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Where was Sparta?. The Peloponnese Southern Greece.

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Sparta was a city-state. This meant that Sparta was a city inside of the borders of a larger state known as Laconia (or Lakonia). However the city of Sparta was by far the most dominant presence, the city controlled all of the land and all of the peoples in the area known as Lakonia. As Sparta was the real power in the area and the Spartan people were in control, the civilisation and area is recognised under the umbrella term 'Sparta.' The same thing happened in many of the other Greek states such as Attica. Attica was the state in which the city Athens was located, but as Athens was the major power in the region, the whole area came to be known as Athens.Sparta was located in the south east corner of the Peloponnese, neighbouring Messenia, Arcadia, and Argolis (known as Argos after the main city in the area).

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Sparta was located in the fertile Eurotasvalley,surrounded by steep, high and continuos mountain ranges. Due to these mountain ranges, Sparta had no need for a defensive city wall.However the Eurotes plains were not enough to provide for the Spartan population. Neighbouring Messenia possessed the largest valley in the Peloponnese. During the years 740-720 BC Sparta invaded Messenia, conquering it. However between 640-620 BC the Messenians revolted and war broke out again. Eventually the Spartans conquered the area completely, enslaving the peoples and annexing the land dividing it up into Kleroiwhich were divided up amongst its citizens.

social class homoioi
Social Class - Homoioi
  • Who were the Homoioi?
  • What was their function in Society?
  • What were their rights?
  • What were their responsibilities?
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Herodotus and Thucydides are important sources. However Herodotus and Thucydides were both fifth century (BC) writers and as such focus more on Sparta's foreign policy and involvement in the Persian (500-478BC) and Peloponnesian (460-404BC) Wars.

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The three main sources on Sparta in the fourth century are Plato, Aristotle and Xenophon. These three men are very important as they comment on the actual life, society and politics of the Spartan city-state. Plato was especially crucial in developing the 'myth' of Sparta as his work is a highly idealised version of Spartan life.

plato s laws
Plato's "Laws"
  • On the Spartan Government...
  • “A God, who watched over Sparta, seeing into the future, gave you two families of kings instead of one; and thus brought you more within the limits of moderation. In the next place, some human wisdom mingled with divine power, observing that the constitution of your government was still feverish and excited, tempered your inborn strength and pride of birth with the moderation which comes of age, making the power of your twenty-eight elders equal with that of the kings in the most important matters. But your third saviour, perceiving that your government was still swelling and foaming, and desirous to impose a curb upon it, instituted the Ephors, whose power he made to resemble that of magistrates elected by lot; and by this arrangement the kingly office, being compounded of the right elements and duly moderated, was preserved, and was the means of preserving all the rest.”
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On Spartan way of life...

“Justly may you, O Lacedaemonians, be praised, in that you do not give special honour or a special education to wealth rather than to poverty, or to a royal rather than to a private station, where the divine and inspired lawgiver has not originally commanded them to be given. For no man ought to have pre-eminent honour in a state because he surpasses others in wealth, any more than because he is swift of foot or fair or strong, unless he have some virtue in him; nor even if he have virtue, unless he have this particular virtue of temperance. “

aristotle s politics
Aristotle's "Politics"
  • On the Spartan Government...
  • “Some, indeed, say that the best constitution is a combination of all existing forms, and they praise the Lacedaemonian because it is made up of oligarchy,monarchy, and democracy, the king forming the monarchy, and the council of elders the oligarchy while the democratic element is represented by the Ephors; for the Ephors are selected from the people.Others, however, declare the Ephoralty to be a tyranny, and find the element of democracy in the common meals and in the habits of daily life. At Lacedaemon, for instance, the Ephors determine suits about contracts, which they distribute among themselves, while the elders are judges of homicide, and other causes are decided by other magistrates.”
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On Women...

  • “The license of the Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to the happiness of the state. For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury.The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizens fall under the dominion of their wives... Even in regard to courage, which is of no use in daily life, and is needed only in war, the influence of the Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous. The evil showed itself in the Theban invasion, when, unlike the women of other cities, they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy.”
slide15

On the division of Kleroi (Land)...

“While some of the Spartan citizens have quite small properties, others have very large ones; hence the land has passed into the hands of a few. And this is due also to faulty laws; for, although the legislator rightly holds up to shame the sale or purchase of an inheritance, he allows anybody who likes to give or bequeath it... And nearly two-fifths of the whole country are held by women; this is owing to the number of heiresses and to the large dowries which are customary... As the law now stands, a man may bestow his heiress on any one whom he pleases, and, if he die intestate, the privilege of giving her away descends to his heir. Hence, although the country is able to maintain 1500 cavalry and 30,000 hoplites, the whole number of Spartan citizens fell below 1000. The result proves the faulty nature of their laws respecting property; for the city sank under a single defeat; the want of men was their ruin.”

xenophon s the polity of the spartans
Xenophon's "The Polity of the Spartans"
  • On the Gerousia...
  • Lycurgos also provided for the continual cultivation of virtues even to old age, by fixing the election to the council of elders as a last ordeal at the goal of life, thus making it impossible for a high standard of virtuous living to be disregarded even in old age.... Moreover he laid upon them, like some irresistible necessity, the obligation to cultivate the whole virtue of a citizen. Provided they duly perform the injunctions of the law, the city belonged to them each and all, in absolute possession, and on an equal footing....