- Myths about Sparta
- History of Ancient Sparta
- Life in Ancient Sparta
- Women in Ancient Sparta
- Education in Ancient Sparta
- Economy of Sparta
- Sports of Sparta
- The Importance of the Hoplite of Sparta
- Architecture of Sparta
- Literature of Sparta
- Festivals of Sparta
- Homosexuality of Sparta
- Pictures of Sparta
- Resources about Sparta
- Ask a Question about Sparta
- Questions and Answers about Sparta
Myths about Sparta
According to myth it all started when Taugete bore Lacedaimon who wed Sparta. Sparta was a daughter of Eurotas by Cleta. These two provided the names for the region, Sparta for the capital and Lacedaemon for the region. The son of Sparta and Lacedaemon, Amyclas, founded Amyclae, near Sparta.
Diomede married Amyclas and they had several children. Their son Argulas ruled Spata for a short while but since he died before his mother, his brother Cynortas ruled after him. Cynortas was the father of Oebalus. Oebalus married Gorgophone. When Oebalus died his son, Tyndareus, was scheduled to rule Sparta but his half-brother Hippocoon ursurped power. But he offended Herakles and perished with his ten sons when later attacked by Herakles and Tyndereus. In exile in Atolia at the palace of Thestius Tyndereus met Leda and fell in love with her. When Herakles caused the fall of Hippokoon Tyndareus took Leda to the palace near Sparta to rule Lacedaemon. Leda gave birth to Helen, Clytaemnestra, Castor and Pollux at that palace. Tyndereus gave Helen to Meneleus because he thought Meneleus was strong enough to care for her. When Paris took Helen from near Sparta, the friends of Meneleus started the Trojan War to get her back. After the Trojan war Meneleus visited Egypt and became very wealthy. He returned to the palace near Sparta with Helen and all his wealth. Hermione was the daughter of Helen and Menelaus. She married Orestes who ruled Sparta. Her son Tisamenus ruled Sparta until the Heraclidae invaded the Peloponnesus. The Heraclidae were the grandsons of Herakles. They claimed the Peloponesus because of descent from Alcmena, the mother of Herakles and daughter of a Mycenaean king. As a result of their victory they divided up the Peloponesus. Then the twin sons of Aristodemus, Eurysthenes and Procles jointly ruled and set up the lines of the historical kings of Sparta. This is one explanation for the peculiar dual king-ship of Sparta during the Classical period. This information is developed by Herodotus in the The Histories 6.52. Some have identified the Dorian invasion with the Heraclidae invasion, but there is little to support this as the Dorians have been determined to have come in from the Northwest of Greece. At any rate the Spartans seem to have been fond of tracing their ancestry directly to Herakles.
The name ‘Sparta’; seems to be an Indo-European name. It relates either to the Indo-European word ‘sper-2’, to turn or to twist, or to the word ‘spergh-‘, to move, hasten, or spring. The later relates to the word ‘spartoi’ in the myth of Kadmus while the former relates to weaving. Archaeology has confirmed that weaving was an important trade in the ancient Mycenaean culture. It is suggested that Lacedamon is also Indo-European. The first part of the word is related to ‘laku-‘ a body of water. The word ‘da-‘ means divider but damon means divinity in Greek. So the word may mean ‘lake divinity’
Homer mentions Sparta in his catalog of ships in the Iliad, Book II. He says, “The men from the rolling lands of Lacedaemon deep in the hills; from Pharis and Sparta and Messe rich in doves; from Bryseiae and beautiful Augeiae; those from Amyclae and the seaside fort of Helos,; the villagers of Oetylus and Laas – all these came under the King’s brother, Menelaus of the loud war-cry, with sixty ships, and had their separate station.”
From the Odyssey we learn that Telemachos, the son of Odysseus, traveled to the palace of Menelaos in Lacedaemon. He traveled by oared ship from Ithaca to Pylos and then he traveled by chariot to Pherae in one day and on to the palace of Menelaus in another day. For the first part of the trip “they left the tall castle of Pylos, and flew on nothing loath into the plains.” Homer does not describe crossing the mountains in their way but he says “By and by they came to a plain full of growing wheat…” Then he says “So now they were in the deep valley of Lacedaimon and drove up to the gate of the illustrous King Meneleus.”. Later Homer says that “(Meneleus) was bringing from, Sparta the daughter of Alector for his son…” So we can conclude that Sparta was a town in Lacedaemon and the palace ruled over Lacedaemon but the palace was not at Sparta. The towns that Meneleus ruled seemed similar to the ones which Sparta later ruled in Lacedaemon. (Book III and IV)
From the Odyssey we also learn that, “Leda (was the) wife of Tyndereos, who brought him two stout-hearted sons, Scator the horse-master and Polydeuces the great boxer. These two were both buried in mother earth, and both alive; even deep in the earth they have a special privilege from Zeus, one day living, and the next day dead, so they have the gods own privilege.” (Zeus granted them the priviledge of living on alternate daysk so one was always in Olympos, and one in the grave. Book XI) This passage may be important because it reveals not only a hero worship in Sparta for these two, but it also reveals an emphasis on sport that was very important to Sparta.
The visit of Telemachos to Meneleos near Sparta reveals something of ancient Spartan social structure. Menelaos describes Telemachos and Peisistratos as having “come of a line of princes ruling by divine right…” Some evidence of the social class is given because the feast included friends and neighbors. But were they landed neighbors with slaves or servants? And could the servants attend the feast? Within the palace were servants, a maid, a housewife, a meat carver, none of whom were named. But when Helen came out, with her came Adreste, Alcippe and Phylo. These were named attendants and so probably had more status.
When Telemachos visits Sparta he arrives by boat at Pylos and travels overland to Sparta. When Meneleos returns from Egypt he lands at Nauplia. One has to wonder if Meneleos traveled overland to Sparta. Sparta was nearly thirty miles from its port,Gythium, but the trip along the river from Sparta to Glythium was flat and easy while the land route from Sparta to Nauplia was twisted and mountainous. The suggestion is that Gythium was not developed in Mycenean times.
Derivations of the names:
- Ἑλένης — Helen – ‘burn within’ related to the Greek word for torch, ‘helene’, from Indo-European ‘bhel-1’, ‘To shine, flash, or burn’ and ‘en’, ‘within’
- Adraste – probably related to Adrastos from ad +rastos which means to backward and come from the Indo-European ad – (to)+ wer-3 (to turn,bend)
- Αλκιππη — Alcippe — ‘mighty mare’ from the Greek ‘ὰλκή’, ‘strength’ and ‘ῐππος’ from Indo-European ‘alek-‘ to ward off’ and ‘ekwo-‘, ‘horse’
- Phylo — ‘famous for bees’ from Indo-European from Indo-European ‘bhei-1’ ‘a bee’ and ‘leu’, ‘echoic root’.
Thus it might be concluded that Helen and her entire retinue were Indo-European and spoke Greek. This is the same language of the linear b tablets found at Pylos and dated to about 1250 BCE. The only compelling reason to separate the persons in the Odyssey from the classical residents of Sparta is the so-called Dorian invasion. After all, the classical Spartans referred to themselves as Dorians. But why would the Dorians invade and take up the language and literature of the defeated peoples? The point is that the Spartan culture may have had the same social stratification as the culture of Meneleos in the Odyssey. It might be worth the trouble to try to make comparisons anyway. As to the Dorian invasion a careful look needs to be made of this activity as to what it might have been.
Also in Book IV Asphalion is mentioned as a servant that pours water over hands to wash them. This named servant may have low status but his name seems Indo-European as well. His name is related to the word ‘asphalt’ which seems to relate to ‘as-‘, ‘to burn’ and ‘pohl-‘, ‘to fall. This may relate to the property of asphalt that if you light it, then it burns as it melts and runs’. This does not support the idea that the classes of the palace of Menelaus have different cultures. All seem to be Greeks that have their culture related to the Indo-European one.
Also in this section Menelaus demonstrates his power. He says “Yes, I would have given (Odysseus) a city and house in Argos to live in, and brought him from Ithaca with his goods and his son and all his people–I would have cleared one of those cities which are around here, part of my own domain.” This certainly suggests that Menelaus has a lot of power to do as he wishes.
With Helen being from Sparta and the most beautiful woman in the world, there can be no doubt that with her example Sparta was famous for her women. They are compared to precious metals with the grace of racehorses. Their hair is long and flowing.
In the Catalog of Women Hesiod states: “…to Sparta with its beautiful women”.
See also: Click here
In many areas of Greece there is a marked break between the culture of the Trojan War and the culture of classical Greece. But in Sparta the connection may be less marked. Homer describes warrior bands that disappeared in other parts of Greece because they were no longer suited to hoplite warfare. The aristocratic focus of warfare was replaced by the more democratic hoplite approach. But in Sparta the warrior bands seem to have been transformed into the hoplite system by extending the band system to the rest of the society.
Strabo, ind hisGeography 8.5states:
“but though the neighboring peoples, one and all, were subject to the Spartiatae, still they had equal rights, sharing both in the rights of citizenship and in the offices of state, and they were called Helots;42 but Agis, the son of Eurysthenes, deprived them of the equality of rights and ordered them to pay tribute to Sparta; now all obeyed except the Heleians, the occupants of Helus, who, because they revolted, were forcibly reduced in a war, and were condemned to slavery, with the express reservation that no slaveholder should be permitted either to set them free or to sell them outside the borders of the country; and this war was called the War against the Helots. One may almost say that it was Agis and his associates who introduced the whole system of Helot-slavery that persisted until the supremacy of the Romans; for the Lacedaemonians held the Helots as state slaves in a way, having assigned to them certain settlements to live in and special services to perform. ”
This quote refences an ancient event even for Strbo that ocurred in the period after the Trojan War. It seems to explain the social stucture in Sparta consisting of the Homoioi (similars), Perioikoi, (people living around), Helots (serfs). The Helots are the ones who revolted and the Peroikoi are the ones who did not. The Spartitae (homoioi) were so outnumbered by the other groups that they had to organize carefully. This organization is referred to as the reforms of Lycurgus:
- The first reform instituted by Lycurgus was a senate of twenty-eight men, who would have a power equal to the two royal houses of Sparta. The people had the right to vote on important questions, but the senate decided when a vote would be taken.
- It turned out that sometimes the public speakers would pervert the sense of propositions and thus cause the people to vote foolishly, so the senate reserved the right to dissolve the assembly if they saw this happening.
- A hundred and thirty years after the death of Lycurgus, a council of five ephors took executive power from the kings.
- Lycurgus divided the land equally, so that merit — not money — became the only measure of a man’s worth.
- He banned ownership of any gold or silver, and to allow only money made of iron. The iron coins of Sparta were dipped in vinegar to make the metal brittle and worthless.
- All useless occupations were banned in Sparta.
- all meals had to be eaten together at public mess-halls. Everyone ate the same thing, so money could not buy dainty food.
- Lycurgus decided the law should never be put in writing. Spartan law would therefore have to be imprinted in the minds of the citizens through good education.
- The ceilings of houses in Sparta had to be made using only an axe, and the gates and doors only with a saw. Rough wood in these two places made fancy furniture look anomalous.
- Girls were required to run and exercise so that their babies would grow in strong and healthy mothers. To make them brave, Lycurgus ordered that occasionally the girls had to dance and sing naked in front of all the young men. Therefore the girls were ashamed to be fat or weak, and they were happy to display their beauty to such an appreciative audience.
- Meetings of lovers had to be in secret.
- When the young man reached the age of thirty, the couple was allowed to live together openly and to set up a household.
- With certain limitations against irresponsible passion, Lycurgus made it honorable for a man to lend his wife to another man so as to get good seed from him.
- Whenever a child was born, it was taken to a council of elders for examination. If the baby was in any way defective, the elders dropped it into a chasm.
- Lycurgus made it a law that the Spartans should not make war often, or for long, with the same enemy, lest they be taught Spartan tactics.
The Spartan system developed a marked segregation of the sexes. While the men were organized communally, the women were free to imitate their system of organization and education. There is every reason to believe that they underwent an education similar to the boys, centered on dancing and athletics. They mixed freely with the boys and like them exercised naked in public. This behavior shocked the other Greeks who exercised more restrictive sexual inhibitions. Female freedom was a contrast to male discipline and was disapproved by Aristotle. (Politics 2.1269b). Unfortunately the source of this freedom was probably the devaluation of the family and the subjugation of the female to the male ethos. The actual marriage ceremony represented the extent of this subjugation. The husband literally raped the bride by carrying her off. The bride’s head was then shaved while she waited in a darkened room. But then the husband was forced to meet with his wife only clandestinely until he was past 30.
Aristotle, Politics 2.1270 “as for the women it is said that Lycurgus did attempt to bring them under the laws, but since they resisted he gave it up”>
Aristotle makes this remark about the Spartan Constitution:
“In fact some people assert that the best constitution must be a combination of all the forms of constitution, and therefore praise the constitution of Sparta （for some people say that it consists of oligarchy, monarchy and democracy, meaning that the kingship is monarchy and the rule of the ephors oligarchy, but that an element of democracy is introduced by the rule of the ephors because the ephors come from the common people; while others pronounce the ephorate a tyranny but find an element of democracy in the public mess-tables and in the other regulations of daily life）. ” Aristotle, Politics 2.1265b
- Trojan war, 1193-1183 BCE
- First Messenian war, 730-710 BCE
- Sparta defeated by Argos at the battle of Hysiae, 669 BCE
- Second Messenian war, 650 BCE
- Tegean war, 590-560 BCE
- Sparta defeated Argos at the battle of champions, 546 BCE
- Spartans invaded Attica,506 BCE
- Spartans defeated Argos at the battle of Sepeia, 494 BCE
- Spartans were defeated by Persians at Thermopylae, 480 BCE
- Pausanius, a Spartan, commanded the Greek forces against the Persians
at the battle of Plataea, 479 BCE
- Pausanius captured Byzantium from the Persians, 478 BCE
- Pausanius was driven from Byzantium by Cimon, 476 BCE
- Third Messenian war, 464-455 BCE
- First Peloponnesian war, 460-446 BCE
- Athens and allies were defeated by the Peloponnesians at the battle of Tangara, 457 BCE
- Sparta invaded Attica, 446 BCE
- Second Peloponnesian war, 431-404 BCE
- War of Sparta against Persia, 400-387 BCE
- Spartan Theban conflict, 382-378 BCE
- Spartans defeated at sea off Naxos by the Second Athenenian League, 376 BCE
- Spartans defeated by Thebans under Epaminondas, 371 BCE
- Messenia was liberated by Thebans, 369 BCE
- Thebes defeated Sparta but Epiminondas was killed, 362 BCE
Life in Ancient Sparta
Life in Sparta life was fairly communal. The men aged 7 to 30 lived in barracks-like buildings and went to a communal meal. The women lived more in didividual homes. They participated in exercise and games in the morning and then went to the early mid-day meal. In the afternoon they saw to the business of their affairs including shopping and management of their property. They watched their land to see that it was well-cared for. This might involve a hike of some length as the Spartans did not necessarily live on their own land. They also watched the men work out. It was important for them to shout comments of encouragement and criticism. They had a second meal in the evening. Formal dancing, singing and other social activities were common. Then they retired for the night.
The religion of Sparta was the same as the rest of Greece. However, the community was more isolated and the did not believe in building defensive walls. They did not believe in luxury either. They were self-sufficient and very community minded. The Spartan men were formed into military teams that were trained and ready to defend the country in a very communal way. The Spartan women were community property and spent their whole time bearing and raising children. Slaves did all the manual work for the women.
Sparta was more isolated and dependent on agriculture while
Athens was more cosmopolitan and dependent on manufacture and trade. Various arts in Athens flourished while Spartans felt the arts were too different and unnecessary.
While the art of Athens flourished, the art of Sparta languished.
Ancient Sparta did not believe in fancy decoration. There is a museum at Sparta and some of its exhibits are visible at:
In Alcestis by Euripides line 445: “Poets shall sing often in your praise both on the seven-stringed mountain tortoise-shell1 and in songs unaccompanied by the lyre when at Sparta the month of Carnea comes circling round and the moon is aloft the whole night long,..”. This passage is our only evidence showing that the Spartan month of Carnea was the time of a festival, also called Carnea that it included musical performances.
Spartans did not seem to have personal slaves. Theirs was a classed society with at least three levels, citizen, perioikoi, and helot. Each class had a separate function. The citizen class did ruling, organizing, policing, and warring. The perioikoi did the majority of the trades including boatbuilding, pottery, trading, building. The helots did most of the farming. The main area where traditional slaves would have been used was in mining. The Spartans did not seem able to incorporate captured peoples into their system.
As we see in the Odyssey some farming was suitable for the gentleman so every class could have done some farming. Every house probably had a garden plot for its own use. But the helots produced the exportable produce. One suggestion is that this division of labor was also one of race. The helots might have been Minoan decendents. The perioikoi might have been Mycenaean decendents. The citizens were plainly Dorian decendents. The classes were kept separate by their language and their culture. They also continued what might have been skills of the past. The Mycenaeans started with wool and used looms to make cloth. They then traded far and wide. The Minoan also traded but it is not known what the basis of their trade was. Wine is a possibility.
There is some question about what the helots grew. Wine was the main agricultural export from Greece and so one can assume they grew grapes. The tools for growing grapes can be primitive as plowing and tiling is not required. A pruning hook and a hoe might suffice. Furthermore grapes are not suitable for the oppressive type of slavery that was present in the Old South. You had to know what you were doing and you had to be careful or the crop would be ruined. So if they were oppressed the crop could be ruined. It would seem that the helots had no rights. But they could marry and raise a family. They also participated in military action as guided by the citizens. It would seem that they lived in rural communities near their crops. The citizens saw that all went well with them. The perioikoi took away their produce. They probably had a trading arrangement whereby the helots would get the goods they needed. What went to the citizens was more like a tax on the productivity of the helots and perioikoi together. The total land of the helots was divided among the citizens into equally productive plots. If the produtivity varied it might be adjusted.
The Spartans were the first to formally educate their children according to Aristotle. But their education system had faults and did not change with the times. It is possible that the helots were educated but there is no record of it. This is as the Spartans wished it. No writings have come down to us from any of the Spartan classes. That they educated was quite advanced and allowed them to advance ahead of other ancient cultures. But the Athenians leaped past them and kept running at a high rate. The Spartans emphasized physical education and this would have been a benefit to the helots. The Athenians emphasized intellectual pursuits but they did not ignore the physical. The intellectual legacy of the Athenians is enormous and wide ranging. But the Spartans did maintain an effective economy and government for many years and this is an important legacy. Oddly we know of the legacy mostly from Athenians.
Women of Sparta
The Spartan women were freed of all other duties except for the bearing and raising of children. They received a strenuous physical education consisting of running, throwing the discus, and casting the dart. They also participated in solemn feasts and dances where they performed naked for the young men, but in a modest manner. The source for this information is to be found in the drama Andromache by Euripides, line 594 Peleus Says to Menelaus:
No! A Spartan maid could not be chaste, e'en if she would, who leaves her home and bares her limbs annd lets her robe float free, to share with youths their races and sports,--customs I cannot away with. Is it any won- der then that ye fail to educate your women in virtue?
Kitto states (p221) that “It is orthodox to compare the repression
of women in Athens with the freedom and respect which they enjoyed in Homeric society – and in historical Sparta”. He then goes on to make certain statements which are critical of this repression. At any rate women in Sparta seem much freer. One story that I do remember is that the young women were encouraged to taunt the young men with the idea that this would toughen the men for the rigors of battle. Also I have read that the young females were kept naked for their own health. They were paraded in front of
the young men and even encouraged to dance naked in front of them. This was supposed to encourage the young men to take wives and help the women have healthy babies. This scheme did not seem to work well because the number of male citizens dwindled in later classical times. The women in Sparta who were potential mothers of citizens were freed of all duties except the bearing and raising of babies. In other Greek cities mothers lived quietly at home and ate sparingly when they were pregnant. In Sparta women exercised, ate and drank freely. This tack might have worked as the Spartans were known for their size and strength. Of course the Athenian
comics ridiculed the hefty Spartan women.
They also could own property. In Sparta women were more the property of the community and they formed liaisons with men as they chose. They could also own property by themselves. In Athens women did chores such as weaving or cooking, but in Sparta the women were free of all such chores. In both Athens and Sparta women were educated mainly by their mothers. In some case fathers and brothers would help. There are other possibilities for the education of women. Women commonly participated in choruses which involved the memorization of large passages of poetry. Women also participated in the rituals of temples where they could become priestesses. In such capacity they would have to both be educated and give education to others who follow them. Unlike many religions the priestess served appointments of short length that changed with their age so they may have served in numerous capacities throughout their lives.
Though Greek women were deprived of a public education, their success indicates that they had a better education than any women until recent times in the western world. In spite of the fact that they had no political or legal rights, no public education, and were totally bound to their husband and home, life was pretty good and they had opportunities beyond women in any other culture until modern times.
In fact, Aristotle feels that this fact ultimately contributed to the downfall of Sparta:
In the Politics 1269b13 he states: “Again, the license of the
Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to the happiness of the state. For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make
the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves. The old mythologer would seem to have been right in uniting Ares and Aphrodite, for all warlike races are prone to the love either of men or of women. This was exemplified among the Spartans in the days of their greatness; many things were managed by their women. But what difference does it make whether women rule or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same. Even in regard to courage, which is of no use in daily life, and is needed only in war, the influence of the Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous. The evil showed itself in the Theban invasion, when, unlike the women other cities, they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy. This license of the acedaemonian women existed from the earliest times, and was only what might be expected. For, during the wars of the Lacedaemonians, first against the Argives, and afterwards against the Arcadians and Messenians, the men were long away from home, and, on the return of peace, they gave themselves into the legislator’s hand, already prepared by the discipline of a soldier’s life (in which there are many elements of virtue), to receive his enactments. But, when Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the attempt. These then are the causes of what then happened, and this defect in the constitution is clearly to be attributed to them. We are not, however, considering what is or is not to be excused, but what is right or wrong, and the disorder of the women, as I have already said, not only gives an air of indecorum to the constitution considered in itself, but tends in a measure to foster avarice.””
Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, Section III:
Lykurgus ought to have been the next king. And he did indeed reign until his brother’s wife was found to be pregnant; but as soon as he heard this, he surrendered the crown to the child, if it should be a boy, and merely administered the kingdom as guardian for the child. The Lacedaemonian name for the guardian of a royal orphan is ‘prodikus’. Now the queen made a secret proposal to him, that she should destroy her infant and that they should live together as king and queen. Though disgusted at her wickedness, he did not reject the proposal, but pretended to approve of it. He said that she must not risk her life and injure her health by procuring abortion, but that he would undertake to do away with the child. Thus he deluded her until her confinement, at which time he sent officials and guards into her chamber with orders to hand the child over to the women if it was a girl, and to bring it to him, whatever he might be doing, if it was a boy. He happened to be dining with the archons when a male child was born, and the servants brought it to him. He is said to have taken the child and said to those present, “A king is born to you, O Spartans,” and to have laid him down in the royal seat and named him Charilaus, because all men were full of joy admiring his spirit and justice.
In Sparta women could own property and eventually the downfall of
Sparta would be blamed on the fact that too many women owned too much property. Note that the men are not blamed for being over zealous which resulted in too many of their deaths.
In the drama Andromache by Euripides, line 594 Peleus Says to Menelaus:
No! A Spartan maid could not be chaste, e'en if she would, who leaves her home and bares her limbs annd lets her robe float free, to share with youths their races and sports,--customs I cannot away with. Is it any won- der then that ye fail to educate your women in virtue?
“Spartan girls participated in the cultic dancing at the Temple of Artemis Haryatis” (Cartledge, Sparta and Laconia, A Regional History, 1300-362 BC, p. 205)
“But the choruses of the Dorians, performed to the music of the cithara, were most of them stately and measured, partaking much of the nature of gymnastic and military exercises (cf. Ath. 14.628) [GYMNOPAEDIA, PYRRHICA]; though the hyporchema, introduced into Sparta from Crete by Thaletas, was a spirited song and dance, performed to the music of the flute as well as of the cithara. [HYPORCHEMA] The Doric chorus was quadrangular, and analogies are found between it and the divisions of infantry (Müller, Dor. 3.12, 10). There were choruses of boys, men, and old men at the different Spartan festivals (Plut. Lyc. 21); and the matrons and maidens danced likewise (ib. 14); choruses of youths and maidens combined being called ὅρμοι (Lucian. de Salt. § 12). William Smith Chorus entry”
Mythical Women of ancient Sparta:
- Sparte — according to the version of Spartan origins reported by
Pausanias (Paus. 3.1.2) and hardly of great age, was daughter of Eurotas,
wife of Lakedaimon, and mother of Amyklas.
- Λήδην — Leda — mother of Helen
- Ἑλένη — Helen — wife of Menelaus. Her abduction by Paris caused the Trojan war. She was born near Sparta.
- Κλυταιμήστρη — Clytemnestra — born near Sparta but wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae.
- Τιμάνδρη — Timandra — a sister of Helen and Clytemnestra.
- Ἑρμιόνην — Hermione — the daughter of Helen and Menelaus and wife of Neoptolemus and Orestes.
- Φυλουόην — Phylonoe — daughter of Leda, who according to Hesiod (Catalog of Women) “… contended in beauty with the immortal goddesses”. Apollo made her immortal.
- Diomede — she married Amyclas, king of Amyclae, adjacent to Sparta
- Gorgophone — her second husband was Oebalus, king of Sparta
Historical Women of Ancient Sparta:
- Gorgo (509BCE-?)– Daughter of Cleomenes, she married her uncle Leonidas.
- Lampito (485?-455?BCE) — Wife of Archidamus and daughter of Leotychidas. Also a character in Lysystrata by Aristophanes.
- Eupolia — second wife of Archidamas
- Cynisca 3rd c. BCE — daughter of Eupolia. Horse breeder and the first woman to win a crown at the Olympic Games, in the four hourse chariot.
- Eurylon 3rd c. BCE. — Her team won an Olympic victory in the two-horse chariot race.
Education of Sparta
Spartan education was a formal education emphasizing discipline and athletic ability. Interestingly the Olympics may provide the model for these schools. Myth has it that nudity was required at the Olympics early on. At such events a building was provided to allow the athletes to remove their clothing in preparation for the event. Soon it was realized that other preparation was needed for the athletes. This included athletic exercises. These activities would be supervised by trainers who behaved in a way similar to the judges in the athletic event. Thus early education seems to have been athletic training. The word for school in ancient Greece ‘gymnasium’ supports these observations since the word essentially means ‘place of nudity. At Sparta the schools emphasized athletics but they were extended to other subjects such as reading, writing and speaking (rhetoric). Students in schools pictured on ancient vases only depict nudity associated with athletic events and not for the others. Also with the athletic images there is the suggestion of corporal punishment because switches are often illustrated. But with the other topics, such as music the students are seen learning by example. The ancient school building probably had the form of the gymnasium at Olympia though the remains of the one there are from the hellenic period. This was a large building that surrounding a court with a colonnade on several sides.
The Assembly at Sparta was made up of male Spartan citizens over the age of thirty. To gain citizenship a man had to pass training courses, and have a certain amount of education. To get this education and attempt the training courses, the Gerousia decided at the birth of the infant if he was to be raised or not. If he was not to be raised he would be exposed. After the age of seven the boy is to live in “herds” this system was called agoge. The agoge was set up to weaken family ties and to strengthen identity. All adults were responsible for the actions of all children; not only their chidden, but all Spartan children. When a child starts the agoge they are divided by age into groups and lived with older boys. These older boys supervised their actions. The agoge taught the boys how to read and write, but it put more attention to physical training, and music.
When the boys were twelve the agoge was set up more like a military. If they passed the agoge, then they can be voted into a mess, but if they are not voted into a mess then they could not be a citizen. A mess is a group of fifteen men of all ages who eat and fight together in wars, and they do this throughout their lives. They lived together until age thirty. When they turned thirty they were allowed to set up their own households. This is when they could hold a public office, but they would still have their main meals with the mess. Also men were in the military until the age of sixty. This is when they could be elected into the Gerousia, and they still ate with the mess and helped in training and teaching the younger men and the boys.
This is very similar to the Gymnopaedia festival of the Spartans where boys performed stylized dances representing their various martial and athletic abilities. The name ‘Gymnopaedia’ means ‘nude training’ that suggests the festival actually celebrated this system of education. Spartan boys rose early and spend the day in education and training. While much of a boy’s training had practical applications, the tremendous importance placed on dancing and singing as an inseparable component of these activities suggests both personal and public enjoyment of a Spartan boy’s daily routine. As with some German tribes, Spartan boys had little contact with their biological fathers and entered into long-lasting, meaning, and edifying relationships with noble and honorable men. In Sparta, all male citizens received the same education and training. There were no class or occupational divisions in their society. All Spartans were for the most part land-owning aristocrats. Mercantile, agricultural, and economic activities were franchised out to the helots, the permanent underclass of non-citizens of different race, language, and culture who were maintained at the pleasure of the Spartans.
Plato in the Laws (633b) makes the following reference to training in Sparta: ” it is the training, widely prevalent amongst us, in hardy endurance of pain, by means both of manual contests and of robberies carried out every time at the risk of a sound drubbing; moreover, the “Crypteia,”1 as it is called, affords a wonderfully severe training [633c] in hardihood, as the men go bare-foot in winter and sleep without coverlets and have no attendants, but wait on themselves and rove through the whole countryside both by night and by day. Moreover in our games,2 we have severe tests of endurance, when men unclad do battle with the violence of the heat,—and there are other instances so numerous that the recital of them would be well-nigh endless.”
“(14. 1) As for education, he considered it to be a lawgiver’s most significant and noblest work. For that reason he began first off by considering legislation about marriage and childbirth. For Aristotle is wrong when he says that it was because he tried and failed to make the women chaste that he gave up the idea of controlling the freedom and dominance the women had acquired because they were compelled to be in charge because of their husbands left them behind [while they were on campaign] and so were more considerate of them than was appropriate, and addressed them as ladies. 
Rather it was that Lycurgus took particular care about the women as well as the men. (14.2) He made the young women exercise their bodies by running  and wrestling and throwing the discus and the javelin, so that their offspring would have a sound start by taking root in sound bodies and grow stronger, and the women themselves would be able to use their strength to withstand childbearing and wrestle with labour pains. He freed them from softness and sitting in the shade and all female habits, and made it customary for girls no less than boys to go naked in processions and to dance naked at certain festivals and to sing naked while young men were present and looking on. 
(14.3) On occasion the girls made good-natured jokes about young men who had done something wrong, and again sang encomia set to music to the young men who deserved them, so as to inspire in the young men a desire for glory and emulation of their deeds. The man who was praised for his courage and was celebrated by the girls went away proud because of their praise.  But the sting of their jokes and mockery was as sharp as serious admonition, because along with the other citizens the kings and the senators attended the spectacle. (14.4) There was nothing shameful in the girls’ nakedness, because it was accompanied by modesty and self-control. It produced in them simple habits and an intense desire for good health, and gave the female sex a taste for noble sentiments, since they shared with the males virtue and desire for glory. As a result they tended to speak and think the kind of thing that Gorgo, the wife of king Leonidas, is reported to have said. When (as it seems) a foreigner said to her, ‘You Spartans are the only women who rule over their men’, she replied, ‘Because only we are the mothers of men’. 
(15.1) These customs also provided an incentive for marriage. I mean the naked processions of maidens and competitions in full view of the young men, who were attracted to them not (as Plato says) ‘by sexual rather than logical inevitability’.  In addition, Lycurgus attached disgrace to bachelorhood; bachelors were forbidden to watch the naked processions (15.3) Men married the girls by kidnapping them, not when they were small and immature, but when they had reached their full prime. Once the girl had been kidnapped a so-called bridesmaid cropped her hair close to her head, clothed her in a man’s cloak and sandals, and left her lying on a pallet in the dark. The bridegroom, not drunk or debauched, but sober, and after having dined as usual at the common table, came in and undid her belt  and carried her off to the marriage bed.
(15.4) After spending a short time with his wife he went off in a dignified way to his usual quarters, in order to sleep with the other young men. He kept on doing like this from then on: he would spend his days and sleep at night with his comrades, go to his wife secretly and cautiously, because he was ashamed and afraid that someone would discover him in her room, and meanwhile his wife was devising and planning with him how they might devise opportunities for secret meetings. (15.5) They carried on like this for some time, so long that some of them had children before they saw their wives in the daylight.
Such interviews not only provided opportunity to practise self-control and moderation, but kept their bodies fertile and always fresh for loving and eager for intercourse, because they were not satisfied and worn out by continual intercourse, but had always some remnant of an incentive for their mutual passion and pleasure.
(15.6) By endowing marriage with such restraint and order, he was equally able to dispel empty and womanish jealousy, by ensuring that although they removed unworthy offences from marriage, they could share the begetting of children with their fellows, and they made fun of anyone who turned to murder or war on the grounds that they could not share or participate in such practices. It was possible for an older man with a younger wife, if he was pleased with and thought highly of one of the virtuous young men, to bring him to his wife and having filled her with noble seed, to adopt the child as his own. Similarly it was possible for a good man, who admired the chaste wife of another man, to persuade her husband to let him sleep with her, so that he could plant his seed in a good garden plot and beget good children, to be brothers and kin to the best families … (15.9) His physical and political program at that time was very far from the laxity among the women that was said to have developed later, and there was no thought of adultery among them.
(16.1) Fathers did not have authority over raising their offspring.
Instead, the father took his child and brought it to a place called Lesche,  where sat the elders of the tribe. They examined the child, and if it were well-formed and strong, ordered it to be raised, and gave it one of the nine-thousand lots.
But if the child were ill-born and maimed, they discarded it in the so-called Apothetae, a kind of pit near Mt. Taygetus,  (16.2) on the grounds that it was not profitable for it to live, either for itself or for the state, if it were not well-framed and strong right from the start. This is why [Spartan] women washed infants not in water but in wine, in order to test their strength. For it is said that undiluted wine causes convulsions in babies who are epileptic or weak, and that healthy babies are tempered by it and their frames strengthened.
(16.3) Their nurses took special care in their craft, so that they were able to raise infants without swaddling cloths around their limbs, and left their figures free, and the babies were contented with their regime, and not fussy about food, and not scared of the dark or afraid to be left alone, and free of ignoble irritability and whining. For this reason certain foreigners purchased Spartan nurses for their children. They say that Amycla, the nurse of the Athenian Alcibiades,  was a Spartan.”
Economy of Sparta
Sparta was mainly an agricultural state because of its inland
location. It would have exported agricultural products such as wine and olive oil. Barley was grown both for animal feed and human food. During the Classical period wheat was also grown. Figs were grown and cheese was produced from sheep and goats. The sheep and goats whould have also provided wool, animal fat, and meat. The main export of the Mycenaean ancestors of Sparta was wool cloth and the Spartans may have continued this tradition.
The most important imports were metals.
In Sparta men citizens were warriors. The other men were slaves.
There were visitor men from surrounding states that did trading and commerce. A few of the men were aristocrats as there were usually two kings in Sparta. These positions were hereditary. The kings had the right to wage war against anyone they wished, but they had the responsibility to engage first and leave the battlefield last.
The helots performed the labor and the perioci traded that labor
for funds and goods the citizens, who only performed military duty, needed.
Though Sparta was not on the coast, its coastal territories included
several ports which did participate in international trade. The main port was Gythium (Gythion). Mainly it exported agricultural products such as wine and olive oil and imported lumber, metals, and wheat.
Metalurgy may have been an important part of the Spartan economy. Sparta rejected the coins made by the other Greek states and continued to use iron utensils as their medium of barter. ‘spits’ were ‘ugly bundles of iron rods’ This could be an indication that the working of iron was important to them.
Laconia was one of the leading producers of the Murex dye in ancient times. Dye was produced both at Gytheion and on Cythera. This dye was believed to produce the characteristic red color to the chitons of the Spartan Hoplites.
Sparta emphasized sports and even allowed women to participate. The sports they participated in included the events of the Olympics. At that time the Olympics included no team sports but the Spartans participated in team sports.
Sparta sent many participants to the Olympics. The first ancient Olympic women athletes were from Sparta. But they did not actually race. They were horse breaders and owners who sent men to do the racing.
The Importance of the Hoplite of Sparta
The main importance to us is that our system of Government is as much modeled on the Spartan system of Government as the Athenian. Even though the Spartans developed their government to ensure the subjugation of one people by another they were able to set up a government that was stable over many generations. The result was that some people enjoyed their whole lives in Sparta under the rule of law without a threat to their personal safety. In ancient times this was the exception. From the Spartan experience much good has come in the way of developing societies in which everyone is free under the rule of law.
The hoplite was key to his governmental stability. Foremost is the fact that the hoplites formed a strong army that allowed the Spartans to protect themselves from their enemies and enforce their own laws. Hoplites formed a strong army because it was found that if the soldiers worked together in an organized way they could defeat other armies. Many armies in those days were merely a mob of men who fought one on one. The Spartans realized that if the hoplites were trained to work together then even a small group of hoplites could defeat a large mob. At first hoplites were trained to overlap their shields but later other techniques were added. The Spartans may have developed the first system of public education simply as a way of training hoplites and producing a strong army.
A common practice in Greece was for the general of an army to determine the mood of the army through a vote. In Sparta this practice was modified to allow the hoplites to select senior members of the army to represent them. This gave the Spartans a representative form of government. They also had laws which they said were given them by Lycurgus. Whether this is true or not they believed that they should obey laws and so their culture was law-bound. Part of the tradition of the Spartans was that kings existed. In Sparta there were actually two kings. But the kings were not absolute in their authority and had to submit to the laws and a representative body selected ultimately by the hoplites . The kings formed an executive authority when an emergency required quick action. In this case the king would become the leader of the hoplites. Thus the Spartans had both an executive and legislative part of their government. This is the general model that our government has followed.
In Sparta the hoplites were the only real citizens and though they got to vote they also had to fight in the army. In fact the soldiers lived apart from their families in baracks where they held communal meals.
Architecture of Sparta
Before the Hellenistic period there were few monumental buildings. Sparta was a collection of small 5 small towns without a city wall. During the Hellenistic period a wall was built. After the Romans conquered Greece Sparta flourished because the Romans admired the discipline of the Spartans.
- The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia seems to be quite old especially as Helen is supposed to have danced there. During the Roman period the sanctuary was greatly expended because the Romans wanted seating to witness the spectacle. The ruins of this sanctuary are northeast of the present town but southeast of the Acropolis of Sparta near the Eurotis River.
- The Leonidaion — This structure is reportedly from the 5th century BCE, and is found in the north end of town.
- The Theater at Sparta, found on the south side of the Acropolis, probably was a Roman construction.
- The temple of Athena Chalkoikos, near the theater but probably on the Acropolis, contained a bronze statue created by a local man, Gitiadas. Its interior was covered with bronze sheets, hence the name.
- The Menelaion — This was a sanctuary built to honor Menelaus and Helen during the Archaic period. It is located at Therapne just east of Sparta.
- The Sanctuary of Apollo and Vapheio are both in Amyklai, 7 km south of Sparta on the west bank of the Eurotos.
All of these sites are in ruins. Pausanias (fl.c.160 CE) wrote an Ancient History Sourcebook: Description of Greece which includes the majority of information about Ancient Spartan Architecture. But most of his descriptions apply to buildings built during the Roman period.
Literature of Sparta
- Lycurgus (10th century BC) – lawgiver
- Tyrtaeus ( Tyrtaios, Greek: Τυρταῖος) — Greek elegiac poet. May have lived at Sparta about the middle of the 7th century BC.
- Alcman was a lyric poet who lived in Sparta about 610 BCE
- Chilon was philosopher who lived towards the beginning of the 6th century BC
- Xenophon lived in Spartan territory for a while and wrote about Sparta
- Gitiadas, a local man, who also composed Dorian lyrics. (550 BCE?
Though Spartans were literate, they produced little literature. They did not like writing things down. They did memorize though. They were involved in choruses which they had to memorize. They also memorized their laws.
Festivals that were Celebrated in Sparta
- Pohoidaia — A festival associated with the sanctuary of Poseidon at Akovitiva which was managed by the perioikoi of Thouria. Damonon won a horse race at one of these festivals.
- Athenaia — at Sparta Athena was worshipped as Chalkioikos, Athena of the bronze house. Kekrops was founder of the Athenaia festival at Athens and the one at Sparta may have come from that. But the name at Athens was changed to Panathenaia. Damonon won a horse race at one of these festivals.
- Hyacinthia (τὰ Ὑακίνθια)– a festival associated with the sanctuary of Apollo at Amyclaea (Ἀμύκλαι), An ancient town of Laconia, on the Eurotas, twenty miles southeast of Sparta. A festival, celebrated for three days in the summer of each year, in honour of Apollo and Hyacynthus. This festival was connected with the expression of grief at the death of vegetation, of joy over the harvest, and of cheerful trust in the re-awakening of nature. On the first day, which was dedicated to silent mourning, sacrifice to the dead was offered at the grave of Hyacinthus, which was under the statue of Apollo in the temple at Amyclae. The following day was spent in public rejoicing in honour of Apollo, in which all the populace, including the slaves, took part. They went in festal procession with choruses of singing boys and girls, accompanied by harps and flutes, to the temple of Apollo, where games and competitions, sacrifices and entertainments to one another took place, and a robe, woven by the Spartan women, was offered to the god. The Hyacinthia fell in the Spartan month Ἑκατμοβεύς’. In the temple the pedestal of the statue is fashioned into the shape of an altar and they say that Hyacinthus is buried in it, and at the Hyacinthia, before the sacrifice to Apollo, they devote offerings to Hyacinthus as to a hero into this altar through a bronze door, which is on the left of the altar. Treaties were sworn to at this altar. Amycleans leave to go back home and perform the traditional rites in honor of Apollo and Hyacinthus. Reference
- Carneian festival (Greek: Κάρνεια) The Dorians believed that war should not be waged during this festival.
- Gymnopaedia — γυμνοπαιδία — a yearly festival in honour of those who fell at Thyrea, at which naked boys danced and went through gymnastic exercises. In Roman times this festival was celebrated by Sparta July 6-10. when naked youths danced and sang round the statue of Apollo Carneius, in honor of the Spartans who fell at the battle of Thyrea. Frequently the choruses of Alcman were used at this festival.
- Enyalia — a Spartan military festival of youths who sacrificed a dog to Enyalius (Ares).
Homosexuality of Sparta
A number of factors give rise to thoughts of homosexuality in ancient Spartan society. The nudity of athletic events suggests this. The fact that the men were shamed to stay away from their wives suggests this. Then there are stories of homosexuality in other parts of Greece. They did feel that men should wait to get married and may have felt that homosexuality helped in this process.
The incidence of gay men in Sparta was probably not a whole lot different from the
incidence of gay men in society today. If Sparta encouraged male to male relations the incidence of homosexual acts may have increased. But the percentage of men that preferred homosexual acts probably did not change. The fact is that only a few people are willing to have sex with both sexes and it is only these people that can be influenced by the encouragement of homosexuality. Most of the men continued to have families and children. Only if the men related with their wives would the population of Sparta continue. The fact is that it did continue for quite a few generations.
It is important to realize that contemporary notions of homosexuality are not very applicable to ancient Greece. There can be no doubt that male to male erotic relations were formed but the question remains whether this involved a sexual preference. Aristotle states (Aristot. Pol. 2.1272a 22-24) that the Spartan lawgiver introduced male to male relations into Spartan culture so that women would not bear so many children. This implies that homosexual relations were encouraged but it does not indicate that heterosexual relations were eliminated, nor does it state which are preferred. The quote from Aristotle may support the idea that pederasty was a common practice among the Spartans. There even are images that suggest that older men formed sexual relations with younger men and boys. man embracing boy But there are many more pictures of men having sex with women. Pederasty may have been more of a problem in other Greek states. In Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaimonians he suggests that sexual relations between men and boy is discouraged: Xen. Const. Lac. 2.12:
“I think I ought to say something also about intimacy with boys, since this matter also has a bearing on education. In other Greek states, for instance among the Boeotians, man and boy live together, like married people; elsewhere, among the Eleians, for example, consent is won by means of favours. Some, on the other hand, entirely forbid suitors to talk with boys.
The customs instituted by Lycurgus were opposed to all of these. If someone, being himself an honest man, admired a boy’s soul and tried to make of him an ideal friend without reproach and to associate with him, he approved, and believed in the excellence of this kind of training. But if it was clear that the attraction lay in the boy’s outward beauty, he banned the connexion as an abomination; and thus he caused lovers to abstain from boys no less than parents abstain from sexual intercourse with their children and brothers and sisters with each other.”
The fact of pederasty may give us a biased view of homosexuality in ancient Greek culture. The attention that an older man gave to a younger man man have been a significant opportunity to the younger man. It may be that young men that favored homosexual relations were more suited to this type of arrangement. The result may have been that these men tended to be better educated in that culture. These better educated men would be more likey to have come to out attention through history. Because we see more of these men in history we would get the idea that homoseuality was more prevalent in that culture. When in fact the incidence of men who prefer homosexual acts seems about the same in all cultures.
The evidence for woman to woman sexual relations in Sparta seems scanty. There is just the slightest suggestion of it in the Lysistrata by Aristophanes. The importance of childbirth by ancient Spartan women would suggest lesbian behavior would be frowned upon. But evidence of this is scarce.
Pictures of Sparta
The theater at Sparta can be viewed at: Click here
The acropolis of Sparta can be viewed at: Click here
The Sparta Museum has a number of images of artifacts of ancient Sparta: click here
Resources about Sparta
Ancient Authors on Sparta:
- Plutarch wrote biographies of three Spartans: Lycurgus, Agesilaus, and Agesilaus.
- Xenephon wrote a short treatise on the Constitution of Sparta, a biography of Agesilaus, and a work called Hellenica.
- Tyrtaeus of Sparta
- Simonides of Creos
- The Oracle at Delphi,(Inscriptions)
- Terpander of Anissa
- Alcaeus of Mytilene
- Pindar of Thebes
- Ibycus of Samos
- Alcman of Sparta
- Cynisca of Sparta
- Materials for the Study of Ancient Sparta
- The Ancient Greeks
- The Dorian Measure, with a Modem Application:
- Women of Sparta
- The women of Sparta
- DeVoto, James G., “Agesilaus and the Politics of Sparta”, ISBN: 0890055742, ca. 400pp Hb. $35.00, A biography of the first Spartan king who reigned during the early years of Sparta’s hegemony. The work considers Sparta’s role as an
international power as well as the difficulties of a city-state whose institutions failed to adjust to the new situation.
- Women at Sparta
- Agis, reformer of Sparta
- Spartan Art
- Art and royalty in Sparta of the 3rd century B.C.
A critique of this page found on From Progressive U Blog
S1 – What about the Spartans? They didn’t really have a concrete religion (more agnostics than anything, they believed in higher powers but didn’t really worship them, per se), yet they were some of the most respectful people in ancient Greece.
S2 – The, uh, Spartans weren’t ‘agnostic’ . . .They followed the same religion as the Greeks before them. Link: http://www.fjkluth.com/sparta.html
S1 – First of all, the link you’ve provided looks like some amateur’s work in the days of the dotcom boom
S2- Now now, don’t discredit information because it doesn’t use flash programming.
S2 – That web site is akin to someone writing an essay with massive issues in grammar, punctuation, and/or spelling.
This interchange documents the difficulties of the web. I put this information on as a benefit to the reader. It represents my best effort to research information of interest to the readers. I put references where I can. But instead of a reference to my diligence there is only a reference to my grammar, punctuation, and spelling. No effort is made to inform me of any difficulties. Nor are any references cited to help improve the quality of the data. So nothing is changed and nothing is improved and the value of truth is unchanged. Oddly the original statement is true that they did not have a concrete religion but they were not agnostics. Greek religion was not imposed as a belief system. The religion was believed to represent reality but the Greeks were open to the possibility of other truths. It was the search of alternate truths that lead to the development of modern science. But Spartans did not often pursue these alternate truths. The Athenians fared much better in this regard
Question: I wonder whether you can tell me how Spartan men dressed when they traveled in delegations to other cities
Answer: There is not much that can be said about what the Spartans wore during the classical period because there is so little written or pictured about their contemporary culture. An image of two Spartan statues is found at Bronze statuette of a warrior, c 490 BCE, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT.. Of the figure on the right Paul Cartledge, in his book “The Spartans” says, “The Spartan’ red cloaks were a distinctive feature of the local hoplite uniform. This Laconian-made warrior wears his wrapped around him as if on watch on a chilly night. In fact, as his unusual transverse crest may suggest, his is probably meant to be a general, perhaps even a king. Note the chracteristically Spartan long hair, the combing of which before the Battle of Thermopylae astonished the Spartans’ Persian enemies.” It would be nice to know what is meant by the word ‘cloak’ in this context. It might mean ‘chiton’ or it might mean ‘himation’.
Question: Those who travelled to the islands in delegations– at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, that is–would they have been Government officials, Generals, something else? I suppose they travelled by ship. I’m trying to picture what it may have looked like for the delegation to arrive (on a trireme?). I read about the red cloaks on the hoplites, but didn’t think that would apply to those in leadership roles…so my image involves long-haired men in the standard tunic, arriving on a trireme. It seems I recall Thucydides writing about the ATHENIAN men wearing linen underwear and golden grasshopper hair barrettes. I assume the Spartans didn’t have much truck with that sort of nonsense, so I picture them more austere, their tunics more uniform in style and length, pinned in the same way.
Answer: They might have travelled on a trireme but there would have been 150-200 men to row it. A trireme was not likey very comfortable to travel on. So delegations may have gone on sailing ships manned by 20 men. The quote that I gave you suggests that all Spartans dressed alike. Dress of the Spartans would have been plainer but similar to the dress of the Athenians. The word ‘tunic’ is not helpful. The Greek word for chiton is often translated tunic. But a tunic is a sewn garment while a chiton is simply rectangles of cloth. Linen underwear might mean a chiton worn under a himation. The image that I referenced seems to depict a garment that is carefully folded and the shape results from that folding. The shape would not have come from cutting pieces of cloth and sewing them together. This is consistent with classical dress.
The status of the delegation is not clear. There were special messengers whose job was to deliver a message and deliver a reply. Their special skill may have been memorization and public speaking. Delegates may have been no more than messengers. In Herodotus “Histories” 8.142 the phrase ‘Σπάρτης ἄγγελοι’ can be ‘Spartan envoys’ or ‘Spartan messengers’. There can be no doubt that these men held special trust but it is not clear that they were politicians or political officials. They might not have even been Spartans. They may have been priests. The same concept of messenger applies to priests that are announcing the results of an augury.
There may be more. The messengers of the gods, Iris and Mercury, are commonly illustrated. One could easily assume that their attire represented the attire of envoys or delegates. Of particular interest is the caduseus. This is the symbol of the herald of ancient times. One could easily assume that a caduseus was carried by the delegates.
Question: How did the ancient spartans trade and what medals did they use?
Answer: The Spartantans held a number of ports including Pheroe and Glythium through which their products were shipped to other countries. The metals they traded for included Iron, Lead, Copper, Tin, Silver, Gold.
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