Explain the importance of the role or religion in Spartan Society.
Religion in Sparta, like in many societies, had a purpose. Religion was important in Sparta to support the ideals of a militaristic utopian society which, after the Messenian wars, the governing forces were aiming to create. "Those who honour the gods most finely with choruses are best in war" [Socrates]. The Spartan ideal of an elite military state influenced the approach to religion and the ways in which religion would be moulded to suite state doctrine, therefore highlighting the importance of religion in upholding the values of Spartan society. Religion in Sparta was interpreted to uphold Spartan values some of which are endurance, loyalty, obedience, conformity, and skill. A role of religion was to support military organisation, hence supporting the state. Another role was to support the political organisation, with religion being used as a way of influencing society to support the governing. Religion was also use to create social coherence, important in promoting conformity and in controlling the society under the ideals of the military state
Spartan religion was interpreted to support the military state. The religious connection to the military can be first seen in the Greek Gods the Spartiates emphasised and worshipped. The principal Spartan Gods were Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Discouri and Zeus. Apollo, Artemis and Athena more explicitly demonstrate the militaristic nature of Sparta with the three Gods associated with victory, wisdom, and skill in battle. Even Gods that were not usually known for battle were given militaristic traits, like the statue of the Armed Aphrodite [Goddess of love] in Thornax. The principal God however would have been Apollo who was also a master archer and an athlete and was seen as the model youth and a guardian of young men. His twin sister, Artemis, was the guardian of young women. The worship of Apollo and Artemis and their high status reflects the military value of Spartan society in training the youth for future defence. Such devotion to Apollo and Artemis can be seen in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Amyclae where coins in the likeness of Apollo were found and at the Temple of Artemis Orthia where votive offerings were found and it was known to be a centre for blood sacrifices. Rites of passage within Spartan society were also carried out at the Artemis Orthia and can be likened to a vigorous military test of endurance with religious overtones. Young boys endured harsh whippings whilst trying grabbing stringed cheeses off the shrine. Those who could withstand the punishment were given honour and moved onto another stage in their military training. Religion in this case was used to sort out those with better warrior potential. Religion was important for the State and this could also be seen in the war-time practices of the Spartan Army. According to Powell, Spartans believed in military divination, following an army to war was a herd of sacrificial animals ready to appease the Gods. Consultative sacrifices were held before embarking on a military campaign, before a battle and when stepping into the threshold of the enemy. As written by Herodotus, Cleomenes in 494 on an invasion campaign to Argo was sent troops home because he had seen bad omens at the river Erasinus. Spartans also consulted Oracles at Delphi for predictions, famously at the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas was told to give up or fight to the death against Persian troops. The Spartan reliance on divination is reflective of how religion was used for military organisation and was important in supporting the state with battle strategy and on issues of joining battles. The reliance on religion creates a sense of reassurance for warriors if they had been given a good battle prediction and also a justification for retreat with a bad omen, as seen through Cleomenes. Another function of religion in Spartan society was to train the...
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