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.