Sparta

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This was add as a header by Ronald Greer who is a student studying history at Jeff State, and who has been accused of plagerrizing his essays. Therefore this edit has been added to prove that this essay is property of Ronald Greer.

Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Sparta

The Spartan army is probably the most iconic and memorable military force in ancient history. Documented stories of their hard fought battles have been passed down from one generation to the next. Because of their fighting skills many have referred to them as the “Special Forces” of ancient Greece. Their victories over their opposition have afforded the Spartans a reputation as a brave and professional army, with a command of battle tactics that was unmatched by any other military force during the height of Spartan society. However, this was not always so. During the heroic Mycenaean age, the Spartan army did not fight as a single unified battle unit that everyone envisions from the movies. Instead the soldiers often sought individual glory from battle and therefor fought out of formation. It wasn’t until around 450 B.C. that the ideas of Spartan military tactics and training began to change, thereby creating the most dominate military fighting force of ancient Greece.

With an ever expanding population the Spartan society fought and conquered many of their neighboring states in order to gain control of the much needed rich and fertile farm land that these city states possessed. And after defeating the armies, the Spartans enslaved the defeated people and forced them into a life of servitude. The Helots, as the conquered peoples would be known as, were used not only as forced labor and farmers but more importantly as a military buffer and protection of the Spartan kingdom. But unlike the rest of Greece the Helots were not considered true slaves such as the ones located in Athens. The role of the Helots was to provide goods and services to the Spartan Elite and in turn the Spartan army would protect them from invasion by other Greek nations. The Helots lived in close nit communities with their families, and unlike other slaves groups in Greece, the Helot families were not broken up or sold off to other slave traders. The Helots were also able to gain their freedom and become citizens of Sparta. They could gain their freedom through service with the military, as many Helots were often recruited to join the front lines at a time of war. This was done mainly to help control the population size of the Helots since they outnumbered the Spartan army 4 to 1, but also by deploying the Helots to the front lines they would perform most of the fighting and their by weakening the opposing military force before the Spartan elite army needed to fight, thus guaranteeing the Spartan army a quick victory. The Helots that did gain their freedom and joined the Spartan society were not allowed to consider themselves a true Spartan citizen but instead a lower working class of Spartan, they were not allowed to move within the city limits, but instead had to stay outside the city perimeter, but after gaining their freedom and earning their citizenship they did not need to pay any further retributions to the Spartan government for their military protection.

With the Spartan men freed from any economic or communal requirement, they were free to practice the art of war. Life for a Spartan man became more militarized than any other Greek State, since it was the only professional opportunity in Sparta; all Spartan men became professional soldiers. The selection of Spartan warriors began at birth, as Spartan elders would inspect infants for any defects, and those judged to be puny or misshaped, would be thrown from the cliffs of Mount Taygetos, also known as “The Deposits”. Those who survived the inspection began their training at the age of seven when they were sent to a military school called the Agoge. The Agoge was a rigorous military education that taught all Spartan children how to survive, however, its main focus was teaching discipline to the youth in order to create an ideal Spartan citizen and warrior. After being taken from their mothers the children were housed with other children within the same age group and these children were supervised by an older cadet of the Agoge and an even older Soldier of Sparta. The children were drilled in gymnastics, running, throwing of the spear and most impressively how to endure pain. The Spartan soldiers prided themselves on the hardships that they were taught to endure. And as children living through the Agoge, many suffered through extreme hardships such as hunger, fatigue from lack of sleep, training without shoes and only having one piece of clothing to last a full year. The children were given one meal a day and were taught to steal other food to compensate for the lack of provisions, however if the children were caught stealing the food, they were punished by an older teen that was assigned to oversee their training. Since both sexes were sent to learn and develop in the Agoge they both learned the basic rudimental skills of reading and writing, but mastered the art of speaking as few words as possible while also making their point clear as possible. As young children both sexes learned to sing and dance to military songs and to recite military poems, often times these poems were tales of victory of battles the Spartan armies had won. During the time of festivals the children would parade up and down the streets singing and dancing while completely naked. The children competed in Greek Olympic Games against one another, this was done to gage the strongest and fastest among the children and also to prepare the children for their material parings later in life. But at the age of twelve the separation of the two sexes really began to take place. The boys began their training as soldiers with an emphasis on physical training and development. They started and perfected their combat training with their main weapon, the spear, and with their various swards that were carried into combat. The boys were also thrown out into the wild to survive for a year without protection of the community, they were forced to steal, hunt and survive by any means necessary which often times including killing other human beings. Throughout Spartan history there have been accounts of Spartan boys attacking and killing Helots in order to survive the Agoge training. These killing were done to perfect their battle skills and also to protect themselves from being discovered while they were stealing food or supplies. After the girls had reached the age of twelve their training was focused more towards the intellectual aspects of Spartan life with a strong emphasis on child rearing. The Spartan emphasis of producing strong women was because the Spartans believed that strong women gave birth to strong children who would then become strong citizens and warriors. The Agoge lasted until a Spartan turned twenty years old and at that time they would be tested on both their fighting skills and their ability to lead a unit into combat. Those that passed the test were allowed to become a true Spartan citizen and was given a share of land to develop, this was often times done by Helot slaves in order to leave the Spartan warrior available for practicing and training for war. Those that did not pass the test could not become a Spartan citizen and was often looked at as an outcast, who then must live outside the city limits with the freed Helot slaves.

The hardships and lifelong training of Spartan soldiers led to the development of the best trained soldiers in Ancient Greece. Often times when a nation was preparing to go to war, they would seek out the council and help of a Spartan soldier. The contracted soldier would train the military to prepare them for battle by drilling them through mock combat and battle exercises; they would teach army commanders leadership skills that were vital to controlling the army during combat. The contracted Spartan soldiers often supervised the army during combat but never actually engaged in battle themselves. A couple of examples to this sub-contracting Spartan soldiers happened during the invasion of the Persian army by Xerxes the great, the Spartan generals who led the Athenian Navel battle which destroyed Xerxes armada, and last was the Spartan general that led the assault that essentially ended the Persian invasion at Thermopylae.

The military prowess of the Elite Spartan Army is not the only substantial difference from other Greek States, their culture and economic differences are unique to only Sparta during ancient Greece. Many of the Spartan reforms that made the nation standout from other Greek states were instigated by “Lycurgus”, the symbolic founder of Sparta. While try to avoid blame being placed upon him for the accidental death of his nephew he traveled through several independent nations learning what he could about other governments and economic systems before moving back to Sparta. The first item that Lycurgus made changes to was the separation of the army from the common working man, and it is through Lycurgus’s hard work that the Spartan army developed into the legendary military force of Ancient Greece. Lycurgus then forced the kingship to divide the crown and all ruling power between to ruling kings. This was done so that during the time of battle one king would lead the army while one king stayed to maintain order with in the Spartan nation. Also with Sparta having dual rulers or kings, it kept the nation from becoming a system of tyranny and dictatorship. Also because of the brutality of the Agoge training system the line of succession was always kept in check since there was two ruling kings to give birth to sons. Lycurgus must also be given credit for creating a Senate of twenty-eight men to help keep the kings power in check by giving the people of Sparta a voice of power. With a Senate in place items such as war confrontations or taxes to be raised and even peace treaties all had to be voted on through the Senate. Elder Spartan soldiers who had reached the age of sixty and no longer had to fight in the Spartan army were allowed to run for Senate office. For Lycurgus this guaranteed that the Senate would not jump too hastily into battle, since all of the Senators were battle hardened warriors.

Lycurgus was also credited with the development of the Spartan mess halls. These were local dining areas that all Spartan citizens would eat at collectively as a community. Every Spartan citizen was required to bring food and provisions to be shared collectively as a community. And in fact it was at one of these community gatherings that the great Spartan King, who lead a small military force against the first Persian invasion army that was led by Darius, was questioned about the amount of men he had brought into battle against the Persians that the famous quote had come from; as the Spartan King asked the invited guest “what was their profession” and the guest gave several answers, and his reply to them was “I brought more soldiers than you did”.

Lycurgus also helped to establish a new system of marriage for the Spartan society. After the men and women had gone through the training of the Agoge and reached the age of twenty for the men and eighteen for the women they were allowed to marry but were not allowed to live together, the men had to live in barracks with other men of the Spartan army until they reached the age of thirty. The only time that the Spartan men would see their wives was when they had snuck out to procreate and to have children. Marriage for Spartan men and women was not the same as it was for other Greeks. Marriages were prearranged according to how the men and women performed during the Agoge and at Greek games. They were matched to help produce healthy and strong offspring, for example, the fastest man was matched with the fastest woman, and the strongest man was matched with the fastest woman. However, marriages in Sparta did not have the same meaning as they did in other Greek states such as Athens. The marriages in Sparta were done mainly to produce the strongest off spring and were not meant for a long lasting commitment between to two people in the marriage. Often time’s women would have children by different fathers simply because they thought that they would produce stronger more viable children. And unlike in Athens a woman having several extra material affairs was not looked down upon, and often times the community helped to raise the children as a whole until they were taken to join the Agoge. One of the strongest comparisons between the Spartan society and the Athenians could be made between the women of the two nations. It has been recorded throughout both societies that the Athenian women looked down upon the Spartan women as if they were “nothing but common whores”, for having children with several different men. Also the Spartan women often competed in the Greek games with the men and on several occasions they competed naked just like the men did. Another comparison was between the women’s bodies, the Athenian women were “rounder with fuller hips and waist and breast that sagged”, while the Spartan women who trained with the men and competed in games like the men had “firm muscular bodies, with defined and tone arms, stomach, legs with breast that were firm and full”. Also unlike the Spartan women the Athenian women were charged with raising their children with no outside help other than immediate family and only had children with their husbands. And unlike other Greek States, Spartan women enjoyed more freedom and independence. Because the land and wealth was evenly distributed equally among the Spartan Citizens, many women owned their own property and conducted business freely throughout the city. And during a time when women had no rights, several prominent Spartan women held seats on official councils, where they were allowed to voice their opinions about official Spartan business.

The largest and most influential change that Lycurgus made was to the economic system of Sparta. After his travels abroad to other nations, he realized the corruption and greed that gold and silver brought to a civilization. After his return to Sparta he found the citizens had become fat and lazy throughout the society. They had been embellished with a lavish lifestyle. Many of the homes had been built to showcase the amount of wealth that its owner possessed. The houses were filled with extravagant furniture and fixtures throughout. The money was not evenly distributed among the citizens, thereby creating a social class of wealthy people who controlled the economic power and the government. The first thing that Lycurgus mandated was that all gold and silver be turned over to the government, to eliminate the buildup of excessive wealth by one or a couple of people. Secondly he redistributed all of the land that Sparta controlled evenly to all of the citizens in Sparta. And then he developed a system of money made from iron. The new money which was worthless throughout Greece except in Sparta was instilled to eliminate greed. Also because it would take so much of the iron money to account to any wealth it made it unfeasible to amass the amount of iron coinage to develop any control of the government and economy by a few wealthy people. Also because the iron money was so worthless it was hard to transport the amount need to purchase any good abroad, therefore it helped Sparta to develop a society based on what it could produce without needing to import goods from other nations, thereby maintain Sparta as a separate and independently society from the rest of the Greek States.


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