The strongest state of the ancient world at the end of the fifth century B.C. was Sparta. The Greeks admired and praised its social organization, but they were in no hurry to adopt the Spartans’ customs and traditions. And that is not surprising.
Order in Sparta was achieved through rigid and, at times, severe discipline. And if not the prison, then certainly the camp order in society. This piece will discuss some features of Spartan statehood that other nations would never adopt of that era.
Archaeological research points to the fact that as early as the 6th century B.C. in Sparta, the simplification of the life of its inhabitants begins to occur – luxury items disappear in their homes and everyday life. Spartans isolate themselves from the outside world. They do not travel outside their state on their own and do not allow foreigners to visit them—all in order not to learn bad things.
There are no artists, poets, playwrights, scientists in the state: all those who are honoured and extolled in the rest of the ancient world. Citizens of Sparta are only allowed to engage in military training and sports. And even then, only those kinds of it, where the rules prohibit giving up.
Any, even the slightest deviation from the existing norms, was severely punished. For example, in one of the later legends, it is told how a Spartan was executed just because he decided to decorate his clothes with a coloured ribbon.
Brevity is the Spartan’s sister
The ancient Greek prose writer and playwright Xenophon once said that it is much easier to wait for a word from a statue made of stone than from a young man from Sparta. And if the Spartans did speak, it was only on the case. Brevity is the utterances of a person in our time is called “brevity”. And it came from the name of one of the regions of Sparta – Laconia.
In modern slang, the Spartans could be said to have spoken in hashtags. Thus, one of the kings of Sparta, Archidamus, upon learning that the Aeolians had allied with his enemies, sent them a letter. In it, in just four words, the Spartan ruler promised to destroy everyone, writing the following: “Archidamus to the Aeolians. Peace is beautiful.
Philip the Great received an even more laconic response from the Spartans during his campaign of conquest in Greece. In his terrible message, the father of Alexander the Great wrote: “If I enter the region of Laconia, then afterwards I will destroy all Sparta.” The Spartans answered him with one word – “If.”
Absolute civil equality was one of the tenets of the state system of Sparta. So that none of the Spartans overeat in their own home (while others would be malnourished), common meals were introduced in the state – Syssitia. The main dish of which was the so-called “black soup”. Historians do not know the exact recipe, but they assume that it was meat, cooked in blood, and steeply seasoned with salt and vinegar.
Naturally, not everyone could eat such a dish. Due to the unusual gastronomic preferences of the Spartans, their neighbors, the Greeks, told many stories. So, for example, once one of the residents of the city of Sybaris, having visited a Spartan common meal, said after it: “Now I understand why you, Spartans, are not afraid of death.”
Hatred of Melomaniacs
In one ancient Greek manuscript that has survived today, there is a description of a song that was performed at all celebrations in Laconia. The male population was divided into three choirs according to age.
The song part of the older men who opened the feast spoke of once young and strong. Then joined the middle-aged singers, who sang about how they could “beat” anyone right now. The Spartan youth rounded out the holiday carolling. In their song, they promised to kill all enemies in the near future.
Like songs, the musical instruments of the Spartans were not very diverse. The warlike people were against any modernization of them. History had survived when one of the progressive musicians pulled more strings on his lyre than was supposed to be done once, at a celebration in honour of Apollo. One of the Spartans approached him and, holding a sword in his hand, seriously asked which side, right or left, would be better to chop off the extra ones.
Wars against your people
All young Spartans were obliged to undergo “agōgē” – a kind of course for a young fighter. At the end of this military training, young warrior candidates were required to pass an unusual “bloody exam.” For this purpose, their detachments were sent out to rob, rape, and kill the enslaved Sloths of Sparta.
The benefit of such a test was twofold. Firstly, young fighters in practice received the experience of real bloody violence, which was then easily used in military campaigns. Secondly, the young men prevented the outbreak of uprisings among the vassals of Sparta – after all, in their raids, they destroyed the most authoritative and physically strong slaves.
During the war against Athens, the Spartans announced 2 thousand strong helots to form auxiliary military units. All volunteers with honors and laurel wreaths on their heads were taken to the temples of Sparta. After that, these helots mysteriously disappeared.
Historians believe that they all served as “human targets” in the training of Spartan warriors before decisive battles. In addition, Sparta secured itself from a “stab in the back” – a possible internal uprising of slaves during the war with Athens.
Heavy and fragile money
Another whim of the Spartans, at which all of Greece laughed, is iron money. More precisely, their size. According to history, the “currency” of Sparta was so large that its owner needed a huge barn to store, not the most impressive state. But what the Spartan coins looked like is still unknown to scientists.
According to one theory, Sparta’s money resembled iron loaves, according to another – long thin rods. One thing is certain: the Spartan iron money, after being made, was tempered in vinegar. This made the metal quite brittle. Thus, naturally, a person’s passion for big profit was prevented.
Almost matriarchy society
Although the women of Sparta did not participate in wars, they, like men, received good physical training and studied military science at a young age. If we compare the Spartans with the Greek women, the first had such great rights in their society that other peoples often reproached the Spartans for matriarchy.
There was a very rational, practical explanation for all this. Men of Sparta died in thousands in wars, and women were obliged to inherit and protect their land. For the same reason, marriage for a Spartan was a must. Bachelors in Sparta were publicly dishonoured and despised as inferior members of society.
The collapse of the Spartan state model
The practice has shown that a state structure based on asceticism, war, and violence is not sustainable in the long term. Sparta was so often involved in military conflicts that their brave warriors died, and their military leaders were corrupted by generous booty.
Gradually, the Spartan army became so weak that previously unnecessary and despised fortifications began to be erected around the cities. In the middle of the 2nd century B.C. Sparta was a pitiful sight – the population was only about 700 citizens. At the same time, the Spartan king was considered one of the most pampered rulers of the then world. And the women of Sparta are the most deprived in all of Greece.
And yet, history has forever engraved in its annals of this militant and freedom-loving people. Leaving the descendants of many stories and legends about the former might and glory of the warriors of Sparta. Their strength was felt by all the nations of the ancient world.