Sparta: Wikis


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Coordinates: 37°4′55″N 22°25′25″E / 37.08194°N 22.42361°E / 37.08194; 22.42361


11th century BC–195 BC

Territory of ancient Sparta
Capital Sparta
Language(s) Doric Greek
Religion Polytheism
Government Oligarchy
Historical era Classical Antiquity
 - Established 11th century BC
 - Peloponnesian League 546-371 BC
 - Disestablished 195 BC

Sparta (Doric Σπάρτα; Attic Σπάρτη Spartē) or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese.[1] It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c. 650 BC, following the reforms of Lycurgus, 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.[2] The last stand of King Leonidas and his force of 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae against a massive Persian army galvanized Greek resistance to the Persian invasion, leading to the decisive victory over the Persians by a Spartan-led coalition a year later at the Battle of Plataea. Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War[3], from which it emerged victorious, though at great cost. Sparta's defeat by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece. However, it maintained its political independence until 146 BC.

Sparta was unique in ancient Greece 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 (freedmen), and Helots (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population). Spartiates underwent the rigorous agoge training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanxes were widely considered undefeatable 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; an admiration of Sparta is called laconophilia.[4][5]



Sparta was generally referred to by the ancient Greeks as Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων) or Lacedaemonia (Λακεδαιμονία); these are the names commonly used in the works of Homer and the Athenian historians Herodotus and Thucydides. Herodotus uses only the former and in some passages seems to denote by it the Mycenaean Greek citadel at Therapne, in contrast to the lower town of Sparta. The immediate area around the town of Sparta, the plateau east of the Taygetos mountains, was generally referred as Laconia (Λακωνία). This term was sometimes used to refer to all the regions under direct Spartan control, including Messenia.

In Greek mythology, Lacedaemon was a son of Zeus by the nymph Taygete. He married Sparta the daughter of Eurotas, by whom he became the father of Amyclas, Eurydice, and Asine. 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, which stood between Sparta and Amyclae, and to have given to those divinities the names of Cleta and Phaenna. A shrine was erected to him in the neighborhood of Therapne.

Lacedaemon is now the name of a province in the modern Greek prefecture of Laconia.


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 (2407 m) and to the east by Mt. Parnon (1935 m). To the north, Laconia is separated from Arcadia 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, on the Laconian Gulf.



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.[6] However, the earliest certain evidence of human settlement in the region of Sparta consists of pottery dating from the Middle Neolithic period, found in the vicinity of Kouphovouno some two kilometres south-southwest of Sparta.[7] These are the earliest traces of the original Mycenaean Spartan civilisation, as represented in Homer's Iliad.

This civilization seems to have fallen into decline by the late Bronze 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.[6] The Dorians seem to have set about expanding the frontiers of Spartan territory almost before they had established their own state.[8] They fought against the Argive Dorians to the east and southeast, and also the Arcadian 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.[8]

Between the eighth and seventh centuries BC the Spartans experienced a period of lawlessness and civil strife, later testified by both Herodotus and Thucydides.[9] 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.[10] These reforms mark the beginning of the history of Classical Sparta.

Classical Sparta

Statue of King Leonidas I in Sparta

In the Second Messenian War, 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.[11] In 480 BC a small force of Spartans, Thespians, and Thebans led by King Leonidas (approximately 300 were full Spartiates, 700 were Thespians, and 400 were Thebans; these numbers do not reflect casualties incurred prior to the final battle), made a legendary last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae against the massive Persian army, inflicting a very high casualty rate on the Persian forces before finally being encircled.[12] The superior weaponry, strategy, and bronze armour of the Greek hoplites and their phalanx 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.

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.[13]

In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens, Thebes, and Persia had been the main powers fighting for supremacy against each other. As a result of the Peloponnesian War, 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.

During the Corinthian War Sparta faced a coalition of the leading Greek states: Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, whose lands in Anatolia had been invaded by Sparta and which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia.[14] Sparta achieved a series of land victories, but many of her ships were destroyed at the battle of Cnidus 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 the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt.[15]

After a few more years of fighting in 387 BC, the Peace of Antalcidas was established, according to which all Greek cities of Ionia would return to Persian control, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat.[15] 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.[16] Sparta entered its long-term decline after a severe military defeat to Epaminondas of Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. This was the first time that a Spartan army 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.

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 nor his son Alexander the Great even attempted to conquer Sparta itself: Spartan martial skill was still respected to the extent that any invasion would have risked potentially high losses.

During Alexander's campaigns in the east, the Spartan king, Agis III sent a force to Crete in 333 BC with the aim of securing the island for Sparta[17]. Agis next took command of allied Greek forces against Macedon, gaining early successes, before laying siege to Megalopolis in 331 BC. A large Macedonian army under general Antipater marched to its relief and defeated the Spartan led force in a pitched battle[18]. More than 5,300 of the Spartans and their allies were killed in battle, and 3,500 of Antipater's troops[19] 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.[20]

Even during her decline, Sparta never forgot its claims on being the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit. An anecdote has it that when Philip II sent a message to Sparta saying "If I enter Laconia, I will level Sparta to the ground", the Spartans responded with the single, terse reply: "If."[21]

When Philip created the league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, the Spartans were excluded of their own will. The Spartans had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition if it was not under Spartan leadership. According to Herodotus the Macedonians were a people of Dorian stock, akin to the Spartans, but that did not make any difference. 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 Sparta was an ally of the Roman Republic. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League. In 146 BC Greece was conquered by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. 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 (AD 378), a Spartan militia phalanx met and defeated a force of raiding Visigoths in battle.[22]

Medieval and Modern Sparta

According to Byzantine sources, some parts of the Laconian region remained pagan until well into the 10th century AD, and Doric-speaking populations survive today in Tsakonia. In the Middle Ages, the political and cultural center of Laconia shifted to the nearby settlement of Mystras. Modern Sparti was re-founded in 1834, by a decree of King Otto of Greece.

Structure of Classical Spartan society


The Doric state of Sparta, copying the Doric Cretans, developed a mixed governmental state. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and Eurypontids families,[23] both supposedly descendants of Heracles and equal in authority, so that one could not act against the veto of his colleague. 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.

The duties of the kings were primarily religious, judicial, and militaristic. 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. Civil and criminal cases were decided by a group of officials known as the ephors, as well as a council of elders known as the Gerousia. The Gerousia consisted of 28 elders over the age of 60, elected for life and usually part of the royal households, and the two kings.[24] 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.[25][26]

Aristotle describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" (Pol. iii. I285a),[27] while Isocrates refers to the Spartans as "subject to an oligarchy at home, to a kingship on campaign" (iii. 24).[28] Here also, however, the royal prerogatives were curtailed over time. Dating from the period of the Persian wars, the king lost the right to declare war and was accompanied in the field by two ephors. He was supplanted also by the ephors in the control of foreign policy.

Over time, the kings became mere figure-heads except in their capacity as generals. Real power was transferred to the ephors and to the Gerousia.


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 were eligible. However, usually the only people eligible to receive the agoge were Spartiates, or people who could trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the city.

There were two exceptions. Trophimoi or "foster sons" were foreign students invited to study. The Athenian general Xenophon, for example, sent his two sons to Sparta as trophimoi. 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.[29]

Others in the state were the perioikoi, who were free inhabitants of Spartan territory but were non-citizens, and the helots,[30] 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 and Perioikoi


The Spartans were a minority of the Lakonian population. The largest class of inhabitants were the helots (in Classical Greek Εἵλωτες / Heílôtes).[31][32]

The helots were originally free Greeks from the areas of Messenia 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.[33] The helots were used as unskilled serfs, tilling Spartan land. Helot women were often used as wet nurses. Helots also travelled with the Spartan army as non-combatant serfs. At the last stand of the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greek dead included not just the legendary three hundred Spartan soldiers but also several hundred Thespian and Theban troops and a number of helots.[34]

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."[35][36]

According to Myron of Priene[37] of the middle 3rd century BC,

"They assign to the Helots every shameful task leading to disgrace. For they ordained that each one of them must wear a dogskin cap (κυνῆ / kunễ) and wrap himself in skins (διφθέρα / diphthéra) and receive a stipulated number of beatings every year regardless of any wrongdoing, so that they would never forget they were slaves. Moreover, if any exceeded the vigour proper to a slave's condition, they made death the penalty; and they allotted a punishment to those controlling them if they failed to rebuke those who were growing fat".[38]

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 (obligatory banquets)[39]

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 refers to Helots being allowed to marry.[40] They also seem to have been allowed to practice religious rites and, according to Thucydides, own a limited amount of personal property.[41]

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.[42] 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.[43]

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."[44][45]


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.[46] Although Perioikoic hoplites occasionally served with the Spartan army, notably at the Battle of Plataea, the most important function of the Peroikoi was almost certainly the manufacture and repair of armour and weapons.[47]


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,[48] thus making thievery and foreign commerce very difficult and discouraging the accumulation of riches.[49] 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, passed at some time after the Peloponnesian War, removed the legal prohibition of the gift or bequest of land.[50]

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 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.

Life in Classical Sparta

Birth and death

Sparta was above all a militarist state, and emphasis on military fitness began virtually at birth. Shortly after birth, the mother of the child bathed it 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 known euphemistically as the Apothetae (Gr., ἀποθέτας, "Deposits").[51][52] This was, in effect, a primitive form of eugenics.[51]

There is some evidence that the exposure of unwanted children was practiced in other Greek regions, including Athens.[53]

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.


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).[54] 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).[55]

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.[56]

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.[57]

Military life

Marble statue of a helmed hoplite (5th century BC), Archæological Museum of Sparta, Greece

At age twenty, the Spartan citizen began his membership in one of the syssitia (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.[58]

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, which demanded that no soldier be superior to his comrades.[59] Insofar as hoplite warfare could be perfected, the Spartans did so.[60]

Thucydides reports that when Spartan men went to war, their wives (or another women of some significance) would customarily present them with their 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).[61] 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.[62]

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 the shame of the state, 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.[63][64]


Spartan men were required to marry at age 30,[65] after completing the Krypteia. [66] 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.[67]

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, and the cutting of the wife's hair was perhaps part of a rite of passage that signalled her entrance into a new life.[68]

Role of women

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.[69] 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), the woman was not required to divorce her current spouse in order to marry her nearest paternal relative.[70] 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 ("Festival of Nude Youths").[71][72]

Historic women

Many women played a significant role in the history of Sparta.[73] Queen Gorgo, heiress to the throne and the wife of Leonidas I, was an influential and well-documented figure. Herodotus records that as a small girl she advised her father Cleomenes 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.[74] Plutarch's Moralia contains a collection of "Sayings of Spartan Women", including a laconic quip attributed to Gorgo: when asked by a woman from Attica 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".[75]


Young Spartants exercising by Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

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."[76] 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, Laconophilia re-appears, for examples in the writings of Machiavelli. The Elizabethan English constitutionalist John Aylmer 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 contrasted Sparta favourably with Athens in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, 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.[77]

A new element of Laconophilia by Karl Otfried Müller, 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 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".[78]

In the modern times, the adjective "spartan" is used to imply simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort.[79] The term laconic phrase describes a very terse and concise way of speaking that was characteristic of the Spartans.

Sparta also features prominently in modern popular culture (see Sparta in popular culture), particularly the Battle of Thermopylae (see Battle of Thermopylae in popular culture).


The theater of ancient Sparta with Mt. Taygetus in the background.
Ruins from the ancient site.

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.[80]

Until the early twentieth century, the chief ancient buildings at Sparta were the theatre, of which, however, little showed above ground except portions of the retaining walls; 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; 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 a 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, and in the following year excavations were made at Thalamae, Geronthrae, and Angelona near Monemvasia. In 1906, excavations began in Sparta.

A small circus described by Leake proved to be a theatre-like building constructed soon after AD 200 around the altar and in front of the temple of Artemis Orthia. 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 offerings 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. 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.

Famous ancient Spartans

See also


  1. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 91
  2. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 174
  3. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 192
  4. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 255
  5. ^ Ehrenberg 2004, p. 28
  6. ^ a b Herodot, Book I, 56.3
  7. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 28
  8. ^ a b Ehrenberg 2004, p. 31
  9. ^ Ehrenberg 2004, p. 36
  10. ^ Ehrenberg 2004, p. 33
  11. ^ "A Historical Commentary on Thucydides"—David Cartwright, p. 176
  12. ^ Green 1998, p. 10
  13. ^ Britannica ed. 2006, "Sparta"
  14. ^ "Dictionary of Ancient&Medieval Warfare"—Matthew Bennett, p. 86
  15. ^ a b "The Oxford Illustrated History of Greece and the Hellenistic World" p. 141, John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, Oswyn Murray
  16. ^ Fine, The Ancient Greeks, 556-9
  17. ^ Agis III
  18. ^ Agis III, by E. Badian © 1967 - Jstor
  19. ^ Diodorus, World History
  20. ^ Diodorus, World History, 17.62.1-63.4;tr. C.B. Welles
  21. ^ Europe: a History—Norman Davies
  22. ^ The Military Engineer By Society of American Military Engineers
  23. ^ Sparta and Lakonia By Paul Cartledge
  24. ^ The Greeks at War By Philip De Souza, Waldemar Heckel, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Victor Davis Hanson
  25. ^ The Politics By Aristotle, Thomas Alan Sinclair, Trevor J. Saunders
  26. ^ A companion to Greek studies By Leonard Whibley
  27. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and ... - Page 611. primary and secondary source
  28. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and ... - Page 611. primary secondary source
  29. ^ The Greek World By Anton Powell
  30. ^ Ancient Greece By Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts
  31. ^ Herodotus (IX, 28–29)
  32. ^ Xenophon, Hellenica, III, 3, 5
  33. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 140
  34. ^ Ehrenberg 2004, p. 159
  35. ^ Thucydides (4, 80); the Greek is ambiguous
  36. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 211
  37. ^ Talbert, p.26.
  38. ^ Apud Athenaeus, 14, 647d = FGH 106 F 2. Trans. by Cartledge, p.305.
  39. ^ Life of Lycurgus 28, 8-10. See also, Life of Demetrios, 1, 5; Constitution of the Lacedemonians 30; De Cohibenda Ira 6; De Commmunibus Notitiis 19.
  40. ^ West 1999, p. 24
  41. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 141
  42. ^ (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 28, 7)
  43. ^ Powell 2001, p. 254
  44. ^ Thucydides (Book IV 80.4).
  45. ^ Classical historian Anton Powell has recorded a similar story from 1980s El Salvador. Cf. Powell, 2001, p. 256
  46. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 153-155
  47. ^ Cartledge 2002, p. 158,178
  48. ^ Excel HSC Ancient History By Peter Roberts, ISBN 1741251788, 9781741251784
  49. ^ Greene, Robert (2000). The 48 Laws of Power. Penguin Books. pp. 420. ISBN 0140280197. 
  50. ^ Social Conflict in Ancient Greece By Alexander Fuks, ISBN 9652234664, 9789652234667
  51. ^ a b Cartledge 2001, p. 84
  52. ^ Plutarch 2005, p. 20
  53. ^ Buxton 2001, p. 201
  54. ^ Cartledge 2001, p. 85
  55. ^ Cartledge 2001, p. 91-105
  56. ^ Cartledge 2001, p. 88
  57. ^ Cartledge 2001, p. 83-84
  58. ^ Aristophanes and Athenian Society of the Early Fourth Century B.C. By E. David
  59. ^ Readers Companion Military Hist p. 438—Cowley
  60. ^ Adcock 1957, p. 8-9
  61. ^ Plutarch 2004, p. 465
  62. ^ Forrest 1968, p. 53
  63. ^ Spartan Women By Sarah B. Pomeroy
  64. ^ The Greeks By H. D. F. Kitto, ISBN 020230910X, 9780202309101
  65. ^ Ancient Greece By Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts
  66. ^ A Brief History of Citizenship By Derek Benjamin Heater, Derek Heater
  67. ^ Plutarch 2005, p. 18-19
  68. ^ Pomeroy 2002, p. 42
  69. ^ Pomeroy, 1975
  70. ^ Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddess, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books, 1995 p. 60-62
  71. ^ Guttentag and Secord, 1983; Finley, 1982; Pomeroy, 1975
  72. ^ Pomeroy 2002, p. 34
  73. ^ Gorgo and Spartan Women
  74. ^ Sparta Reconsidered—Spartan Women
  75. ^ Plutarch 2004, p. 457
  76. ^ Mueller:Dorians II, 192
  77. ^ Žižek, Slavoj. "The True Hollywood Left". 
  78. ^ Professor Ben Kiernan, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Hutu Power: Distinguishing Themes of Genocidal Ideology, Holocaust and the United Nations Discussion Paper
  79. ^ Webster Dictionary
  80. ^ Thucydides, i. 10


  • Adcock, F.E. (1957), The Greek and Macedonian Art of War, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0520000056 
  • Bradford, Ernle (2004), Thermopylae: The Battle for the West, New York: Da Capo Press, ISBN 0306813602 
  • Buxton, Richard (1999), From Myth to Reason?: Studies in the Development of Greek Thought, Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 0753451107 
  • Cartledge, Paul (2002), Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300 to 362 BC (2 ed.), Oxford: Routledge, ISBN 0415262763 
  • Cartledge, Paul (2001), Spartan Reflections, London: Duckworth, ISBN 0715629662 
  • Cartledge, Paul. "What have the Spartans Done for us?: Sparta's Contribution to Western Civilization", Greece & Rome, Vol. 51, Issue 2 (2004), pp. 164–179.
  • Cartledge, Paul; Spawforth, Antony (2001), Hellenistic and Roman Sparta (2 ed.), Oxford: Routledge, ISBN 0415262771 
  • Ehrenberg, Victor (2004), From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilisation between the 6th and 5th centuries BC (2 ed.), London: Routledge, ISBN 0415040248 
  • Forrest, W.G. (1968), A History of Sparta, 950–192 B.C., New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 
  • Green, Peter (1998), The Greco-Persian Wars (2 ed.), Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0520203135 
  • Morris, Ian (1992), Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521376114 
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  • Powell, Anton (2001), Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC (2 ed.), London: Routledge, ISBN 0415262801 
  • Plutarch (2005), Richard J.A. Talbert, ed., On Sparta (2 ed.), London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0140449434 
  • Plutarch (2004), Frank Cole Babbitt, ed., Moralia Vol. III, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674992709 
  • Thompson, F. Hugh (2002), The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Slavery, London: Duckworth, ISBN 0715631950 
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  • West, M.L. (1999), Greek Lyric Poetry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199540396 

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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From Wikitravel


Sparta is the administrative capital of Laconia Prefecture, Greece.


At the decree of King Otto of Greece, the present day city of Sparta was built in 1834 near the site of the original city. With its wide, tree lined boulevards, the city was designed to be a paragon for all Greek towns.

The modern town still reflects this original vision, and is a very pleasant and green city set before a backdrop of lush hills.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SPARTA (Gr. ZIrapTrl or AaKEbalpcw), an ancient city in. Greece, the capital of Laconia and the most powerful state of the Peloponnese. The city lay at the northern end of the central Laconian plain, on the right bank of the river Eurotas, a little south of the point where it is joined by its largest tributary, the Oenus (mod. Kelefina). The site is admirably fitted by nature to guard the only routes by which an army can penetrate Laconia from the land side, the Oenus and Eurotas valleys leading from Arcadia, its northern neighbour, and the Langada Pass over Mt Taygetus connecting Laconia and Messenia. At the same time its distance from the sea - Sparta is 27 m. from its seaport, Gythium - made it invulnerable to a maritime attack.

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History Prehistoric Period. - Tradit ion relates that Sparta was founded by Lacedaemon, son of Zeus and Taygete, who called the city after the name of his wife, the daughter of Eurotas. But Amyclae and Therapne (Therapnae) seem to have been in early times of greater importance than Sparta, the former a Minyan foundation a few miles to the south of Sparta, the latter probably the Achaean capital of Laconia and the seat of Menelaus, Agamemnon's younger brother. Eighty years after the Trojan War, according to the traditional chronology, the Dorian migration took place. A band of Dorians united with a body of Aetolians to cross the Corinthian Gulf and invade the Peloponnese from the north west. The Aetolians settled in Elis the Dorians pushed up to the headwaters of the Alpheus, where they divided into two forces, one of which under Cresphontes invaded and later subdued Messenia, while the other, led by Aristodemus or, according to another version, by his twin sons Eurysthenes and Procles, made its way down the Eurotas valley and gained Sparta, which became the Dorian capital of Laconia. In reality this Dorian immigration probably consisted of a series of inroads and settlements rather than a single great expedition, as depicted by legend, and was aided by the Minyan elements in the population, owing to their dislike of the Achaean yoke. The newly founded state did not at once become powerful: it was weakened by internal dissension and lacked the stability of a united and well-organized community. The turning-point is marked by the legislation of Lycurgus, who effected the unification of the state and instituted that training which was its distinguishing feature and the source of its greatness. Nowhere else in the Greek world was the pleasure of the individual so thoroughly subordinated to the interest of the state. The whole education of the Spartan was designed to make him an efficient soldier. Obedience, endurance, military success - these were the aims constantly kept in view, and beside these all ether ends took a secondary place. sever, perhaps, in the world's history has a state so clearly set a definite ideal before itself or striven so consistently to reach it. But it was solely in this consistency and steadfastness that the greatness of Sparta lay. Her ideal was a narrow and unworthy one, and was pursued with a calculating selfishness and a total disregard for the rights of others, which robbed it of the moral worth it might otherwise have possessed. Nevertheless, it is not probable that without the training introduced by Lycurgus the Spartans would have been successful in securing their supremacy in Laconia, much less in the Peloponnese, for they formed a small immigrant band face to face with a large and powerful Achaean and autochthonous population.

The Expansion of Sparta

We cannot trace in detail the process by which Sparta subjugated the whole of Laconia, but apparently the first step, taken in the reign of Archelaus and Charillus, was to secure the upper Eurotas valley, conquering the border territory of Aegys. Archelaus' son Teleclus is said to have taken Amyclae, Pharis and Geronthrae, thus mastering the central Laconian plain and the eastern plateau which lies between the Eurotas and Mt Parnon: his son, Alcamenes, by the subjugation of Helos brought the lower Eurotas plain under Spartan rule. About this time, probably, the Argives, whose territory included the whole east coast of the Peloponnese and the island of Cythera (Herod. i. 82), were driven back, and the whole of Laconia was thus incorporated in the Spartan state. It was not long before a further extension took place. Under Alcamenes and Theopompus a war broke out between the Spartans and the Messenians, their neighbours on the west, which, after a struggle Messenian lasting for twenty years, ended in the capture of Wars. g Y Y P the stronghold of Ithome and the subjection of the Messenians, who were forced to pay half the produce of the soil as tribute to their Spartan overlords. An attempt to throw off the yoke resulted in a second war, conducted by the Messenian hero Aristomenes; but Spartan tenacity broke down the resistance of the insurgents, and Messenia was made Spartan territory, just as Laconia had been, its inhabitants being reduced to the status of helots, save those who, as perioeci, inhabited the towns on the sea-coast and a few settlements inland.

This extension of Sparta's territory was viewed with apprehension by her neighbours in the Peloponnese. Arcadia and Argos had vigorously aided the Messenians in their two struggles, and help was also sent by the Sicyonians, Pisatans and Triphylians: only the Corinthians appear to have supported the Spartans, doubtless on account of their jealousy of their powerful neighbours, the Argives. At the close of the second Messenian War, i.e. by the war 631 at latest, no power could hope to cope with that of Sparta save Arcadia and Argos. Early in the 6th century the Spartan kings Leon and Agasicles made a vigorous attack on Tegea, the most powerful of the Arcadian cities, but it was not until the reign of Anaxandridas and Ariston, about the middle of the century, that the.attack was successful and Tegea was forced to acknowledge Spartan overlordship, though retaining its independence. The final struggle for Peloponnesian supremacy was with Argos, which had at an early period been the most powerful state of the peninsula, and even now, though its territory had been curtailed, was a serious rival of Sparta. But Argos was now no longer at the height of its power: its league had begun to break up early in the Argive century, and it could not in the impending struggle Wars. count on the assistance of its old allies, Arcadia and Messenia, since the latter had been crushed and robbed of its independence and the former had acknowledged Spartan supremacy. A victory won about 546 B.C., when the Lydian Empire fell before Cyrus of Persia, made the Spartans masters of the Cynuria, the borderland between Laconia and Argolis, for which there had been an age-long struggle. The final blow was struck by King Cleomenes I., who maimed for many years to come the Argive power and left Sparta without a rival in the Peloponnese. In fact, by the middle of the 6th century, and increasingly down to the period of the Persian Wars, Sparta had come to be acknowledged as the leading state of Hellas and the champion of Hellenism. Croesus of Lydia had formed an alliance with her. Scythian envoys sought her aid to stem the invasion of Darius; to her the Greeks of Asia Minor appealed to withstand the Persian advance and to aid the Ionian revolt; Plataea asked for her protection; Megara acknowledged her supremacy; and at the time of the Persian invasion under Xerxes no state questioned her right to lead the Greek forces on land and sea. Of such a position Sparta proved herself wholly unworthy. As an ally she was ineffective, nor could she ever rid herself of her narrowly Peloponnesian outlook sufficiently to throw herself heartily into the affairs of the greater Hellas that lay beyond the isthmus and across the sea. She was not a colonizing state, though the inhabitants of Tarentum, in southern Italy, and of Lyttus, in Crete, claimed her as their mother-city. Moreover, she had no share in the expansion of Greek commerce and Greek culture; and, though she bore the reputation of hating tyrants and putting them down where possible, there can be little doubt that this was done in the interests of oligarchy rather than of liberty. Her military greatness ' and that of the states under her hegemony formed her sole claim to lead the Greek race: that she should truly represent it was impossible.


Of the internal development of Sparta down to this time but little is recorded. This want of information was attributed by most of the Greeks to the stability of the Spartan constitution, which had lasted unchanged from the days of Lycurgus. But it is, in fact, due also to the absence of an historical literature at Sparta, to the small part played by written laws, which were, according to tradition, expressly prohibited by an ordinance of Lycurgus, and to the secrecy which always characterizes an oligarchical rule. At the head of the state stood two hereditary kings, of the Agiad and Eurypontid families, equal in authority, so that one could not act against the veto of his colleague, though the Agiad king received greater honour in virtue of the seniority of his family (Herod. vi. 51). This dual kingship, a phenomenon unique in Greek history, was explained in Sparta by the tradition Kingship. that on Aristodemus's death he had been succeeded by his twin sons, and that this joint rule had been perpetuated. Modern scholars have advanced various theories to account for the anomaly. Some suppose that it must be explained as an attempt to avoid absolutism, and is paralleled by the analogous instance of the consuls at Rome. Others think that it points to a compromise arrived at to end the struggle between two families or communities, or that the two royal houses represent respectively the Spartan conquerors and their Achaean predecessors: those who hold this last view appeal to the words attributed by Herodotus (v. 72) to Cleomenes I.: "I am no Dorian, but an Achaean." The duties of the kings were mainly religious, judicial and military. They were the chief priests of the state, and had to perform certain sacrifices and to maintain communication with the Delphian sanctuary, which always exercised great authority in Spartan politics. Their judicial functions had at the time when Herodotus wrote (about 430 B.C.) been restricted to cases dealing with heiresses, adoptions and the public roads: civil cases were decided by the ephors, criminal jurisdiction had passed to the council of elders and the ephors. It was in the military sphere that the powers of the kings were most unrestricted. Aristotle describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" (Pol. iii. 1285a), while Isocrates refers to the Spartans as "subject to an oligarchy at home, to a kingship on campaign" (iii. 24). Here also, however, the royal prerogatives were curtailed in course of time: from the period of the Persian wars the king lost the right of declaring war on whom he pleased, he was accompanied to the field by two ephors, and he was supplanted also by the ephors in the control of foreign policy. More and more, as time went on, the kings became mere figure-heads, except in their capacity as generals, and the real power was transferred to the ephors and to the gerousia. The reason for this change lay partly in the fact that the ephors, chosen by popular election from the whole body of citizens, represented a democratic element in the constitution without violating those oligarchical methods which seemed necessary for its satisfactory administration; partly in the weakness of the kingship, the dual character of which inevitably gave rise to jealousy and discord between the two holders of the office, often resulting in a practical deadlock; partly in the loss of prestige suffered by the kingship, especially during the 5th century, owing to these quarrels, to the frequency with which kings ascended the throne as minors and a regency was necessary, and to the many cases in which a king was, rightly or wrongly, suspected of having accepted bribes from the enemies of the state and was condemned and banished. In the powers exercised by the assembly of the citizens or apella we cannot trace any development, owing to the scantiness of our sources. The Spartan was essentially a soldier, trained to obedience and endurance: he became a politician only if chosen as ephor for a single year or elected a life member of the council after his sixtieth year had brought freedom from military service.

Shortly after birth the child was brought before the elders of the tribe, who decided whether it was to be reared: if defective or weakly, it was exposed in the so-called Thus was secured, as far as could be, the maintenance of a high standard of physical efficiency, and thus from the earliest days of the Spartan the absolute claim of the state to his life and service was indicated and enforced. Till their seventh year boys were educated at home: from that time their training was undertaken by the state and supervised by the iraulovoµos, an official appointed for that purpose. This training consisted for the most part in physical exercises, such as dancing, gymnastics, ball-games, &c., with music and literature occupying a subordinate position. From the twentieth year began the Spartan's liability to military service and his membership of one of the &vSpeia or 4ul1.7-ta (dining messes or clubs), composed of about fifteen members each, to one of which every citizen must belong. At thirty began the full citizen rights and duties. For the exercise of these three conditions were requisite: Spartiate birth, the training prescribed by law, and participation in and contribution to one of the dining-clubs. Those who fulfilled these conditions were the oµoiot (peers), citizens in the fullest sense of the word, while those who failed were called inroj Loves (lesser men), and retained only the civil rights of citizenship.

Spartiates were absolutely debarred by law from trade or manufacture, which consequently rested in the hands of the perioeci (q.v.), and were forbidden to possess either gold or silver, the currency consisting of bars of iron: but there can be no doubt that this prohibition was evaded in various ways. Wealth was, in theory at least, derived entirely from landed property, and consisted in the annual return made by the helots (q.v.) who cultivated the plots of ground allotted to the Spartiates. But this attempt to equalize property proved a failure: from early times there were marked differences of wealth within the state, and these became even more serious after the law of Epitadeus, passed at some time after the Peloponnesian War, removed the legal prohibition of the gift or bequest of land. Later we find the soil coming more and more into the possession of large landholders, and by the middle of the 3rd century B.C. nearly twofifths of Laconia belonged to women. Hand in hand with this process went a serious diminution in the number of full citizens, who had numbered 8000 at the beginning of the 5th century, but had sunk by Aristotle's day to less than r000, and had further decreased to 700 at the accession of Agis IV. in 244 B.C. The Spartans did what they could to remedy this by law: certain penalties were imposed upon those who remained unmarried or who married too late in life. But the decay was too deeprooted to be eradicated by such means, and we shall see that at a late period in Sparta's history an attempt was made without success to deal with the evil by much more drastic measures.

The 5th Century B.C. - The beginning of the 5th century saw Sparta at the height of her power, though her prestige must have suffered in the fruitless attempts made to impose upon Athens an oligarchical regime after the fall of the Peisistratid tyranny in 51o. But after the Persian Wars the Spartan supremacy could no longer remain unchallenged. Sparta had despatched an army in 490 to aid Athens in repelling the armament sent against it by Darius under the command of Datis and Artaphernes: but it arrived after the battle of Marathon had been fought and the issue of the conflict decided. In the second campaign, conducted ten years later by Xerxes in person, Sparta took a more active share and assumed the command of the combined Greek forces by sea and land. Yet, in spite of the heroic defence of Thermopylae by the Spartan king Leonidas, the glory of the decisive victory at Salamis fell in great measure to the Athenians, and their patriotism, self-sacrifice and energy contrasted strongly with the hesitation of the Spartans and the selfish policy which they advocated of defending the Peloponnese only. By the battle of Plataea (479 B.C.), won by a Spartan general, and decided chiefly by the steadfastness of Spartan troops, the state partially recovered its prestige, but only so far as land operations were concerned: the victory of Mycale, won in the same year, was achieved by the united Greek fleet, and the capture of Sestos, which followed, was due to the Athenians, the Peloponnesians having returned home before the siege was begun. Sparta felt that an effort was necessary to recover her position, and Pausanias, the victor of Plataea, was sent out as admiral of the Greek fleet. But though he won considerable successes, his overbearing and despotic behaviour and the suspicion that he was intriguing with the Persian king alienated the sympathies of those under his command: he was recalled by the ephors, and his successor, Dorcis, was a weak man who allowed the transference of the hegemony from Sparta to Athens to take place without striking a blow (see Delian League). By the withdrawal of Sparta and her Peloponnesian allies from the fleet the perils and the glories of the Persian War were left to Athens, who, though at the outset merely the leading state in a confederacy of free allies, soon began to make herself the mistress of an empire. Sparta took no steps at first to prevent this. Her interests and those of Athens did not directly clash, for Athens included in her empire only the islands of the Aegean and the towns on its north and east coasts, which lay outside the Spartan political horizon: with the Peloponnese Athens did not meddle. Moreover, Sparta's attention was at this time fully occupied by troubles nearer home - the plots of Pausanias not only with the Persian king but with the Laconian helots; the revolt of Tegea (c. 473-71), rendered all the more formidable by the participation of Argos; the earthquake which in 464 devastated Sparta; and the rising of the Messenian helots, which immediately followed. But there was a growing estrangement from Athens, which ended at length in an open breach. The insulting dismissal of a large body of Athenian troops which had come, under Cimon, to aid the Spartans in the siege of the Messenian stronghold of Ithome, the consummation of the Attic democracy under Ephi altes and Pericles, the conclusion of an alliance between Athens Training A pothetae (ai 'A-r-o%-raa, from lurOBEros, hidden) .

and Argos, which also about this time became democratic, united with other causes to bring about a rupture between the Athenians and the Peloponnesian League. In this so-called first Peloponnesian War Sparta herself took but a small share beyond helping to inflict a defeat on the Athenians at Tanagra in 457 B.C. After this battle they concluded a truce, which gave the Athenians an opportunity of taking their revenge on the Boeotians at the battle of Oenophyta, of annexing to their empire Boeotia, Phocis and Locris, and of subjugating Aegina. In 449 the war was ended by a five years' truce, but after Athens had lost her mainland empire by the battle of Coronea and the revolt of Megara a thirty years' peace was concluded, probably in the winter 446-445 B.C. By this Athens was obliged to surrender Troezen, Achaea and the two Megarian ports, Nisaea and Pegae, but otherwise the status quo was maintained. A fresh struggle, the great Peloponnesian War (q.v.), broke out in 431 B.C. This may be to a certain extent regarded as a contest between Ionian and Dorian; it may with greater truth be called a struggle between the democratic and oligarchic principles of government; but at bottom its cause was neither racial nor constitutional, but economic.

War. The maritime supremacy of Athens was used for commercial purposes, and important members of the Peloponnesian confederacy, whose wealth depended largely on their commerce, notably Corinth, Megara, Sicyon and Epidaurus, were being slowly but relentlessly crushed. Materially Sparta must have remained almost unaffected, but she was forced to take action by the pressure of her allies and by the necessities imposed by her position as head of the league. She did not, however, prosecute the war with any marked vigour: her operations were almost confined to an annual inroad into Attica, and when in 425 a body of Spartiates was captured by the Athenians at Pylos she was ready, and even anxious, to terminate the war on any reasonable conditions. That the terms of the Peace of Nicias, which in 421 concluded the first phase of the war, were rather in favour of Sparta than of Athens was due almost entirely to the energy and insight of an individual Spartan, Brasidas, and the disastrous attempt of Athens to regain its lost land-empire. The final success of Sparta and the capture of Athens in 405 were brought about partly by the treachery of Alcibiades, who induced the state to send Gylippus to conduct the defence of Syracuse, to fortify Decelea in northern Attica, and to adopt a vigorous policy of aiding Athenian allies to revolt. The lack of funds which would have proved fatal to Spartan naval warfare was remedied by the intervention of Persia, which supplied large subsidies, and Spartan good fortune culminated in the possession at this time of an admiral of boundless vigour and considerable military ability, Lysander, to whom much of Sparta's success is attributable.

The 4th Century

The fall of Athens left Sparta once again supreme in the Greek world and demonstrated clearly. her total unfitness for rule. Everywhere democracy was replaced by a philo-Laconian oligarchy, usually consisting of ten men under a harmost or governor pledged to Spartan Empire. nterests, and even in Laconia itself the narrow and selfish character of the Spartan rule led to a serious conspiracy. For a short time, indeed, under the energetic rule of Agesilaus, it seemed as if Sparta would pursue a Hellenic policy and carry on the war against Persia. But troubles soon broke out in Greece, Agesilaus was recalled from Asia Minor, and his schemes and successes were rendered fruitless. Further, the naval activity displayed by Sparta during the closing years of the Peloponnesian War abated when Persian subsidies were withdrawn, and the ambitious projects of Lysander led to his disgrace, which was followed by his death at Haliartus in 395. In the following year the Spartan navy under Peisander, Agesilaus' brother-in-law, was defeated off Cnidus by the Persian fleet under Conon and Pharnabazus, and for the future Sparta ceased to be a maritime power. In Greece itself meanwhile the opposition to Sparta was growing increasingly powerful, and, though at Coronea Agesilaus had slightly the better of the Boeotians and at Corinth the Spartans maintained their position, yet they felt it necessary to rid themselves of Persian hostility and if possible use the Persian power to strengthen their own position at home: they therefore concluded with Artaxerxes II. the humiliating Peace of Antalcidas (387 B.C.), by which they surrendered to the Great King the Greek cities of the Asia Minor coast and of Cyprus, and stipulated for the independence of all other Greek cities. This last clause led to a long and desultory war with Thebes, which refused to acknowledge the independence of the Boeotian towns under its hegemony: the Cadmeia, the citadel of Thebes, was treacherously seized by Phoebidas in 382 and held by the Spartans until 379. Still more momentous was the Spartan action in crushing the Olynthiac Confederation (see Olynthus), which might have been able to stay the growth of Macedonian power. In 371 a fresh peace congress was summoned at Sparta to ratify the Peace of Callias. Again the Thebans refused to renounce their Boeotian hegemony, and the Spartan attempt at coercion ended in the defeat of the Spartan army at the battle of Leuctra and the death of its leader, King Cleombrotus. The result of the battle was to transfer the Greek supremacy from Sparta to Thebes.

In the course of three expeditions to the Peloponnese conducted by Epaminondas, the greatest soldier and. statesman Thebes ever produced, Sparta was weakened by the loss of Messenia, which was restored to an independent position with the newly built Messene as its capital, and by the foundation of Megalopolis as the capital of Arcadia. The invading army even made its way into Laconia and devastated the whole of its southern portion; but the courage and coolness of Agesilaus saved Sparta itself from attack. On Epaminondas' fourth expedition Sparta was again within an ace of capture, but once more the danger was averted just in time; and though at Mantinea (362 B.C.) the Thebans, together with the Arcadians, Messenians and Argives, gained a victory over the combined Mantinean, Athenian and Spartan forces, yet the death of Epaminondas in the battle more than counterbalanced the Theban victory and led to the speedy break-up of their supremacy. But Sparta had neither the men nor the money to recover her lost position, and the continued existence on her borders of an independent Messenia and Arcadia kept her in constant fear for her own safety. She did, indeed, join with Athens and Achaea in 353 to prevent Philip of Macedon passing Thermopylae and entering Phocis, but beyond this she took no part in the struggle of Greece with the new power which had sprung up on her northern borders. No Spartiate fought on the field of Chaeronea. After the battle, however, she refused to submit voluntarily to Philip, and was forced to do so by the devastation of Laconia and the transference of certain border districts to the neighbouring states of Argos, Arcadia and Messenia. During the absence of Alexander the Great in the East Agis III. revolted, but the rising was crushed by Antipater, and a similar attempt to throw off the Macedonian yoke made by Archidamus IV. in the troublous period which succeeded Alexander's death was frustrated by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 294 B.C. Twenty-two years later the city was attacked by an immense force under Pyrrhus, but Spartan bravery had not died out and the formidable enemy was repulsed, even the women taking part in the defence of the city. About 244 an Aetolian army overran Laconia, working irreparable harm and carrying off, it is said, 50,000 captives.

But the social evils within the state were even harder to combat than foes without. Avarice, luxury and the glaring inequality in the distribution of wealth, threatened to bring about the speedy fall of the state if no cure could be found. Agis IV. and Cleomenes III. (qq.v.) made an heroic and entirely disinterested attempt in the latter part of the 3rd century to improve the conditions by a redistribution of land, a widening of the citizen body, and a restoration of the old severe training and simple life. But the evil was too deep-seated to be remedied by these artificial means; Agis was assassinated, and the reforms of Cleomenes seem to have had no permanent effect. The reign of Cleomenes is marked also by a determined effort to cope with the rising power of the Achaean League and to recover for Sparta her long-lost supremacy in the Peloponnese, and even throughout Greece. The battle of Sellasia (222 B.C.), in which Cleomenes was defeated by the Achaeans and Antigonus Doson of Macedonia, and the death of the king, which occurred shortly afterwards in Egypt, put an end to these hopes. The same reign saw also an important constitutional change, the substitution of a board of patronomi for the ephors, whose power had become almost despotic, and the curtailment of the functions exercised by the gerousia; these measures were, however, cancelled by Antigonus. It was not long afterwards that the dual kingship ceased and Sparta fell under the sway of a series of cruel and rapacious tyrants - Lycurgus, Machanidas, who was killed by Philopoemen, and Nabis, who, if we may trust the accounts given by Polybius and Livy, was little better than a bandit chieftain, holding Sparta by means of extreme cruelty and oppression, and using mercenary troops to a large extent in his wars.

The Intervention of Rome

We must admit, however, that a vigorous struggle was maintained with the Achaean League and with Macedon until the Romans, after the conclusion of their war with Philip V., sent an army into Laconia under T. Quinctius Flamininus. Nabis was forced to capitulate, evacuating all his possessions outside Laconia, surrendering the Laconian seaports and his navy, and paying an indemnity of 50o talents (Livy xxxiv. 33-43). On the departure of the Romans he succeeded in recovering Gythium, in spite of an attempt to relieve it made by the Achaeans under Philopoemen, but in an encounter he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of that general, who for thirty days ravaged Laconia unopposed. Nabis was assassinated in 192, and Sparta was forced by Philopoemen to enrol itself as a member of the Achaean League (q.v.) under a phil-Achaean aristocracy. But this gave rise to chronic disorders and disputes, which led g p to armed intervention on the part of the Achaeans, who compelled the Spartans to submit to the overthrow of their city walls, the dismissal of their mercenary troops, the recall of all exiles, the abandonment of the old Lycurgan constitution and the adoption of the Achaean laws and institutions (188 B.C.). Again and again the relations between the Spartans and the Achaean League formed the occasion of discussions in the Roman senate or of the despatch of Roman embassies to Greece, but no decisive intervention took place until a fresh dispute about the position of Sparta in the league led to a decision of the Romans that Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Arcadian Orchomenus and Heraclea on Oeta should be severed from it. This resulted in an open breach between the league and Rome, and eventually, in 146 B.C., after the sack of Corinth, in the dissolution of the league and the annexation of Greece to the Roman province of Macedonia. For Sparta the long era of war and intestine struggle had ceased and one of peace and a revived prosperity took its place, as is witnessed by the numerous extant inscriptions belonging to this period. As an allied city it was exempt from direct taxation, though compelled on occasions to make "voluntary" presents to Roman generals. Political ambition was restricted to the tenure of the municipal magistracies, culminating in the offices of nomophylax, ephor and patronomus. Augustus showed marked favour to the city, Hadrian twice visited it during his journeys in the East and accepted the title of eponymous patronomus. The old warlike spirit found an outlet .chiefly in the vigorous but peaceful contests held in the gymnasium, the ball-place, and the arena before the temple of Artemis Orthia: sometimes too it found a vent in actual campaigning, as when Spartans were enrolled for service against the Parthians by the emperors Lucius Verus, Septimius Severus and Caracalla. Laconia was subsequently overrun, like so much of the Roman Empire, by barbarian hordes.

Medieval Sparta

In A.D. 396 Alaric destroyed the city and at a later period Laconia was invaded and settled by Slavonic tribes, especially the Melings and Ezerits, who in turn had to give way before the advance of the Byzantine power, though preserving a partial independence in the mountainous regions. The Franks on their arrival in the Morea found a fortified city named Lacedaemonia occupying part of the site of ancient Sparta, and this continued to exist, though greatly depopulated, even after Guillaume de Villehardouin had in1248-1249founded the fortress and city of Misithra, or Mistra, on a spur of Taygetus some 3 m. north-west of Sparta. This passed shortly afterwards into the hands of the Byzantines, who retained it until the Turks under Mahommed H. captured it in 1460. In 1687 it came into the possession of the Venetians, from whom it was wrested in 1715 by the Turks. Thus for nearly six centuries it was Mistra and not Sparta which formed the centre and focus of Laconian history.

The Modern City

In 1834, after the War of Independence had resulted in the liberation of Greece, the modern town of Sparta was built on part of the ancient site from the designs of Baron Jochmus, and Mistra decayed until now it is in ruins and almost deserted. Sparta is the capital of the prefecture (voµos) of Lacedaemon and has a population, according to the census taken in 1907, of 4456: but with the exception of several silk factories there is but little industry, and the development of the city is hampered by the unhealthiness of its situation, its distance from the sea and the absence of railway communication with the rest of Greece. As a result of popular clamour, however, a survey for a railway was begun in 1907, an event of great importance for the prosperity of Sparta and of the whole Eurotas Plain.


Archaeology There is a well-known passage in Thucydides which runs thus: "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" (i. 10, trans. Jowett). And the first feeling of most travellers who visit modern Sparta is one of disappointment with the ancient remains: it is rather the loveliness and grandeur of the situation and the fascination of Mistra, with its grass-grown streets, its decaying houses, its ruined fortress and its beautiful Byzantine churches, that remain as a lasting and cherished memory. Until 1905 the chief ancient buildings at Sparta were the theatre, of which, however, little shows above ground except portions of the retaining walls; the socalled 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; the ruins of a circular structure; some remains of late Roman fortifications; several brick buildings and mosaic pavements. To these must be added the inscriptions, sculptures and other objects collected in the local museum, founded by Stamatakis in 1872 and enlarged in 1907, or built into the walls of houses or churches. Though excavations were carried on near Sparta, on the site of the Amyclaeum in 1890 by Tsountas, and in 1904 by Furtwangler, and at the shrine of Menelaus in Therapne by Ross in 1833 and 1841, and by Kastriotis in 1889 and 1900, yet no organized work was tried in Sparta itself save the partial excavation of the "round building" undertaken in 1892 and 1893 by the American School at Athens; the structure has been since found to be a semicircular retainingwall of good Hellenic work, though partly restored in Roman times.

In 1904 the British School at Athens began a thorough exploration of Laconia, and in the following year excavations were made at Thalamae, Geronthrae, and Angelona near Monemvasia, while several medieval fortresses were surveyed. In 1906 excavations began in Sparta itself with results of great value, which have been published in the British School Annual, vol. xii. sqq.

A "small circus" described by Leake, but subsequently almost lost to view, proved to be a theatre-like building constructed soon after A.D. 200 round the altar and in front of the temple of Artemis Orthia. 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 B.C. rests on the foundation of an older temple of the 6th century, and close beside it were found the scanty remains of a yet earlier temple, dating from the 9th or even the 10th century. The votive offerings in clay, amber, bronze, ivory and lead found in great profusion within the precinct range from the 9th to the 4th century B.C. and supply invaluable evidence for early Spartan art; they prove that Sparta reached her artistic zenith in the 7th century and that her decline had already begun in the 6th. In 1907 the sanctuary of Athena "of the Brazen House" (X aX KlocKos) was located on the Acropolis immediately above the theatre, and though the actual temple is almost completely destroyed, fragments of the capitals show that it was Doric in style, and the site has produced the longest extant archaic inscription of Laconia, numerous bronze nails and plates and a considerable number of votive offerings, some of them of great interest. 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 6 m. (Polyb. ix. 21). The late Roman wall enclosing the Acropolis, part of which probably dates from the years following the Gothic raid of A.D. 262, was also investigated. Besides the actual buildings discovered, a number of points were fixed which greatly facilitate the study of Spartan topography, based upon the description left us by Pausanias. Excavations carried on in 1910 showed that the town of the "Mycenean" period which lay on the left bank of the Eurotas a little to the south-east of Sparta was roughly triangular in shape, with its apex towards the north: its area is approximately equal to that of Sparta, but denudation and destruction have wrought havoc with its buildings and nothing is left save ruined foundations and broken potsherds.


- History: J. C. F. Manso, Sparta (3 vols., Leipzig, 1800-1805); G. Gilbert, Studien zur altspartanischen Geschichte (Göttingen, 1872); G. Busolt, Die Lakedaimonier and ihre Bundesgenossen (Leipzig, 1878), for the 6th century and the Persian wars; W. Herbst, Zur Geschichte der auswartigen Politik Spartas im Zeitalter des peloponnesischen Krieges (Leipzig, 1853); E. von Stern, Geschichte der spartan. u. thebanischen Hegemonie, &c. (Dorpat, 1884), from 387 to 362 B.C.; J. Fesenmair, Sparta von der Schlacht bei Leuktra bis zum Verschwinden des Namens (Munich, 1865); and the general Greek histories of G. Grote, E. Meyer, G. Busolt, J. Beloch, A. Holm, B. Niese, E. Abbott and J. B. Bury.

Constitution: C. O. Muller, The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race (2 vols., Eng. trans., 2nd ed., London, 1839); K. H. Lachmann, Die spartanische Staatsverfassung in ihrer Entwickelung and ihreni Verfalle (Breslau, 1836); A. Solari, Ricerche spartane (Leghorn, 1907); H. Gabriel, De magistratibus Lacedaemoniorum (Berlin, n.d.); L. Auerbach, De Lacedaemoniorum regibus (Berlin, 1863); B. Niese, "Herodotstudien, besonders zur spart. Geschichte," in Hermes (1907), xlii. 419 sqq.; the constitutional histories of G. Gilbert, G. F. Schomann, G. Busolt and A. H. J. Greenidge, and the works cited under Apella; Ephor; Gerousia and Lycurgus.

Land Tenure: M. Duncker, "Die Hufen der Spartiaten," in Berichte der bed. Akademie (1881), pp. 138 sqq.; K. F. Hermann, De causis turbatae apud Lacedaemonios agrorum aequalitatis (Marburg, 1834); C. Reuss, De Lycurgea quae fertur agrorum divisione (Pforzheim, 1878).

Army: G. Busolt, "Spartas Heer and Leuktra," in Hermes (1905), xl. 387 sqq.; J. Kromayer, "Die Wehrkraft Lakoniens u. seine Wehrverfassung," in Beitrage zur alten Geschichte (1903), iii. 173 sqq.; H. K. Stein, Das Kriegswesen der Spartaner (Konitz, 1863).

Topography and Antiquities: W. M. Leake, Morea, chs. iv. v.; E. Curtius, Peloponnesos, ii. 220 sqq.; C. Bursian, Geographie, ii. 119 sqq.; Pausanias, iii. I I-18; and the commentary in J. G. Frazer, Pausanias, iii. 322 sqq.; W. G. Clark, Peloponnesus, pp. 158 sqq.; E. P. Boblaye, Recherches, pp. 78 sqq.; W. Vischer, Erinnerungen, pp. 371 sqq.; Bory de Saint-Vincent, Relation, pp. 418 sqq.; G. A. Blouet, Architecture, ii. 61 sqq., pl.44-52; for full titles and dates of publication of these works, see under Laconia; H. K. Stein, Topographie des alten Sparta (Glatz, 1890); K. Nestorides, Toiroypa41a ri)s apxaias Eiraprals (Athens, 1892); N. E. Crosby, "The Topography of Sparta," in American Journal of Archaeology (Princeton, 1893), viii. 335 sqq.; and various articles in the British School Annual, xii. sqq.

Inscriptions : M. N. Tod and A. J. B. Wace, Catalogue of the Sparta Museum (Oxford, 1906); British School Annual, xii. sqq., and the works cited under Laconia.

Dialect: K. Mullensiefen, De titulorum laconicorum dialecto (Strasburg, 1882); R. Meister, Dorier and Achder (Leipzig, 1904).

Art: M. N. Tod and A. J. B. Wace, op. cit.; H. Dressel and A. Milchhofer, "Die antiken Kunstwerke aus Sparta u. Umgebung," in Athenische Mitteilungen, ii. 293 sqq.; E. Beule, "L'Art a Sparte," in Etudes sur le Peloponnese (Paris, 1855). (M. N. T.)

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From Ancient Greek Σπάρτη (Spártē).

Proper noun




  1. An ancient city-state in southern Greece, noted for its strict military training.

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From Ancient Greek Σπάρτη (Spártē).


Proper noun

Sparta f.

  1. Sparta


Derived terms

  • Spartverji

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

A celebrated town of the Peloponnesus, mentioned several times under this name or under that of Lacedæmon in the Bible (1Macc 12:2ff; 1Macc 14:16ff; 1Macc 15:23; 2 Macc 5:9).

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

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

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

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|200px|Map of Ancient Sparta]] Sparta is a city in Greece. It is the capital of the Laconia prefecture. It is located in the south of Peloponnese peninsula. During antiquity it was extremely powerful. Today it is a small city. Its population is 16,726 inhabitants according to the 2001 census. The word Spartan is about somebody who lives a simple life or somebody who suffered a lot without crying or showing that he suffered.[1] It can also mean a life of simplicity, without anything fancy or costly.[2]



Sparta was a city-state with a very strong army and a government that was well led. Sparta was known as one of the strongest city-states in Greece. Only the strongest survived in Sparta, male or female. The Spartans killed weak children. When a child was killed (as legend says) they were thrown off a cliff to fall to their death. They were also put out of the city gates to starve or be eaten by wolves.


Young Spartans boys were taken from their homes at the age of seven to begin a military life. The Spartans became soldiers at age 20, citizens at age 30, and retired at age 60. Men trained hard to become warriors of the Spartan army. Women were encouraged to keep healthy so that they could produce healthy, fit babies to grow up to be strong. Spartans saw little moral value in the concept of childbirth; unless the child was fit to become a Spartan, he would die.


Sparta had a government with checks and balances. The executive branch was led by two kings. The legislative branch was led by the citizens. and the judicial branch was controlled by the elders. There was also a committee of five men who were in charge of the education process that young boys and girls went through. Boys and girls were taken from their parents at the age of 7. Boys went to live in barraks with other boys their age. Girls went to school to learn gymnastics, wrestling, and other activities.


File:Young Spartans National Gallery
Young Spartants exercising by Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

Laconophilia is love or liking of Sparta and of the Spartan culture. Sparta was often admired when it ruled. Long ago, "Many of the noblest and best of the Athenians always considered (thought) the Spartan state nearly as an ideal theory realised in practice."[3] Many Greek philosophers, especially Platonists, would often describe Sparta as a good state, strong, brave, and free.

Sparta was also seen as a model of social purity by Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.[4]

Adolf Hitler thought Sparta was very good. He said in 1928 that Germany should be like them by making smaller "the number allowed to live". The Spartans had created "the first racialist state".[5]


Spartan men married when they were 30 years old.[6][7] Plutarch writes of the strange custom of the Spartans for their wedding night:

The custom was to capture women for marriage...The...'bridesmaid' took charge of the captured girl. She first shaved her head...then dressed her in a man's cloak and sandals, and laid her down alone on a mattress in the dark. The bridegroom...first had dinner...then would slip in...lift her and carry her to the bed.[8]
The husband kept on visiting his wife in secret for some time after the marriage. Only Spartans did these customs. Some people think that the cutting off of the wife's hair was a ceremony that showed she was going into a new life.[9]


Sparta slaved by people of Messenia around 680-560 BC. These slaves later became known as the Helots. Helots spent their lives farming their Spartan masters kleros (Land Granted to Spartan Citizens). At most times the Helots outnumbered their Spartan masters 10 to 1. They rebelled often, although never at any time able to overthrow their oppressors.

Once a Spartan reached the age of 20 he or she would then become a Homoios. A Homoios was a member of the ruling class (a citizen). Both men and women were citizens. Sparta was the leading society for women's rights as women were considered to be equal. The Spartan army used a formation called the phalanx. This made the Spartan front impenetrable. This contributed to the many battles Sparta won.


  1. Hofflund, M.A., Ethel. History and Geography 603 The Civilizations of Greee and Rome. 804, N. 2nd Ave. E., Rock Rapids: Alpha Omega Publications, Inc. ISBN 51246-1759. 
  2. Webster Dictionary
  3. Mueller:Dorians II, 192
  4. Žižek, Slavoj. "The True Hollywood Left". 
  5. Professor Ben Kiernan, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Hutu Power: Distinguishing Themes of Genocidal Ideology, Holocaust and the United Nations Discussion Paper
  6. Ancient Greece By Sarah B. Pomeroy, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, Jennifer Tolbert Roberts
  7. A Brief History of Citizenship By Derek Benjamin Heater, Derek Heater
  8. Plutarch 2005, p. 18-19
  9. Pomeroy 2002, p. 42

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