Sparta is an ancient state located on the territory of modern Greece in the Evrota Valley, in the south of the Peloponnese peninsula. The city-state itself arose in the XI century BC, and already in the VIII-VII centuries BC. a larger-scale state appeared on the basis of a municipality. The heyday of Sparta, as one of the most influential Hellenistic states, falls on the VI-IV centuries BC.
During the Peloponnesian War, Athens was pacified, the hegemony of Sparta was established in Ancient Greece. But attempts to carry out reforms and conquer neighbors failed - the state, together with Greece, became part of the Roman province of Achaea. Glory to Sparta was brought by her army, which Homer wrote about in his "Iliad".
Today there is a real myth about the Spartan warriors. But most of our knowledge about this ancient state is myths.
Sparta is the ancient Greek name for the state. The inhabitants of this state themselves called themselves the Lacedaemonians. The name Sparta did not exist at that time, it was replaced by Lacedaemon. The famous word to us appeared thanks not to the Greeks, but to the Romans. And the term "laconic" has just ancient Greek roots, it arose from the name of the state. The Spartans were considered restrained and laconic, as they were known both in the Peloponnese and beyond. "Laconic" literally means - in a Spartan way calm and silent.
The Spartan army was invincible. The army of this ancient state was strong enough to be feared by all neighbors. But by many criteria, the army of Sparta was inferior to competitors, including even the Greeks. The warriors were considered to be highly trained and possessed excellent physical skills. But the discipline of the soldiers was adopted by other peoples as well. Although the Romans admired the strength of Sparta's army, it ultimately yielded to them. It is worth noting that the Spartans knew nothing about mining. This prevented them from effectively laying siege to cities. And the tactics were simple, they were based on the personal courage and strength of the soldiers. In the history of Ancient Greece, there are many cases of defeats of the Spartans, who constantly fought either with their neighbors or with external aggressors. Although it is believed that the Spartans were invincible until 371 BC. and the battle of Leuctra, where the Thebans lost, the much more famous battle of Thermopylae may be mentioned. The warriors displayed unparalleled courage, but the Persians eventually conquered most of Greece. In 425 BC. the Spartans lost the Battle of Pylos in 331 BC. - Battle of Megalopolis. Defeat in 222 BC at the Battle of Selassia, it became difficult for Sparta, after which she was forcibly included in the Hellenic Union. The entire history of Sparta is a series of wars, in which there were many both glorious victories and sorrowful defeats.
The Sparta army was on foot. The army of Sparta also included horsemen. The equestrian army consisted of wealthy citizens who could afford to buy a horse, and then also keep it. But in the end, all fought exclusively on foot, supplementing the phalanx with a detachment of "guards". It was she who was the very famous 300 Spartans under the leadership of King Leonidas, who died at Thermopylae. Scientists believe that in peacetime, such a detachment could play the role of military police, suppressing slave revolts.
The Spartans were rude and ignorant. The modern stereotype shows these people as rude and seeing only strength as virtues. Although in Sparta mental work was not considered the most important, this does not mean that the people are ignorant. The state has presented history with poets and writers. The most famous of them are Alkman and Terpandr. True, even they had good physical fitness. Even the famous Spartan priest and diviner Tisamen of Elea was considered an excellent athlete. And the myth of the general ignorance of the Spartans appeared because the most famous cultural figures of the city were not born in it.
Weak children were thrown down from the cliff by the Spartans. This myth appeared and took root thanks to the works of Plutarch. The scientist, in his descriptions of the Spartan society, said that the elders decided which children should be thrown down into the gorge. The weakest and most inferior were deprived of the right to life. However, modern historians do not have an unambiguous opinion on this issue. Most experts are generally skeptical about this legend. Most likely, such a tradition did not exist in Sparta. It is worth remembering that in the ancient Greek annals there were many exaggerations and embellishments. This became clear after comparing the descriptions of the same events in the chronicles of the Greeks and Romans. In Sparta, there really always existed a rigid system of raising children, agoge ("withdrawal" in translation). Growing children were considered the property of the whole society. Due to the rigidity of the system, the mortality rate among children could indeed be increased. For example, on the altar of Artemis, boys were whipped with a whip all day as a test of courage. Not everyone could withstand the torment. But the strongest received glory and honor. But at the same time, talking about the deliberate killing of children immediately after birth is impossible. Human bones were found in a gorge near Sparta. But analysis showed that only 15% of the remains belonged to minors. Most likely, the bodies were thrown into the abyss after the death of citizens. The fact of the existence of the king of Sparta, Agesilaus, who was lame since birth, and the blind poet Tirtaeos, is worthy of attention. If the tradition of killing disabled children existed, then these individuals simply would not have survived. Interestingly, this myth simply did not take root in international historiography.
Sparta did not know trade and crafts. According to the law, the Spartans were not allowed to trade and create luxury goods. Citizens devoted themselves to the art of war, and the trade and crafts necessary for the functioning of the economy were given to the helots and perieks. It is impossible to talk about the decline of crafts. Practical products created in Sparta were famous throughout Greece: ceramics, clothes, shoes, weapons, furniture. Basically, all this was created for internal purposes and sold domestically. Sovereign Sparta did not admit strangers with their interests and goods into its territory.
Sparta survived only at the expense of slaves. As a thought experiment, it is proposed to deprive the country of everything that the helot slaves gave it. The top, concerned only with the war, would simply starve to death. In fact, without the military protection of the Spartans, the slaves would either be conquered by new, more cruel masters, or they would be mired in strife. And the Spartans themselves could always capture new slaves, conquering new lands with the peasants.
The Spartans were brutal slave owners. There is a legend about the destruction by the Spartans in 424 BC. two thousand of the toughest helots. It is believed that the "bloodthirsty slave owners" did so, fearing a possible uprising. In fact, the position of the helots was not at all deplorable. Those of them who were ready to go to military service received freedom. Many helots decided on the opportunity to improve their social status. The discontented fled to Pylos, captured by the Athenians. Ancient historians attributed the disappearance of so many of Sparta's slaves to mass murder, and not to service. The myth is obviously invented, since the helots have always taken part in military campaigns. These orderlies, cooks, builders helped the army, but did not participate directly in the battles. And sometimes the helots even fought as light infantry. In the most difficult times for Sparta, slaves were the basis for replenishing heavy infantry, hoplites. The myth of mass murder was invented by the Athenians as propaganda to intimidate the population of Messinia. The events of the 3rd century BC indicate the real situation of the helots. King Cleomenes III offered the rich "slaves" to redeem their freedom for two kilograms of silver. This opportunity was immediately used by six thousand people. The Spartans did not prevent the helots from getting rich, demanding from them only a part of the harvest. And tens of thousands of such slaves were generally engaged in household chores, simple and well-fed, next to their masters.
The freedom of the people of Sparta was inferior to the freedoms in Athens and Attica. It turns out that taxes in Athens were much higher than in Sparta. And without the constant introduction of new tributaries, Athens could not have lived so idle. This fact was not advertised until the city began to conclude various alliances and conquer new territories. It was then that the Allies learned that Athenian democracy is actually quite expensive.
300 Spartans fought bravely against a whole army of Persians. This is a fairly popular historical myth. He praises the bravery and courage of the soldiers, whose united handful stopped for a while the army of the conqueror of many thousands. The only reliable source can be considered the "History" of Herodotus. Ellin wrote that in this area, the Persian king, in addition to 300 Spartans, was awaited by another 1000 Tegeans and Mantineans, about 1100 warriors from Arcadia, 400 Corinthians, several dozen representatives of other cities of the Peloponnese. In addition, the army consisted of 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans. Simple calculations give an estimate of the size of the Greek army at 5-6 thousand people. And this is only about heavily armed professionals. Herodotus says nothing about the same helots who served the Spartans and could be used as light infantry. But the historian himself later wrote that for every free soldier of Sparta there were up to seven slave assistants. Apparently, under Thermopylae there was a similar ratio. Some experts generally estimate the number of the entire Greek army with slaves and allies at 12 thousand people, which is tens of times higher than the classical 300. But this does not detract from the fact of the valor of the Greeks. On the battlefield, 4 thousand people died, another 400 were captured by the Persians.
All 300 Spartans perished at Thermopylae. And again it is worth talking about a beautiful, but not entirely true myth. King Leonidas sent one of his soldiers, Pantita, to Thessaly as a messenger. Having learned about the outcome of the battle and realizing that dishonor awaits him in Sparta, he hanged himself. Two more soldiers, Eurytus and Aristodemus, were released by the king due to illness. But if the first demanded armor and returned to his friends to die with them, then the second in Sparta awaited shame and the nickname "coward". Even having distinguished himself a year later in the battle of Plataea, Aristodemus could not atone for his guilt. It was said that he simply sought death on the battlefield.
All 300 Spartans were lovers. It is believed that homosexuality was widespread in a purely male Spartan society. In a modern interpretation, Plato is credited with the words about warrior-lovers who would prefer to die next to their beloved, rather than run away and experience humiliation. In fact, it was generally about people who love each other, not necessarily with sexual overtones. The myth of the homosexuality of 300 Spartans appeared thanks to Plutarch. But he only mentioned that "according to some" the royal detachment was formed on the basis of husbands' love for each other. Rumors are debunked by the work "Ancient customs of the Spartans". It says that husbands were allowed to fall in love with honest-hearted boys, but it was a shame to have a relationship with them. Passion had to be spiritual, not carnal. Those accused of sodomy were forever deprived of their citizenship. And in that battle, the boys could not stand next to the soldiers in any way - the training went on until the age of 20. And in the Spartan army, even fellow countrymen were not allowed to stand nearby. It was in the dissolved Athens that homosexual relationships were considered the norm, the haters of Sparta attributed their foundations to others.
Sparta was ruled by the king. In fact, Sparta was ruled by two kings at once. This has been the case since the beginning of the XI century BC. The kings represented two different dynasties: the Hagiads and the Eurypontids. Most likely, both descended from King Aristodemus, thanks to his twin sons. The functions of the rulers were mostly representative, but in the event of war, one of them led the army on a campaign, while the other remained in Sparta. In fact, the country was ruled by a council of elders of 28 gerons and both kings.
They didn't like music in Sparta. It would seem - what does music have to do with the harsh warriors? In fact, Sparta was considered almost the most musical city in all of Greece. Music, as well as reading, was taken seriously here. The Spartans believed that songs cheer people up and help them perform military exercises. During the attacks, the soldiers sang in chorus to the sound of a flute.
The Spartans had slaves. All helots were considered state property. Already it could provide slaves to some people for use.
Spartan boys stole and hunted helots at night. It was believed that boys were forced to learn theft and night hunting in order to acquire the necessary military skills. But that didn't make any practical sense. The Spartans did not fight by espionage or covert infiltration into the enemy camp. They were taught from childhood to fight as part of a phalanx. And what were the helots to do on the night roads? The peasants slept peacefully at home. And the detachments of young men caught those who fled to Messinia or were eager to join the rebels. This custom was formed during the First Messenian War. In fact, the younger generation created militia units. The young men still did not know how to fight, but they were quite capable of patrolling the roads.
The Spartans neglected hygiene. It is believed that the actual rejection of hygiene was a distinctive feature of the life of the Spartans. In any case, Plutarch wrote in his "Ancient Customs" that this people does not wash, does not change clothes, does not butter up the body, like other Greeks. But in the same book it is said that the Spartans wore red robes for the war so that blood would not be visible when wounded. This means that not all citizens wore rags. Legends about bad clothes and refusal to wash should be attributed to the period of military training. It goes without saying that the best clothes were not needed there. There were no problems with water in Sparta. Did people really walk near springs and not wash off the dirt? These Athenians, accustomed to regular care of their bodies, noted the simplicity of the Spartan life. The body was trained here, not cherished. The Athenian bewilderment grew into a historical myth. Herodotus said that before the battle, the Spartans, in addition to preparing weapons, also combed their long hair. But you can't do it with an unwashed head! Most likely, the Spartans washed themselves periodically, although the dirt did not cause them much discomfort during the campaign. Interesting in Sparta was the attitude to the bath. It was believed that the body would bask there. At first, this was only allowed for the elderly and the sick. But after the Peloponnesian War, baths spread to Sparta, becoming popular there. So there is no need to talk about dirty Spartans.