Sparta Summary Notes
▪ The lifestyle of the Spartans resembled other Greek lifestyles until the sixth century BC, when an attempted revolution by slaves led to Sparta becoming a virtual military camp. Spartan society changed dramatically, but not suddenly. Gradually all aspects of life were controlled by the state and military discipline was imposed. A great filed army was set up which was almost invincible. However, politically, culturally and materially, Sparta stagnated.
➢ The geographical setting:
▪ The Spartans are referred to in historical texts by a number of names: ‘Peloponnesians’, ‘Dorians’, ‘Lakonians’, ‘Lakedaemonians’ and ‘Spartans’. ▪ Sparta was situated in the fertile valley west of the Eurotas River on the Laconian plains between Mt Parnon and Mt Taygetus. ▪ To the west of Sparta was the Taygetus mountain range, to the east the Parnon mountain range and to the north the Arcadian mountain range. ▪ These and other steep mountain ranges cut Sparta off from the rest of Greece and helped to make Sparta a more insular, ‘closed’, society. Rough mountains, also cut Sparta off from its eastern sea access, limiting sea trade. ▪ The Eurotas River was a main source of water and a channel of communication. ▪ The surrounding mountain ranges and Sparta control of the passes meant that she had a strong frontier and little need for an acropolis or city walls like other Poleis. ▪ The economic dominance of the farmers led to a military and political leadership.
▪ The Spartans mined iron and lead, grew barley and olives, cultivated orchards and vineyards, and grazed sheep. ▪ Gytheum, the Spartan port in the Lakonian gulf, provided shellfish and dye for Spartan clothing. ▪ Much of Sparta was left wild and animals such as hares could be hunted both for food and sport. Bees were colonised to provide honey and wax. Hens produced a supply of eggs. ▪ Nearly everything they needed was provided for them within their own rich territory.
The Peloponnesian League:
▪ The Peloponnesian league or the ‘Lakedaemonians and their allies’, as it was known in the ancient world, was a grouping of independent states formed in the 6th century BC. ▪ Each of the allied states had one vote, but Sparta was the leader of the league and held the command in war. ▪ Sparta had the right to summon the assembly of allies and to preside over it, and could refuse to call an assembly meeting if it disapproved of matters to be discussed. ▪ When war was agreed on, each state had to furnish soldiers. Decisions were made in the assembly by majority vote. ▪ The Peloponnesian league was an important stabilising factor in the ancient Greek world. It played a major part in defending Greece against Persia and finally dissolved in 366 BC.
➢ Social structure and political organisation:
✓ The issue of Lycurgus (the Great Rhetra).
▪ Spartan ‘history’ was oral, not written, and ‘the lawgiver’ was a god-like figure belonging to the long-ago. He could constantly be recreated to explain why things were as they were. The elements in the Spartan world associated his name scared and to change them ran counter to a religious belief in his wisdom and integrity. ▪ To the Spartans, LYCURGUS was a god who gave them a way of life which was divinely inspired and divinely sanctioned. ▪ Ancient authors, such as Herodotus and Aristotle, wrote of Lycurgus as a historical figure who handed down the laws of Sparta after consulting the will of the gods. ▪ The dates of when he was supposed to have lived vary from 9th – 7th century BC. ▪ Lycurgus found that Spartans living at home was the cause of much sloth, so he established the public messes outside in the open. ▪ The amount of food he allowed them to eat was enough to prevent them from eating too much or too little. ▪ Another of his reforms was the abolition of compulsory drinking. ▪ He mingled the age groups in Sparta so the younger would learn from the...
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