Sunday, November 26, 2006

The expansion of Sparta

We cannot trace in detail the process by which Sparta subjugated the whole of Laconia, but apparently the first step, taken in the reign of Archelaus and Charillus, was to secure the upper Eurotas valley, conquering the border territory of Aegys. Archelaus' son Teleclus is said to have taken Amyclae, Pharis and Geronthrae, thus mastering the central Laconian plain and the eastern plateau which lies between the Eurotas and Mount Parnon: his son, Alcamenes, by the subjugation of Helos, brought the lower Eurotas plain under Spartan rule.

About this time, probably, the Argives, whose territory included the whole east coast of the Peloponnese and the island of Cythera (Herodotus 1.82), were driven back, and the whole of Laconia was thus incorporated in the Spartan state. It was not long before a further extension took place. Under Alcamenes and Theopompus a war broke out between the Spartans and the Messenians, their neighbors on the west, which, after a struggle lasting for twenty years, ended in the subjection of the Messenians, who were forced to pay half the produce of the soil as tribute to their Spartan overlords.

Territory of SpartaAn attempt to throw off the yoke resulted in a second war, conducted by the Messenian hero Aristomenes; but Spartan tenacity broke down the resistance of the insurgents, and Messenia was made Spartan territory, just as Laconia had been, its inhabitants being reduced to the status of helots, save those who, as perioeci, inhabited the towns on the sea-coast and a few settlements inland.

This extension of Sparta's territory was viewed with apprehension by her neighbors in the Peloponnese. Arcadia and Argos had vigorously aided the Messenians in their two struggles, and help was also sent by the Sicyonians, Pisatans and Triphyhans: only the Corinthians appear to have supported the Spartans, doubtless on account of their jealousy of their powerful neighbors, the Argives. At the close of the second Messenian War (no later than 631 BCE), no power could hope to cope with that of Sparta save Arcadia and Argos.

Prehistoric period

Tradition relates that Sparta was founded by Lacedaemon, son of Zeus and Taygete, who called the city after his wife, the daughter of Eurotas. But Amyclae and Therapne (Therapnae) seem to have been in early times of greater importance than Sparta, the former a Minoan foundation a few miles to the south of Sparta, the latter probably the Achaean capital of Laconia and the seat of Menelaus, Agamemnon's younger brother. Eighty years after the Trojan War, according to the traditional chronology, the Dorian migration took place. A band of Dorians united with a body of Aetolians to cross the Corinthian Gulf and invade the Peloponnese from the northwest.

The Aetolians settled in Elis, and the Dorians pushed up to the headwaters of the Alpheus, where they divided into two forces, one of which under Cresphontes invaded and later subdued Messenia, while the other, led by Aristodemus or, according to another version, by his twin sons Eurysthenes and Procles, made its way down the Eurotas valley and gained Sparta, which became the Dorian capital of Laconia.

In reality this Dorian immigration probably consisted of a series of inroads and settlements rather than a single great expedition, as depicted by legend, and was likely aided by the Pelasgian elements in the population, owing to their dislike of the Achaean yoke.

The newly founded state did not at once become powerful: it was weakened by internal dissension and lacked the stability of a united and well-organized community. The turning-point is marked by the legislation of Lycurgus, who unified the state and instituted the training which was its distinguishing feature and the source of its greatness.

Nowhere else in the Greek world was the pleasure of the individual so thoroughly subordinated to the interest of the state. The whole education of the Spartan was designed to make him an efficient soldier. Obedience, endurance, military success—these were the aims constantly kept in view, and beside these all other ends took a secondary place.

It is rare in the world's history that a state has so clearly set a definite ideal before itself or striven so consistently to reach it. But it was solely in this consistency and steadfastness that the greatness of Sparta lay. Some maintain that her ideal was a narrow and unworthy one, and was pursued with a calculating selfishness and a total disregard for the rights of others, which robbed it of the moral worth it might otherwise have possessed. Nevertheless, it is not probable that without the training introduced by Lycurgus the Spartans would have been successful in securing their supremacy in Laconia, much less in the Peloponnese, for they formed a small immigrant band face to face with a large and powerful Achaean and autochthonous population.

According to the Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, the Spartans are the descendants of Abraham.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

History of Sparta

Of the early history of Sparta we rely on very few legends. It is said to have been founded by Lacedaemon, the son of Zeus and Taygete, who married Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas.From Homer we also know that the "koili Lacedaemon" (hollow Lacedaemon), the territory between the mount Taygetos and Parnon, had as king Menelaos, the younger brother of Agamemnon and husband of Helen, which was abducted by Paris to Troy and thus starting the long and painful famous war.

Around 1200 BC, by the marriage of the daughter of Menelaos Ermione with the son of Agamemnon Orestes, the kingdoms of Argos and Sparta were united. The findings from excavations testify that at this time, unlike the later Sparta, a rich culture had developed here.

Around 1100 BC, the Dorians came and conquered the territory (Archaeology favors a date for Dorian settling around 950 BC).Tradition has it, that the Heraclidae brothers, descendants of the hero Hercules, Kresphontes, Temenos and Aristodemos tried to conquer Peloponnese. Aristodemos was hit by lighting and died at Naupactos, leaving behind his twin sons Eyresthenes and Prokles. His brothers crossed the gulf and landed at Achaia. There was a battle with the forces of the monarch of Peloponnese, Tisamenes, and they were victorious. When the Dorian phalanx came in the territory of Lakonia and Messene, it was guided by Kresphontes, who inhabited the rich plain of Pamesos. There was a constant quarrel between the Dorian chiefs, Kresphontes and Theras, to share the territory.

Theras, the brother of Aristodemos wife, who was guardian to her twin children after the death of her husband, wanted to take the rich Messene, but Kresphontes and his brother Temenos, who was ruling Argos, played a trick on him. They arranged to throw in the water two small tiles, with the names of Kresphontes and Theras written on them and the one which would surface in the water, would win Messene, the other the less rich Laconia.Kresphontes tile was baked in the fire, while Theras was left in the sun and when both were thrown into the water, Theras tile went to the bottom and Kresphontes tile floated and thus he took Messene.During Sparta's history, the habitation center in the Eurotas valley had changed many times, but the Dorian city which was comprised from five villages, occupied the territory of today's city of Sparta. We know only the names of the four, Pitane, Limnai, Mesoa, Kinosoura. The fifth was probably the conglomeration of the villages, which Spartans conquered later, Pilane, Selacia, Aigitida, Phari, Amikles.

Sparta in the 8th and 7th century BC was open to foreigners. She had good relations with Samos, which helped her in the war with Messenia, and also with Cyprus, Rhodes, Cyrene, etc. She was a highly cultured city, with her own architects, who build the famous temple, the brazen house of Athena. The arts were highly developed with celebrated sculptors in wood, potters, metal workers, weavers, leather workers, many of them foreigners. Spartan musicians, dancers and singers were renowned. Sparta was also famous for the purple dyed clothes. From 720 BC to 576 BC, she had 46 Olympic winners out of 81 total victors. But during the 6th century the arts progressively started to decline. Lykurgos laws eventually strained Sparta.


776 BC

Lykurgos was the son of the king Eumenos. After the death of his father, his older brother Polydektes took the throne. Not much later, he also died and Lykurgos became king. The widow of his brother, an ambitious and unhesitating woman, offered him to marry her and kill her unborn child. Lykurgos, knowing her character and being afraid for the life of the child, pretended to accept her offer. He said to her to bear the child and he would disappear it, as soon as the child was born. But when the time came, he took the infant boy at the Agora, proclaimed him king of the Spartans and gave him the name Charilaos (Joy of the people). When the widow learned what happened, she started plotting against Lykurgos, who left Sparta in order to avoid bloodshed.

He first went to Crete and then to Asia and Egypt and later to Libya, Spain and India. In every country that he visited, he studied their civilization, history and constitutions.

After many years Lykurgos returned to Greece and visited Delphi to question the oracle, if the constitution he had prepared to apply in Sparta was good and received approval with the answer that "he was more God than man". He then returned home and found his nephew Charilaos, a grown man and king of Sparta.

In order to persuade the Spartans to accept his laws, which demanded a lot of sacrifices, he bred two small puppies, the one indoors with a variety of foods and the other he trained it for hunting. He then gathered the people and showed them that the untrained dog was completely useless.

But if Lykurgos succeeded to persuade the poor people, he did little for the rich, who tried everything to oppose him. One of them, a youth named Alkander, in the Agora tried to hit him with his stuff and when Lykurgos turned his head, he was hit in the eye and lost it. Lykurgos did not prosecute him, but took him as his servant, giving him the opportunity to discover his character. Indeed Alkander became later a devoted disciple.

When his laws were accepted, he made Spartans swear that they would not be changed until he returns and left again.

He never came back, making sure that his laws would not change. He died at Delphi and according to some in Crete and it is said that before his death, he asked his body to be burned and the remains to be scattered in the wind. Lykurgos thus did not permit even his dead body to return.

The Constitution

The hard fought Messenian wars would not have been won, without the legislation of Lykurgos, which most of all targeted the discipline and inuring to hardships of the citizens.According to the rettra or combact, which Lykurgos brought from Delphi, the Spartan Senate (Gerousia) was consisted from twenty eight men, at least 60 years old, elected for life and the two kings. A hundred years later, when the Gerousia became tyrannical, was dismantled and they were replaced by five Ephors (overseers).He also arranged for periodical assemblies of the Spartan people (Apella), for people over 30 years old, in the area between the river Knakion and the bridge Babyka, though they did not vote, nor were permitted to discuss the issues, but only accept or reject them loudly.Lykurgos, in order to avoid strife in the city, he managed to persuade the people to give their land property and then he divided it in equal shares. He also assigned equal lots of land to the Perioikoi.In other laws, he forbade the use of money in gold and silver and in their place issued iron money, too heavy and of very little value. Also Spartans were not permitted to build their houses with other tools, except the axe and the saw. The unwritten laws of Lykurgos most of all targeted eunomia (good application of the laws), but at the same time they had the seeds of aggressiveness. In a period of few years after they came in use, Sparta conquered almost all of Laconia. The important city of Amyklai, after a long desperate siege was captured around 750 BC, but its people were treated well.