(Doric: Σπάρτα Sparta, Attic: Σπάρτη Sparte) is a city in southern
Greece. In antiquity it was a Dorian Greek military state, originally
centered in Laconia. During Classical times Sparta had reached
the status of a military superpower, and by overpowering both the
and Persian Empires, she regarded herself as the natural protector
of Greece. Laconia or Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων) 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 the north, 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 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
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
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
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.
Rise and Decline
Earliest archeological evidence
testifying settlement in Sparta dates from around 950 BC. Classical
sources tell us that Sparta
was founded in the 10th century BC. It consisted of the four
villages of Pitane, Mesoa, Limnai and Konooura, which were later
under one government.
Around 750 BC, Sparta began expanding slowly
but steadily. The subjugated population of Laconia either became
Helots or Perioeci.
The Helots kept their farmland but were required to deliver half
of their output to the Spartan state, while the Perioeci were
inhabitants of cities that remained autonomous, save in matters of
affairs and military actions. The Perioeci formed a vital part
of Spartan society. As Spartans were forbidden non-military pursuits
and occupations, the Perioeci worked as traders, craftsmen, and
artists. From 650 to 620 BC, Sparta brought Messenia under its
control. The southern Peloponnese was Spartan territory, divided
into two parts, Laconia and Messenia, which were separated by
the Taygetos mountain range.
Unlike other Greek cities, Sparta controlled
much arable land.
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
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 superpowers 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 both
the Persian and Athenian Empires, 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.
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".
Sparta did not suffer under the
rule of any tyrant or dictator, and its phalanxes were considered
undefeatable. The term "Spartan" still
remains synonymous for anyone rigorously self-disciplined or courageous
in the face of pain, danger, or adversity. However, Sparta was
a nation closed off from the influence of other nations, with few
foreign imports and ideas, creating a barren cultural world, devoid
of great works of music and literature. According to Byzantine
sources, some parts of the Laconian region remained pagan until
well into the 10th century AD, and Doric-speaking populations survive
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
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
'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
society comes from historians of that time. Sparta was a mixed
Constitutional system, it was comprised of elements of both Monarchical,
Oligarchial, and Democratic systems. The Spartan government was
by many standards considered totalitarian. Laws regulated everything
from child birth to beards and the length of males' hair.
Spartans had no historical records, literature, or written
laws, which were, according to tradition, expressly prohibited
by an ordinance of Lycurgus. 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
There are several legendary explanations for
this unusual dual kingship, which differ only slightly; for example,
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
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
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
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
The duties of the kings were primarily religious,
judicial, and militaristic. They were the chief priests of the state,
certain sacrifices and also maintained communication with the
Delphian sanctuary, which always exercised great authority in Spartan
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
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
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,
Demeratus changed his mind about attacking the Athenians and
abandoned his Co-King. For this reason, Demeratus was banished, and
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
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 on the field by two ephors.
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
represented a democratic element in the constitution without
violating those oligarchical methods which seemed necessary for
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,
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
fact that the kings were, rightly or wrongly, suspected of having
taken bribes from the enemies of the state at one time or another.
After the ephors were introduced,
they, together with the two kings, were the executive branch of
the state. Ephors themselves
had more power than anyone in Sparta, although the fact that
they only stayed in power for a single year reduced their ability
conflict with already established powers in the state. Since
reelection was not possible, an ephor who abused his power, or confronted
an established power center, would have to suffer retaliation.
The difference with today's states is that Sparta had a special
policy maker, the gerousia, a council consisting of 28 elders
the age of 65, elected for life and usually part of the royal
households, and the two kings. High state policy decisions were discussed
this council who could then propose action alternatives to the
Damos, the collective body of Spartan citizenry, who would select
one of the alternatives by voting.
Not all inhabitants of the
Spartan state were considered to be citizens (part of Damos). Only
the ones that had followed the military
training, called the agoge, were eligible. However, the only
people eligible to receive the agoge were Spartiates, or people who
trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the city.
Others in the state were the Perioeci, who can be described as civilians,
and Helots who were state owned serfs. Due to the fact that descendants
of non-Spartan citizens were not able to follow the agoge, and
Spartans could lose their citizenship if they couldn't afford
pay the expenses of the agoge, the actual number of the Spartan
citizens was constantly reduced, known as oliganthropia.
Sparta, by the 5th century BC,
was the most powerful nation in all of Greece. Unlike many of the
Greek city-states it had only
one colony, and most of its power came from alliances with other
Sparta was not an empire: no tribute was paid except
in times of war. What Sparta essentially formed was a league, and
they chose their allies strategically. For example, Sparta favoured
Corinth because of its naval fleet. The allies would vow to have
the same friends and enemies, follow Sparta wherever they led,
and not go to war unless all the allies were in consensus. The
league's governmental structure was an oligarchy run by aristocrats;
it met in Corinth and was led by Sparta. The Congress, as it
called, consisted of representatives from each of the allied
city states who each held one vote.
Sparta was, above all, a militarist
state, and emphasis on military fitness began virtually at birth.
Shortly after birth, the mother
of the child bathed it in wine to see whether the child was strong.
If the child survived it was brought before the elders of the
tribe by the child's father. The elders then decided whether it was
be reared or not. If found defective or weak, the baby was left
on the wild slopes of Mt Taygetos. In this way the Spartans attempted
the maintenance of high physical standards in their population.
From the earliest days of the Spartan citizen, the claim on his
life by the state was absolute and strictly enforced.
It was customary
in Sparta that before the males would go off to war, their wives
or another female of some significance would
present them with their shield and say: "he tan, he epi tas" (Ή
τάν ή Επί τάς), which translates to "With this, or upon this." The
idea was that a Spartan could only return to Sparta in one of
two ways, victorious or dead. If a Spartan hoplite were to return
Sparta alive and without his shield, it was assumed that he threw
his shield at the enemy in an effort to flee; an act punishable
by death or banishment. It is interesting to note that a soldier
losing his helm, breastplate or greaves (leg armor) was not similarly
punished, as these items were personal pieces of armor designed
to protect one soldier. However the shield not only protected
the individual soldier but in the tightly packed Spartan Phalanx
also instrumental in protecting the soldier to his left from
harm. Thus the shield was symbolic of the individual soldier's
to his unit, his integral part in its success, and his solemn
responsibility to his comrades in arms - messmates and friends,
often close blood
relations. It could not be lost.
Burials in Sparta were also considered
an act of honour, and marked headstones would only be granted
to Spartan soldiers who died in
combat during a victorious campaign (or females who died in service
of a divine office or in childbirth).
A strong emphasis was placed
on honour and carrying out acts because it was the "right thing to do".
Xenophon wrote about the Spartans as he observed them during an Olympic
"An elderly man was trying to find a place to sit and
observe the Olympic Games, as he went to each section. All the
laughed as he tried to make his way through. Some ignored him.
Upon entering the Spartan section all the Spartans stood and offered
the elderly man their seats. Suddenly the entire stadium applauded.
All the Greeks knew what was the right thing to do, but the Spartans
were the only ones who did it."
Spartan boys left home for military
boarding school at the age of 21 and were required to serve in
the army until age thirty.
Then they passed into the active reserve, where they remained
until the age of sixty. Spartan education from the ages of seven
emphasised physical toughness, steadfastness in military ranks,
and absolute obedience to orders. The ordinary Spartan was a
citizen-warrior, or hoplite, trained to obey and endure; he became
only if chosen as ephor for a single year. He could be elected
a life member of the council after his sixtieth year, in which
he would be free from military service. Men could marry at the
age of twenty but could not live with their families until they
left their active military service at age thirty. The Spartans
perfected the craft of hoplite warfare. They called themselves "homoioi" (similars),
pointing to their common lifestyle and the discipline of the
phalanx, which demanded that no soldier be superior to his comrades.
male babies born in Sparta were too small, weak or sick (all
of which were believed as early signs that they would not be
suitable for military life), they were abandoned on the slopes of
also known as Apothetae or Place Of Rejection. The Spartans began
military training about the age of 7, where they would enter
the agoge system for the education and training—everything from physical
training such as hunting and dancing, to emotional and spiritual
training. At that age they would have to go through what was
as the gauntlet. They would have to run around a group of older
children, who would flog them continually with whips, sometimes
to death. As they were lightly clothed, and had no bedding to
speak of, children would often put thistles in their pallet because
prickling sensation made them feel warmer. From the age of 13
onward, they would be sorted into groups, and sent into the countryside
(with nothing, though some falsely believe they had knives),
forced to survive on their skills and cunning; this was called
the Krypteia, believed to be an initiation rite to seek out and
kill Helots who were considered to be troublesome to the state,
or were found to be wandering the countryside with no good reason.
the age of twenty, the Spartan began his membership in one of the
syssitia (dining messes or clubs), composed of about fifteen
members each, of which every citizen was required to be a member.
Here each group learned how to bond and rely on one another.
The Spartan exercised the full rights and duties of a citizen at
age of thirty. Only native Spartans were considered full citizens,
and needed to undergo the training as prescribed by law, and
participation in and contribution to one of the dining-clubs. Those
these conditions were considered "peers," (homoioi) citizens
in the fullest sense of the word, while those who failed were called "lesser
citizens," and retained only the civil rights of citizenship.
were absolutely debarred by law from trade or manufacture,
which consequently rested in the hands of the perioeci, and were
forbidden (in theory) to possess either gold or silver. Spartan
currency consisted of bars of iron, thus making thievery and
foreign commerce very difficult and discouraging the accumulation
Wealth was, in theory at least, derived entirely from landed
property, and consisted in the annual return made by the Helots,
the plots of ground allotted to the Spartans. But this attempt
to equalize property proved a failure: from the earliest times,
there were marked differences of wealth within the state, and
these became even more serious after the law of Epitadeus, passed
some time after the Peloponnesian War, removed the legal prohibition
of the gift or bequest of land. Helots were ruthlessly controlled,
primarily through the secret police or Krypteia.
released from any economic activity, were given a piece of land
(kleros), which was cultivated and run by the Helots.
As time went on, greater portions of land were concentrated in
the hands of large landholders, but the number of full citizens
declined. Citizens had numbered 10,000 at the beginning of the
5th century BC, but had decreased by Aristotle's day (384–322BC)
to less than 1,000, and had further decreased to 700 at the accession
of Agis IV in 244 BC. Attempts were made to remedy this situation
by creating new laws. Certain penalties were imposed upon those
who remained unmarried or who married too late in life. These
laws, however, came too late and were ineffective in reversing the
Perhaps the most widely known event on the efficiency
of the Spartan war-machine is related to the Persian Wars. The Spartan
the Battle of Thermopylae has been repeatedly cited in a military
Grand strategy context as a role model on the advantages of training,
strategy and bravery against extremely overwhelming odds.
Spartan women enjoyed a status, power
and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world.
They controlled their own properties,
as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with
the army. It is estimated that women were the sole owners of
at least 40% of all land and property in Sparta. The laws regarding
a divorce were the same for both men and women. Spartan women
as much education as men, as well as substantial amount of physical
education and gymnastic training. They rarely got married before
the age of 20, and unlike Athenian women who wore heavy, concealing
clothes and were rarely seen outside the house, Spartan women
wore short dresses and went where they pleased.
Women, being more
independent than in other Greek societies, were able to negotiate
with their husbands to bring their lovers into
their homes. According to Plutarch in his Life of Lycurgus, men
both allowed and encouraged their wives to bear the children
of other men, due to the general communal ethos which made it more
important to bear many progeny for the good of the city, than
be jealously concerned with one's own family unit. However, some
historians argue that this 'wife sharing' was only reserved for
elder males who had not yet produced an heir. For this reason,
Plutarch claims that the concept of "adultery" was
alien to the Spartans, and relates that one ancient Spartan had
that it was as possible to find a bull with a neck long enough
to stand on a mountain top and drink from a river below, as to
find an adulterer in Sparta. A modern view holds that bisexual
relations were commonplace among Spartan women, and it was considered
acceptable for married women to have affairs with unmarried girls
in their prime.
A common saying of Sparta women to their men
with it [the shield], or upon it" (he tan he epi tas), meaning
that a Spartan soldier was expected to return from battle either
victorious (with his shield) or dead (carried on his shield).
Until the age of seven, boys were educated
at home and were taught to fight their fears as well as general
superstition by their nurses,
who were prized in Greece. Their official training was then undertaken
by the state in the agoge system and supervised by the paidonomos,
an official appointed for that purpose. This training consisted
for the most part in physical exercises, such as dancing, gymnastics,
and ball-games.The Dorians were the first to practice nudity
in athletics, as well as oiling the body during exercise to enhance
its beauty, a costly practice which broke with the customary
of the Spartans. According to Plato this practice was introduced
from Crete to Sparta, and then to the rest of Greece.
in music and literature occupied a subordinate position. The tireless
emphasis on physical training gave Spartans the reputation
for being "laconic", economical with words, a word
derived from the name of their homeland of Laconia. Education
extended to girls, in the belief that strong and intelligent
mothers would produce strong and intelligent children. Thus modern
historians, with the corroboration of ancient writers, tend to
conclude that Spartan women were among the most educated in the
ancient Greek world.
Both sexes exercised nude and because of
this a strong emphasis was placed on the physical fitness of
well as women. Despite their physical fitness, women could not
compete in the Olympic Games, according to the Olympic rules
(they competed in the Heraea Games instead). However, there were
of Spartan princesses who led female troops. There were also
contests to see who could take the most severe flogging, an ordeal
Between leaving the agoge and joining a syssitia
a select few young men were arranged into groups, and were sent
off into the
countryside with nothing, and were expected to survive on wits
and cunning. It was assumed that they would steal their food, yet
anyone caught stealing was severely punished. Many speculate that
this was to teach the young Spartans stealth and quickness. If
you were caught it was concluded that you were not quick enough
or silent enough. This was called the Crypteia, secret (ritual).
This was very probably, in origin, an old initiation rite, a preparation
for their later career as elite soldiers. Other sources claim that
the Crypteia (or Krypteia) was an "adolescent death squad" made
up of the most promising young Spartans. Their job was to roam
the countryside killing Helots at night in order to instill fear
in the slave population and prevent rebellion.
There is a well-known passage in
Thucydides which runs thus:
"Suppose the city of Sparta to be deserted, and nothing left
but the temples and the ground-plan, distant ages would be very
unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at
all equal to their fame. Their city is not built continuously,
and has no splendid temples or other edifices; it rather resembles
a group of villages, like the ancient towns of Hellas, and would
therefore make a poor show" (i. 10, trans. Jowett).
The first feeling of most travellers who
visit modern Sparta is one of disappointment with the ancient remains.
A better "show" is
put on by Byzantine Mistra, with its grass-grown streets, its decaying
houses, its ruined fortress and its beautiful churches. Until the
early twentieth century, the chief ancient buildings at Sparta
were the theatre, of which, however, little showed above ground
except portions of the retaining walls; the so-called Tomb of Leonidas,
a quadrangular building, perhaps a temple, constructed of immense
blocks of stone and containing two chambers; the foundation of
an ancient bridge over the Eurotas; the ruins of a circular structure;
some remains of late Roman fortifications; several brick buildings
and mosaic pavements.
The remaining archaeological wealth consisted of inscriptions,
sculptures, and other objects collected in the local museum, founded
by Stamatakis in 1872 (and enlarged in 1907). Excavations were
carried on near Sparta, on the site of the Amyclaeum in 1890 by
Tsounas, and in 1904 by Furtwangler, and at the shrine of Menelaus
in Therapne by Ross in 1833 and 1841, and by Kastriotis in 1889
and 1900. Organized digs were attempted in the area of Sparta proper;
partial excavation of the round building was undertaken in 1892
and 1893 by the American School at Athens. The structure has been
since found to be a semicircular retaining wall of Hellenic origin
that was partly restored during the Roman period.
In 1904, the British School at Athens began a thorough exploration
of Laconia, and in the following year excavations were made at
Thalamae, Geronthrae, and Angelona near Monemvasia as several medieval
fortresses were being surveyed. In 1906, excavations began in Sparta
itself, yielding many finds, which have been published in the British
School Annual, vol. xii. sqq.
A small circus described by Leake proved to be a theatre-like
building constructed soon after AD 200 around the altar and in
front of the temple of Artemis Orthia. Here musical and gymnastic
contests took place as well as the famous flogging ordeal (diamastigosis).
The temple, which can be dated to the 2nd century BC, rests on
the foundation of an older temple of the 6th century, and close
beside it were found the remains of a yet earlier temple, dating
from the 9th or even the 10th century. The votive offerings in
clay, amber, bronze, ivory and lead found in great profusion within
the precinct range, dating from the 9th to the 4th centuries BC.,
supply invaluable evidence for early Spartan art; they prove that
Sparta reached her artistic zenith in the 7th century and that
her decline had already begun in the 6th.
In 1907, the sanctuary of Athena "of the Brazen House" (Chalkioikos)
was located on the acropolis immediately above the theatre, and
though the actual temple is almost completely destroyed, the site
has produced the longest extant archaic inscription of Laconia,
numerous bronze nails and plates, and a considerable number of
votive offerings. The Greek city-wall, built in successive stages
from the 4th to the 2nd century, was traced for a great part of
its circuit, which measured 48 stades or nearly 10 km. (Polyb.
1X. 21). The late Roman wall enclosing the acropolis, part of which
probably dates from the years following the Gothic raid of 262
AD, was also investigated. Besides the actual buildings discovered,
a number of points were situated and mapped in a general study
of Spartan topography, based upon the description of Pausanias.
Excavations showed that the town of the Mycenean Period was situated
on the left bank of the Eurotas, a little to the south-east of
Sparta. The settlement was roughly triangular in shape, with its
apex pointed towards the north. Its area was approximately equal
to that of the "newer" Sparta, but denudation has wreaked
havoc with its buildings and nothing is left save ruined foundations
and broken potsherds.
The Spartan World
Around the middle of the 6th century BC, the
southern Peloponnese was Spartan territory. The territory was divided
Laconia and Messenia, which were separated by the Taygetos mountain
range. Unlike other Greek cities, Sparta controlled much arable
land. Earliest archeological evidence testifying settlement in
Sparta dates from around 950 BC. Classical sources tell us that
Sparta was founded in the 10th century BC. It consisted of the
four villages of Pitane, Mesoa, Limnai and Konooura, which were
later united under one government.
Around 750 BC, Sparta began expanding slowly but steadily. The
subjugated population of Laconia either became Helots or Perioeci.
The Helots kept their farmland but were required to deliver half
of their output to the Spartan state, while the Perioeci were inhabitants
of cities that remained autonomous, save in matters of foreign
affairs and military actions. The Perioeci formed a vital part
of Spartan society. As Spartans were forbidden non-military pursuits
and occupations, the Perioeci worked as traders, craftsmen, and
artists. From 650 to 620 BC, Sparta brought Messenia under its
control. In the first third of the 6th century. Sparta was defeated
by the city of Argos and later by Tegea. It was against the backdrop
of the Messenian war and the following defeats that the unique
Spartan way of life developed, which made Sparta famous in Ancient
From 550 BC onwards, the goals of the
Spartan cosmos – toughness of body and mind as well as military
efficiency – seem to have
been achieved. Sparta did not suffer under the rule of any tyrant
or dictator, and its phalanxes were considered undefeatable. The
term "Spartan" still remains synonymous for anyone rigorously
self-disciplined or courageous in the face of pain, danger, or
adversity. However, Sparta was a nation closed off from the influence
of other nations, with few foreign imports and ideas, creating
a barren cultural world, devoid of great works of music and literature.
According to Byzantine sources, some parts of the Laconian region
remained pagan until well into the 10th century AD, and Doric-speaking
populations survive until today.
Prior to modern times, the site of Sparta
was occupied by a relatively small village that lay in the shadow
a more important
medieval Greek settlement nearby. In 1834, after the Greek War
of Independence, King Otto of Greece decreed that the village
was to be rebuilt into a city on and bear the same name (pronounced
Sparti in Demotic Greek, Sparta in Tsakonian).
The modern city of Sparta was designed with the intention of creating
one of the most beautiful cities in Greece through the use of tree-lined
boulevards and parklands. During the monarchy, the title of Duke
of Sparta was used for the Greek crown prince, the διάδοχος (diadoxos).
At present, Sparta is the administrative capital of the prefecture
of Laconia. A Laconian Doric (Spartan) language known as Tsakonian
survives in the Laconian region of Peloponnese until the modern
era, although today its number of native speakers has significantly
Sparta is the center of an agricultural plain whose focus is the
Eurotas valley. It is the local center for the processing of goods
such as citrus and olives.
Sparta is a sister city of Stamford, Connecticut, United States.
Year Communal population Municipal population
1961 : 10,412
1981 : 12,975
1991 : 13,011 16,322
2001 : 14.817 19,567
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