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).
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.
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.
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.
“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. “
“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.”