Spartan Culture during the Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian war is the war that was fought between major nations in the ancient Sparta, Greece and Athens. The fighting engulfed almost the entire Greek nations and it was considered to be one of the world’s famous wars that have held so much significance in the history of war. There are various authors and scholars who have strong opinions on the Spartan culture.
The Spartans have a reputation of creating war everywhere they go. Sparta’s entire culture focused on war and along dedication to service, discipline and precision. Through this, they were able to have a higher hand over the Greek civilizations thus allowing Sparta to dominate Greece in the fifth century B.C. The kings of Sparta were in charge of a community with very little interests in artistic and intellectual affairs .
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The Athenian view of Sparta oscillated between admiration and fear, according to whether their warlike neighbors were allies or enemies. An efficient military machine in almost every other respect, war was only unthinkable during the festivities dedicated to Apollo Carneus. These were celebrated every summer, sometimes in full campaign season, and it was considered impious to interrupt them.
Throughout history, mothers have wept in seeing their sons set out for war; Spartan women, however, developed another ritual, aimed at preventing the humiliation that would befall them if their son wavered in the line of duty. Plutarch records Spartan mothers handing the shield to their sons, with the exhortation: Either with this or upon this either return with the shield, victorious; or return lying on it, dead. In relation to the role of women in Sparta, this was a significant role they had to take part in and it is highly regarded.
The Peloponnesian War is not an isolated incident in the social and military history of ancient Greece. It is better understood as the most spectacular example of a bloody internecine instinct that plagued Hellas throughout most of its history. In the absence of the generalized threat posed by the Great King’s army, the grand alliance that successfully had repulsed the Persian juggernaut in 480 to 479 BC soon began to unravel. Spurred by Athenian adventurism, the Greeks quickly reverted to their traditional jealousies and hatreds. An obvious impact of the Athenian plague was a significant depletion of the city’s human resources .
Unlike modern war, in which technologic superiority can negate numerical advantage, in antiquity the gods tended to favor those with the largest battalions. The fact that Athens stubbornly continued its resistance for more than 20 years after the disease had subsided should not be construed as evidence of the plague’s inconsequence. It is better explained by the remarkable tenacity and resourcefulness of the Athenian people despite a substantial decrease in armed forces.
Although it would be too much to argue that Athens’ fate in the Peloponnesian War was predetermined from the outset by the plague, it is reasonable to assume the Athenians were placed demographically at a critical disadvantage against Peloponnesian opponents, who Thucydides describes as remaining virtually untouched by the epidemic. Perhaps the most significant and telling impact of the plague was its effects on the quality of political leadership at Athens.
Spartans Lived in a world where the golden age of democracy out of Athens was starting to take hold, Sparta was totalitarian with shades of oligarchy and democracy sprinkled throughout they were ruled by a dual king system. These rulers had to act in harmony and could not overrule a veto from the other king. These kings were in charge of the military and religious and judicial affairs . At home publicly elected Ephors controlled both domestic and foreign policy. Sparta was a highly controlled city-state. Everything was strictly controlled by the Oligarchic segment of the government. The government of Sparta made sure you married, had children, had your hair the correct length and even when you were allowed to have a tombstone.
Sparta has been known as a utopia of militaristic society. The Spartans becoming such a military juggernaut didn’t just start when a youth enrolled in the military. A child was groomed his entire life to grow into a warrior hero; the kind of hero that would become legend in the world’s histories. They concentrated on both physical fitness and mental fitness and from the age seven till eighteen, they were in a specialized secluded educational system. It was a process that began at birth and ruled the lives of children till after they married.
From birth till the age of seven a child lived with their parents. The child was raised by the family nurse to overcome its fears as a child. During the day the child accompanied their father to the dining halls or “Syssitia” as a way to learn Spartan culture. The Syssitia was equivalent to a military mess today, but differed in that at the age of 20 you had to apply for and be accepted to one, and that you were required to attend it daily unless there was a good excuse (performing a sacrifice, being on a hunt). Children didn’t wear any shoes as a way to harden their feet and make them move faster . They only owned one garment per year as a way to toughen them to the elements and were never fed extravagant meals
By 600 BCE Sparta had conquered her neighbors in the southern half of the Peloponnese. The vanquished people, called Helots, were required to do all of the agricultural work on land owned by the victors, making Sparta self-sufficient in food and ruler of a slave population seven or eight times as large. Spartan marriages were arranged by the parents with little thought for the preferences of the prospective bride or groom, but if Spartan women had no say in the choice of husband they certainly had more power and status in every other respect.
They married at age eighteen, much later than other Greeks. Presumably this was to guarantee healthier and stronger babies rather than a large number, but it meant that most girls were emotionally stronger when they married. Women could own property and did in fact own more than a third of the land in Sparta and they could dispose of it as they wished. Daughters inherited along with sons. Unfortunately, when we get down to the particulars there are some gaps in our knowledge.
Attempts were made to get rid of the practice of needing a dowry to get married. It is possible that endeavors by fathers to get around the law have led to considerable confusion in our eyes as to what was a gift and what was a dowry. Daughters may have inherited half of what a son inherited; it is also possible that if you combine dowry with inheritance they ended up with a full share of the estate.
Spartan women had a reputation for boldness and licentiousness that other Greeks found unseemly. Women’s tunics were worn in such a way as to give them a little more freedom of movement and the opportunity to reveal a little leg and thigh if they so desired. Spartan girls competed in athletics at the same time as the boys and may have done so in the nude before a mixed audience. Plutarch mentions nude rituals witnessed by young men. The end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries BCE saw a decline in the number of men relative to women. Several men might share a wife and regard the children as their own. The woman would clearly be the dominant member of any such family.
The laws of Sparta were developed and written by Lycurgus, a legendary lawmaker who, in the 7th century BCE reorganized the political and social structure of the polis, transforming it into a strictly disciplined and collective society. He also developed the stringent military academy, where Spartan boys were trained from childhood to adulthood.
The law reforms of Lycurgus also included certain rules and allowances for Spartan women . Though these rules made it seem that Spartan women were freer than your average Greek female, they were actually implemented in order to ensure that Spartan society progressed as disciplined, powerful, and threatening. Spartan women were seen as the vehicle by which Sparta constantly advanced
Spartan women were known for their natural beauty, and that they were forbidden from wearing any kind of makeup or enhancements. Spartan women were afforded a public education as well. This was very radical – other Greek girls were not formally educated. They could not, however, use their education to have careers or earn money. Their income likely came from land holdings that either they or their families were given through a public land distribution program. Land ownership for women in the Greek world was certainly unheard of .
As part of a Spartan girl’s education, she would have been permitted to exercise outdoors, unclothed, like the Spartan boys, which was impossible in the rest of the Greek world. Not only would men and women not have been naked in public together, but a proper Greek woman would not usually set foot out of doors, other than to perhaps collect water from the cistern! Yet Spartan women not only exercised, they also participated in athletics, competing in events like footraces.
Athens was forced to dismantle its empire. The war however, was not decisive, because within a decade, the defeated city had regained its strength. The significance of the conflict is that the divided Greeks could not prevent the Persian Empire from recovering their Asian possessions. Besides, this violent quarter of a century had important social, economic, and cultural consequences.
`The reasons for this war are sometimes traced back as far as the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes, which Sparta always opposed . However, the more immediate reason for the war was Athenian control of the Delian League, the vast naval alliance that allowed it to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. By 454 BC, when the League’s treasury was transferred to Athens, the alliance had become an empire in all but name. Over the next two decades it began treating its fellow members as ruled subjects rather than partners, and fought several short wars to force members who wanted to leave the League to rejoin it.
In 433 BC, when Athens signed a treaty of mutual protection with Corcyra (modern-day Corfu) – one of the few other city-states with a major navy of its own – Sparta and its allies interpreted the move as an act of provocation. A year later Sparta cancelled its peace treaty with Athens. Then in 431 BC a contingent of soldiers from Thebes, Sparta’s ally, tried to seize control of a town called Potidaea. Caught and imprisoned, the townspeople put all 200 members of the advanced party to death. When a messenger from Athens arrived the next day to persuade the town against such a rash act, it was too late. The war had begun.
Motherhood is the natural role of a woman (it is her function to reproduce and care for offspring and thus prolonging a family) and it seems to be a norm for all mothers to endeavor to excellence of their child, still the particular emphasis on the Spartan to be a mother is placed in the Sayings. The role of her is unique because she brings into life as has been said by
The Spartan mother’s priority is the city-state. Therefore, she utterly accepts the deaths of her sons in the name of the fatherland, in the honorable Spartan woman’s framework of values, her sons give her a reason to be proud by behaving properly. Men preferred to have sons because giving birth to male offspring would give her a stronger position in the new family. Sayings and the Lives present as common is care for legitimate children, the role the mother plays in the socialization of her son, in supporting his ambitions and in guarding customs and laws. All of these, in my view, are a kind of cross-cultural notion.
The main differences are that in the Sayings mothers represent the warrior code, generally are ‘un-canny’ in their attitude to sons and devoted their sons’ lives to war, when in the Lives mothers represent the political code, express their maternal love and their devotion.89 Therefore, it is easily observed that some traits of the heroic characters of females were no longer present in their image of Hellenistic times. However, the Spartan reality must have been more complex.
There existed a kind of exclusion of cowards from society, but undoubtedly there was no practice of killing sons by mothers. Women were not as liberated as the sources suggest and surely they did not rule the men. It must be remembered that the whole discussion is concerning elite and royal Spartan motherhood being a service to the state, part of his motivation being a wish to show putative similarities between the textual models of perfect Spartan mother and perfect Roman mother .
Every Spartan man was enlisted, and they were feared around the world. Sparta did away with city walls, believing its men strong enough to make walls useless. It was the only country that Alexander the Great saw and left unconquered—and he never even had the courage to march his men into their land. Spartan men were warriors because Spartan boys suffered through some absolutely incredible experiences. A child raised in Sparta wasn’t raised by his mother. He was raised by the state, and he was put through an education unlike any other in history
Mothers didn’t get to take care of their children for long. As soon as a boy turned seven, he was considered ready for education, known as the agoge, and he left his parents for the care of a teacher called a “warden.” Life in the agoge wasn’t easy. The children would be actively encouraged to haze and provoke each other and even to challenge each other to fights. This wasn’t a school where teacher maintained the peace; if two kids were bickering, the warden would goad them into resolving it with their fists.
Spartan warriors were the best of the best. There is a reason why Sparta was one of the most powerful cities in Ancient Greece, and it all came down to their army. They were feared around the ancient world. And in their home city, there were no walls, as Spartans believed their warriors are strong enough to defeat every wall. Sparta was the only city in Ancient Greece that Alexander the Great never conquered.
Some ancient records state that half of the babies in Sparta died. Not all babies were given a fair chance for living. Weak children were given no chance. More often than not, weak children were born, and if there was any sign of illness or deformity, the boy was left to die on its own, or even killed. For Spartans, killing was part of their culture. The boys were getting ready for battle by beating up slaves.
Sparta was a very unique civilization especially for the time period. Unfortunately there are not many records or traces to defined, specific things that occurred during the time period so it is almost like a puzzle trying to piece everything together to understand how they lived and what they were thinking. Sparta was very war-oriented and this caused a lot of problems at home especially with the women in the culture and how the children were raised. If there was a civilization like this today, then they would definitely draw a lot of attention and people may not really understand them just as we still do not really understand ancient Sparta.