Sparta Print

Sparta was a city-state in Ancient Greece, in the region of Laconia in the Peloponnese, that turned into the dominant military power of ancient Greece.

Mythology

The region of Sparta was also called Lacedaemon, after the name of the mythical king of the region. He was the son of Zeus and the nymph Taygete, and was married to Sparta, daughter of the river god Eurotas. Together, they had three children, Amyclas, Eurydice(different to the wife of Orpheus), and Asine. He built the sanctuary dedicated to the three Charites. Queen Sparta was considered to have been beautiful worth fighting for and protecting no matter the costs.

Sparta was also an important member of the Greek force which participated in the Trojan War. Indeed, the Spartan king Menelaos instigated the war after the Trojan prince Paris abducted his wifeHelen, offered to Paris by the goddess Aphrodite as a prize for choosing her in a beauty contest with fellow goddesses Athena and Hera. Helen was said to have been the most beautiful woman in Greece and Spartan women in general enjoyed a reputation not only for good looks but also spirited independence.   

Government

The Spartan political system was unusual in that it had two hereditary kings from two separate families. These monarchs were particularly powerful when one of them led the army on campaign. The kings were also priests of Zeus and they sat on the council of elders known as the gerousia. This body consisted of 28 over-60 years of age males who held the position for life. The gerousia led the citizen assembly, probably proposing issues on which to vote and it was also the highest court in Sparta. The assembly (Ekklēsia) met once a month and was open to all citizens who voted by the simple method of shouting. There was also an executive committee of five ephors (ephoroi) chosen by lot from the citizen body, able only to serve for a maximum of one year and who were ineligible for future office. Two of the ephors also accompanied one of the kings when on campaign. Just how these different political elements interacted is not known for certain but clearly a degree of consensus was necessary for the state apparatus to function. It may also explain Sparta's reputation as being a conservative state slow to make decisions in foreign policy.  

Society

Like all Greek societies Sparta was dominated by male citizens and the most powerful of those came from a select group of families. These were the landed aristocracy, and following reforms credited to Lycurgus in the 6th century BCE (or even earlier), citizens could not indulge in agricultural activities - this was the lot of the helots - but they had to devote themselves to athletic and military training and politics. Helots could not own property and so could not rise to become full-citizens, and this lack of social mobility would come back to haunt Sparta in later centuries.  Reduced by constant wars in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, the Spartan hoplites (homoioi) became dangerously small in number (8,000 in 490 BCE to 700 in 371 BCE), so much so, that non-Spartiate soldiers had to be enlisted and their loyalty and interest in Sparta's ambitions was questionable.

Women in Sparta had a better lot than in other Greek city-states. In Sparta they could own property which they often gained through dowries and inheritances. In fact, women became amongst the richest members of society, as their men were killed in the many wars, and eventually controlled 2/5th of Spartan land. In addition, Spartan women could also move around with reasonable freedom, they could enjoy athletics (done in the nude like men), and even drink wine. All of these freedoms would have been unacceptable in other Greek poleis.    

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