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Spartania: How the Spartans Shaped the World of Ancient Greece

Spartania: The Ancient City-State of Warriors

If you are interested in ancient history, you have probably heard of Sparta, the city-state that was famous for its military prowess and fierce culture. But did you know that Sparta was also known as Spartania, or Lacedaemon, in antiquity? In this article, we will explore the fascinating history, society, and legacy of this legendary civilization that shaped the course of Western civilization.


What was Spartania?

Spartania was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece that existed from the 10th century BC to the 2nd century BC. It was one of the most powerful and influential states in the Greek world, especially during the Classical period (5th-4th centuries BC), when it led the Greek resistance against the Persian invasions and fought a long war with its rival Athens.


Where was Spartania located?

Spartania was located in the region of Laconia, in the south-eastern Peloponnese. It was built on the banks of the Eurotas River, which provided it with fresh water and fertile land. The valley of the Eurotas was a natural fortress, surrounded by mountains on both sides: Mount Taygetus to the west and Mount Parnon to the east. To the north, Laconia was separated from Arcadia by another mountain range. To the south, Laconia had access to the sea through several ports.

How did Spartania become a military power?

Spartania emerged as a political entity in the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians conquered the local population and established their rule. The Dorians were a warlike people who brought with them a new culture and language. They divided the land among themselves and formed a ruling class of citizens called Spartiates. The original inhabitants were either enslaved as helots or reduced to a subordinate status as perioikoi.

The constant threat of rebellion by the helots forced the Spartiates to develop a strict military system and a harsh way of life. They devoted themselves to physical training and warfare, and followed a code of honor and discipline. They also created a unique constitution that balanced monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The government consisted of two kings, who led the army and performed religious duties; a council of elders, who advised the kings and judged legal cases; an assembly of citizens, who voted on major issues; and five ephors, who supervised the administration and education.

The Social System and Constitution of Spartania

Who were the Spartiates, Perioikoi, and Helots?

The society of Spartania was divided into three main groups: the Spartiates, the perioikoi, and the helots. The Spartiates were the full citizens who had political rights and military obligations. They owned land but did not work on it; instead, they lived in communal barracks and ate at public mess halls. They were expected to serve in the army until they were 60 years old. They wore simple red cloaks and carried iron bars as money. They valued courage, loyalty, and austerity above all else.

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The perioikoi were the free non-citizens who lived in villages around Laconia. They were mainly farmers, craftsmen, traders, and sailors. They paid taxes and provided goods and services to the Spartiates. They had no political rights but enjoyed some autonomy and prosperity. They also served in the army as light infantry or naval forces.

The helots were the enslaved population who worked on the land of the Spartiates. They were mostly descendants of the original inhabitants of Laconia and Messenia, another region that Spartania conquered in the 8th century BC. They were treated harshly and brutally by their masters, who feared their revolt. They had no rights or freedoms and lived in constant fear and oppression. They were forced to wear animal skins and give half of their produce to the Spartiates. They were also subjected to annual humiliation and violence by the Spartan youth, who were encouraged to kill them as a test of their courage.

What was the role of women in Spartania?

Women in Spartania had a different status and role than women in other Greek city-states. They were not confined to the domestic sphere, but enjoyed a degree of freedom and education. They did not participate in politics or warfare, but they managed the household and the estates in the absence of their husbands. They also had the right to inherit and own property, which was rare in ancient Greece.

Women in Spartania were expected to be strong, healthy, and fit, just like men. They received physical training and education from a young age, and participated in athletic competitions and festivals. They wore short dresses that exposed their legs, which was considered scandalous by other Greeks. They also had a reputation for being outspoken and witty, and often engaged in public debates with men.

Women in Spartania were valued for their role as mothers of future warriors. They were married at a relatively late age, around 18 or 20, to men who were usually much older. They had to undergo a ritual haircut and dress as men on their wedding night, which was meant to ease the transition from celibacy to marriage. They were encouraged to bear as many children as possible, especially sons, who would serve in the army. They also raised their daughters to be strong and independent, and their sons to be loyal and brave.

How did the Spartans train and fight?

The Spartans were renowned for their military skill and discipline. They trained from a young age to become professional soldiers who lived for war. At the age of seven, boys were taken from their families and enrolled in a state-sponsored education system called the agoge. There, they learned reading, writing, music, poetry, and history, but also endured harsh physical training, survival skills, hunting, stealth, and combat techniques. They lived in communal barracks with their peers, who formed lifelong bonds of friendship and loyalty. They were taught to obey orders without question, to endure pain without complaint, and to fight without fear.

The Spartans fought as hoplites, heavily armed infantrymen who wore bronze helmets, breastplates, greaves, and shields. They carried long spears and short swords as weapons. They fought in a tight formation called the phalanx, where they moved as one unit and protected each other with their shields. The phalanx was an effective tactic that gave them an advantage over their enemies.

The Spartans were famous for their courage and determination on the battlefield. They never retreated or surrendered, even when outnumbered or outmatched. They believed that death in battle was the highest honor for a warrior, and that living in shame was worse than dying. They had a motto: "With your shield or on it", meaning that they would either return victorious or dead.

The Rise and Fall of Spartania

How did Spartania lead the Greek resistance against Persia?

In the 5th century BC, Spartania faced its greatest challenge: the invasion of the Persian Empire, which was the largest and most powerful empire in the world at that time. The Persians wanted to conquer Greece as part of their expansion plan, but they met fierce resistance from the Greeks, who valued their freedom and independence.

Spartania played a crucial role in leading the Greek resistance against Persia. In 480 BC, a small force of 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas made a heroic stand at the narrow pass of Thermopylae against a massive Persian army led by King Xerxes. Although they were eventually overwhelmed by sheer numbers, they inflicted heavy casualties on the Persians and delayed their advance long enough for the other Greeks to prepare their defenses.

In 479 BC, Spartania joined forces with Athens and other Greek city-states to form a united front against Persia. The Spartan general Pausanias commanded a large army of hoplites that defeated the Persians at the decisive battle of Plataea, while the Athenian adm iral Themistocles led a fleet of triremes that routed the Persians at the naval battle of Salamis. These victories marked the end of the Persian threat to Greece and the beginning of the golden age of Greek civilization.



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