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Exploring the Ancient History of Spartan Warriors

 History of the Spartan Warriors

The Spartan warriors were highly-trained soldiers from the ancient state of Sparta. They were renowned for their courage and skill in battle, making them some of the most feared warriors in the world. Reputed to be unbeatable on the battlefield, they earned a reputation as indomitable heroes and one that has been passed down through generations.

 History of the Spartan Warriors

The Spartan warriors were highly-trained soldiers from the ancient state of Sparta. They were renowned for their courage and skill in battle, making them some of the most feared warriors in the world. Reputed to be unbeatable on the battlefield, they earned a reputation as indomitable heroes and one that has been passed down through generations.

spartan warrior and Sparta fall

The Spartan Story


TO understand Plato , and indeed many later philosophers, it is necessary to know something of Sparta. Sparta had a double effect on Greek thought: through the reality, and through the myth. Each is important. The reality enabled the Spartans to defeat Athens in war; the myth influenced Plato's political theory, and that of countless subsequent writers. The myth is of even more importance, historically, than the reality; nevertheless, we will begin with the latter. For the reality was the source of the myth.

Laconia, or Lacedaemon, of which Sparta was the capital, occupied the south-east of the Peloponnesus. The Spartans, who were the ruling race, had conquered the country at the time of the Dorian invasion from the north, and had reduced the population that they found there to the condition of serfs. These serfs were called helots. In historical times, all the land belonged to the Spartans, who, however, were forbidden by law and custom to cultivate it themselves, both on the ground that such labour was degrading, and in order that they might always be free for military service. The serfs were not bought and sold, but remained attached to the land, which was divided into lots, one or more for each adult male Spartan. 

These lots, like the helots, could not be bought or sold, and passed, by law, from father to son.  They could, however, be bequeathed. The landowner received from the helot who cultivated the lot seventy medimni  of grain for himself, twelve for his wife, and a stated portion of wine and fruit annually.  Anything beyond this amount was the property of the helot. The helots were Greeks, like the Spartans, and bitterly resented their servile condition. When they could, they rebelled. The Spartans had a body of secret police to deal with this danger, but to supplement this precaution they had another: once a year, they declared war on the helots, so that their young men could kill any who seemed insubordinate without incurring the legal guilt of homicide. Helots could be emancipated by the state, but not by their masters; they were emancipated, rather rarely, for exceptional bravery in battle.

At some time during the eighth century B.C. the Spartans conquered the neighbouring country of Messenia, and reduced most of its inhabitants to the condition of helots. There had been a lack of Lebensraum in Sparta, but the new territory, for a time, removed this source of discontent.

Lots were for the common run of Spartans; the aristocracy had estates of their own, whereas the lots were portions of common land assigned by the state. The free inhabitants of other parts of Laconia, called "perioeci," had no share of political power.

where is spartan located

Sparta is a town and municipality in Laconia. It is located at the site of ancient Sparta and in the Evrotas River valley. The municipality was merged with six nearby towns in 2011. It had a total population (as of 2011) of 35,259, of whom 17,408 lived in the city. Mystras is a place that was developed in the middle ages, during the occupation by Franks at around 1200 AD and later as the centre of Byzantine power in southern Greece. Today Mystras constitutes a Byzantine complex of churches and buildings with distinct and well preserved architectural elements. The stunning natural beauty of the area of Lakonia and the wide range of cultural and tourist attractions make this part of Greece a very interesting and attractive place to explore and enjoy.

Spartan soldier training 

Spartan warriors underwent intensive training from a young age, with some of the most powerful warriors starting their training as early as seven years old. They were taught to be agile and proficient in various weapons, such as swords, javelins, and shields. Their equipment was specially designed for combat; they wore custom-made armour made of bronze for protection, whereas their helmets had distinctly shaped crests that extended along the top of their head for shock absorption.The sole business of a Spartan citizen was war, to which he was trained from birth. Sickly children were exposed after inspection by the heads of the tribe; only those judged vigorous were allowed to be reared. Up to the age of twenty, all the boys were trained in one big school; the purpose of the training was to make them hardy, indifferent to pain, and submissive to discipline. There was no nonsense about cultural or scientific education; the sole aim was to produce good soldiers, wholly devoted to the state.

Spartans and homosexuality 

Were the Spartans gay ? 

Yes, Homosexual love, both male and female, was a recognized custom in Sparta, and had an acknowledged part in the education of adolescent boys. A boy's lover suffered credit or discredit by the boy's actions; Plutarch states that once, when a boy cried out because he was hurt in fighting, his lover was fined for the boy's cowardice.

At the age of twenty, actual military service began. Marriage was permitted to any one over the age of twenty, but until the age of thirty a man had to live in the "men's house," and had to manage his marriage as if it were an illicit and secret affair. After thirty, he was a full-fledged citizen. Every citizen belonged to a mess, and dined with the other members; he had to make a contribution in kind from the produce of his lot. It was the theory of the state that no Spartan citizen should be destitute, and none should be rich. Each was expected to live on the produce of his lot, which he could not alienate except by free gift. None was allowed to own gold or silver, and the money was made of iron. Spartan simplicity became proverbial.

What was Sparta's education like and how did spartan education support the military ?

Spartan education was designed to raise fearless, obedient soldiers. Boys were cared for by their mothers until age seven and then were taken from their homes to become part of a military company. The military training they received was intense and brutal. It included marching, fighting, and gymnastics. The young soldiers were fed too little in an effort to force them to steal food and thus learn craftiness, a useful skill in times of war. If caught stealing, they were beaten, which they were expected to accept without complaint, or risk disgrace.

Spartan mothers urged their sons to return from wars “with your shield or upon it,” in other words, “victorious in combat or dead.” Spartan boys learned Homer’s Iliad by ear and songs of war as well, but reading and writing were not considered important parts of their education. The qualities prized in Spartan men are those we still associate with the phrase “spartan virtue” stoic endurance of hardship, disdain for luxury, and toughness of mind and body. Spartan boys were also taught to be succinct and direct in their speech.

According to one story, students who gave answers that were too long were bit- ten on their fingers by their teachers! Our modern word laconic, meaning “terse” or “of few words,” derives from the speech habits of Spartans.

Spartan girls were given different training. They were expected to exercise and remain in good physical condition. Reading and writing were seen as having little value, although dancing was considered important because it was good exercise.

Women's rights in ancient Sparta
The position of women in Sparta was peculiar. They were not secluded, like respectable women elsewhere in Greece. Girls went through the same physical training as was given to boys; what is more remarkable, boys and girls did their gymnastics together, all being naked.

spartan women's role in society

And though the maidens did show themselves thus naked openly, yet was there no dishonesty seen nor offered, but all this sport was full of play and toys, without any youthful part or wantonness.

Men who would not marry were made "infamous by law," and compelled, even in the coldest weather, to walk up and down naked outside the place where the young people were doing their exercises and dances.
Women were not allowed to exhibit any emotion not profitable to the State. They might display contempt for a coward, and would be praised if he were their son; but they might not show grief if their new-born child was condemned to death as a weakling, or if their sons were killed in battle. 

How did Sparta end and what caused Sparta fall

It cannot be denied that, for a long period, the Spartans were successful in their main purpose, the creation of a race of invincible warriors. The battle of Thermopylae , 480 B.C., though technically a defeat, is perhaps the best example of their valour. Thermopylae was a narrow pass through the mountains, where it was hoped that the Persian army could be held. Three hundred Spartans, with auxiliaries, repulsed all frontal attacks. But at last the Persians discovered a detour through the hills, and succeeded in attacking the Greeks on both sides at once. 

Every single Spartan was killed at his post. Two men had been absent on sick leave, suffering from a disease of the eyes amounting almost to temporary blindness. One of them insisted on being led by his helot to the battle, where he perished; the other, Aristodemus, decided that he was too ill to fight, and remained absent. When he returned to Sparta, no one would speak to him; he was called "the coward Aristodemus." A year later, he wiped out his disgrace by dying bravely at the battle of Plataea, where the Spartans were victorious.

After the war, the Spartans erected a memorial on the battlefield of Thermopylae, saying only: "Stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that we lie here, in obedience to their orders."

For a long time, the Spartans proved themselves invincible on land. They retained their supremacy until the year 371 B.C., when they were defeated by the Thebans at the battle of Leuctra. This was the end of their military greatness.

Spartans were not allowed to travel, nor were foreigners admitted to Sparta, except on business; for it was feared that alien customs would corrupt Lacedaemonian virtue.

In Byzantine times, Sparta declined during the growth of Mystras, a nearby fortified town. In late 1248 AD, William II of Villehardouin, a Frankish successor of those who had conquered and controlled Achaia (north-west part of Peloponnese, around the area of Patras) during the fourth Crusade, captured Monemvasia, the last remaining Byzantine outpost on the Morea (the name of the Peloponnese during the middle-ages). The young prince examined the area of Lakonia during the winter of 1248–49, touring the countryside and selecting sites for fortification, and finally he built the fortress that came to be known as Mystras, near ancient Sparta.

 After a century of conflicts between the Franks and Byzantines, until its surrender to the Ottoman Turks in 1460, Mystras became the residence of a ‘Despot’ (Christian religious leader) in 1348. The Despot ruled over the Byzantine Morea, and the region became known as the "Despotate of the Morea". This was the city's golden age: according to the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Mystras "witnessed a remarkable cultural renaissance, including the teaching of Plethon, and attracted artists and architects of the highest quality''

spartan war with Persia story

The most important event in the history of Sparta is the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 crack soldiers ,plus 7,000 or so support troops from other cities, held the enormous Persian army at a narrow coastal pass for 7 days (including 3 full days of battle), giving the other Greek states precious time to mobilize their armies to defend Greece . On the last day of battle, Leonidas realized a traitor had revealed a mountain path that was allowing the Persians to outflank them, and so he dismissed the bulk of the Greek army and remained to guard their retreat with his 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans, fighting to the death in the historically famous last stand. They knew they had two choices - return home as winners or die - and they knew there was no going home.

spartan vs Athens war

The longstanding rivalry between Sparta and Athens climaxed during the long Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). In the early stages of the war, the Spartans were losing, but when an epidemic took hold within the walls of Athens, the Spartans began to get the upper hand. In 404 BC, the Spartans crushed the Athenian fleet, destroyed the walls of the city, and established a tyrannical regime in the former democratic city. However, their victory was soon followed by a crushing defeat in their own homeland, when the Theban army, under the leadership of Epamenondas, attacked the Peloponnese in 369 BC. In the war that followed, the Spartans were defeated and all the Helots were set free. After this war, things in Sparta began to change dramatically. 

All Spartan men now had to take care of their own farmlands and spend less time in military training. As a result, the power of Sparta gradually declined and it became just another small Greek state. Later, King Phillip II of Macedonia, who came to the throne in 359 BC, unified all the Greek city states into a nation. The Romans conquered Sparta in the 2nd century BC, and gradually the town followed the fate of all Greece.


Sparta summary

Apart from war, the reality of Sparta was never quite the same as the theory. Herodotus, who lived at its great period, remarks, surprisingly, that no Spartan could resist a bribe. This was in spite of the fact that contempt for riches and love of the simple life was one of the main things inculcated in Spartan education. 

We are told that the Spartan women were chaste, yet it happened several times that a reputed heir to the kingship was set aside on the ground of not being the son of his mother's husband. We are told that the Spartans were inflexibly patriotic, yet the king Pausanias, the victor of Plataea, ended as a traitor in the pay of Xerxes. Apart from such flagrant matters, the policy of Sparta was always petty and provincial. When Athens liberated the Greeks of Asia Minor and the adjacent islands from the Persians, Sparta held aloof; so long as the Peloponnesus was deemed safe, the fate of other Greece . Greeks was a matter of indifference. Every attempt at a confederation of the Hellenic world was defeated by Spartan particularism. 

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