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Sparta is a city in southern Greece. In antiquity it was a Dorian Greek military state, originally centered in Laconia. As a city state devoted to military training, Sparta possesed the most formidable army in the Greek world. Its defeat of rival power Athens in the Peloponnesian war asserted Spartan hegemony over Ancient Greece, and by overpowering both the Athenian and Persian Empires, she regarded herself as the natural protector of Greece. Laconia or Lacedaemon (?a?eda?µ??) was the name of the wider city-state centered at the city of Sparta, though the name "Sparta" is now used for both. The Spartan Kings were believed to be the direct descendants of Heracles.
The city of Sparta lies at the southern end of the central Laconian plain, on the right bank of the river Evrotas. The site was strategically located; guarded from three sides by mountains and controlling the routes by which invading armies could penetrate Laconia and the southern Peloponnesus via the Langhda Pass over Mt Taygetus. At the same time, its distance from the sea—Sparta is 27 miles from its seaport, Gythium—made it difficult to blockade.
The "official" history of Sparta begins with the Dorian invasions, where the Peloponnesus is settled by Greek tribes coming from Asia Minor via the northeast, submitting or displacing the older Achaean Greek inhabitants. The Mycenaean Sparta of Menelaus described in Homer's Iliad was an older Greek civilization, whose link to Hellenic or Classical Sparta was only by name and location. What is widely known today as "ancient Sparta", refers to state and culture that were formed in Sparta by the Dorian Greeks, some eighty years after the Trojan War.
It did not take long for Sparta to subdue all cities in the region of Laconia and turn it into its kingdom. In the 7th century she also incorporated Messenia. In the 5th century BC, Sparta and Athens were reluctant allies against the Persians, but after the foreign threat was over, they soon became rivals. The greatest series of conflicts between the two states, which resulted in the dismantling of the Athenian Empire, is called the Peloponnesian War. Athenian attempts to control Greece and take over the Spartan role of 'guardian of Hellenism' ended in failure. Following the defeat of Athens, Sparta briefly became a great naval power. The first ever defeat of a Spartan hoplite army at full strength occurred at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, after which Sparta's position as the dominant Greek city-state swiftly disappeared with the loss of large numbers of Spartiates and the resources of Messenia. By the time of the rise of Alexander the Great in 336 BC, Sparta was a shadow of its former self, clinging to an isolated independence. During the Punic Wars Sparta was an ally of the Roman Republic. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League.
Spartans continued their way of life even after the Roman conquest of Greece. The city became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe the "unusual" Spartan customs. Supposedly, following the disaster that befell the Roman Imperial Army at the Battle of Adrianople (378 AD), a Spartan phalanx met and defeated a force of raiding Visigoths in battle. There is, however, no genuine evidence of this occurring.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
14 Apr 2007
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The Rise of Sparta
Following the victories in the Messenian Wars (631 BC), Sparta established itself as a local power in Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece. During the following centuries, Sparta's reputation as a land-fighting force was unequaled. In 480 BC a small Spartan unit under King Leonidas made a legendary last stand against a massive, invading Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae. One year later, Sparta assembled at full strength and led a Greek alliance against the Persians at Plataea . There, a decisive Greek victory put an end to the Greco-Persian War along with Persian ambition of expanding into Europe. Even though this war was won by a pan-Greek army, credit was given to Sparta, who besides being the protagonist at Thermopylae and Plataea, had been the nominal leader of the entire Greek expedition.
In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens, Thebes and Persia had been the main powers fighting for supremacy against each other. As a result of the Peloponnesian War , Sparta, a traditionally continental culture, became a naval power. At the peak of Sparta's power, it subdued many of the key Greek states and even managed to overpower the powerful Athenian navy. By the end of the 5th century it stood out as a state which had defeated at war theAthenian Empire, a period which marks the Spartan Hegemony. During the Corinthian War Sparta faced a coalition of the leading Greek states: Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, whose lands in Anatolia had been invaded by Sparta and which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia. Sparta achieved a series of land victories but many of her ships were destroyed at Cnidus by a Greek-Phoenician mercenary fleet that Persia had provided to Athens. The event severely damaged Sparta's naval power but did not end its aspirations of invading further into Persia, until Conon the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt. After a few more years of fighting, the "King's peace" was established, according to which all Greek states would remain independent, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat. Sparta entered its long-term decline after a severe military defeat to Epaminondas of Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. This was the first attested time that a Spartan army would lose a land battle at full strength. As Spartan citizenship was inherited by blood, Sparta started facing the problem of having a helot population vastly outnumbering its citizens. The alarming decline of Spartan citizens was commented on by Aristotle. Yet even during her decline, Sparta never forgot its claims on being the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit . An anecdote has it that when Philip II sent a message to Sparta saying "If I enter Laconia I will level Sparta to the ground", the Spartans responded with the single, terse reply: "If".
Even when Philip of Macedon created the league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, Spartans were excluded on their own will. Philip, who was well aware of Spartan stubborness, chose not to put his hegemony at risk by attempting to take Laconia by force. The Spartans on their part had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition if it didn't mean Spartan leadership. According to Herodotus the Macedonians were a people of Dorian stock, akin to the Spartans, but that didn't make any difference. Thus, upon the conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great sent to Athens 300 suits of Persian armour with the following inscription "Alexander son of Philip, and the Greeks - except the Spartans - from the barbarians living in Asia".
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
14 Apr 2007
Constitution of Sparta
Little is known of the internal development on Sparta. Many Greeks believed there had been none, and that "the stability of the Spartan constitution" had lasted unchanged from the days of Lycurgus. Because most Spartan laws were passed down orally and committed to memory, little is known about Spartan society. Spartan society was considered primitive by ancient Greek standards. Settlements were scattered and mirrored the dwellings used during Greece's 'Dark Age' (1150-700 BC) which means that they were mostly thatched houses. Stone construction was reserved for public works such as temples, government halls, and gymnasiums. What we do know of Spartan society comes from historians of that time. Sparta's was a mixed constitutional system: it was comprised of elements of both monarchical, oligarchical, and democratic systems. The Spartan government was by many standards considered totalitarian. Laws regulated everything from childbirth to beards and the length of males' hair.
The Spartans had no historical records, literature, or written laws, which were, according to tradition, expressly prohibited by an ordinance of Lycurgus (excluding, of course, the 'Great Rhetra,' supposedly given by Lycurgus himself). The Doric state of Sparta, copying the Doric Cretans, developed a mixed governmental state. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and Eurypontids families, equal in authority, so that one could not act against the veto of his colleague, though the Agiad king received greater honour in virtue of the seniority of his family (Herod. vi. 5). The origins of the powers exercised by the assembly of the citizens, or apella , are virtually unknown, due to the paucity of historical documentation.
There are several legendary explanations for this unusual dual kingship, which differ only slightly; for example, that King Aristodemus had twin sons, who agreed to share the kingship, and this became perpetual. Modern scholars have advanced various theories to account for the anomaly. Some theorize that this system was created in order to prevent absolutism, and is paralleled by the analogous instance of the dual consuls at Rome. Others believe that it points to a compromise arrived at to end the struggle between two families or communities. Other theories suggest that this was an arrangement that was met when a community of villages combined to form the city of Sparta. Subsequently the two chiefs from the largest villages became kings. Another theory suggests that the two royal houses represent respectively the Spartan conquerors and their Achaean predecessors: those who hold this last view appeal to the words attributed by Herodotus (v. 72) to Cleomenes I: "I am no Dorian, but an Achaean;" although this is usually explained by the (equally legendary) descent of Aristodemus from Heracles. Either way, kingship in Sparta was hereditary and thus every king Sparta had was a descendant of the Agiad or Eurypontids family. Accession was given to the male child who was first born after a king's accession.
The duties of the kings were primarily religious, judicial, and militaristic. They were the chief priests of the state, and performed certain sacrifices and also maintained communication with the Delphian sanctuary, which always exercised great authority in Spartan politics. In the time of Herodotus (about 450 BC), their judicial functions had been restricted to cases dealing with heiresses, adoptions and the public roads. Civil cases were decided by the ephors, and criminal jurisdiction had been passed to the ephors, as well as to a council of elders. The dual kings' power was exercised in most aspects of Spartan life; military, religious, and judicial. By 500 B.C. the Spartans had become increasingly involved in the political affairs of the surrounding city-states, often putting their weight behind pro-Spartan candidates. Shortly before 500 B.C., as described by Herodotus, such an action fueled a confrontation between Sparta and Athens, when the two Kings, Demeratus and Cleomenes, took their troops to Athens. However, just before the heat of battle, King Demeratus changed his mind about attacking the Athenians and abandoned his Co-King. For this reason, Demeratus was banished, and eventually found himself at the side of Persian King Xerxes for his invasion of Greece twenty years later (480 B.C.), after which the Spartans enacted a law demanding that one king remain behind in Sparta while the other commanded the troops in battle. This was one of the reasons why King Leonidas, in 480 B.C., led his 300 bodyguards to Thermopylae where they confronted Xerxes' Army.
Aristotle describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" (Pol. iii. I285a), while Isocrates refers to the Spartans as "subject to an oligarchy at home, to a kingship on campaign" (iii. 24). Here also, however, the royal prerogatives were curtailed over time. Dating from the period of the Persian wars, the king lost the right to declare war, and was accompanied in the field by two ephors. He was supplanted also by the ephors in the control of foreign policy. Over time, the kings became mere figure-heads except in their capacity as generals . Real power was transferred to the ephors and to the gerousia. Causes for this change lay partly in the fact that the ephors, chosen by popular election from the whole body of citizens, represented a democratic element in the constitution without violating those oligarchical methods which seemed necessary for the state's administration. They also lay partly in the weakness of the kingship, the dual character of which inevitably gave rise to jealousy and discord between the two holders of the office, often resulting in a practical deadlock. Another cause lay in the loss of prestige suffered by the kingship, especially during the 5th century, owing to these aforementioned quarrels, to the frequency with which kings ascended the throne as minors making the creation of regencies necessary. The dual kingship's prestige also suffered due to the fact that the kings were, rightly or wrongly, suspected of having taken bribes from the enemies of the state at one time or another.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
15 Apr 2007