small force of Spartans, Thespians, and Thebans led by King Leonidas
Leonidas I
Leonidas I was a hero-king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the latter's strength and bravery...

 (approximately 300 were full Spartiates, 700 were Thespians, and 400 were Thebans although these numbers do not reflect casualties incurred prior to the final battle), made a legendary last stand
Last stand
Last stand is a loose military term used to describe a body of troops holding a defensive position in the face of overwhelming odds. The defensive force usually takes very heavy casualties or is completely destroyed, as happened in "Custer's Last Stand" at the Battle of Little Big HornBryan Perrett...

 at the Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Thermopylae
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August...

 against the massive Persian army, inflicting very high casualties on the Persian forces before finally being encircled. The superior weaponry, strategy, and bronze
Bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 armour of the Greek hoplite
Hoplite
A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spearmen and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" derives from "hoplon" , the type of the shield used by the soldiers, although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even...

s and their phalanx
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

 again proved their worth one year later when Sparta assembled at full strength and led a Greek alliance against the Persians at the battle of Plataea
Battle of Plataea
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes...

.

The decisive Greek victory at Plataea put an end to the Greco-Persian War along with Persian ambition of expanding into Europe. Even though this war was won by a pan-Greek army, credit was given to Sparta, who besides being the protagonist at Thermopylae and Plataea, had been the de facto leader of the entire Greek expedition.

In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, Thebes
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

, and Persia had been the main powers fighting for supremacy against each other. As a result of the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, Sparta, a traditionally continental culture, became a naval power. At the peak of its power Sparta subdued many of the key Greek states and even managed to overpower the elite Athenian navy. By the end of the 5th century BC it stood out as a state which had defeated the Athenian Empire and had invaded the Persian provinces in Anatolia, a period which marks the Spartan Hegemony
Spartan hegemony
The city-state of Sparta was the greatest military land power of classical Greek antiquity. During the classical period, Sparta owned, dominated or influenced the entire Peloponnese. Additionally, the defeat of the Athenians and the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War in 431-404 BCE resulted in...

.

During the Corinthian War
Corinthian War
The Corinthian War was an ancient Greek conflict lasting from 395 BC until 387 BC, pitting Sparta against a coalition of four allied states; Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos; which were initially backed by Persia. The immediate cause of the war was a local conflict in northwest Greece in which...

 Sparta faced a coalition of the leading Greek states: Thebes
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

, Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

, and Argos
Argos
Argos is a city and a former municipality in Argolis, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Argos-Mykines, of which it is a municipal unit. It is 11 kilometres from Nafplion, which was its historic harbour...

. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, whose lands in Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 had been invaded by Sparta and which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia. Sparta achieved a series of land victories, but many of her ships were destroyed at the battle of Cnidus
Battle of Cnidus
The Battle of Cnidus , was a joint Athenian and Persian operation against the Spartan naval fleet in the Corinthian War. A combined Athenian-Persian fleet, led by the former Greek admiral Conon, destroyed the Spartan fleet led by the inexperienced Peisander, ending Sparta's brief bid for naval...

 by a Greek-Phoenician mercenary fleet that Persia had provided to Athens. The event severely damaged Sparta's naval power but did not end its aspirations of invading further into Persia, until Conon
Conon
Conon was an Athenian general at the end of the Peloponnesian War, who presided over the crucial Athenian naval defeat at Battle of Aegospotami; later he contributed significantly to the restoration of the political and military power.-Defeat at Aegospotami:Conon had been sent out following the...

 the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt.

After a few more years of fighting, in 387 BC the Peace of Antalcidas
Peace of Antalcidas
The Peace of Antalcidas , also known as the King's Peace, was a peace treaty guaranteed by the Persian King Artaxerxes II that ended the Corinthian War in ancient Greece. The treaty's alternate name comes from Antalcidas, the Spartan diplomat who traveled to Susa to negotiate the terms of the...

 was established, according to which all Greek cities of Ionia
Ionia
Ionia is an ancient region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey, the region nearest İzmir, which was historically Smyrna. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements...

 would return to Persian control, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat. The effects of the war were to reaffirm Persia's ability to interfere successfully in Greek politics and to affirm Sparta's weakened hegemonic position in the Greek political system. Sparta entered its long-term decline after a severe military defeat to Epaminondas
Epaminondas
Epaminondas , or Epameinondas, was a Theban general and statesman of the 4th century BC who transformed the Ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, leading it out of Spartan subjugation into a preeminent position in Greek politics...

 of Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra
Battle of Leuctra
The Battle of Leuctra was a battle fought on July 6, 371 BC, between the Boeotians led by Thebans and the Spartans along with their allies amidst the post-Corinthian War conflict. The battle took place in the neighbourhood of Leuctra, a village in Boeotia in the territory of Thespiae...

. This was the first time that a Spartan army
Spartan Army
The Spartan army was the military force of Sparta, one of the leading city-states of ancient Greece. The army stood at the centre of the Spartan state, whose citizens' primary obligation was to be good soldiers. Subject to military drill from infancy, the Spartans were one of the most feared...

 lost a land battle at full strength.

As Spartan citizenship was inherited by blood, Sparta now increasingly faced a helot population that vastly outnumbered its citizens. The alarming decline of Spartan citizens was commented on by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

.

Hellenistic and Roman Sparta


Sparta never fully recovered from the losses that the Spartans suffered at Leuctra in 371 BC and the subsequent helot revolts. Nonetheless, it was able to continue as a regional power for over two centuries. Neither Philip II
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

 nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to conquer Sparta itself.

During Alexander's campaigns in the east, the Spartan king, Agis III
Agis III
Agis III , son of Archidamus III, was the 20th Eurypontid king of Sparta.He succeeded his father in 338 BC, on the very day of the battle of Chaeronea...

 sent a force to Crete in 333 BC with the aim of securing the island for Sparta. Agis next took command of allied Greek forces against Macedon, gaining early successes, before laying siege to Megalopolis
Megalopolis, Greece
Megalópoli is a town in the western part of the peripheral unit of Arcadia, southern Greece. It is located in the same site as ancient Megalopolis . "Megalopolis" is a Greek word for Great city. When it was founded, in 371 BC, it was the first urbanization in rustic and primitive Arcadia. In...

 in 331 BC. A large Macedonian army under general Antipater
Antipater
Antipater was a Macedonian general and a supporter of kings Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. In 320 BC, he became Regent of all of Alexander's Empire. Antipater was one of the sons of a Macedonian nobleman called Iollas or Iolaus and his family were distant collateral relatives to the...

 marched to its relief and defeated the Spartan-led force in a pitched battle. More than 5,300 of the Spartans and their allies were killed in battle, and 3,500 of Antipater's troops. Agis, now wounded and unable to stand, ordered his men to leave him behind to face the advancing Macedonian army so that he could buy them time to retreat. On his knees, the Spartan king slew several enemy soldiers before being finally killed by a javelin. Alexander was merciful, and he only forced the Spartans to join the League of Corinth, which they had previously refused to join.

Even during its decline, Sparta never forgot its claims on being the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit
Laconic phrase
A laconic phrase is a very concise or terse statement, named after Laconia , a polis of ancient Greece surrounding the city of Sparta proper. In common usage, Sparta referred both to Lacedaemon and Sparta...

. An anecdote has it that when Philip II sent a message to Sparta saying "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta", the Spartans responded with the single, terse reply: "If."

When Philip created the league of the Greeks
League of Corinth
The League of Corinth, also sometimes referred to as Hellenic League was a federation of Greek states created by Philip II of Macedon during the winter of 338 BC/337 BC after the Battle of Chaeronea, to facilitate his use of military forces in his war against Persia...

 on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, the Spartans chose not to join—they had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition if it was not under Spartan leadership. Thus, upon the conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great sent to Athens 300 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 [emphasis added]".

During the Punic Wars
Punic Wars
The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 B.C.E. to 146 B.C.E. At the time, they were probably the largest wars that had ever taken place...

 Sparta was an ally of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League
Achaean League
The Achaean League was a Hellenistic era confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese, which existed between 280 BC and 146 BC...

. In 146 BC Greece was conquered by the Roman general Lucius Mummius
Lucius Mummius Achaicus
Lucius Mummius , was a Roman statesman and general, also known as Leucius Mommius. He later received the agnomen Achaicus after conquering Greece.-Praetor:...

. During the Roman conquest, Spartans continued their way of life, and the city became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe exotic Spartan customs. Supposedly, following the disaster that befell the Roman imperial army at the Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople
The Battle of Adrianople , sometimes known as the Battle of Hadrianopolis, was fought between a Roman army led by the Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels led by Fritigern...

 (AD 378), a Spartan militia phalanx
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

 met and defeated a force of raiding Visigoths in battle.

Medieval and modern Sparta


According to Byzantine sources, some parts
Maniots
The Maniots or Maniates are the Greek inhabitants of the Mani Peninsula located in the southern Peloponnese in the Greek prefecture of Laconia and prefecture of Messinia. They were also formerly known as Mainotes and the peninsula as Maina. The Maniots are the direct descendants of the Spartans...

 of the Laconian region remained pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 until well into the 10th century AD, and Doric
Doric Greek
Doric or Dorian was a dialect of ancient Greek. Its variants were spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes, some islands in the southern Aegean Sea, some cities on the coasts of Asia Minor, Southern Italy, Sicily, Epirus and Macedon. Together with Northwest Greek, it forms the...

-speaking populations survive today in Tsakonia
Tsakonia
Tsakonia or the Tsakonian region describes the area of the eastern Peloponnese where the Tsakonian language is presently spoken...

. In the Middle Ages, the political and cultural center of Laconia shifted to the nearby settlement of Mystras
Mystras
Mystras is a fortified town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Sparti, of which it is a municipal unit. Situated on Mt...

. Modern Sparti
Sparti (municipality)
Sparti is a municipality of Laconia, Greece. It lies at the site of ancient Sparta. The population in 2001 was 38,079, of whom 15,828 lived in the town itself.-History:...

 was re-founded in 1834, by a decree of King Otto of Greece
Otto of Greece
Otto, Prince of Bavaria, then Othon, King of Greece was made the first modern King of Greece in 1832 under the Convention of London, whereby Greece became a new independent kingdom under the protection of the Great Powers .The second son of the philhellene King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Otto ascended...

.

Constitution



The Doric state of Sparta, copying the Doric Cretans
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

, developed a mixed governmental state
Mixed government
Mixed government, also known as a mixed constitution, is a form of government that integrates elements of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. In a mixed government, some issues are decided by the majority of the people, some other issues by few, and some other issues by a single person...

. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings
Dynasty
A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family. Historians traditionally consider many sovereign states' history within a framework of successive dynasties, e.g., China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire...

 of the Agiad and Eurypontid families
Family
In human context, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence. In most societies it is the principal institution for the socialization of children...

, both supposedly descendants of Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 and equal in authority, so that one could not act against the veto
Veto
A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation...

 of his colleague.

The duties of the kings were primarily religious, judicial, and military. They were the chief priests of the state and also maintained communication with the Delphian sanctuary, which always exercised great authority in Spartan politics. In the time of Herodotus, about 450 BC, their judicial functions had been restricted to cases dealing with heiresses, adoptions and the public roads. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" (Pol. iii. I285a), while Isocrates
Isocrates
Isocrates , an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. In his time, he was probably the most influential rhetorician in Greece and made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works....

 refers to the Spartans as "subject to an oligarchy
Oligarchy
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

 at home, to a kingship on campaign" (iii. 24).

Civil and criminal cases were decided by a group of officials known as the ephors, as well as a council of elders
Elder (administrative title)
The term Elder is used in several different countries and organizations to indicate a position of authority...

 known as the Gerousia
Gerousia
The Gerousia was the Spartan senate . It was made up of 60 year old Spartan males. It was created by the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus in the seventh century BC, in his Great Rhetra...

. 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. High state policy decisions were discussed by this council who could then propose action alternatives to the Damos, the collective body of Spartan citizenry, who would select one of the alternatives by voting
Great Rhetra
The Great Rhetra was used in two senses by the classical authors. On the one hand it was the Spartan Constitution, believed to have been formulated and established by the legendary lawgiver, Lycurgus. In the legend Lycurgus forbade any written constitution...

.

The royal prerogatives were curtailed over time. Dating from the period of the Persian wars, the king lost the right to declare war
Declaration of war
A declaration of war is a formal act by which one nation goes to war against another. The declaration is a performative speech act by an authorized party of a national government in order to create a state of war between two or more states.The legality of who is competent to declare war varies...

 and was accompanied in the field by two ephors. He was supplanted also by the ephors in the control of foreign policy. Over time, the kings became mere figureheads except in their capacity as generals. Real power was transferred to the ephors and to the Gerousia.

The origins of the powers exercised by the assembly of the citizens are virtually unknown because of the lack of historical documentation and Spartan state secrecy.

Citizenship


Not all inhabitants of the Spartan state were considered to be citizens. Only those who had undertaken the Spartan education process known as the agoge
Agoge
The agōgē was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one's group, military training The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic...

 were eligible. However, usually the only people eligible to receive the agoge
Agoge
The agōgē was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one's group, military training The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic...

 were Spartiates, or people who could trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the city.

There were two exceptions. Trophimoi
Trophimoi
The Trophimoi were children of non-Spartiatae - Perioeci or foreigners - who underwent Spartan education.The trophimoi are temporarily adopted by a Spartan oikos...

 or "foster sons" were foreign students invited to study. The Athenian general Xenophon
Xenophon
Xenophon , son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, also known as Xenophon of Athens, was a Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, philosopher and a contemporary and admirer of Socrates...

, for example, sent his two sons to Sparta as trophimoi. The other exception was that the sons of a helot could be enrolled as a syntrophos if a Spartiate formally adopted him and paid his way. If a syntrophos did exceptionally well in training, he might be sponsored to become a Spartiate.

Others in the state were the perioikoi, who were free inhabitants of Spartan territory but were non-citizens, and the helots
Helots
The helots: / Heílôtes) were an unfree population group that formed the main population of Laconia and the whole of Messenia . Their exact status was already disputed in antiquity: according to Critias, they were "especially slaves" whereas to Pollux, they occupied a status "between free men and...

, the state-owned serfs. Descendants of non-Spartan citizens were not able to follow the agoge and Spartans who could not afford to pay the expenses of the agoge could lose their citizenship. These laws meant that Sparta could not readily replace citizens lost in battle or otherwise and eventually proved near fatal to the continuance of the state as the number of citizens became greatly outnumbered by the non-citizens and, even more dangerously, the helots.

Helots



The Spartans were a minority of the Lakonian population. The largest class of inhabitants were the helots (in Classical Greek  / Heílôtes).

The helots were originally free Greeks from the areas of Messenia
Messenia
Messenia is a regional unit in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese region, one of 13 regions into which Greece has been divided by the Kallikratis plan, implemented 1 January 2011...

 and Lakonia whom the Spartans had defeated in battle and subsequently enslaved. 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. The helots were used as unskilled serf
SERF
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

s, tilling Spartan land. Helot women were often used as wet nurse
Wet nurse
A wet nurse is a woman who is used to breast feed and care for another's child. Wet nurses are used when the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of...

s. Helots also travelled with the Spartan army as non-combatant serfs. At the last stand of the Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Thermopylae
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August...

, the Greek dead included not just the legendary three hundred Spartan soldiers but also several hundred Thespian
Thespiae
Thespiae was an ancient Greek city in Boeotia. It stood on level ground commanded by the low range of hills which runs eastward from the foot of Mount Helicon to Thebes, near modern Thespies.-History:...

 and Theban
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

 troops and a number of helots.

Relations between the helots and their Spartan masters were frequently hostile. Thucydides remarked that "Spartan policy is always mainly governed by the necessity of taking precautions against the helots."

According to Myron of Priene of the middle 3rd century BC:
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) "...and to lead them in that condition into their public halls, that the children might see what a sight a drunken man is; they made them to dance low dances, and sing ridiculous songs..." during syssitia
Syssitia
The syssitia was, in Ancient Greece, a common meal for men and youths in social or religious groups, especially in Crete and Sparta, though also in Megara in the time of Theognis and Corinth in the time of Periander .The banquets spoken of by Homer relate to this tradition...

 (obligatory banquets).

Helots did not have voting rights, although compared to non-Greek chattel slaves in other parts of Greece they were relatively privileged. The Spartan poet Tyrtaios
Tyrtaeus
Tyrtaeus was a Greek poet who composed verses in Sparta around the time of the Second Messenian War, the date of which isn't clearly establishedsometime in the latter part of the seventh century BC...

 refers to Helots being allowed to marry. They also seem to have been allowed to practice religious rites and, according to Thucydides, own a limited amount of personal property.

Each year when the Ephors took office they ritually declared war on the helots, thereby allowing Spartans to kill them without the risk of ritual pollution. This seems to have been done by kryptes (sing. κρύπτης), graduates of the Agoge who took part in the mysterious institution known as the Krypteia
Crypteia
Krypteia or crypteia was a tradition involving young Spartans, part of the agoge regime of Spartan education...

.

Around 424 BC, the Spartans murdered two thousand helots in a carefully staged event. Thucydides states:

"The helots were invited by a proclamation to pick out those of their number who claimed to have most distinguished themselves against the enemy, in order that they might receive their freedom; the object being to test them, as it was thought that the first to claim their freedom would be the most high spirited and the most apt to rebel. As many as two thousand were selected accordingly, who crowned themselves and went round the temples, rejoicing in their new freedom. The Spartans, however, soon afterwards did away with them, and no one ever knew how each of them perished."

Perioikoi



The Perioikoi came from similar origins as the helots but occupied a somewhat different position in Spartan society. Although they did not enjoy full citizen-rights, they were free and not subjected to the same harsh treatment as the helots. The exact nature of their subjection to the Spartans is not clear, but they seem to have served partly as a kind of military reserve, partly as skilled craftsmen and partly as agents of foreign trade. Although Perioikoic hoplites occasionally served with the Spartan army, notably at the Battle of Plataea
Battle of Plataea
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes...

, the most important function of the Perioikoi was almost certainly the manufacture and repair of armour and weapons.

Economy


Spartan citizens were debarred by law from trade or manufacture, which consequently rested in the hands of the Perioikoi, and were forbidden (in theory) to possess either gold or silver. Spartan currency consisted of iron bars, thus making thievery and foreign commerce very difficult and discouraging the accumulation of riches. Wealth was, in theory at least, derived entirely from landed property and consisted in the annual return made by the helots, who cultivated the plots of ground allotted to the Spartan citizens but this attempt to equalize property proved a failure. From the earliest times, there were marked differences of wealth within the state, and these became even more serious after the law of Epitadeus
Epitadeus
Epitadeus was an early 4th century BCE Spartan ephor, who strengthened conservative class distinctions by allowing gifts of land to independent citizens . This 4th Century rhetra allowed the Spartiatai to dispose of their private land at will rather than by conventional hereditary descent....

, passed at some time after the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, removed the legal prohibition of the gift or bequest of land.

Full citizens, released from any economic activity, were given a piece of land which was cultivated and run by the helots. As time went on, greater portions of land were concentrated in the hands of large landholders, but the number of full citizens declined. Citizens had numbered 10,000 at the beginning of the 5th century BC but had decreased by Aristotle's day (384–322 BC) to less than 1,000, and had further decreased to 700 at the accession of Agis IV
Agis IV
Agis IV , the elder son of Eudamidas II, was the 24th king of the Eurypontid dynasty of Sparta. Posterity has reckoned him an idealistic but impractical monarch.-Succession:...

 in 244 BC. Attempts were made to remedy this situation by creating new laws. Certain penalties were imposed upon those who remained unmarried or who married too late in life. These laws, however, came too late and were ineffective in reversing the trend.

Birth and death


Sparta was above all a militarist state, and emphasis on military fitness began virtually at birth. Shortly after birth, a mother would bathe her child in wine to see whether the child was strong. If the child survived it was brought before the Gerousia by the child's father. The Gerousia then decided whether it was to be reared or not. If they considered it "puny and deformed", the baby was thrown into a chasm on Mount Taygetos
Taygetus
Mount Taygetus, Taugetus, or Taigetus is a mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. The name is one of the oldest recorded in Europe, appearing in the Odyssey. In classical mythology, it was associated with the nymph Taygete...

 known euphemistically as the Apothetae (Gr., ἀποθέτας, "Deposits"). This was, in effect, a primitive form of eugenics
Eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

.

There is some evidence that the exposure of unwanted children was practiced in other Greek regions, including Athens.

When Spartans died, marked headstones would only be granted to soldiers who died in combat during a victorious campaign or women who died either in service of a divine office or in childbirth.

Education



When male Spartans began military training at age seven, they would enter the Agoge system. The Agoge was designed to encourage discipline and physical toughness and to emphasise the importance of the Spartan state. Boys lived in communal messes and were deliberately underfed, to encourage them to master the skill of stealing food. Besides physical and weapons training, boys studied reading, writing, music and dancing. Special punishments were imposed if boys failed to answer questions sufficiently 'laconically' (i.e. briefly and wittily).

At the age of twelve, the Agoge obliged Spartan boys to take an older male mentor, usually an unmarried young man. The older man was expected to function as a kind of substitute father and role model to his junior partner; however, it is also reasonably certain that they had sexual relations (the exact nature of Spartan pederasty is not entirely clear).

At the age of eighteen, Spartan boys became reserve members of the Spartan army. On leaving the Agoge they would be sorted into groups, whereupon some were sent into the countryside with only a knife and forced to survive on their skills and cunning. This was called the Krypteia, and the immediate object of it was to seek out and kill any helots as part of the larger program of terrorising and intimidating the helot population.

Less information is available about the education of Spartan girls, but they seem to have gone through a fairly extensive formal educational cycle, broadly similar to that of the boys but with less emphasis on military training. In this respect, classical Sparta was unique in ancient Greece. In no other city-state did women receive any kind of formal education.

Military life




At age twenty, the Spartan citizen began his membership in one of the syssitia
Syssitia
The syssitia was, in Ancient Greece, a common meal for men and youths in social or religious groups, especially in Crete and Sparta, though also in Megara in the time of Theognis and Corinth in the time of Periander .The banquets spoken of by Homer relate to this tradition...

(dining messes or clubs), composed of about fifteen members each, of which every citizen was required to be a member. Here each group learned how to bond and rely on one another. The Spartan exercised the full rights and duties of a citizen at the age of thirty. Only native Spartans were considered full citizens and were obliged to undergo the training as prescribed by law, as well as participate in and contribute financially to one of the syssitia.

Sparta, is thought to be the first city to practice athletic nudity, and one of the first to formalize pederasty. The Spartans believed that the love of an older, accomplished aristocrat for an adolescent was essential to his formation as a free citizen. The agoge
Agoge
The agōgē was the rigorous education and training regimen mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one's group, military training The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic...

, the education of the ruling class, was thus founded on pederastic relationships required of each citizen. The lover was responsible for the boy's training. Pederasty and military training were intimately connected in Sparta, as in many other cities. The Spartans, claims Athenaeus sacrificed to Eros
Eros
Eros , in Greek mythology, was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid . Some myths make him a primordial god, while in other myths, he is the son of Aphrodite....

 before every battle.

Spartan men remained in the active reserve until age sixty. Men were encouraged to marry at age twenty but could not live with their families until they left their active military service at age thirty. They called themselves "homoioi" (equals), pointing to their common lifestyle and the discipline of the phalanx
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

, which demanded that no soldier be superior to his comrades. Insofar as hoplite warfare could be perfected, the Spartans did so.

Thucydides reports that when a Spartan man went to war, his wife (or another woman of some significance) would customarily present him with his shield and say: "With this, or upon this" (Ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς, Èi tàn èi èpì tàs), meaning that true Spartans could only return to Sparta either victorious (with their shield in hand) or dead (carried upon it). If a Spartan hoplite were to return to Sparta alive and without his shield, it was assumed that he threw his shield at the enemy in an effort to flee; an act punishable by death or banishment. A soldier losing his helmet, breastplate or greaves (leg armour) was not similarly punished, as these items were personal pieces of armour designed to protect one man, whereas the shield not only protected the individual soldier but in the tightly packed Spartan phalanx was also instrumental in protecting the soldier to his left from harm. Thus the shield was symbolic of the individual soldier's subordination to his unit, his integral part in its success, and his solemn responsibility to his comrades in arms — messmates and friends, often close blood relations.

According to Aristotle, the Spartan military culture was actually short-sighted and ineffective. He observed:

It is the standards of civilized men not of beasts that must be kept in mind, for it is good men not beasts who are capable of real courage. Those like the Spartans who concentrate on the one and ignore the other in their education turn men into machines and in devoting themselves to one single aspect of city's life, end up making them inferior even in that.


Even mothers enforced the militaristic lifestyle that Spartan men endured. There is a legend of a Spartan warrior who ran away from battle back to his mother. Although he expected protection from his mother, she acted quite the opposite. Instead of shielding her son from public shame, she and some of her friends chased him around the streets, and beat him with sticks. Afterwards, he was forced to run up and down the hills of Sparta yelling his cowardliness and inferiority.

Marriage


Spartan men were required to marry
Ancient Greek marriage law
Ancient Greek marriage law concerns the laws and practices involving the institution of marriage in ancient Greece.-Marriage as a public interest:...

 at age 30, after completing the Krypteia. Plutarch reports the peculiar customs associated with the Spartan wedding night:
The custom was to capture women for marriage(...) The so-called 'bridesmaid' took charge of the captured girl. She first shaved her head to the scalp, then dressed her in a man's cloak and sandals, and laid her down alone on a mattress in the dark. The bridegroom—who was not drunk and thus not impotent, but was sober as always—first had dinner in the messes, then would slip in, undo her belt, lift her and carry her to the bed.
The husband continued to visit his wife in secret for some time after the marriage. These customs, unique to the Spartans, have been interpreted in various ways. The "abduction" may have served to ward off the evil eye
Evil eye
The evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike...

, and the cutting of the wife's hair was perhaps part of a rite of passage that signalled her entrance into a new life.

Political, social, and economic equality


Spartan women enjoyed a status, power, and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world. They controlled their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with the army. It is estimated that women were the sole owners of at least 35% of all land and property in Sparta. The laws regarding a divorce were the same for both men and women. Unlike women in Athens, if a Spartan woman became the heiress of her father because she had no living brothers to inherit (an epikleros
Epikleros
Epikleros was the term used to describe an heiress in ancient Athens, and in other ancient Greek city states. It denoted a daughter of a man who had no male heirs. In Sparta they were called patroiouchoi , as they were in Gortyn...

), the woman was not required to divorce her current spouse in order to marry her nearest paternal relative. Spartan women rarely married before the age of 20, and unlike Athenian women who wore heavy, concealing clothes and were rarely seen outside the house, Spartan women wore short dresses and went where they pleased. Girls as well as boys exercised nude, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia
Gymnopaedia
The Gymnopaedia, in ancient Sparta, was a yearly celebration during which naked youths displayed their athletic and martial skills through the medium of war dancing...

("Festival of Nude Youths").

Historic women


Many women played a significant role in the history of Sparta
History of Sparta
The History of Sparta describes the destiny of the ancient Dorian Greek state known as Sparta from its beginning in the legendary period to its forced incorporation into the Achaean League under the late Roman Republic, its conquerors, in 146 BCE, a period of roughly 1000 years...

. Queen Gorgo
Gorgo, Queen of Sparta
Gorgo was the daughter and the only child of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. She was the wife of King Leonidas I, Cleomenes' half-brother, who fought and died in the Battle of Thermopylae. Gorgo is noted as one of the few female historical figures actually named...

, heiress to the throne and the wife of Leonidas I
Leonidas I
Leonidas I was a hero-king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the latter's strength and bravery...

, was an influential and well-documented figure. Herodotus records that as a small girl she advised her father Cleomenes
Cleomenes I
Cleomenes or Kleomenes was an Agiad King of Sparta in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. During his reign, which started around 520 BC, he pursued an adventurous and at times unscrupulous foreign policy aimed at crushing Argos and extending Sparta's influence both inside and outside the...

 to resist a bribe. She was later said to be responsible for decoding a warning that the Persian forces were about to invade Greece; after Spartan generals could not decode a wooden tablet covered in wax, she ordered them to clear the wax, revealing the warning. Plutarch's Moralia
Moralia
The Moralia of the 1st-century Greek scholar Plutarch of Chaeronea is an eclectic collection of 78 essays and transcribed speeches. They give an insight into Roman and Greek life, but often are also fascinating timeless observations in their own right...

contains a collection of "Sayings of Spartan Women", including a laconic quip attributed to Gorgo: when asked by a woman from Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

 why Spartan women were the only women in the world who could rule men, she replied "Because we are the only women who are mothers of men".

Laconophilia


Laconophilia is love or admiration of Sparta and of the Spartan culture or constitution. Sparta was subject of considerable admiration in its day, even in its rival, Athens. In ancient times "Many of the noblest and best of the Athenians always considered the Spartan state nearly as an ideal theory realised in practice." Many Greek philosophers, especially Platonists, would often describe Sparta as an ideal state, strong, brave, and free from the corruptions of commerce and money.

With the revival of classical learning in Renaissance Europe
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, Laconophilia re-appears, for examples in the writings of Machiavelli. The Elizabethan English constitutionalist John Aylmer
John Aylmer (English constitutionalist)
John Aylmer was an English bishop, constitutionalist and a Greek scholar.-Early life and career:He was born at Aylmer Hall, Tilney St. Lawrence, Norfolk...

 compared the mixed government of Tudor England to the Spartan republic, stating that "Lacedemonia [meaning Sparta], [was] the noblest and best city governed that ever was". He commended it as a model for England. The Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 contrasted Sparta favourably with Athens in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences , more commonly known as Discourse on the Sciences and Arts , is an essay by Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau which argued that the arts and sciences corrupt human morality...

, arguing that its austere constitution was preferable to the more cultured nature of Athenian life. Sparta was also used as a model of social purity by Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

A new element of Laconophilia by Karl Otfried Müller
Karl Otfried Müller
Karl Otfried Müller , was a German scholar and Philodorian, or admirer of ancient Sparta, who introduced the modern study of Greek mythology.-Biography:...

, who linked Spartan ideals to the supposed racial superiority of the Dorians, the ethnic sub-group of the Greeks to which the Spartans belonged. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 praised the Spartans, recommending in 1928 that Germany should imitate them by limiting "the number allowed to live". He added that "The Spartans were once capable of such a wise measure... The subjugation of 350,000 Helots by 6,000 Spartans was only possible because of the racial superiority of the Spartans." The Spartans had created "the first racialist state".

In the modern times, the adjective "spartan" is used to imply simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort. The term laconic phrase
Laconic phrase
A laconic phrase is a very concise or terse statement, named after Laconia , a polis of ancient Greece surrounding the city of Sparta proper. In common usage, Sparta referred both to Lacedaemon and Sparta...

 describes a very terse and concise way of speaking that was characteristic of the Spartans.

Sparta also features prominently in modern popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 (see Sparta in popular culture
Sparta in popular culture
Sparta has long been the topic of cultural inspiration. Such admiration of the Spartans is referred to as Laconophilia. In modern popular culture this is typically centered on the Battle of Thermopylae, which is perhaps the most famous military last stand of all time.- Battle of Thermopylae in...

), particularly the Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Thermopylae
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August...

 (see Battle of Thermopylae in popular culture
Battle of Thermopylae in popular culture
The Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BC, has long been the topic of cultural inspiration, as it is perhaps the most famous military last stand of all time. This "against all odds" story is passed to us from the writings of the Greek Herodotus, who was not present at the battle himself...

).

Famous ancient Spartans

  • Agis I
    Agis I
    Agis I was a legendary king of Sparta and eponym of the Agiad dynasty. He was the son of Eurysthenes, first monarch of this dynasty, which ruled the city along with the Eurypontids. His genealogy was traced through Aristodemus, Aristomachus, Cleodaeus and Hyllus all the way to Heracles, and he...

     – king
  • Agis II
    Agis II
    Agis II was the 17th Eurypontid king of Sparta, the eldest son of Archidamus II by his first wife, and half-brother of Agesilaus II. He ruled with his Agiad co-monarch Pausanias....

     – king
  • Agesilaus II
    Agesilaus II
    Agesilaus II, or Agesilaos II was a king of Sparta, of the Eurypontid dynasty, ruling from approximately 400 BC to 360 BC, during most of which time he was, in Plutarch's words, "as good as thought commander and king of all Greece," and was for the whole of it greatly identified with his...

     – king
  • Cleomenes I
    Cleomenes I
    Cleomenes or Kleomenes was an Agiad King of Sparta in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. During his reign, which started around 520 BC, he pursued an adventurous and at times unscrupulous foreign policy aimed at crushing Argos and extending Sparta's influence both inside and outside the...

     – king
  • Leonidas I
    Leonidas I
    Leonidas I was a hero-king of Sparta, the 17th of the Agiad line, one of the sons of King Anaxandridas II of Sparta, who was believed in mythology to be a descendant of Heracles, possessing much of the latter's strength and bravery...

     (c. 520-480 BC) – king, famous for his actions at the Battle of Thermopylae
    Battle of Thermopylae
    The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August...

  • Cleomenes III
    Cleomenes III
    Cleomenes III was the King of Sparta from 235-222 BC. He succeeded to the Agiad throne of Sparta after his father, Leonidas II in 235 BC.From 229 BC to 222 BC, Cleomenes waged war against the Achaean League under Aratus of Sicyon. Domestically, he is known for his attempt to reform the Spartan state...

     – king and reformer
  • Lysander
    Lysander
    Lysander was a Spartan general who commanded the Spartan fleet in the Hellespont which defeated the Athenians at Aegospotami in 405 BC...

     (5th–4th century BC) – general
  • Lycurgus (10th century BC) – lawgiver
  • Chionis
    Chionis of Sparta
    Chionis of Sparta was an athlete of ancient Greece who was most notable for his jumping records in the ancient Olympics. Records suggest that in the 656 BC Olympics Chionis jumped a then record of 7 meters and 5 centimetres...

     (7th century BC) – athlete
  • Cynisca
    Cynisca
    Cynisca or Kyneska was a Greek princess of Sparta. She became the first woman in history to win at the ancient Olympic Games.-Early life:...

     (4th century BC) – princess and athlete
  • Chilon
    Chilon of Sparta
    Chilon of Sparta was a Lacedaemonian and one of the Seven Sages of Greece.-Early life:Chilon was the son of Damagetus, and lived towards the beginning of the 6th century BC.-Standing and influence:...

     – philosopher
  • Gorgo
    Gorgo, Queen of Sparta
    Gorgo was the daughter and the only child of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. She was the wife of King Leonidas I, Cleomenes' half-brother, who fought and died in the Battle of Thermopylae. Gorgo is noted as one of the few female historical figures actually named...

     – queen and politician
  • Helen – of the Trojan War, Queen of Sparta
  • Menelaus
    Menelaus
    Menelaus may refer to;*Menelaus, one of the two most known Atrides, a king of Sparta and son of Atreus and Aerope*Menelaus on the Moon, named after Menelaus of Alexandria.*Menelaus , brother of Ptolemy I Soter...

    – King of Sparta during the Trojan War

External links