Essay about Spartan Culture
Sparta is located in the southern part of Greece and helps to form the regional unit of Laconia in the Peloponnese region. It was along the Eurotas River Valley, being one of the most fertile parts in Greece. Sparta is geographically isolated. This gave them a strategic advantage when it came to fighting wars. The power of their militaristic system was very high throughout the archaic and classical period. This helped them move forward and prosper as a city state. What helped Sparta’s military advance so well, was the hoplite army.
Their main focus to help lead them traditionally and culturally was through patriarchal rule. Their political structure was like nothing else, their way of running a city state was very different than the other city states in Greece, but they were able to make it work for themselves. There was a visible difference in the way women and men were treated showing the difference in the gender roles in their society.
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They lacked the progression of art and tradition, but this allowed them to put a lot more emphasis on their military, which benefit them in their own goals, but hurts them later on. Through other forms of leadership systems, Sparta also relied on Lycurgus who helped create the military-oriented reformation and was the lawgiver of Sparta. This helped mobility with the city state because they were able to trust in these warriors. Their culture and traditions of a polytheistic city state helped shape the views of a lot of their citizens. This helped them by uniting them a one people under certain core values.
The history of Sparta began with the conquest of Messenia. Messenia was one of the few agriculturally viable areas at that time. This was done in the area of Laconia. In about 720 B.C. they took control over and enslaved a lot of the people from the land they just recently captured. These people were known as helots and they were forced to work under Spartan leadership. The helots then decided to revolt in 650 B.C. and with their great numbers they were almost able to finish Sparta for good. Sparta was never the same after that revolt, and they knew they needed a change.
None of the Spartan citizens ever had to worry about farming or working and they would dedicate all of their time training and serving in the army for the Greek city state of Sparta. They were able to have this luxury because the helots would take care of this burden because that was their job as semi enslaved laborer’s. This is where they knew they needed to show military dominance and be the most militarized city state of Greece.
Sparta’s geography played a key role in their military success because this meant they could leave when they want, but enemies will have trouble getting in. Sparta was surrounded on three sides by mountains: Mount Taygetus to the west, Parnon ranges to the east, and Arcadian Mountains to their west. Any army trying to get into Sparta always faced troubles. As good as it was for protection, this meant it was a hassle to communicate with other city states in Greece.
Other than militaristic, Sparta lied on the Eurotas River, which provided Sparta with a great water supply and made their land super fertile, so they can always have a surplus of crops. South of Sparta was the Gytheion harbor, being the military powerhouse, they needed to be strong not only on land, but also in the sea. The harbor not only helped provide them with fish and shellfish, but it was able to harbor their massive fleet. Though their navy was not as strong as Athens, they still needed to defend one of their thresholds.
Their system included the training of young soldiers to help militarize this city state. Following this system meant making every soldier part of the army, or also known as the phalanx. The women also needed to train well in Sparta because if the women were strong, that meant their baby was bound to be just as strong. Officials would then see if a baby was strong enough and if the baby was not, they would usually leave it outside the borders of Sparta at the base of Mount Taygetus to see if it will survive. The baby would never survive this test, but the officials believed it proved their point of the baby being a weak one.
Letting the child grow up healthy, at the age of 7 years old the child was then put into their agoge. This process helped to build the mindset of the young man because they had to deal with not having a lot, being loyal to each other, being hungry, and also making their own beds. This was because they had to realize that on the battle field, they do not have their family and realizing they had to rely on the soldiers next to them. Being hungry was so they can deal with being hungry on the battle field because food is scarce and they will most likely be hungry then fed.
The same is said for making their own beds, since they had to go town to the rivers to pull the reeds by hand, because when they are at a different place fighting in battle, they will need to rely on their own skill. Young men and young women would train at the same time, but the young men were the ones put into the agoge. When the young men reached the age of 12, they would be sent to a more hard working training camp.
This is where the young soldier will be pair up with a male Spartan, where they would guide them and be their mentor. This usually led into an erotic relationship, but it was really meant to help guide and instruct the young solider, so they can be prepared for the life of brotherhood they will share with every other soldier. At the age of 18 they would be eligible to join the army. First though, they needed a vote to get into one of the groups. They had until they age of 30 to get into one of these groups, but if they could not get a unanimous vote, they would lose their citizen ship to society.
The hoplite army benefited not only Sparta, but also their war efforts. The hoplite were citizens and mainly farmers who could afford the gear of armor, sword, shield, and spears. Though they did not have the best training, they were able to defend the city state of Sparta while the soldiers were out and away. Along side the women, they were able to use the phalanx formation in order to be successful in wars even with few and unexperienced soldiers. This helped work together and as long as they all had one common goal in mind and work together, this formation was really hard to break.
They would form a single line and be very close side by side with allies and if they needed to charge, they would charge with dozens of spears. If arrows were coming at them, they would crowd together and hold up their shields and the arrows would never be able to penetrate. This shows how important it is for all of them to work together because if one soldier does not have the same mind set as everyone else, they enemies and find the gap and take advantage. When some of the helots joined the hoplites, they usually made deals with them in order to give them some land as long as they helped out in spartan military.
A patriarchal ruling system has always existed, today and ever thousands of years ago. The male being the ruler of not only the household, but of also the society, showed the emphasis they put on men over women. Sparta showed how they implemented this system the way they trained the young men longer than the young women. They were trying to shape these young men into the leaders they would one day become. The women were not totally useless to society because they did benefit a lot to the success of the city state of Sparta.
Women had to train just as hard as men because if a woman was physically fit, officials believed that their babies would also be strong. Women’s education was also important in Spartan culture, because if a male was ever being educated, there was also education for the females. There was constant education for young girls in all throughout the archaic period, but right around the Hellenistic period they started to discontinue this. It was not until the roman period where they realized it was better that women were educated than not. Literacy was also a big deal in Sparta, but you would only see the high class elites be limited to such a luxury. The loop hole around this for women was that if they were able to climb the social ladder, they would be able to learn to read and write.
Sparta was able to maintain a dual monarchy throughout all of its time as a Greek city state. Though it was very unusual because it means they had two separate kings, this helped them because while they were always traveling for wars, one king can take care of the fighting and the other can stay back and rule at home. They also had a cousin of elders known as the gerousia and this consisted of 28 men over the age of sixty years old.
The gerousia was formed by the lawgiver Lycurgus who was from Sparta in the 7th century B.C. Their job as the gerousia was to lead the citizen assembly, which meant that they would bring up problems going on in the city state on which they would vote to see if they could make a change for the better. Everything any one ever did in the government was to serve the city state of Sparta and this was always constantly reinforced.
Even Sparta’s constitutions were based around war and how they can better win them, but also protect their own city state. Sparta was actually the leaders of the Peloponnesian league, which lasted from about the 6th century to 4th century B.C. Of course, their biggest rival was the Delian League, which was ruled by their biggest enemy, the Greek city state of Athens. The Peloponnesian league was created because Sparta was the most powerful city state.
They were able to help other city states such as Corinth, by removing the tyranny, which helped the people of Corinth see the light in Sparta and led to them being great allies. They were able to obtain a lot more allies using their diplomatic policies and their militaristic strength to pave a way to create this great Peloponnesian League. Though they had a few hiccups with Argos and Achaea being the only two city states in the Peloponnese area to not join the league.
The League itself was meant to give each allied state one vote in congress and they did not have to pay tribute unless it was in dire need for Sparta. Since the city states could only make alliances with Sparta, it seemed to only benefit Sparta and put these other city states in a choke hold where they felt too threatened to do anything. Every vote that passed through would never be binding to Sparta, but the other city states never complained because the league provided security to all of its members and would shut down any city state that wanted tyrannies.
The history of the league goes on, but during the Persian Wars, the Greek city states knew they needed to work together, so they ended up forming the Hellenic League. This league included everyone and even Sparta’s biggest rival, Athens. Sparta could not handle this, so they went back into forming the Peloponnesian League and kept the same allies they had before, which then caused controversy like before. This lead to the Peloponnesian War because Sparta and its allies felt that Athens and their league was gaining too much tower. Reacting to their fears, Sparta and its allies were able to defeat Athens in 404 B.C.
Women in Sparta were also treated very differently than those of any other city state. Like any other city state at the time, they believed the woman’s role in society was to take care of the house while the husband was working or at war, but most importantly the woman needed to have and take care of the children. The biggest Spartan belief, that not many other city states believed, was that the woman should also be physically healthy.
Stated previously, if a physically in shape woman bared a child, the child too should end up being healthy and strong like both the mother and father. The young women would train with most of the young men, and they even were able to do some horse drawn chariot races, which were for religious practice, showing the leeway they had in society at a younger age. The Spartan males did not usually look for a wife until they were around the age of 20, but Spartan females started marrying as early as 18. The problem in the house hold rose early because when would only be around to sleep the night or they would spend long times away from home.
This is why women are usually depicted as the leaders of the home, in the sense that it was a female place. Spartan men did not necessarily mind how the home was ran while they were gone. A daughter of a Spartan got other privileges because they were able to inherit fifty percent of what a Spartans son would also inherit. Women in Athens would have never been treated this way and maybe this is what lead to the success of the Greek city state of Sparta. A big thing that separated a lot of other city state girls from Sparta, was how they would be able to have slits down the sides of their skirts, exercise outdoors naked, and most importantly how they were compared to boys, almost as equal.
Not that the Spartan women had much freedom in Sparta itself, but it was the freedom they had over other women in other city states. Being physically strong is not all they wanted to see in a Spartan woman about to bear a child, since they also wanted to see them strong mentally, using their intelligence was just as viable to the success of a Spartan baby. These women would talk politics and beliefs to Spartan men in public and they used their wit and pushiness to prove they are more than just caregivers, they are strong women all around.
Sparta was a city state that was so focused on their military, that they totally ignored innovation and a lot of core traditional ideas. Instead of finding their own traditions, Sparta tried to be a city state that all of Greece looked towards for any traditional values. This hurt them because they totally denied any form of innovation to try and prove to other city states that their way was the best way. One of their big “traditions of Greece” was that they totally denied tyrannies and would confront any city state around them that would support it.
They would usually shut it down by going to war with them and overall beating them to change their views. How their tradition hurt them was by the way they structured their population. This ultimately lead to its downfall because there were way too many ways to lose your status as a Spartiate and the only real tradition way was by birth. The problem was not with the birth rate, even though it was pretty low, but it could just not keep up with the number of warriors being killed. In about three centuries, they lost over nine thousand Spartiates who were naturally born in the city state.
It was very hard to climb the social ladder in Sparta because they were either born in a citizen, were a perioeci which was a free subject, or they were helots, where a majority of Spartans lied. Spartans also did not believe in writing down their history. This hurt them because they were defined by their propaganda of their enemies or their war records of their allies. They did not write because Lycurgus believed that his laws should not be reflected in writing, but it should be shown in the prosperity, virtue, and habits shown in every day life of the citizens.
Lycurgus was the law giver of Sparta, believed to have been around Sparta in 800 B.C.; his accounts are shown to be believed that he was a real person. Though Sparta had a dual monarchy where two kings shared power over the city state, Lycurgus was believed to be the son of one of the kings. The history of Lycurgus was said that he fled Sparta and made way to Crete where he learned law. After being persuaded to come back to Sparta, came back to Sparta and used what he had learned about laws and implemented them into the Spartan government which then lead to a constitution for Sparta.
It is believed that he changed the Sparta socially, allowing women to train, and the say officials had in allowing which baby was allowed or fit to live. Lycurgus asked the Spartans to then swear an oath where they would follow his laws until he returned back from his journey. The Journey was to the Oracle at Delphi, where he then left, but never returned. This is the reason to why it is believed that their rules never changed.
Sparta being big on its military and lack of real tradition, it is very easy to believe they ever believed in any gods. Sparta like most other Greek city states did believe in religion and gods. Their beliefs were polytheistic where they believed in multiple gods and goddesses along with their own special rituals. They believed in the gods at Olympia who were led by Zeus, who was connected to all of the gods. Without question, Spartan citizens were believed to respect and obey these gods publicly, which other city states respected and looked up to them for.
The Spartans praised Ares and Apollo a little bit more than the other gods. This was done because these gods fit their lifestyle and ethics a bit more than the other gods did. These two gods also were war focused and Sparta believed this would give them a slight edge on the battlefield. Their major festivals are also linked to their religious beliefs. One of their biggest festivals was known as Hyakinthos, which was a three day long festival dedicated specifically to the god Apollo. The problem of acknowledging Sparta was a religious city state would probably be because they did not really have priests. The reason for this was because the people believed the kings to be priest from the gods themselves.