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The Rise of Sparta: Spartan Constitution and Spartan Way of Life


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Title: The Rise of Sparta: Spartan Constitution and Spartan Way of Life

The Rise of Sparta Spartan Constitution and
Spartan Way of Life
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Geography Location
Geography Location
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  • Websters has defined Spartans as warlike,
    brave, hardy, stoical, severe, frugal, and highly
  • Even till today, calls up images of military
    strength and prowess, and of a way of life
    devoted single-mindedly to patriotic duty,
    characterized by patriotism, courage in battle,
    and tolerance for deprivation.

  • Admired in peace and dreaded in war
  • The most powerful and the most important state
  • The polis was the center of a Greek mans life
  • Became a sort of a model for the philosophers
    (Plato and Aristotle)
  • The leading power of the first international

1.Brief History
  • Dorian newcomers from the north (10th) entered
    the plain Laconia
  • Local inhabitants were reduced to a status of
    slaves called Helots.

  • Three traditional divisions of Greeks,
    distinguished by the different dialects of Greek
    they spoke
  • The Dorians,
  • The Ionians,
  • and the Aeolians.

1.Brief History
  • Troubled by difficulties in satisfying its needs
    from its own territory, the Spartans sought a
    military answer to their problems
  • (1)Started the first Messenia War (730 710
    B.C.) Messenia became subject to Sparta, the
    local people became perioikoi, or helots. (turned
    into one of largest of Greek states (over 3,000
    square miles)
  • (2) This is a whole people with a sense of
    themselves, who think of themselves as
    Mycenaeans. They are conquered and enslaved and
    they become a critical part of the Spartan
  • (3) The Second Messenian War (640-630 B.C.).

  • The potential risks of the helot system
  • They are permanently dissatisfied, angry
  • They are permanently thinking about somehow
    getting free and permanently, therefore,
    presenting a threat to whatever the Spartan
    regime is at the time.

2. The Helots
  • The Helots led a miserable life as described by
    the poet Tytaeus who fought in the Messenia War
  • Like asses exhausted under great loads under
  • Necessity to bring their masters full half the
    fruit their
  • Ploughed land produced.

  • Sparta becomes a slave holding state like no
    other Greek state.
  • Now, there was slavery all over the ancient
    world. There was no society that we know of in
    the ancient world that was without slavery and
    Greece was no different, but in the period we're
    talking about there were not very many slaves
    among the Greek states as a whole, and there was
    certainly nothing like what the Spartans did.
  • To have a system of life that allowed the Spartan
    citizens not to work in order to live no other
    Greek state would have that. If you want to think
    about Greek slavery in the seventh century B.C.,
    think about farmers who themselves worked the
    fields, and are assisted in their work in the
    fields by one or two slaves.

3. Insecure Foundation
  • Sparta rested on insecure
    foundations. The Helots later outnumbered the
  • The large number of the helot
    workers, Spartas absolute dependence on them,
    and the fear of a helot rebellion led to
    extremely harsh measures. Helots were allowed to
    be killed without a penalty. Deprived of their
    freedom and fertile territory, the Messenian
    helots were ever after on the lookout for a
    chance to revolt against the Spartan overlords.
    Civil unrest was a threatening factor.

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  • The Spartan system will be Spartans at home,
    training constantly for their military purposes,
    never working any fields, never engaging in trade
    or industry, others doing that for them.

3. Lycurgus
  • 3.1 Background
  • After the Second Messenian War, Sparta
    fell into social chaos. Amid such social
    surroundings, Lycurgus reformed the Spartan
    system and founded the typical Spartan
    institution. This is the institutions which made
    Sparta so successful for so many centuries from
    the eighth century BC right down to the time of
    Alexander the Great, almost 500 years.

3.2 Lycurgus Greek Great Lawgiver
  • Lycurgus was a great lawgiver and one
    of the seven wise men in Greek history. Lycurgus
    himself was not the royal blood but was the uncle
    of the King of Sparta and acted as his regent.
    Lycurgus was said to be a man of enormous
    integrity and both Lycurgus and Solon set the
    model of Nothing in Excess and Never to Abuse

  • Biography (800 BC730 BC)

Reform of Lycurgus
  • Bas-relief of Lycurgus, one of 23
    great lawgivers depicted in the chamber of the
    U.S. House of Representatives.

3.3 Travelling
  • And so Lycurgus was asked to undertake his
  • Now realizing that Sparta was in need of
    reform, Lycurgus set off a series of travels and
    went first to Crete. The Cretans were related to
    Spartans both of them were Dorians and came from
    the northern Greece to the South after the fall
    of the Mycenaean. Lycurgus studied the
    characteristic institutions of Crete.
  • Then he went to Ionian, Asia Minor where
    the Iliad was composed, and there he also studied
    their Greek institutions and compare the softness
    of love of luxury that characterizes the Ionians
    with the rigorous war-like society of Crete.
  • And then he also went to Egypt. He then came
    back to Sparta and carried out his reforms.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.1 The ideal of reform
  • From the very start, reforms
    undertaken by Lycurgus rested upon the ideal of
    achieving absolute equality among all Spartans.
    In the Archaic Age, the bane of almost all Greek
    city-states was civil war brought about by
    economic and social disparity. Lycurgus therefore
    sought to avoid this through his reforms by
    making every Spartan equal. He aimed to establish
    a balanced constitution and it was this very
    balanced constitution of Sparta attributed to
    Lycurgus was very much admired by the founders of
    many later countries.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • Balanced in itself all the elements essential to
    government monarchy (, democracy, and
  • Monarchy Rule by one individual, answers the
    need for strong unified executive authority. In a
    time of crisis of warfare, every government has
    the need for strong executive authority for a
    single individual to be able to hold the reigns
    for the central power.
  • Democracy Answers the need for a broad base of
    popular support. Such a broad base of public
    support serves the unity of the central power.
  • Aristocracy There must be the room for the
    guidance of the state by a collection, a small
    collection of best individuals. This is
    aristocracy, rule by the best which answers the
    need for the making of policy by a small group of
    outstanding citizens, the best morally, and the
    best intellectual.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.3 Three Parts of Sparta Constitution
  • This balanced institution was
    considered by many, including Plato and
    Aristotle, to be a model for other poleis. The
    Spartan constitution or rhetra in Greek language,
    in its developed form had three parts
  • (1) The dual kingship
  • (2) The council of elders,
    or Gerousia
  • (3) And the Assembly.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.3.1 The Dual Kinship The Monarchy
  • (1)Two kings from separate royal families
    equal power and held office for life.
  • (2) The kings power in domestic matters was
    strictly limited. But in time of war, the kings
    were commander-in-chief invested with enormous
    power. They had the right of announcing a war
    upon whatever country they chose, and in the
    field they exercised unlimited right of life and
    death and had a bodyguard of 100 men.
  • (3) Later, however, their power was further
    restricted by a reform that allowed only one of
    them, chosen by the people, to lead the army in a
    given campaign, and held him responsible to the
    community for his conduct of the campaign. The
    kings held certain important priesthoods, but
    they did not have judicial power over criminal
  • (4)Their main source of income was from
    royal land that they held in the territory of the
    perioikoi. They were ceremonially honored with
    the first seat at banquets, were served first,
    and received a double portion. One king acted as
    a check on his colleague.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.3.2 The Assembly Democracy
  • The Assembly of all Spartans was the
    ultimate sovereign it decides all matters of war
    and peace.
  • It was made up of Spartan male citizens over the
    age of thirty.
  • Citizenship depended upon successful completion
    of the course of training and education which was
    provided by the state, and upon election to, and
    continuing membership in a mess .
  • The Assembly elected the Gerousia the
    Ephorate and the other magistrates , decided
    disputed successions to the kingship, and
    determined matters of war and peace and foreign
  • Debate was not allowed, only assent or
    dissent by acclamation to measures presented by
    the Gerousia. Thus, theoretically Sparta was a
    democracy, but the power of the people in the
    Assembly was strictly limited, and the Assemblys
    decisions were subject to overturn by the

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.3.3 The Gerousia Aristocracy
  • The Gerousia guided policy, particularly foreign
  • The Gerousia elected by the Spartan Assembly
    consisted of thirty members, including two kings.
  • This was the Senate of Sparta, literally the
    Council of Old Men for members had to be over
    sixty years of age and were chosen for their
    outstanding abilities and service to Sparta. They
    served for life.
  • The Gerousia acted as a supreme court. It could
    declare a law passed by the Assembly as
    unconstitutional. And if the decision of the
    Assembly was unjust, the Gerousia had the power
    to overturn it.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.3.4 the EphorsThe Guardians
  • Another ruling entity was formed after
    Lycurgus the Ephors. Five Spartans were elected
    annually for a one-year term. They were the
    guardians of the rights of the people and a check
    on the power of the kings. So, the creation of
    ephors further limited the power of the two
    kings. They also enforced the Spartan way of life
    and its educational system. Although a variety of
    duties came to be assigned to the ephors in
    classical times, the most basic of their duties
    reveals the primary function of the office. This
    was the monthly exchange of oaths between the
    ephors and the kings the ephors swore to uphold
    the rule of the kings as long as the kings kept
    their oath, while the kings swore to govern in
    accordance with the laws. Thus they provided a
    check on the power of the two kings.

4. The Reform of Lycurgus
  • 4.4. Result Balanced Constitution
  • By the Classical period, these
    constitutional reforms had resulted in a balanced
    constitution that combined the merits of
    monarchy, democracy, and aristocracy. The ability
    to compromise and to bring into harmony the
    interests of competing groups had enabled the
    Sparta to avoid the phase of tyranny through
    which many other Greek poleis passed in order to
    achieve similar reforms. Spartas balanced
    constitution was the admiration of other Greek
    cities and of the Founders of the United States.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.1 Civil Virtue
  • Lycurgus understood that even the best
    constitution will fail unless it is vitalized by
    civic virtue. He defined civic virtue as the
    willingness of the individual to subordinate his
    interest to the good of the community. To
    instill civic virtue was the goal of the
    educational system the Spartan way of life
    attributed to Lycurgus.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.2 Childhood
  • In the Spartan system, the polis and its
    welfare was all in all. Individual and family
    interests and ambitions were to be put aside to
    create a society focused on the common good. A
    Spartan newborn had first to be formally
    recognized by the five Ephors. Unrecognized and
    very sick infants were exposedabandoned to
    die. Recognized infants were given a plot of
    land, to be worked by slaves (helots). A Spartan
    child was raised by his mother until the age of

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.3 At Seven
  • At seven, the child began to be educated
    in a system called the agoge (the Greek word
    comes from the verb ago, to lead, and denoted a
    system of training and a way of life). The agoge
    was carefully planned to weaken ties to family
    and to strengthen a collective identity. When
    they entered the agoge, boys were divided into
    age groups and lived under the immediate
    supervision of older boys. Although they were
    taught the rudiments of reading and writing, the
    focus of the agoge was on rigorous physical
    training to develop hardiness and endurance. They
    were also acculturated to Spartan values by
    listening to patriotic choral poetry and tales of
    bravery and heroism at the common meals.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.4 At Twelve
  • At age twelve, the agoge became
    increasingly more military in form and more
    demanding. The boys were allowed only a single
    cloak for winter and summer, required to sleep in
    beds that they made themselves from rushes picked
    from the Eurotas River, and fed meager rations
    that they were expected to supplement by stealing
    (if caught, they were whipped for their failure
    to escape detection). On occasion they attended
    the mens messes in preparation for their later
    election to one of these groups. To further their
    acculturation, they were expected to develop
    homosexual mentor relationships with one of the
    hebontes, men between the ages of twenty and
    thirty who played a quasi-parental role in
    socializing their young charges.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.5 At Eighteen
  • At eighteen, Spartan boys were sent
    out on a mission to prove their manhood by
    killing the largest helot they could find. For
    those who successfully completed the agoge, the
    next step was to gain acceptance in the
    fundamental institution of adult Spartan male
    life, the mess, or sysitia. A mess consisted of a
    group about fifteen men of mixed ages who ate and
    fought together throughout their lives, and who
    lived together until the age of thirty, when they
    were allowed to set up their own households.
    Entry into a mess required unanimous vote by its
    members. It was a crucial vote, for full
    citizenship depended upon membership. Those who
    failed to be elected were relegated to an
    inferior status, possibly to be indentified with
    the hpomeiones, literally inferior.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.5 At Eighteen
  • Upon election to a mess, the young men,
    now classed as hebontes, were still not in
    possession of full citizenship rights. While they
    could probably attend the Assembly and vote, they
    remained under the close supervision and control
    of the paidonmos. The hebontes were encouraged to
    marry, but they were not permitted to live with
    their wives until they reached the age of thirty.
    As a result, they spent for more time and
    developed closer emotional ties with their young
    male charges, than with their wives. This was the
    period in which they were most active in military
    service, and, as we saw above, they were also
    subject to serve in the Krypteia.

5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.6 At the Age of Thirty
  • At the age of thirty, the Spartan
    became a full citizen and was expected to move
    out of the barracks and set up his own
    households. He also became eligible to hold
    office. But he continued to take his main meal in
    his mess, and his military obligations continued
    until the age of sixty. At that time he became
    eligible for the Gerousia and no longer had
    military obligations. He still ate in his mess,
    however, and was expected to participate actively
    in the training and disciplining of the younger
    men and boys.

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Marble statue of a helmed hoplite (5th century BC)
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5. The Spartan Way of Life
  • 5.7 All in all
  • It would be seen that the entire Spartan
    way of life was directed toward keeping the
    Spartan army at tip-top strength. It became a
    warlike society in which equality was at the
    center of the Spartan way of life. All Spartans
    owned the same amount of land and a set number of
    helots. Personal possessions were freely shared.

6. The Spartan Women
  • 6.1 The Spartan Girl
  • Spartan girls were educated in the same
    ideals as Spartan boys, which is quite different
    from other poleis. For example, in Athens, girls
    were not educated, and historical evidence shows
    that Athenian women lived so completely separated
    from the men that they even had their own
    dialect. Spartan women enjoyed a status, power,
    and respect that were unknown in the rest of the
    classical world.

6. The Spartan Women
  • 6.2 Households
  • With their husbands so rarely at
    home, Spartan women directed the households,
    which included servants, daughters, and sons
    until they left for their communal training. They
    controlled their own properties, as well as the
    properties of male relatives who were away with
    the army. Unlike women in Athens, if a Spartan
    woman became the heiress of her father because
    she had no living brothers to inherit (an
    epikleros), the woman was not required to divorce
    her current spouse in order to marry her nearest
    paternal relative. 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 rather than
    being secluded in the home. Nor did the Spartans
    follow the customary practice of most poleis of
    marrying girls at puberty in Sparta marriage and
    childbearing were put off until girls reached
    physical maturity (at eighteen to twenty years
    old), again in order to ensure the best
    reproductive outcome.

6. The Spartan Women
  • 6.3 Marriage
  • The girl was carried off, her hair was
    cut, and she was dressed as a boy by her
    bridesmaids she was then left in a dark room
    where her husband-to-be would visit her. If
    pregnancy resulted, the marriage was valid, but
    the husband continued in his mess until he
    reached the age of thirty, visiting his wife only
    at night and by stealth. The ancient sources
    report that this regime was adopted to heighten
    sexual attraction and increase the vigor of any
    resulting infants. Another view is that it would
    ensure that the couple would see each other
    primarily as sexual partners and that the husband
    would not invest himself emotionally in the
    welfare of his wife and family to the detriment
    of his military duties.

6. The Spartan Women
  • 6.3 The Marriage Description by Plutarch
  • Plutarch reports the peculiar customs
    associated with the Spartan wedding night
  • The custom was to capture women for
    marriage(...)The so-called 'bridesmaid' took
    charge of the captured girl. She first shaved her
    head to the scalp, then dressed her in a man's
    cloak and sandals, and laid her down alone on a
    mattress in the dark. The bridegroomwho was not
    drunk and thus not impotent, but was sober as
    alwaysfirst had dinner in the messes, then would
    slip in, undo her belt, lift her and carry her to
    the bed.

6. The Spartan Women
  • 6.4 The Concept of Adultery
  • In Spartan law and practice, the
    concept of adultery did not exist. It was
    acceptable for a husband to loan his wife to his
    friends if he wanted no more children himself, or
    to borrow the wife of another men for
    reproductive purposes. Old men with young wives
    were expected to provide a young man as a sexual
    partner for their wives. Such practices of course
    fostered reproduction the potential of female
    fertility was fully exploited even when the luck
    of the marriage draw did not favor it. Other
    Greeks looked askance at these practices and at
    the freedom allowed to Spartan women and viewed
    Spartan women as licentious. But it was not the
    women who were in control in each case, it was
    the husband who arranged for and sanctioned such
    extramarital relationships. These relationships
    can be looked upon as logical extension of the
    general Greek conception of women as property, in
    the context of the Spartan practice of sharing

6. The Spartan Women
  • Spartan women ran the farm and
    disciplined the helots. In Sparta, commerce is
    forbidden. No gold or silver was permitted and
    Luxuries were banned. There were no written laws
    and, hence, no lawyers. All Spartan citizens were
    expected to put service to their city-state
    before personal concerns because Spartas
    survival was continually threatened by its own
    economic foundation, the great mass of helots.

7. The Cost of Utopia Martial State
  • Reforms by Lycurgus resulted in a
    powerful Sparta. In the Classical Period, Sparta
    became the preeminent military power in Greece
    its fighting force was remarkably disciplined and
    obedient to the dictates of the Spartan state.
    This contributed a lot to the success of the
    Greek army against the Persians which we come
    back in the later chapters. The Spartans were
    also very much admired and respected as the
    champions of liberty in Greece and also for their
    military skill and courage in battles. Their
    alliance with other Greeks (the Peloponnesian
    League) made them the most formidable military
    power in Greece. But even more important was the
    Spartan success in achieving good government
    through the institutions of Lycurgus. In
    antiquity the Spartan were widely admired for
    their courage and military prowess, and my Greeks
    and later, Romanshad a romantic fascination
    with the Spartan way of life. Many followers
    often adopted Spartan fashions in dress and the
    long hair that was Spartan custom. Among these
    admirers were some of our most important sources
    Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch. For
    example, Plato based his ideal state on certain
    characteristics of Sparta.

7. The Cost of Utopia Martial State
  • Viewed from the standpoint of the
    values of Athens and other, more liberal
    societies, there were definite weakness in the
    Spartan way of life.
  • First, the Spartan paid a high price
    for their security. Their way of life was marked
    by extreme austerity. They were notorious for the
    simplicity of their meals consisting of barley,
    cheese, figs, and wine, and supplemented by
    occasional bits of meat. In order to ensure
    absolute equality, commerce is forbidden. No gold
    or silver was permitted and Luxuries were banned.
  • Second, Spartan society was, as might
    be expected, quite conservative innovation and
    foreign influence were firmly resisted. In
    contrast to the Athenian fascination with the
    poetry of tragedy and comedy and the love of
    rhetorical display, the Spartans took pride in
    laconic (terse) habits of speech and confined
    their literary and music appreciation to
    patriotic songs, such as those of Tyrtaeus. By
    the Classical period the earlier achievements in
    the crafts had disappeared even monumental
    public building had ceased. Third, the Spartan
    way of life is incompatible with their own aims.
    The agoge, with its emphasis on strict control
    and obedience, did not foster the development of
    individual judgment, and we shall see in later
    Greek history many instances of Spartan at a loss
    to handle unusual situations. Nor were the
    Spartans immune to the temptations of luxury.

7. The Cost of Utopia Martial State
  • Another thing which has much to do
    the Spartan lifestyle is its demographic
    difficultiesa shrinking population. Sparta was
    the only Greek state in which male infanticide
    was institutionalized. Moreover, many deaths can
    be explained by the Spartan soldiers obligation
    to stand his ground and give his life for his
    country, rather than surrender. This ideal was
    reinforced by peer pressure, epitomized by
    statements attributed to Spartan women such as
    that of the mother who told her son as she handed
    him his shield to come home either with this or
    on this.
  • In addition to high rate of infant
    and juvenile mortality found throughout the
    ancient world, the Spartan problem was aggravated
    by their unusual marriage practices. Women
    married only several years after they became
    fertile opportunities for conjugal intercourse
    were limited husbands were continuously absent
    at war or sleeping with their army groups when
    wives were in their peak childbearing years and
    both sexes engaged in a certain amount of
    homosexual, nonprocreative sex. Spartas
    population problem was also accelerated at times
    by natural disaster, economic problems, and the
    emigration of men.

  • Lycurgus was the son of the king
    Eumenos. After the death of his father, his older
    brother Polydektes took the throne. Not much
    later, he also died and Lycurgus became king. The
    widow of his brother, an ambitious and
    unhesitating woman, offered him to marry her and
    kill her unborn child. Lycurgus, knowing her
    character and being afraid for the life of the
    child, pretended to accept her offer. He said to
    her to bear the child and he would disappear it,
    as soon as the child was born. But when the time
    came, he took the infant boy at the Agora, 
    proclaimed him king of the Spartans and gave him
    the name Charilaos (Joy of the people). When the
    widow learned what happened, she started plotting
    against Lycurgus, who left Sparta in order to
    avoid bloodshed.

He first went to Crete and then to Asia and
Egypt and later to Libya, Spain and India. In
every country that he visited, he studied their
civilization, history and constitutions.
  • After many years Lycurgus returned to
    Greece and visited Delphi to question the oracle,
    if the constitution he had prepared to apply in
    Sparta was good and received approval with the
    answer that "he was more God than man".  He then
    returned home and found his nephew Charilaos, a
    grown man and king of Sparta.

  • In order to persuade the Spartans to
    accept his laws, which demanded a lot of
    sacrifices, he bred two small puppies, the one
    indoors with a variety of foods and the other he
    trained it for hunting. He then gathered the
    people and showed them that the untrained dog was
    completely useless.

  • But if Lycurgus succeeded to persuade
    the poor people, he did little for the rich, who
    tried everything to oppose him.  One of them, a
    youth named Alkander, in the Agora tried to hit
    him with his stuff and when Lycurgus turned his
    head, he was hit in the eye and lost it. Lycurgus
    did not prosecute him, but took him as his
    servant, giving him the opportunity to discover
    his character. Indeed Alkander became later a
    devoted disciple.

  • When his laws were accepted, he made
    Spartans swear that they would not be changed
    until he returns and left again.He never came
    back, making sure that his laws would not change.
  • He died at Delphi and according to some
    in Crete and it is said that before his death, he
    asked his body to be burned and the remains to be
    scattered in the wind. Lycurgus thus did not
    permit even his dead body to return.

The End
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