Sparta 3 Essay, Research Paper
Sparta, one of the powerful city-states, retains this name for good reasons. The Spartans faced the problems of overpopulation and land hunger. Their solution was to conquest to gain more land. Almost defeated, the Messenian war cost Sparta a high price. A half-century of war, so hard fought, had ground the military life deep into Spartan consciousness. It seemed to them they never dare relax, especially when there were so few Spartans and so many helots. Surely if the Spartans ever relaxed, even slightly, the helots would rise at once.
To provide for their economic needs the Spartans divided the land of Messenia among all citizens. Helots worked the land, raised crops, provided the Spartans their living, and occasionally served in the army. The Spartans kept the helots in line by means of systematic terrorism, hoping to beat them down and keep then quiet.
This is how the situation stood for Sparta at the end of the Messenian Revolt. Controlling the territory of a population that outnumbered their population ten to one, it was only a matter of time before the Messenian population would over-run their conquerors. So the Spartans invented a new political system as dramatically revolutionary as Athenian democracy in the north; they turned their state into a military state.
Fighting was not a trade for weaklings as the Spartans practiced it. For that reason, the Spartans dedicated their lives to warfare. Spartan youngsters were inspected at birth to see if they were physically sound. If they were not, they were abandoned in the hills and left to die. At the age of seven, they were taken from their mothers and were brought up in barracks. They were taught to endure cold, hunger and pain without complaint. At twenty, after thirteen years of training, the Spartan became a soldier. The Spartan soldier spent his life with his fellow soldiers. The soldier was allowed to be married, but did not live with his wife. They lived in the barracks until age thirty. Military service ended at the age of sixty.
The life of a Spartan male was a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. The Spartans viewed themselves as the true inheritors of the Greek tradition. They did not surround themselves with luxuries, expensive foods, or opportunities for leisure. While the Athenians and many others thought the Spartans were insane, the life of the Spartans seemed to return to a more basic way of life. Civilization was often seen as bringing disorder, weakness, and decline in moral values.
This soldier-centered state was the most liberal state in regards to the status of women. While women did not go through military training, they were required to be educated along similar lines. The Spartans were the only Greeks not only to take seriously the education of women, they instituted it as state policy. This was not, however, an academic education, it was physical education, which would be grueling. Infant girls were also exposed to die if they were judged to be weak; they were later subject to physical and gymnastics training. This education also involved teaching women that their lives should be dedicated to the state. In the most Greek states, women were required to stay indoors at all times. Spartan women, however, were free to move about, and had an unusual amount of domestic freedom for their husbands, after all, didn t live at home.
Spartan government consisted of three parts: The kings, the senate or council and the assembly. The two kings had the right of commanding, the army in war. The senate of council consisted of the two kings, and twenty-eight other men elected for life. The duties of the senate were to prepare all the laws and matters of public interest, which were to be brought before the general assembly and it acted as a court of justice for criminal cases. Every Spartan citizen over thirty years old was a member of the assembly. It was their job to give or deny approval of all matters brought before them by the senate. Above all three parts, however was a group of five men known as the Ephorate. For all practical purposes, Spartan government was the Ephorate, for these five men lead the council, ran the military, ran the educational system, ran the infant selection system, and had veto power over everything coming out of the council or the assembly.
Spartan society was divided into three main classes. At the top was the Spartiate or native Spartan. The Spartiate served in the army and were the only people who enjoyed the full political and legal rights of the state. Next were the perioeci, or the dwellers around or about. These people served as a kind of buffer population between the Spartans and helots. Because of this vital function, they were given a great deal of freedom. Most of the trade and commerce carried out in Sparta was performed by the perioeci. At the bottom, of course, were the helots.
The Spartans enjoyed an outstanding reputation for personal morality, frugality, hardihood, and courage. They produced no historians; they were neurotically secretive; they were so frightened of rebellion that they allowed youths or magistrates to kill helots indiscriminately. But what outsiders admired was their professionalism, direct speech, and matchless discipline.