Sunday, November 26, 2006

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.