Sparta began as a small city state with five villages. It later grew into a larger one by first gobbling up surrounding villages and then conquering neighboring large states and eventually claiming nearly all the Peloponnese, and enslaving many of the people that lived there to acquire land. By 650 B.C., Sparta was one of the most powerful city-states in Greece. Admired and feared, it was ruled by a warrior caste and employed a full-time army that was created to quell revolts but was later used in military campaigns of conquest.
Sparta subjugated an area of the western Peloponnese and forced its people to become Sparta's “helots” , or serfs. By some estimates the helots outnumbered Spartans by 10 to 1. The Messenians, who greatly outnumbered Spartans, once revolted only to be brutally put down by the Spartans. After that the Spartans vowed to never let a similar situation occur again and established a totalitarian state.
Sparta controlled more territory than any other city-state. It became so powerful that the only way it could be controlled was through alliances formed by the major Greek powers — Argos, Athens, Corinth and Thebes. Sparta eventually crumbled in 362 B.C., when its army was defeated by the Thebians at the great Battle of Mantinea.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: Sparta was “an ancient city in Greece, the capital of Laconia and the most powerful state of the Peloponnese. The city lay at the northern end of the central Laconian plain, on the right bank of the river Eurotas, a little south of tbe point where it is joined by its largest tributary, the Oenus (mod. Kelefina). The site is admirably fitted by nature to guard the only routes by which an army can penetrate Laconia from the land side, the Oenus and Eurotas valleys leading from Arcadia, its northern neighbour, and the Langada Pass over Mt Taygetus connecting Laconia and Messenia. At the same time its distance from the sea-Sparta is 27 meters. from its seaport, Gythium-made it invulnerable to a maritime attack.” [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
Contrasting the austerity of Sparta (Lacedaemon) to the rich artistic scene in Athens, Thucydides wrote at the end of the fifth century B.C. in “The Peloponnesian War,” Book 1:1:“I suppose if Lacedaemon (Sparta) were to become desolate, and the temples and the foundations of the public buildings were left, that as time went on there would be a strong disposition with posterity to refuse to accept her fame as a true exponent for her power. … [A]s the city is neither built in a compact form nor adorned with magnificent temples and public edifices, but composed of villages, after the old fashion of Hellas, there would be an impression of inadequacy. Whereas, if Athens were to suffer the same misfortune, I suppose that any inference from the appearance presented to the eye would make her power to have been twice as great as it is."
Categories with related articles in this website: Ancient Greek History (48 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Greek Art and Culture (21 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Greek Life, Government and Infrastructure (29 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Greek and Roman Religion and Myths (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy and Science (33articles) factsanddetails.com; Ancient Persian, Arabian, Phoenician and Near East Cultures (26 articles) factsanddetails.com
Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu
Early Semi-Legendary History of the Spartans
Spartan swordman According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “Tradition relates that Sparta was founded by Lacedaemon, son of Zeus and Taygete, who called the city after the name of 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 Minyan foundation a few miles to the south of Spartaj 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 (q.v.) united with a body of Aetolians to cross the Corinthian Gulf and invade the Peloponnese from the northwest. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
The Aetolians settled in Elis, 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 re as new settlements are formed and land brought under valley and gained Sparta, which became the Dorian capital of Laconia. In :reality this Dorian immigration rather than a single great expedition, as depicted by legend, and was aided by the Minyan 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 wellorganised community. The turningpoint is marked by the legislation of Lycurgus (q.v.), who effected the unification of the state and instituted that training which was its distinguishing featute 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 canstantly kept in view, and beside these all other ends took a secondary place. Never, perhaps, in the world's history has a state 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. 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.”
Spartan Origins Myth
Spartan shield (425 BC) Pausanias wrote: (c. A.D. 160): “According to the tradition of the Lacedaemonians [Spartans] themselves, Lelex, an aboriginal, was the first king in this land, after whom his subjects were named Leleges. Lelex had a son Myles, and a younger one, Polycaon.... On the death of Myles, his son Eurotas succeeded to the throne... Having no male issue he left the kingdom to Lacedaemon, whose mother was Taygete, after whom the mountain was named, while according to report his father was none other than Zeus. Lacedaemon (Sparta) was wedded to Sparta, a daughter of Eurotas. When he came to the throne, he first changed the names of the land and its inhabitants, calling them after himself, and next he founded and named after his wife a city, which even down to our own day has been called Sparta. Amyclas, too, son of Lacedaemon, wished to leave some memorial behind him, and built a town in Laconia. Hyacinthus , the youngest and most beautiful of his sons, died before his father, and his tomb is in Amyclae below the image of Apollo....
“On the return of the Heracleidai in the reign of Tisamenus, son of Orestes, both districts, Messene and Argos, had kings put over them; Argos had Temenos and Messene had Cresphontes. In Lacedaemon, as the sons of Aristodemus were twins, there arose two royal houses; for they say that the Pythian Priestess approved. Tradition has it that Aristodemus himself died at Delphi before the Dorians returned to the Peloponnesus, but those who glorify his fate assert that he was shot by Apollo for not going to the oracle, having learned from Heracles, who met him before he arrived there, that the Dorians would make this return to the Peloponnesus. But the more correct account is that Aristodemus was murdered by the sons of Pylades and Electra, who were cousins of Tisamenus, son of Orestes. (7) The names given to the sons of Aristodemus were Procles and Eurysthenes, and although they were twins they were bitter enemies.”
Lycurgus and the Great Rhetra
Lycurgus was the quasi-legendary lawgiver of Sparta who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.Plutarch wrote in “Life of Lycurgus of Sparta”: “So eager was Lycurgus for the establishment of this form of government, that he obtained an oracle from Delphi about it, which they call a 'rhetra'. And this is the way it runs: ‘“When thou has built a temple to Zeus Syllanius and Athena Syllania, divided the people into phylai, and divided them into 'obai', and established a Gerousia of thirty including the Archagetai, then from time to time 'appellazein' between Babyka and Knakion, and there introduce and repeal measures; but the Demos must have the decision and the power. In these clauses, the phylai and obai refer to divisions and distributions of the people into parts, some of which are named clans and others obes. By Archagetai the Kings are meant, and 'appellazein' means 'to assemble' the people, and that the beginning and cause of the constitution was the Pythian. [Source: Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus of Sparta 6, CSUN]
“The Babyka is now called Cheimarros, and the Knakion the Oineus; but Aristotle says that the Knakion is a river and Babyka is a bridge. Between these they held their assemblies, having neither halls nor any other kind of building for the purpose. For thus Lycurgus thought that good counsel (eubouleia) was not promoted, but rather discouraged, since the serious purposes of an assembly were rendered foolish and futile by vain thoughts, as they gazed upon statues, and paintings, or scenic embellishments ('proscenia of theaters'), or extravagantly decorated roofs of Bouleuteria. When the multitude was assembled thus, no one of them was permitted to make a motion, but the motion laid before them by the Gerontes and Kings could be accepted or rejected by the Demos.
“Later, however, when the Demos, by additions and subtractions perverted and distorted the sense of motions laid before them, the Kings Polydoros and Theopompos inserted the following clause in the Rhetra: ‘But if the Demos should choose badly, the Gerontes and Kings shall be 'apostateres' That is, the should not ratify the vote, but dismiss and dissolve the Assembly outright, on the ground that it was perverting and changing the motion contrary to the best interests of the state.
“And they were actually able to persuade the city that the God authorized this addition to the Rhetra, as Tyrtaeus recalls in these verses:
Phoebus Apollo's the mandate was which they brought from Pytho
Voicing the will of the God, nor were his words unfulfilled:
Sway in the Boule and divine honors belong to the Kings
Under whose care has been set Sparta's city of charm;
Second to them are the Gerontes, and then come the men of the people
duly confirming the straight rhetrai.
Kings and Ephors of Sparta
754/3 Elatos Plutarch Lycurgus 7
-?- Asteropos Plutarch Cleomenes 10
556/5, or 555/4 Chilon Diogenes Laertius I. 68
[not Eponymous] The Suda, s.v. 'ephoroi'
before 433/2 (?)* Autokrates IG V.1.1229
before 433/2 (?)* Daiochos IG V.1.1228
before 433/2 (?)* Aristeus IG V.1.1230; 213
before 433/2 (?)* Echemenes IG V.1.213
before 433/2 (?)* Euippos IG V.1.1228
2nd half of V. Ekprepes Plutarch Agis 10
433/2 Sthenelaidas ? Thucydides I. 85; 8.5
Pausanias V. 3.7 & 11
432/1 Ainesias Thucydides II.2
Xenophon Hellenika II. 3. 10
431/30 Brasidas Xenophon, ibid.
430/29 Isanor Xenophon, ibid.
429/8 Sostratidas Xenophon, ibid.
428/7 Exarchos Xenophon, ibid.
427/6 Hagesistratos Xenophon, ibid.
IG V. 1. 1231
426/5 Angenidas Xenophon, ibid.
425/4 Onomakles Xenophon, ibid.
424/3 Zeuxippos Xenophon, ibid.
423/2 Pityas Xenophon, ibid.
Akanthos Xenophon, ibid.
Thucydides V. 19, 24
Xenares Xenophon ibid.
Thucydides V. 36, 46
420/19 Barchos Xenophon, ibid.
419/8 Leon Xenophon, ibid.
418/7 Charilas Xenophon, ibid.
417/6 Patesiadas Xenophon, ibid.
416/5 Kleosthenes Xenophon, ibid.
415/4 Lukarios Xenophon, ibid.
414/3 Eperatos Xenophon, ibid.
Endios Xenophon, ibid.
Thucydides VIII. 6
412/11 Alexippidas Xenophon, ibid.
411/10 Misgolaidas Xenophon, ibid.
410/09 Isias Xenophon, ibid.
409/8 Arakos Xenophon, ibid.
408/7 Eucharippos Xenophon, ibid.
407/6 Pantakles Xenophon, ibid.
406/5 Pityas Xenophon, ibid.
Plutarch Lysander 17
Naukleidas Xenophon, Hellenika II. 3.10; II. 4. 36
and 400/399 Thuionidas
Phelidas IG V. I. 1564
[not Eponymous] Plutarch Agesilaus 17
and 361 Lakratidas Plutarch Lysander 30
[not Eponymous] Xenophon Hellenika VI. 4.2
Plutarch Agesilaus 28
[not Eponymous] Plutarch Agesilaus 32
[not Eponymous] Plutarch Moralia 192B, 217F
330/29 Eteokles Plutarch Moralia 235B
Aelian Varia Historica 11. 7
IV. cent. Eudamidas IG V. 1. 1232
IV. cent. Eumelidas IG V. 1. 1233
IV. cent. Epidateus
[not Eponymous] Plutarch Agis 5 [Source: Paul Poralla, Prosopographie der Lakedaimonier (1913) 168-169; Alan E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology (München 1972) 240-41, CSUN]
Herodotus on the Kings of Sparta
On the Kings of Sparta, Herodotus wrote in :”Histories”, Book VI (c. 430 B.C.): “These are the royal rights which have been given by the Spartans to their kings, namely, two priesthood---of Zeos Sparta and Zeos Uranios---and the right of making war against whatsoever land they please, and that no man of the Spartans shall hinder this right, or if he do, he shall be subject to the curse; and that when they go on expeditions the kings shall go out first and return last; that a hundred picked men shall be their guard upon expeditions; and that they shall use in their goings forth to war as many cattle as they desire, and take both the hides and the backs of all that are sacrificed. These are their privileges in war, and in peace moreover things have been assigned to them as follows: if any sacrifice is performed at the public charge, it is the privilege of the kings to sit down to the feast before all other, and that the attendants shall begin with them first, and serve to each of them a portion of everything double of that which is given to the other guests, and that they shall have the first pouring of libations and the hides of the animals slain in sacrifice; that on every new moon and seventh day of the month there shall be delivered at the public charge to each one of these a full-grown victim in the temple of Apollo, and a measure of barley-groats and a Spartan "quarter" of wine; and at all the games they shall have seats of honor specially set apart for them. [Source: Herodotus, “The History of the Persian Wars, Book VI, ''56-60 Fred Fling, ed., “A Source Book of Greek History,” Heath, 1907, pp. 63-66, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University].
“The kings alone give decision on the following cases only, that is to say, about the maiden who inherits her father's property, namely who ought to have her, if her father have not betrothed her to anyone, and about public ways; also if any man desires to adopt a son, he must do it in presence of the kings: and it is ordained that they shall sit in council with the elders, who are in number twenty-eight, and if they do not come, those of the elders who are most closely related to them shall have the privileges of the kings and give two votes besides their own, making three in all.
“These rights have been assigned to the kings for their lifetime by the Spartan state; and after they are dead horsemen go round and announce that which has happened throughout the whole of the Spartan land, and in the city women go about and strike upon a copper kettle. Whenever this happens so, two free persons of each household must go into mourning, a man and a woman, and for those who fail to do this great penalties are prescribed.... a certain number of the perioiki are compelled to go to the funeral ceremony: and when there have been gathered together of these and of the helots and of the Spartans themselves many thousands in the same place, with their women intermingled, they beat their foreheads with a good will and make lamentation without stint, saying that this one who had died last of their kings has been killed in war, they prepare an image to represent him, laid upon a couch with fair coverings, and carry it out to be buried. Then after they have buried him, no assembly is held among them for ten days, nor is there any meeting for choice of magistrates, but they have mourning during these days.
“When the king is dead and another is appointed king, this king who is newly coming in sets free any man of the Spartans who was a debtor to the king or to the state; while among the Persians the king who comes to the throne remits to all the cities the arrears of tribute which are due.”
Expansion of Sparta
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “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 Mt Parnon: his son, Alcamenes, by the subjugation of Helos this time, probably, the Argives, whose territory induded the whole east coast of the Peloponnese and the island of Cythera (Herod. i. 82), were driven back, and the whole of Laconia was thus incorporated in the Spartan state. It was not long before a further :exaension took place. Under Alcamenes and Theopompus a war broke out between the Spartans and the Messenians, their neighbours on the west, which, after a struggle lasting for twenty years, ended in the capture of the stronghold of Ithome and the subjection of the Messenians, who were forced to pay half the produce of the soil as tribute to their Spartan overlords. An attempt to throw off the yoke resulted in a second war, cohducted by the Messenian hero Aristomenes (q.v.); 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, inbabited the towns on the seacoast and a few settlements inland. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“This extension of Sparta's territory was viewed with apprehension by her neighbours 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 Triphylians: only the Corirlthians appeared to have supported the Spartans, doubtless on account of their jealousy of their powerful neighbours, the Argives. At the close of the second Messenian War, i.e. by the war 631 at latest, no power could hope to cope with that of Sparta save Arcadia and Argos. Early in the 6th century the Spartan kings Leon and Agasicles made a vigorous attack on Tegea, the most powerful of the Arcadian cities, but it was not until the reign of Anaxandridas and Ariston, about tbe middle of the century, that the attack was successful and Tegea was forced to acknowledge Spartan overlordship, though retaining its independence. The final struggle for Peloponnesian supremacy was with Argos, which had at an early period been the most powerful state of the peninsula, and even now, though its territory had been curtailed, was a serious rival of Sparta. But Argos was now no longer at the height of its power: its league had begun to break up early in the century, and it could not in the impending struggle w count on the assistance of its old allies, Arcadia and Messenia, since the latter had been crushed and robbed of its independence and the former had acknowledged Spartan supremacy.
“A victory won about 546 B.C., when the Lydian Empire fell before Cyrus of Persia, made the Spartans masters of the Cynuria, the borderland between Laconia and Argolis, for which there had been an agelong struggle. The final blow was struck by King Cleomenes I. (q.v.), who maintained for many years to come the Argive power and left Sparta without a rival in the Peloponnese. In fact, by the middle of the 6th century, and increasingly down to the period of the Persian Wars, Sparta had come to be acknowledged as the leading state of Hellas and the champion of Hellenism. Croesus of Lydia had formed an alliance with her. Scythian envoys sought her aid to stem the invasion of Darius; to her the Greeks of Asia Minor appealed to withstand the Persian advance and to aid the Ionian revolt; Plataea asked for her protection; Megara acknowledged her supremacy.”
At the time of the Persian invasion under Xerxes no state questioned Sparta’s “right to lead the Greek forces on land and sea. Of such a position Sparta proved herself wholly unworthy. As an ally she was ineffective, nor could she ever rid herself of her narrowly Peloponnesian outlook sufficiently to throw herself heartily into the affairs of the greater Hellas that lay beyond the isthmus and across the sea. She was not a colonizing state, though the inhabitants of Tarentum, in southern Italy, and of Lyttus, in Crete, claimed her as their mothercity. Moreover, she had no share in the expansion of Greek commerce and Greek culture; and, though she bore the reputation of hating tyrants and putting them down where possible, there can be little doubt that this was done in the interests of oligarchy rather than of liberty. Her military greatness and that of the states under her hegemony formed her sole claim to lead the Greek race: that she should truly represent it was impossible.
Sparta in the 5th Century B.C.: at The Height of Its Power
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “The beginning of the 5th century saw Sparta at the height of her power, though her prestige must have suffered in the fruitless attempts made to impose upon Athens an oligarchical regime after the fall of the Peisistratid tyranny in 510. But after the Persian Wars the Spartan supremacy could no longer.remain unchallenged. Sparta had despatched an army in 490 to aid Athens in repelling the armament sent against it by Darius under the command of Datis and Artaphernes: but it arrived after the battle of Marathon had been fought and the issue of the conflict decided. In the second campaign, conducted ten years later by Xerxes in person, Sparta took a more active share and assumed the command of the combined Greek forces by sea and land. Yet, in spite of the heroic defence of Thermopylae by the Spartan king Leonidas (q.v.), the glory of the decisive victory at Salamis fell in great measure to the Athenians, and their patriotism, selfsacrifice and energy contrasted strongly with the hesitation of the Spartans and the selfish policy which they advocated of defending the Peloponnese only. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“By the battle of Plataea (479 B.C.), won by a Spartan general, and decided chiefly by the steadfastness of Spartan troops, the state partially recovered its prestige, but only so far as land operations were concerned: the victory of Mycale, won in the same year, was achieved by the united Greek fleet, and the capture of Sestos, which followed, was due to the Athenians, the Peloponnesians having returned home before the siege was begun. Sparta felt that an effort was necessary to recover her position, and Pausanias, the victor of Plataea, was sent out as admiral of the Greek fleet. But though he won considerable successes, his overbearing and despotic behaviour and the suspicion that he was intriguing with the Persian king alienated the sympathies of those under his command: he was recalled by the ephors, and his successor, Dorcis, was a weak man who allowed the transference of the hegemony from Sparta to Athens to take place without striking a blow (see DELIAN LEAGUE).
“By the withdrawal of Sparta and her Peloponnesian allies from the fleet the perils and the glories of the Persian War were left to Athens, who, though at the outset merely the leading state in a confederacy of free allies, soon began to make herself the mistress of an empire. Sparta took no steps at first to prevert this. Her interests and those of Athens did not directly clash, for Athens included in her empire only the islands of the Aegean and the towns on its north and east coasts, which lay outside the Spartan political horizon: with the Peloponnese Athens did not meddle. Moreover, Sparta's attention was at this time fully occupied by troubles nearer home-the plots of Pausanias not only with the Persian king but with the Laconian helots; the revolt of Tegea (c. 47371), rendered all the more formidable by the participation of Argos; the earthquake which in 464 devastated Sparta; and the rising of the Messenian helots, which immediately followed. But there was a growing estrangement from Athens, which ended at length in an open breach. The insulting dismissal of a large body of Athenian troops which had come, under Cimon, to aid the Spartans in the siege of the Messenian stronghold of Ithome, the consummation of the Attic democracy under Ephialtes and Pericles, the conclusian of an alliance between Athens and Argos, which also about this time became democratic, united with other causes to bring about a rupture between the Athenians and the Peloponnesian League.
Battle of Thermopylae
During the Persian Wars, most city states made peace with Xerxes but Athens and Sparta didn't. In 480 B.C. a force of only 7,000 Greeks met the huge Persian force at Thermopylae, a narrow mountain pass who name means “the hot gates," which guarded the way to central Greece. Lead by a group of 300 Spartan warriors the Greeks held off the Persian for four days. The Persian threw their crack units at the Greeks but each time Greek "hoplite" tactics and Spartan spears inflicted a large number a casualties.
The 300 Spartan warriors were portrayed in the film 300 as a bunch of fearless, muscle-bound lunatics. When warned that so many arrows will be fired by Persian archer the arrows will “blot out the sun," one Spartan soldier retorted. “Then we will fight in the shade." (“In the shade” is the motto of the an armored division in the present-day Greek army).
The Persians eventually found a lightly guarded trail, with the help of a traitorous Greek. The Spartans fought the Persians again. Only two of the 300 Spartans survived. According to Cambridge University professor Paul Cartledge in his book “The Spartans” one was so humiliated he committed suicide out of shame on their return to Sparta. The other redeemed himself by getting killed in another battle.
“By holding on for so long against such incredible odds the Spartans allowed the Greeks to regroup and make a stand in the south and inspired the rest of Greece to pull together and mount an effective defense against the Persians. The Persians then moved on to southern Greece. The Athenians left their city en masse and let the Persians burn it the ground with flaming arrows so they could return and fight another day. The Russians employed a similar strategy against Napoleon.”
Herodotus on the Spartans and Greeks During the Battle of Thermopylae
Herodotus wrote in Book VII of “Histories”:“The Greeks at Thermopylae received the first warning of the destruction which the dawn would bring on them from the seer Megistias, who read their fate in the victims as he was sacrificing. After this deserters came in, and brought the news that the Persians were marching round by the hills: it was still night when these men arrived. Last of all, the scouts came running down from the heights, and brought in the same accounts, when the day was just beginning to break. Then the Greeks held a council to consider what they should do, and here opinions were divided: some were strong against quitting their post, while others contended to the contrary. So when the council had broken up, part of the troops departed and went their ways homeward to their several states; part however resolved to remain, and to stand by Leonidas to the last. [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VII on the Persian War, 440 B.C., translated by George Rawlinson, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“It is said that Leonidas himself sent away the troops who departed, because he tendered their safety, but thought it unseemly that either he or his Spartans should quit the post which they had been especially sent to guard. For my own part, I incline to think that Leonidas gave the order, because he perceived the allies to be out of heart and unwilling to encounter the danger to which his own mind was made up. He therefore commanded them to retreat, but said that he himself could not draw back with honour; knowing that, if he stayed, glory awaited him, and that Sparta in that case would not lose her prosperity. For when the Spartans, at the very beginning of the war, sent to consult the oracle concerning it, the answer which they received from the Pythoness was "that either Sparta must be overthrown by the barbarians, or one of her kings must perish." The remembrance of this answer, I think, and the wish to secure the whole glory for the Spartans, caused Leonidas to send the allies away. This is more likely than that they quarrelled with him, and took their departure in such unruly fashion.
“To me it seems no small argument in favour of this view, that the seer also who accompanied the army, Megistias, the Acarnanian- said to have been of the blood of Melampus, and the same who was led by the appearance of the victims to warn the Greeks of the danger which threatened them- received orders to retire (as it is certain he did) from Leonidas, that he might escape the coming destruction. Megistias, however, though bidden to depart, refused, and stayed with the army; but he had an only son present with the expedition, whom he now sent away.
“So the allies, when Leonidas ordered them to retire, obeyed him and forthwith departed. Only the Thespians and the Thebans remained with the Spartans; and of these the Thebans were kept back by Leonidas as hostages, very much against their will. The Thespians, on the contrary, stayed entirely of their own accord, refusing to retreat, and declaring that they would not forsake Leonidas and his followers. So they abode with the Spartans, and died with them. Their leader was Demophilus, the son of Diadromes.
“At sunrise Xerxes made libations, after which he waited until the time when the forum is wont to fill, and then began his advance. Ephialtes had instructed him thus, as the descent of the mountain is much quicker, and the distance much shorter, than the way round the hills, and the ascent. So the barbarians under Xerxes began to draw nigh; and the Greeks under Leonidas, as they now went forth determined to die, advanced much further than on previous days, until they reached the more open portion of the pass. Hitherto they had held their station within the wall, and from this had gone forth to fight at the point where the pass was the narrowest. Now they joined battle beyond the defile, and carried slaughter among the barbarians, who fell in heaps. Behind them the captains of the squadrons, armed with whips, urged their men forward with continual blows. Many were thrust into the sea, and there perished; a still greater number were trampled to death by their own soldiers; no one heeded the dying. For the Greeks, reckless of their own safety and desperate, since they knew that, as the mountain had been crossed, their destruction was nigh at hand, exerted themselves with the most furious valour against the barbarians.
“By this time the spears of the greater number were all shivered, and with their swords they hewed down the ranks of the Persians; and here, as they strove, Leonidas fell fighting bravely, together with many other famous Spartans, whose names I have taken care to learn on account of their great worthiness, as indeed I have those of all the three hundred. There fell too at the same time very many famous Persians: among them, two sons of Darius, Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, his children by Phratagune, the daughter of Artanes. Artanes was brother of King Darius, being a son of Hystaspes, the son of Arsames; and when he gave his daughter to the king, he made him heir likewise of all his substance; for she was his only child.
“Thus two brothers of Xerxes here fought and fell. And now there arose a fierce struggle between the Persians and the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) over the body of Leonidas, in which the Greeks four times drove back the enemy, and at last by their great bravery succeeded in bearing off the body. This combat was scarcely ended when the Persians with Ephialtes approached; and the Greeks, informed that they drew nigh, made a change in the manner of their fighting. Drawing back into the narrowest part of the pass, and retreating even behind the cross wall, they posted themselves upon a hillock, where they stood all drawn up together in one close body, except only the Thebans. The hillock whereof I speak is at the entrance of the straits, where the stone lion stands which was set up in honour of Leonidas. Here they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth; till the barbarians, who in part had pulled down the wall and attacked them in front, in part had gone round and now encircled them upon every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant which was left beneath showers of missile weapons.
“Thus nobly did the whole body of Lacedaemonians and Thespians behave; but nevertheless one man is said to have distinguished himself above all the rest, to wit, Dieneces the Spartan. A speech which he made before the Greeks engaged the Medes, remains on record. One of the Trachinians told him, "Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude." Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered "Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade." Other sayings too of a like nature are reported to have been left on record by this same person.
“Next to him two brothers, Lacedaemonians, are reputed to have made themselves conspicuous: they were named Alpheus and Maro, and were the sons of Orsiphantus. There was also a Thespian who gained greater glory than any of his countrymen: he was a man called Dithyrambus, the son of Harmatidas. The slain were buried where they fell; and in their honour, nor less in honour of those who died before Leonidas sent the allies away, an inscription was set up, which said:
“Here did four thousand men from Pelops' land
Against three hundred myriads bravely stand.
This was in honour of all. Another was for the Spartans alone:-
Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon (Sparta) tell
That here, obeying her behests, we fell.”
Sparta and the Peloponnesian War
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “ In this socalled first Peloponnesian War Sparta herself took but a small share beyond helping to intlict a defeat on the Athenians at Tanagra in 457 B.C. After this battle they concluded a truce, which gave the Athenians an opportunity of taking their revenge on the Boeotians at the battle of Oenophyta, of annexing to their empire Boeotia, Phocis and Locris, and of subjugating Aegina. In 449 the war was ended by a five years' truce, but after Athens had lost her mainland empire by the battle of Coronea and the revolt of Megara a thirty years' peace was concluded, probably in the winter 446-445 B.C. By this Athens was obliged to surrender Troezen, Achaea and the two Megarian ports, Nisaea and Pegae, but otherwise the status quo was maintained. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“A fresh struggle, the great Peloponnesian War (q.v.), broke out in 431 B.C. This may be to a certain extent regarded as a contest between Ionian and Dorian; it may with greater truth be called a struggle between the democratic and oligarchic principles of government; but at bottom its cause was neither racial nor constitutional, but economic. The maritime supremacy of Athens was used for commercial purposes, and important members of the Peloponnesian confederacy, whose wealth depended largely on their commerce, notably Corintb, Megara, Sicyon and Epidaurus, werc being slowly but relentlessly crushed. Materially Sparta must have remained almost unaffected, but she was forced to take action by the pressure of her allies and by the necessities imposed by her position as head of the league. She did not, however, prosecute the war with any marked vigour: her operations were almost confined to an annual inroad into Attica, and when in 425 a body of Spartans was captured by the Athenians at Pylos she was ready, and even anAious, to terminate the war on any reasonable conditions.
“That the terms of the Peace of Nicias, which in 421 concluded the first phase of the war, were rather in favour of Sparta than of Athens was due almost entirely to the energy and insight of an individual Spartan, Brasidas (q.v.), and the disastrous attempt of Athens to regain its lost landempire. The final success of Sparta and the capture of Athens in 405 were brought about partly by the treachery of Alcibiades, who induced the state to send Gylippus to conduct the defence of Syracuse, to fortify Decelea in northern Attica, and to adopt a vigorous policy of aiding Athenian allies to revolt. The lack of funds which would have proved fatal to Spartan naval warfare was remedied by the intervention of Persia, which supplied large subsidies, and Spartan good fortune culminated in the possession at this time of an admiral of boundless vigour and considerable military ability, Lysander, to whom much of Sparta's success is attributable.
See Separate Article on the Peloponnesian War
Sparta in the 4th Century B.C.: After the Fall of Athens
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “The fall of Athens left Sparta once again supreme in the Greek world and demonstrated clearly her total unfitness for rule. Everywhere democracy was replaced by a philoLaconian oligarchy, usually consisting of ten men under a harmost or governor pledged to Spartan interests, and even in Laconia itself the narrow and selfish character of the Spartan rule led to a serious conspiracy. For a short time, indeed, under the energetic rule of Agesilaus, it seemed as if Sparta would pursue a Hellenic policy and carry on the war against Persia. But troubles soon broke out in Greece, Agesilaus was recalled from Asia Minor, and his schemes and successes were rendered fruitless. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“Further, the naval activity displayed by Sparta during the closing years of the Peloponnesian War subsidies were withdrawn, and the ambitious projects of Lysander led to his disgrace, which was followed by his death at Haliartus in 395. In the following year the Spartan navy under Peisander, Agesilaus' brotherinlaw, was defeated off Cnidus by the Persian fleet under Conon and Pharnabazus, and for the future Sparta ceased to be a maritime power. In Greece itself meanwhile the opposition to Sparta was growing increasingly powerful, and, though at Coronea Agesilaus had slightly the better of the Boetians and at Corinth the Spartans maintained their position, yet they felt it necessary to rid themselves of Persian hostility and if possible use the Persian power to strengthen their own position at home: they therefore concluded with ArtaxerAes II. the humiliating Peace of Antalcidas (387 B.C.), by which they surrendered to the Great King the Greek cities of the Asia Minor coast and of Cyprus, and stipulated for the independence of all other Greek cities.
This last clause led to a long and desultory war with Thebes, which refused to acknowledge the independence of the BaeotiaiA, towns under its hegemony: the Cadmeia, the citadel of Thebes, was treacherously seized by Phoebidas in gg2 and held by the Spartans until 379. Still more momentous was the Spartan action in crushing the Olynthiac Confederation (see OLYNTHUS), which might have been able to stay the growth of Macedonian power. In 371 a fresh peace congress was summoned at Sparta to ratify the Peace of Callias. Again the Thebans refused to renounce their Boeotian hegemony, and the Spartan attempt at coercion ended in the defeat of the Spartan army at the battle of Leuctra and the death of its leader, King Cleombrotus. The result of the battle was to transfer the Greek supremacy from Sparta to Thebes.
Battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.): Spartans Downfall Described by Xenophon
In 371 B.C., the Spartans suffered a disastrous defeat to the Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra, in Boeotia, on the road from Plataea to Thespiae, The Spartans never recovered from the blow this disaster gave to their prestige. It was poetic justice that this punishment for their ill rule should come from Thebes — the city they had used shamefully beyond all others. The credit for the victory falls to Epaminondas, though he is not named by the historian Xenophon in the following account
Xenophon, an Athenian born 431 B.C., was a pupil of Socrates who marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. He was a great admirer of the Spartans. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move on and settling in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.
Xenophon wrote in Hellenica, Book VI, Chap. IV: “When the Spartan king [Cleombrotus] observed that the Thebans, so far from giving autonomy to the Boeotian city states [as demanded], were not even disbanding their army and had clearly the purpose of fighting a general engagement, he felt justified in marching his troops into Boeotia [from Phocis where he had been]. The point of ingress which he adopted was not that which the Thebans expected from Phocis, and where they were keeping a guard at a defile, but marching through Thisbae, by a hilly and unsuspected route, he arrived before Creusis, taking that fortress and twelve Theban war ships to boot. After this, he advanced from the seaboard, and encamped in Leuctra in Thespian territory. The Thebans encamped on a rising ground immediately opposite at no great distance, and were supported by no allies, save their [fellow] Boeotians. [Source: William Stearns Davis, “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. I: Greece and the East, pp. 279-284]
“At this juncture the friends of Cleombrotus came to him and urged upon him strong reasons for delivering battle. "If you let the Thebans escape without fighting," they said, "you will run great risks of suffering the extreme penalty at the hands of the state....In times past you have missed doing anything notable, and let good chances slip. If you have any care for yourself, or any attachment to your fatherland, march you must against the enemy." Thus spoke his friends, and his enemies remarked, "Now our fine fellow will show whether he is really so partial to the Thebans as is alleged."
“With these words ringing in his ears, Cleombrotus felt driven to join battle. On their side the Theban leaders calculated that if they did not fight, their provincial cities would hold aloof from them, and Thebes itself would be besieged; while if the populace of Thebes failed to get provisions there was a good chance the city itself would turn against [its own leaders]; and seeing that many of them had already tasted the bitterness of exile, they concluded it were better to die on the battlefield than renew the exile's life. Besides this, they were somewhat encouraged by an oracle, predicting that "the Lacedaemonians would be defeated on the spot where stood the monument of the maidens," — who, as the story goes, being outraged by certain Lacedaemonians, had slain themselves. This sepulchral monument the Thebans decked with ornaments before the battle. Furthermore, tidings were brought from the city that all the temples had opened of their own accord; and the priestesses asserted that the gods foretold victory. Cleombrotus held his last council "whether to fight or not" after the morning meal. In the heat of noon a little wine goes a long way; and people said it took a somewhat provocative effect upon their spirits.
“Both sides were now arming, and there were unmistakable signs of approaching battle, when, as the first incident, there issued from the Boeotian lines a long train bent on departure — they were furnishers of the market, a detachment of baggage bearers and in general such people as had no hankering to join in the fight. [A band of the Spartan allies headed them off, and drove them back to the Boeotian camp . . . ] the result being to make the Boeotian army more numerous and closely packed than before. The next move was as a result of the open plain between the two armies — the Lacedaemonians posted their cavalry in front of their squares of infantry, and the Thebans imitated them. Only there was this difference — the Theban horse were in a high state of training and efficiency, thanks to their war with the Orchomenians, and also their war with Thespiae; the Lacedaemonian cavalry was at its very worst just now. The horses were reared and kept by the richest citizens; but whenever the levy was called out, a trooper appeared who took the horse with any sort of arms that might be presented to him, and set off on an expedition at a moment's notice. These troopers, too, were the least able-bodied of the men — just raw recruits simply set astride their horses, and wanting in all soldierly ambition. Such was the cavalry of either antagonist.
“The heavy infantry of the Lacedaemonians, it is said, advanced by sections three abreast, allowing a total depth to the whole line of not more than twelve. The Thebans were formed in close order of not less than fifty shields deep, calculating that victory over the [Spartan] king's division of his army would involve the easy conquest of the rest.
“Cleombrotus had hardly begun to lead his division against the foe, when, before in fact the troops with him were aware of his advance, the cavalry had already come into collision, and that of the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) was speedily worsted. In their flight they became involved with their own heavy infantry; and, to make matters worse, the Theban regiments were already attacking vigorously. Still strong evidence exists for supposing that Cleombrotus and his division were, in the first instance, victorious in the battle, if we consider the fact that they could never have picked him up and brought him back alive unless his vanguard had been masters of the situation for the moment.
“When, however, Deinon the polemarch, and Sphodrias, a member of the king's council, with his son Cleonymus, had fallen, then it was that the cavalry and the polemarch's adjutants, as they are called, with the rest, under pressure of the mass against them, began retreating. And the left wing of the Lacedaemonians, seeing the right borne down in this way, also swerved. Still, in spite of the numbers slain, and broken as they were, as soon as they had crossed the trench which protected their camp in front, they grounded arms on the spot whence they had rushed to battle. This camp, it should be borne in mind, did not lie on the level, but was pitched on a somewhat steep incline.
“At this juncture there were some Lacedaemonians, who, looking upon such a disaster as intolerable, maintained that they ought to prevent the enemy from erecting atrophy, and try to recover the dead, not under a flag of truce, but by another battle. The polemarchs, however, seeing that nearly 1000 of the total Lacedaemonian troops were slain, and seeing, too, that of the 700 regular Spartans who were on the field some 400 lay dead; aware likewise of the despondency which reigned among the allies, and the general disinclination on their part to fight longer — a frame of mind not far from positive satisfaction in some cases at what had happened — under the circumstances, I say, the polemarchs called a council of the ablest representatives of the shattered army, and deliberated on what should be done. Finally, the unanimous opinion was to pick up the dead under a flag of truce, and they sent a herald to treat for terms. The Thebans after that set up a trophy, and gave back the bodies under a truce.
Decline of Sparta After The Battle Leuctra
Xenophon wrote in Hellenica, Book VI, Chap. IV: “After these events a messenger was dispatched to Lacedaemon (Sparta) with news of the calamity. He reached his destination on the last day of the gymnopaediae [midsummer festival] just when the chorus of grown men had entered the theater. The ephors heard the mournful tidings not without grief or pain, as needs they must, I take it; but for all that they did not dismiss the chorus, but allowed the contest to run out its natural course. What they did was to deliver the names of those who had fallen to their friends and families, with a word of warning to the women not to make any loud lamentation, but to bear their sorrow in silence; and the next day it was a striking spectacle to see those who had relations among the slain moving to and fro in public with bright and radiant looks, whilst of those whose friends were reported to be living, barely a man was seen, and these flitted by with lowered heads and scowling brows, as if in humiliation. [Source: William Stearns Davis, “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. I: Greece and the East, pp. 279-284]
After this, Elis and the Arcadian states seized the opportunity to throw off the yoke of Spartan hegemony. The Peloponnesian League was then further reduced by the Theban liberation of Messenia from Spartan control in 369 BC. The states of the north-eastern Peloponnese, including Corinth, Sicyon and Epidauros remained loyal to Sparta, but as the war wore on in the 360s B.C., many joined the Thebans or took a neutral position, though Elis and some of the Arcadian states realigned themselves with Sparta. In 338 BC, the Peloponnesian League was disbanded when Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, formed the League of Corinth after defeating Thebes and Athens, incorporating all the Peloponnesian states except Sparta. [Source: Wikipedia, Encyclopædia Britannica]
Further Decline of Sparta
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “In the course of three expeditions to the Peloponnese conducted by Epaminondas, the greatest soldier and statesman Thebes ever produced, Sparta was weakened by the loss of Messenia, which was restored to an independent position with the newly built Messene as its capital, and by the foundation of Megalopolis as the capital of Arcadia. The invading army even made its way into Laconia and devastated the whole of its southern portion; but the courage and coolness of Agesilaus saved Sparta itself from attack. On Epaminondas' fourth expedition Sparta was again within an ace of capture, but once more the danger was averted just in time; and though at Mantinea (362 B.C.) the Thebans, together with the Arcadians, Mffsenians and Argives, gained a victory over the combined Mantinean, Athenian and Spartan forces, yet the death of Epaminondas in the battle more than counterbalanced the Theban victory and led to the speedy breakup of their supremacy. [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“But Sparta had neither the men nor the money to recover her lost position, and the continued existence on her borders of an independent Messenia and Arcadia kept her in constant fear for her own safety. She did, indeed, join with Athens and Achaea in 353 to prevent Philip of Macedon passing Thermopylae and entering Phocis, but beyond this she took no part in the struggle of Greece with the new power which had sprung up on her northern borders. No Spartan fought on the field of Chaeronea. After the battle, however, she refused to submit voluntarily to Philip, and was forced to do so by the devastation of Laconia and the transference of certain border districts to the neighbouring states of Argos, Arcadia and Mcssenia. During the absence of Alexander the Great in the East Agis III. revolted, but the rising was crushed by Antipater, and a similar attempt to throw off the Macedonian yoke made by Archidamus IV. in the troublous period which succeeded Alexander's death was frustrated by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 294 B.C. Twentytwo years later the city was attacked by an immense force under Pyrrhus, but Spartan bravery had not died out and the formidable enemy was repulsed, even the women taking part in the defence of the city. About 244 an Aetolian army overran Laconia, working irreparable harm and carrying off, it is said, 50,000 captives.
“But the social evils within the state were even harder to combat than the foes without. Avarice, luxury, and the glaring inequality in the distribution of wealth, threatened to bring about the speedy fall of the state if no cure could be found. Agis IV. and Cleomenes III. (q.v.) made an heroic and entirely disinterested attempt in the latter part of the 3rd century to improve the conditions by a redistribution of land, a widening of the citizen body, and a restoration of the old severe training and simple life. But the evil was too deepseated to be remedied by these artificial means; Agis was assassinated, and the reforms of Cleomenes seem to have had no permanent erlect. The reign of Cleomenes is marked also by a determined effort to cope with the rising power of the Achaean League (q.v.) and to recover for Sparta her longlost supremacy in the Peloponnese, andeven throughout Greece.
“The battle of Sellasia (222 B.C.), in which Cleomenes was defeated by the Achaeans and Antigonus Doson of Macedonia, and the death of the king, which occurred shortly afterwards in Egypt, put an end to these hopes. The same reign saw also an important constitutional change, the substitution of a board of patronomi for the ephors, whose power had become almost despotic, and the curtailment of the functions exercised by the gerousia; these measures were, however, cancelled by Antigonus. It was not long. afterwards that the dual kingship ceased and Sparta fell under the sway of a series of cruel and rapacious tyrants-Lycurgus, Machanidas, who was killed by Philopoemen, and Nabis, who, if we may trust the accounts given by Polybius and Livy, was little better than a bandit chieftain, holding Sparta by means of extreme cruelty and oppression, a4d using mercenary troops to a large extent in his wars.”
Roman Intervention and Sparta’s Last Gasps
According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “We must admit, however, that a vigorous struggle was maintained with the Achaean League and with Macedon until the Romans, after the conclusion of their war with Philip V., sent an army into Laconia under T. Quinctius Flamininus. Nabis was forced to capitulate, evacuating all his possessions outside Laconia, surrendering the Laconian seaports and his navy, and paying an indemnity of 500 talents (Livy xxxiv. 33-43). On the departure of the Romans he succeeded in recovering Gythium, in spite of an att~mpt to relieve it made by the Achaeans under Philopoennen, but in an encounter he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of that general, who for thirty days ravaged Laconia unopposed. Nabis was assassinated in I92, and Sparta was forced by Philopoemen to enrol itself as a member of the Achaean League (q.v.) under a philAchaean aristocracy. But this gave rise to chronic disorders and disputes, which led to armed intervention on the part of the Achaeans, who compelled the Spartans to submit to the overthrow of their city walls, the dismissal of their mercenary troops, the recall of all exiles, the abandonment of the old Lycurgan constitution and the adoption of the Achaean laws and institutions (188 B.C.). [Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]
“Again and again the relations between the Spartans and the Achaean League formed the occasion of discussions in the Roman senate or of the despatch of Roman embassies to Greece, but no decisive intervention took place until a fresh dispute about the position of Sparta in the league led to a decision of the Romans that Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Arcadian Orchomenus and Heraclea on Oeta should be severed from it. This resulted in an open breach between the league and Rome, and eventually, in 146 B.C., after the sack of Corinth, in the dissolution of the league and the annexation of Greece to the Roman province of Macedonia. For Sparta the long era of war and intestine struggle had ceased and one of peace and a revived prosperity took its place, as is witnessed by the numerous extant inscriptions belonging to this period. As an allied city it was exempt from direct taxation, though compelled on occasions to make "voluntary" presents to Roman generals. Political ambition was restricted to the tenure of the municipal magistracies, culminating in the offices of nomophylax, ephor and patronomus. Augustus showed marked favour to the city, Hadrian twice visited it during his journeys in the East and accepted the title of eponymous patronomus. The old warlike spirit found an outlet chiefly in the vigorous but peaceful contests held in the gymnasium, the ballplace, and the arena before the temple of Artemis Orthia: sometimes too it found a vent in actual campaigning, as when Spartans were enrolled for service against the Parthians by the emperors Lucius Verus, Septimius Severus and Caracalla. Laconia was subsequently overrun, like so much of the Roman Empire, by barbarian hordes.
In A.D. 396 Alaric destroyed the city and at a later period Laconia was invaded and settled by Slavonic tribes, especially the Melings and Ezerits, who in turn had to give way before the advance of the Byzantine power, though preserving a partial independence in the mountainous regions. The Franks on their arrival in the Morea found a fortified city named Lacedaemonia occupying part of the site of ancient Sparta, and this continued to exist, though greatly depopulated, even after Guillaume de Villehardouin had in 1248-1249 founded the fortress and city of Misithra, or Mistra, on a spur of Taygetus some 3 meters. northwest of Sparta. This passed shortly aftetwards into the hands of the Byzantines, who retained it until the Turks under Mahommed II. captured it in 1460. In 1687 it came into the possession of the Venetians, from whom it was wrested in 1715 by the Turks. Thus for nearly six centuries it was Mistra and not Sparta which formed the centre and focus of Laconian history.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2018