According to Ancient Sources, How Important Were the Helots to Spartan Society?

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  • Topic: Sparta, Helots, Laconia
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  • Published : April 25, 2011
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The Helots were enslaved Greeks, captured by the Spartans, who performed many important duties in Sparta, including working the land to produce food. According to the sources, the Helots were incredibly important in the social structure of Sparta. Although they were useful and important, they were the lowest class in the Spartan society and were kept under constant surveillance to prevent any uprising. Plutarch tells us that the helots “worked the land for them (the Spartans).” This shows that they were an incredibly important part of the society as each Spartiate needed to contribute a certain amount of food for the messes. On the other hand, it implies that they are not nearly as important as the Spartiates themselves who were banned from any manual work. The helots were also used as a form of entertainment as described in Plutarch 28 when he says the Spartans would “order them to perform songs and dances which were vulgar and ludicrous.” This shows that the helots were important in the fact that they were a release from the monotony of daily training but also suggests that the Helots may have only been seen as objects, not people, by the Spartans and implies that they might not have realised how important the helots were. This possibility is supported by Plutarch’s earlier description of the Krypteia. The Krypteia was a group of especially intelligent young men who were dispatched into the countryside and “murdered any helot they caught.” As the helots outnumbered the Spartans twenty to one this was probably a way of suppressing any type of uprising and keeping them under control. This implies that the helots were important in that if they revolted it is possible that they could overthrow the Spartan rule.

The Spartans took many precautions against a helot uprising. Xenophon says that the sentries around the camps when the Spartans were on campaign “looked inwards, for they watch out for friends, not enemies.” This shows the importance of keeping watch...
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