A huge part of the Spartan population was made up of those who were not actually Spartan, the helots; a cause of great concern to the Spartans throughout their history. These helots were slaves that were usually captives of the Spartans forced into the service of their captors. However, some of these slaves were awarded their freedom after spending time in the service of the hoplites of the Spartan Army. These freed helots of military service were known as the 'Neodamodeis'.

Neodamodeis (νεοδαμώδεις) literally means those who are new to the people; 'lately made one of the people'. This comes from the Greek words νέος meaning 'new' and δῆμος meaning 'people' or 'community'. A simple use of terminology to describe a simple concept. While the study of helots has been a topic of great interest in modern scholarship there is little to be said on the helot who was freed or became a part of the wider Spartan society.

Freed Spartan helots of military service were known as the 'Neodamodeis'.

The first appearance of the term Neodamodeis comes from Thucydides who uses it in passing without explaining the term or its origin. Ducat does attempt to place an approximate date on the origin of the term and the idea. Ducat's book Les Hoplites (1990 CE) asserts that the term originated in line with the episode concerning the Brasidians where the Helots were freed after taking part in the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BCE. Neodamodeis are certainly attested after 424 BCE from at least 396 BCE in relation to the part of the Spartan army in Agesilaus II's campaign in Ionia.

Lazenby explains that the neodamodeis could still serve in the Spartan army but were distinct from the helot soldiers they had once been. This assertion is made in relation to Brasidas again when they are first mentioned in connection with his soldiers return from Thrace in 421 BCE. This is recorded in Thucydides who explains that these neodamodeis were not in fact free at the time of returning but were earmarked for freedom and hence distinguished from the remaining helots. Thucydides tells us that these men were given their freedom shortly after the event and were then settled with the neodamodeis already settled at Lepreon on the border of Spartan territory. This tells us that neodamodeis were named so before actually being freed on the understanding that they would soon be freed, that they were given extra status on that understanding alone, and then that when freed they were kept in close association with Sparta still. The episodes at Lepreon in Thucydides also show that neodamodeis likely stayed under the direction of the Spartan army though no longer slaves and served as non-citizen hoplites. Hesychius of Alexandria explains that the neodamodeis, while freed from the helot status, never acquired full citizenship.

There are few other references to neodamodeis in the ancient texts in comparison to those for helots (Εἵλωτες). Athenaeus makes mention of them in his Deipnosophists, 6.102. And Xenophon and Plutarch make a few references to them in relation to their analysis of Spartan society and history. Not much can be said for the freed slaves of the Spartan world but the Neodamodeis give us a brief glance into the lives of those without a voice.


The Neodamodes (Greek: νεοδαμώδεις , neodamōdeis) were Helots freed after passing a time of service as hoplites in the Spartan Army.

The date of their first apparition is uncertain. Thucydides does not explain the origin of this special category. Jean Ducat, in his book Les Hoplites (1990), concludes that their statute "was largely inspired by the measures dictated concerning the Brasidians", i.e. the Helots freed after taking part to the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BC.

Their existence is attested from 420 to 369 BC. They were part of Sparta's army and 2,000 of them are recorded taking part, for example, to Agesilaus II's campaign in Ionia between 396 and 394 BC.

The name comes from the words νέος neos, meaning "new", and δῆμος dêmos, meaning "deme or territory". Differently from what is written by Hesychius of Alexandria, who brings together the neodamodes and the Athenian demotes (citizens of a deme), they never acquired full citizenship. The suffix -ωδης -ôdês signals only a resemblance. In truth, the only deme they joined was that of the Perioeci.

Control of the Helots

The helots DID serve in the Spartan army. There were, there were 35,000 helots accompanying 5,000 Spartiates and 5,000 perioikoi at Plataea. Another example of helots fighing in the army are the ‘Brasideioi’. During the mid 420’s the general Brasidas assembled a unqiue Spartan force – no Spartans but 700 helots to campaign in Thrace. This unit was a success and were named the ‘Brasideioi’ and were given their freedom. Helots could be freed after serving courageously (Neodamodeis) however they could never become Spartan citizens. It is interesting the note that by the year 400, the number of neodamodeis exceeded the number of Spartiates.


Refer to AGOGE PPT and notes

The Krypteia was a uniquely Spartan practice of controlling its helot population through creating culture of fear. Plutarch gives a vivid description of the krypteia and its activities:

“The magistrates would send those who gave them the best impression of being the most intelligent out into the countryside…by day the young men spread out and found remote spots where they could hide and rest, but by night they came down to the roads and murdered any helots they caught. They also often used to walk through the fields and kill the helots who were in the best shape and condition.”

Young Spartans were selected from the agoge, given a dagger and basic rations and were sent into the fields to kill any helots that they came across. The krypteia was overseen by the Ephors and part of the yearly declaration of war against the helots.

The krypteia was tasked with eliminating the ‘best’ of the helots without being caught, if they were caught they were beaten. They targeted helots who stood out for their fitness and strength and who were leaders among other helots.

The krypteia was a part of the Ephors—five elected officials who supervised the kings and represented Spartan law—yearly deceleration of war against the helots. This formal deceleration of war against the helots protected the Spartans from any religious pollution after killing a helot. Cartledge states that the aim of the kryteia ‘was to murder selected troublemaking helots and spread terror among the rest’


Refer to AGOGE PPT and notes

Ancient Spartan custom of syssitia at which adult Spartan citizens were required to share their evening meals. These were unique in Sparta as they were compulsory for all Spartan males and were linked to CITIZENSHIP. Failure to be accepted into the mess or provide the monthly ‘fees’ resulted in the loss of a man’s citizenship rights. A Spartan citizen contributed montly to the syssitia through the produce of their ‘klero’ worked by the Helots. Drunken helots were also dragged into the mess to be shamed by those eating for entertainment. The syssitia was established by Lycurgus so that all (young, old, rich, poor) should eat the same and be equal. The syssitia was designed to replace the family unit and encourage Spartan equality, fellowship, comradery and unity.


The Neodamodes (Greek: νεοδαμώδεις , neodamōdeis) were Helots freed after passing a time of service as hoplites in the Spartan Army.

The date of their first apparition is uncertain. Thucydides does not explain the origin of this special category. Jean Ducat, in his book Les Hoplites (1990), concludes that their statute "was largely inspired by the measures dictated concerning the Brasidians", i.e. the Helots freed after taking part to the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BC.

Their existence is attested from 420 to 369 BC. They were part of Sparta's army and 2,000 of them are recorded taking part, for example, to Agesilaus II's campaign in Ionia between 396 and 394 BC.

The name comes from the words νέος neos, meaning "new", and δῆμος dêmos, meaning "deme or territory". Differently from what is written by Hesychius of Alexandria, who brings together the neodamodes and the Athenian demotes (citizens of a deme), they never acquired full citizenship. The suffix -ωδης -ôdês signals only a resemblance. In truth, the only deme they joined was that of the Perioeci.

Is it true that when asked for military aid by a neighboring state, Sparta would send one man?

The Spartans liked to play up the idea that they were, in Xenophon's words, "the only craftsmen of war" in a world of military amateurs. They alone forbade their citizens from pursuing any other profession, to make sure they would dedicate themselves entirely to preparation for war. They alone organised their armies for maximum efficiency in battle, drilling their troops to carry out basic manoeuvres and managing large formations through a detailed officer hierarchy. When allies asked them for help, they would often argue that their expertise was sufficient, and that actual "boots on the ground" would not be needed.

There are a couple of famous examples of them responding to a request for help by sending one Spartan. Someone already mentioned Gylippos, who was sent to help the Syracusans withstand the Athenian siege of 415-413 BC. However, Gylippos was accompanied by thousands of allied troops and neodamodeis (Spartan helots given their freedom in return for military service). He was merely the only "Spartan" they sent. A better example would be Salaithos, who was sent to aid Mytilene on Lesbos against the Athenians in 428/7 BC, and had to sneak in alone through the bed of the stream that ran into the town. Both of these men would expect to be given supreme command over the forces of those they were sent to help.

However, we shouldn't make too much of this as a symbolic expression of Spartan superiority. The example of Gylippos shows the Spartans were well aware that their allies would need more substantial help. The real issue here is that the Spartans were incredibly hesitant to deploy their own citizens in situations were they might come to harm. Citizen numbers were dwindling throughout the Classical period, and full Spartiates were fast becoming a precious commodity. Both the military power of Sparta and its internal stability ultimately rested on the ability of its citizen body to maintain its numbers and dominate its slave population and its allies. As a result, if Sparta was asked for help, the Spartans would send basically anyone except their own citizens. They would avoid risking the lives of Spartiates if they possibly could. Gylippos is a notable example, because he was not, in fact, a citizen - he was a mothax, the bastard of a Spartiate and a helot. The same goes for the famous Spartan admiral Lysander, whose campaigns ended the Peloponnesian War. The Spartan Salaithos I just mentioned gives striking testimony to the Spartan approach to war: when he was captured and executed by the Athenians in 427 BC, five years into the Peloponnesian War, he was to the best of our knowledge the first Spartan citizen to die.

Many Spartan expeditionary forces of the later Classical period were organised in a standard pattern where a Spartan commander and a staff of Spartan citizens (usually just 30) led a force composed entirely of neodamodeis, mercenaries, and allied troops. The commitment of citizens was, again, deliberately minimal. Even when Sparta got sucked into a war with the Persian Empire, they merely sent successive groups of 30 Spartiates in command of thousands of allies and mercenaries who did the actual fighting.

It was only when Spartan interests were directly threatened, or the reputation of Sparta itself was at stake, that the Spartan army would march out in full force. They led the usual 2/3rds of their levy into Athenian territory each year during the early stages of the Peloponnesian War, knowing that they needed to show their allies that they were willing to walk the walk, but also knowing that the Athenians would never come out to meet them. They only really got involved when the Athenians began to raid Spartan lands, and especially when the Athenians built a fort at Pylos in Messenia that provided a refuge for runaway helots. The largest Spartan levies were actually not sent against Athens at all, but against Argos, when this city-state challenged Spartan supremacy on the Peloponnese in 420-418 BC. The pattern is very clear. If the Spartans could get away with it, they would send as few as they possibly could. If they cared, they would send as many as they could spare.

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1 cf. most recently. Cartledge , P. A. . Sparta and Lakonia ( 1979 ), 317 Google Scholar .

2 If the proportion of Spartiates to non-Spartiates in the λóχοι at First Mantinea was the same as that amongst the captives from Sphacteria, i.e. 120 to 172 (Thuc. 4.38 5), there were about 147 Spartiates in the λóχοι to which must be added the sixth sent home (Thuc. 5. 64. 3) and the 300 hippeis (ibid. ch. 72. 4) and certain officers etc., so that there were about 2,100 in all. If proportionately more Spartiates were killed on Sphactena than non-Spartiates. and if the Proportion of Spartiatcs to non-Spartiates had been in fact the same as in 479 B.C., a figure approaching 2,500 results. Cf. Busolt , , Hermes ( 1905 ). 403 ff.Google Scholar

3 Toynbee's , views were first stated in JHS 33 ( 1913 ), 246 –75CrossRefGoogle Scholar and restated in Some Problems of Greek History (1969). 365–417. They conditioned , Wade-Gery's discussion in Essays in Greek History. 71 ff.Google Scholar

5 Andrewes , A. , A Historical Commentary on Thucydides iv . 112 Google Scholar . like many others (e.g. Forrest , W. G . History of Sparta. 132 )Google Scholar . takes the contrary view. His presumption is that Thucydides' calculation at 5. 68. 3 was intended to account for every Lacedaemonian on the field of battle but he admits that the ‘few Lacedaemonians’ on the right wing (ch. 67. 1) were not included and debates whether the 300 hippeis of 72. 4 were included. Cf. Busolt-Swoboda , . Griechische Slaatskunde. 710 Google Scholar .

6 700 originally accompanied Brasidas (Thuc. 4. 80. 5). The number of the origin Neodamodeis. first met at Thuc. 5. 34. 1. is beyond conjecture. If there were troops of this class in the force that Ischagoras was to take out in 423 (Thuc. 4. 132. 2) or in the force that went in 422 (Thuc. 5. 12. 1), they may have been quite numerous (cf. 5. 31. 4, 49. 1). But Thucydides probably had not the necessary information to calculate their number in 418 B.C.

7 Herodotus would have it thought that the Spartans were waiting for the Isthmus wall to be more nearly completed (9. 7. 1), and the celebration of the Hyacinthia was only a pretext. But as Xen. Hell. 4. 5. 11 makes clear, if they had gone out earlier, the Amyclaeans would have returned. So the Spartans had to wait until the festival was ended to order out the army, which went out quickly and waited in Arcadia for the Perioecs, just as in 386 Agesilaus marched to Tegea and summoned the Perioecs thither (Xen. Hell. 5. 1. 33), at a time when it is sure that there was no separate brigading (pace Beloch , , Klio 6 [ 1906 ], 63 f.Google Scholar , who rejects the evidence of Isoc. 12. 271).

8 In Ch. 29 he speaks of the Ʃπαρτιατικ⋯ τ⋯ξις and then of οἱ Λακεδαιμóνιοι The word τ⋯ξις seems to be rather loosely used by Herodotus (cf. 6. 3. 3, 9. 31. 2, where it seems to be equivalent to ‘rank’), and here he uses the word as a means of marking the variation in the number of light-armed attached to the two types of Spartan hoplite. In his account of the battle itself there is no trace of different formations of Spartiates and non-Spartiates.

9 Busolt , , art. cit. 423 Google Scholar . For the practice of always having the best troops in the front, cf. Asclepiodotus 3. 5, 6, and 10.14 (the Laconian counter-march). The famous single line at Dipaea (Isoc. 6. 99) should not be taken to mean that there was literally a single rank of Spartans facing the Arcadians no matter how valorous the warriors, victory for such a formation would have been impossible in a hoplite battle. What Isocrates refers to presumably is that there were only enough Spartiates available to fill the front rank.

Fatal casualties on the field of battle were light and confined to those who withstood the first shock, but there may have been ample wounded amongst the non-Spartiates. (The cenotaph of the Aeginetans at Plataea about which Herodotus was scornful (9. 85. 3) may have been set up to commemorate men who later died of their wounds.) For the vulnerability of hoplites, cf. , Xen . Anab. 3. 4. 30, 32 Google Scholar .

10 Ad. Thuc. 5. 68. 3, written before the publication of Toynbee, Some Problems.

11 , Plut . Pel. 17 Google Scholar , Diod. 15. 32. 1.

12 cf. , Forrest , op. cit. 132 Google Scholar .

13 For the term, cf. Wade-Gery , , Essays, 83 n. 1Google Scholar .

14 Toynbee, Some Problems, frequently speaks of the ‘Inferiors’ as Spartiates cf. 310, 343, 346 n. 2. Since, in the one passage where the term is used ( , Xen . Hell. 3. 3. 5 ff.Google Scholar ), they are plainly treated as not being Spartiates, it is hard to see why.

15 Also discussed by Toynbee , , Some Problems, 400 Google Scholar .

16 He makes clear that it is earlier than 424 B.C. (cf. κα⋯ τóτε, 4. 80. 5), but is not precise. Ἐ&nu &tau&ogrῖ&sfgr &pi&ogr&lambda⋯&mu&ogr&iota&sfgr (&sect3) suggests the troubled period, 480–460 B.C.

17 cf. Bolte , , PW III A. 2, cols. 1283 ff.Google Scholar

18 For instance in Book 8, Thucydides describes seven persons new to the History as Spartiate, in addition to the four he names as nauarchs then four are described as ‘Lacedaemonian’, one as ‘Lacon’ ten lack any designation. Four Spartans receive patronymics, nineteen none. On two occasions he names two Spartans, one with patronymic, one without.

18 cf. Wade-Gery , , art. cit. 76 Google Scholar .

20 See the table in Pritchett , W. K. , Ancient Greek Military Practices I ( Berkeley , 1971 )Google Scholar republished as The Greek State at War I ( Berkeley , 1974 ), 135 Google Scholar .

21 cf. their development of a corps d'élite (Thuc. 5. 67. 2, 81. 2 Diod. 12. 79. 4 Paus. 2. 20. 2).

22 , Andrewes , op. cit. 126 Google Scholar , states that 5. 74. 1 ‘clearly demands that exceptional numbers of troops were engaged’, but Thucydides constantly (and curiously) resorts to superlatives and he may mean no more than that the battle was very great in the sense that it was of very great importance.

23 , Toynbee , Some Problems, 349 f.Google Scholar , unwisely follows Ziehen , L. , ‘ Das spartanische Bevölkerungsproblem ’, Hermes 68 ( 1933 ), 231 f.Google Scholar , in taking Diodorus’ figure of 20,000 casualties (11. 63) literally, but clearly the earthquake had very serious demographic effects, to judge by Sparta's reaction to events on Sphacteria (cf. also n. 9 for the shortage of Spartiates at the battle of Dipaea).

24 The Athenians built a fort in Laconia opposite Cythera in 413, which they had to abandon after the Sicilian disaster but which was intended as a haven for deserting Laconian Helots (Thuc. 7. 26. 2, 8. 4). , Xenophon (Hell. 4. 8. 8 Google Scholar ) records the occupation of Cythera and the installation of an Athenian as harmost in 393 B.C. the fact that Xenophon makes no mention of unrest and desertions on the mainland proves nothing. The only record of desertion in the Hellenica concerns Corcyra (6. 2. 15), but it was a fact of Greek life which Xenophon saw no reason to mention or else preferred not to mention.

25 , Cartledge op. cit. 47–56 Google Scholar has a useful collection of evidence.

26 Diodorus 15. 65. 6 alludes to the ‘recent freeing’ of the Helots and gives the figure of 1000, but, if that is the figure he actually wrote and if it is correct, the argument is not basically affected.

27 Thuc. 2. 56. 6, 3. 16. 2, 4. 56. 2, 7. 18. 3, 26. 2. Cf. Hampl , F. , ‘ Die lakedämonischen Periöken ’, Hermes 72 ( 1937 ), 24 Google Scholar .

28 Thuc. 1. 18, , Plato Laws 712 dGoogle Scholar , , Arist . Pol. 1294b 14 ff.Google Scholar , Polyb. 6. 10. 6–11.

29 The various appearances of the Neodamodeis are listed by , Toynbee , Some Problems, 380 n. 1Google Scholar . For fuller discussion, see Ehrenberg , V. , PW XVl . 2 , cols. 2396 – 2401 Google Scholar . Cf. Willetts , R. F. , ‘ The Neodamodeis ’, CPh 49 ( 1959 ), 27 – 32 Google Scholar . It is to be noted that the one thousand Neodamodeis of , Xen . Hell. 3. 1. 4 Google Scholar are referred to in Diod. 14. 36. 1 as πολῖται, and that Pausanias the Regent is said by Thucydides (1. 132. 4) to. have offered the Helots ⋯λευθ⋯ρωσίν τε…κα⋯ πολιτείαν. Hampl , F. , art. cit. 26 f.Google Scholar , argues that the Neodamodeis were Helots promoted to the same status as Perioecs.

30 The class of freedman called δεσποσιονα⋯ται mentioned by Myron F 1, to judge by the name, probably came into existence as Sparta concerned herself more with the sea, another instance of promotion to meet the needs of the Peloponnesian War.

31 The reading of one manuscript, τ⋯ν Εἱλώτων ⋯ν⋯ δουλε⋯ειν, at Isoc. 4. Il l is normally preferred and reference to Lysander is presumed (cf. Bommelaer , J.-F. , Lysandre de Sparte [ 1981 ], 38 Google Scholar ) in which case it is notable that Isocrates finds such a role for a Helot conceivable. But the right reading may be ⋯νίοις, and provide confirmation of the statement in the Theban speech quoted in the text.

32 There is no explicit evidence that Eteonicus was a Spartiate, save Pausanias 10.9.9 f., which may be doubted Pausanias may simply have presumed that the subordinates of Lysander at Aegospotami were both Spartiates, though §10 suggests that the inscriptions on the statues at Delphi described them simply as Λακεδαιμóνιοι Thucydides (8. 23) refrained from social designation. At Hell. 1. 1. 32 Xenophon describes him as ⋯ Λ⋯κων ⋯ρμοστ⋯ς. If he was not a Spartiate, he had a very striking career, for which see Poralla , , Prosopographie der Lak, 53 Google Scholar . (Xenophon's use of Λ⋯κων is an uncertain guide. Chirisophus is Λ⋯κων at Anab. 2. 1. 5, 6. 1. 32 Λακεδαιμóνιος at Anab. 1. 4. 3 – cf. Diod. 14. 27. 1 Anab. 4. 6. 14 makes it probable if not certain that he was a Spartiate.) Charminus and Polynicus (Anab. 7. 6. 1, 7, 39) may not have been Spartiates. , Busolt , Gr. Ges. 3. 2. 1532 n.Google Scholar , may not have been right to presume that Pasippidas ( , Xen . Hell. 1. 1. 32 Google Scholar ) was nauarch, which would require that he was Spartiate.

34 Conveniently set out by D. Lotze on p. 426 f. of his article ‘Μóθακες’, Historia 11 ( 1962 )Google Scholar .

36 Callicratidas and Lysander were certainly, as nauarchs, Spartiates, Gylippus probably (Thucydides never says as much, but it is probably Gylippus to whom he refers at 7. 58. 3, and not Ekkritos, the Spartiate commander of 7. 19. 3 cf. 6. 91. 4, 93. 2, 7. 2. 1). But that does not reflect on whether they were promoted μóθακες Nothing is known of the youth of Callicratidas, but the discrediting of Gylippus' father ( , Plut . Per. 22 Google Scholar ) may have down-graded the son, and Lysander is explicitly stated to have been ‘brought up in poverty’ ( , Plut . Lys. 2 )Google Scholar . Bommelaer , J.-F. , op. cit. 36 –8Google Scholar , for no good reason rejects the evidence of Phylarchus.

36 cf. Ehrenberg , , PW VII A. 1, cols. 675 f.Google Scholar

37 cf. the law of Critias ( , Xen . Mem. 1. 2. 31 Google Scholar ) and , Xenophon's criticism of sophistic education (Cyneg. 13 )Google Scholar .


The neodamodes (Greek: νεοδαμώδεις , neodamōdeis) were helots freed after passing a time of service as hoplites in the Spartan Army.

The date of their first apparition is uncertain. Thucydides does not explain the origin of this special category. Jean Ducat, in his book Les Hoplites (1990), concludes that their statute "was largely inspired by the measures dictated concerning the Brasidians", i.e. the Helots freed after taking part to the expedition of Brasidas in 424 BC.

Their existence is attested from 420 to 369 BC. They were part of Sparta's army and 2,000 of them are recorded taking part, for example, to Agesilaus II's campaign in Ionia between 396 and 394 BC.

The name comes from the words νέος neos, meaning "new", and δῆμος dêmos, meaning "deme or territory". Differently from what is written by Hesychius of Alexandria, who brings together the neodamodes and the Athenian demotes (citizens of a deme), they never acquired full citizenship. The suffix -ωδης -ôdês signals only a resemblance. In truth, the only deme they joined was that of the Perioeci.

Sparta is better than Athens

Spartan"s government was far superior to the government of Athens. It is common knowledge that Athens was the first democracy. WRONG! Sparta"s constitution was the first known constitution to give supreme power in the hand of the citizens, in the form of the Assembly. Sparta also had elements of an oligarchy, a monarchy, an aristocracy, and even a meritocracy. There were extensive checks and balances to make sure that no part, or branch, became too powerful. This is still an ideology we use today in American government. The two kings were part of the government for tradition, similar to the government of the UK. There were the Council of Elders, or Gerousia, a group of twenty-eight Spartiate men and the two kings that who create bills, that the Assembly, or common man, vote on. The Assembly was composed of every adult male in Sparta, but theoretically anybody could participate. They voted whether to pass bills into law, and against common belief, they could vote more than yes or no. These members of the Assembly were chosen, by the impartial evaluators, who sat in a different room and listened for the loudest cheer for each candidate. This method gave everybody a chance, and if you really wanted a certain candidate, you could just yell louder. The Ephors, were a group of five members, who made day-to-day decisions, and were elected annually. When an Ephor went out of office they couldn"t be re-elected. One of Sparta"s main achievements was the equal distribution of land. All citizens had a roughly equal portion of land to the next. This was the first of the Grecian city-states to accomplish this. Originally Spartans used gold and silver coins. But the inequality of wealth combined with robbery and crime, caused a leader called Lycurgus to ban the use of gold and silver coins in favor of iron bars. Soon all crime and robbery all but disappeared from Sparta, and inequalities of wealth were treated as an aberrations. Showing off wealth in public marked you as a show-off or a bragger. Wealth was still commonplace, but not as much as in Athens. At least everybody had the minimum standard of living. Women actually were more wealthy than men. They could inherit and own land, combined with their naturally longer lifespan, gave them time for wealth to accumulate.

Athenian government was not as balanced or equal. To quote an article by Claire Taylor "Every level of Athenian politics was riddled with corruption". She goes on to state different forms of bribery and blackmail, as well as their descriptions. Athenian government was so marred by bribery that is impossible to tell how many accounts of bribery occurred. In the court, bribery wasn"t even important, it was added on to the court meeting as a side issue. There are so many issues with Ancient Athens it would be impossible to cover them in an entire week. On the streets of Athens, one can see poverty, vile slave drivers, and adultery everywhere. The gender equality was little to nothing, as women weren"t able to inherit/own land, divorce their spouse, or even leave their houses. They also slaughtered their intellectual geniuses like Socrates, who was accused of corruption, just for telling young men not to worship the city"s gods. Despite the popularity of democracy today, in Ancient Athens, most philosophers disagreed with the idea of democracy. Aristotle preferred a monarchy or an aristocracy to a democracy, and Socrates found democracy corrupt, preferring strong and intelligent city-states like Sparta.

Education in Sparta was better, more equal and more thorough than education in Athens. Both girls and boys were taught reading, writing, literature and mathematics, as well as wrestling, fighting and how to defend themselves. It has been attested from many sources that Spartans placed a high value on training the intellect, not just physical abilities. People like Plato, Socrates and Xenophon admired the city of Sparta and their education, and why would philosophers admire a city in which there was no intellectual training. Spartan citizens needed to be able to debate and deliberate in the Assembly, to voice their opinions. Even a wise master of Athens claimed Spartans are the best educated on philosophy and speaking, Socrates. And Plato stated that all early philosophers were "imitators, lovers and disciples of Spartan education." Again Plutarch states his point "devotion to the intellect is more characteristic of Spartans than love of physical exercise." The famous philosopher Chilon, is always mentioned among the seven wise men of the ancient world. According to common belief Spartan children are encouraged to steal food, but this was only during a certain period in their upbringing, as it brought strength and hardship to their skillset. Spartan children were actually required to go through this schooling to become a citizen. This included geometry, physical skills, and literature.

In Athens, only boys and men were educated, with women being left out. As a result, most women and girls were illiterate. Athenian males were educated in some intellectual topics, but left out important subjects like protecting the self and city-state. Girls only learned from their mother, things like housework and obedience. The poor children only learned what their father and mother learned learned, passing down the lack of education from generation to generation. At age 14, boys started education, but impoverished children started working to make money. The combination of widespread poverty and women left a gaping hole in the education of Athens as a whole, showing that they were dumb.
The three social classes of Sparta are the Spartiates, the citizens, the Perioikoi, the free, non-citizen workers, and the Helots, the semi-free slaves. All of the classes could earn and profit from their labor, and anybody could buy citizenship. Our fertile land, had around 9,000 lots, and each lot could produce over 30 metric tons of barley, a considerable sum. The Helots, who farmed the lots, could keep half of their produce, and easily buy citizenship.

Our "slaves", or helots, had many rights, including the fact that they were allowed to marry, have children, and have their family/relatives recognized as thus. They were permitted to choose their language and customs, keep their homes, and even buy and sell land. The slaves could be promoted to Neodamodeis, which the benefits of being one have been lost to history. Helots could also buy their freedom with the profits of their labor. These slaves were allowed to keep half of their labor and sell it to gain their freedom. It has even been cited that helots gaining freedom was common. You may say that our slaves revolted because they were unhappy. This is true, they revolted, but that is because some of our helots were foreigners and did not realize the privilege they had as being a Spartan helot, say versus an Athenian Slave. These revolts were followed by laws allowing killing of helots without punishment, but this wasn"t usually the case. Attacks on anybody, including slaves, were considered inhumane and would be punishable by death, or exile, the worst punishment for Spartans.

In Athens, however, it may seem that slaves are treated fine, with rights and such. There are laws for protecting Athenian slaves rights, correct. Well, these laws really weren"t followed. There were masters who would use a whip constantly, and then the mines. In the mines Athenian slaves were often worked to the death. And they didn"t even do anything but be born. At least in Sparta, we only gave these harsh punishments to our enemies, people of neighboring city-states we"d conquered. And even further, prostitution was against the law, but was still commonplace. Women slaves were raped until they were pregnant and gave birth, which was often deadly.

Spartan military was far superior to Athenian military. They used the helots, or slaves, as warriors called hoplites, who were land soldiers who usually fought in the Phalanx, a new military attack pattern, invented by the Spartans. Spartans invented unique strategies for defense and offense such as the Phalanx. The phalanx was an attacking strategy in which soldiers would create a wall of shields and weapons to defend the people next to each other. They then used long range weapons to attack the enemy, but were sometimes forced to use hand weapons like swords and knives. Spartans made military weaponry advanced in the form of the dory, a long spear, a xiphos, a short sword, the kopis, a curved sword, usually used like an axe, and the shield, usually defensive but also used for bashing enemies. Spartans were mainly land units, but for a period, the Spartan navy was very successful, even being small, but only crumbling due to the pressure of the Persians and the unusually weak Athenians. The Spartan army had a code of honor, and no hoplite warrior would risk breaking it, for the safety of the army and for their honor. We were the only Grecian city-state to have a full army at all times, and other than that our army was large and strong. Even when Alexander the Great conquered all other Grecian city-states, Sparta stayed strong and resisted to somehow make a treaty with Alexander, because he feared the strength and power of Sparta.

Athenians and their army were limited to the ocean or other waters because they had a large navy, and little land force, making battles against land-based city-states harder. Including Sparta. In the Peloponnesian War, Sparta received monetary support from Persia, and attacked Athens. Athens gave in to the ultimate power of Sparta and conceded defeat. We obviously beat you, so why try and claim your greatness(in your opinion), when our non-greatness(in your opinion) beat you so badly you needed the Persians to help you rebuild. The final battle in the series of wars was on water, which we won, beating you on your own territory, the ocean. If our weakest military is naval, and your strongest military is naval, and we beat you, what does that mean?? We are stronger in every way.

Spartan economy was a socialist economy or at least similar to one. Our views and ideology are uncannily analogous to the socialist countries of today. Our socialist oligarchy allowed for stability and predictability and the division of labor granted for their military excellence and feeling of luxury. We didn"t use standard money, but iron bars, and a common theory states that we used iron bars because it was much harder to pilfer, and you would need much iron to be valuable, it would be inefficient. Almost everybody"s wealth was equal and inequalities of money were treated as aberrations. The three social classes of Sparta are the Spartiates, the citizens, the Perioikoi, the free non-citizen workers, and the Helots, the semi-free slaves. All of the classes could earn and profit from their labor, and anybody could buy citizenship. Our fertile land, had around 9,000 lots, and each lot could produce over 30 metric tons of barley, a considerable sum. The Helots, who farmed the lots, could keep half of their produce, and easily buy citizenship. Contradicting common belief, helots weren"t annually killed, and weren"t even tortured. Helots were not allowed to be bought and sold, unlike Athenian slaves. We systematically conquered other civilizations to obtain resources. Some of these conquests include the Messenians, the Laconians, the Samians, and the incredible weak Athenians. Our power was not completely military power, our economic self-sufficiency allowed for attacks on neighboring city-states without fear of trade cut-off, letting us conquer unjust and unfair city-states with corrupt governments. We did trade, but did not depend on this for our source of food and resources. We exported goods that were treasured across the world, including timber, pottery and bronze works.

Athenian economy depended on trade. They were reliant on other cultures, which was not a good choice, especially in wartime. All of their goods were made by slaves, and these slaves had few rights. Almost every household in Athens had a domestic slave. These would do some of the work of the woman, cooking, housekeeping, nursing, and even prostitution. Some slaves were worked to their deaths, especially in the mines. Now you may thinking, but Sparta has more slaves, right? Wrong, the slave population of Athens is around double that of Sparta"s. These slaves had few rights. Their family was not recognized as relatives, and they could be split apart at any time. Athenian philosophy had three important areas of consideration for slaves: work, punishment and food. In trials, torturing slaves for statements was mandatory, as only claims gotten from torture were seen as valid.

Spartans: The Rigid Society and Tough Military Of The Ancient Greek Warriors

Source: Pinterest

Introduction –

The subject of Spartans has been much discussed and showcased in the realm of popular culture. And while some of them have a historical basis, a few other sides are just instruments of exaggeration. In any case, we should start off with what might seem fantastical but was possibly true – and it pertains to how Spartan babies were actually inspected at their birth, with the perceived ‘unworthy’ ones (or at least a few of them) being left abandoned on nearby hillsides.

Interestingly enough, archaeology has not brought forth clear cut evidence of such a practice, although researchers have discovered remains of adults (possibly criminals) on Spartan hillsides. Reverting to history, while the child grew up into boyhood, he was given a diet of frugal food and sometimes bathed in wine thinned with water. Such contrasting practices were believed to mold both his fortitude and physique as per the requirement of a Spartan warrior.

And finally, relating to etymology, the name ‘Lacedaemonian’ (often used as a synonym for Spartan) was first attested in the Linear B – syllabic script of the Mycenaeans. In the Roman era, the term Lacedaemon was often used as a generalized term to define the geographical or political domain of Sparta, while ‘Sparta’ was possibly used to specify the core region in and around the city of Sparta (comprising Laconia) by the Eurotas River. Hence the population who resided within the larger domain (as opposed to the core region of Laconia) was also referred to as the Lacedaemonians.

Society and Politics of the Spartans –

The ‘Militaristic’ Origins of Sparta –

The word ‘Lacedaemon’ also comes from Greek mythology, wherein Lacedaemon was said to have been a son of Zeus and nymph Taygete. He, in turn, marries Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas, and names the country after himself and the founded city after his wife. However, beyond the mythical narratives, archaeologists have found pottery-based evidence in proximity to Sparta (city) that dates from the middle Neolithic period. But, interestingly enough, as opposed to the Neolithic legacy of Athens itself, the city of Sparta was probably a ‘new’ settlement that was founded by the Greeks in circa 10th century BC.

In any case, the militaristic ways of the ancient (sometimes categorized as warlike Dorians by ancient authors) soon fetched them dominion over the populace of Messenia, and as such Sparta boasted some 8,500 sq km of territory (in lower Peloponnese) – which made their polis (city-state) the largest in the 8th century BC timeframe of Greece. But, as with many episodes of war brewing their fair share of instability, Sparta was often embroiled in revolts and insurrections during this period (8th – 6th century BC) – mainly due to their rigid social order, discussed later in the article.

The Political Ascendancy –

The Spartans achieved what can be termed as political supremacy in lower Peloponnese by defeating and absorbing the state of Messenia during the Second Messenian War (685-668 BC). From thereon, the domain of Sparta stretched across Laconia and Messenia, and consequently, the Spartans became one of the militarily powerful polities of ancient Greece. By 505 BC, the Peloponnesian League was formed – an alliance of Greek city-states (including Corinth and Elis) headed by Sparta that allowed it to establish a political hegemony in the Peloponnesus peninsula.

In the next few decades, Sparta, in spite of losing to Tegea in a frontier war, boasted its potent military – often heralded as the strongest land-based force in all of Greece. By the late 6th century, the Spartans aided the Athenians in getting rid of their tyrants, while also bearing the brunt of the Persian invasion at the Battle of Thermopylae (circa 480 BC). These events rather reinforced the notion of Spartan military supremacy in Greece during the 5th century BC. However, the rising rivalry between Athens and Sparta soon escalated into the disastrous Peloponnesian Wars that raged intermittently from circa 460 till 404 BC, thereby gradually puncturing the political powers of both the city-states.

The Stringent Social Stratification –

Spartiate (Homoioi) Warriors. Source: Historia Vera

In spite of their namesake, the Spartans (the original inhabitants of Sparta and its core region Laconia), also called Spartiates (or Homoioi – meaning ‘those who are alike’), formed a minority in the region of Laconia and Messenia by the late 4th century BC. Yet they were the only ones who were considered as free citizens of the city-state with full-fledged political rights. The larger free but ‘non-citizen’ group pertained to the conquered populace of Messenia, and they were called the perioikoi. And in spite of their majority, the perioikoi possessed almost no political rights and yet were liable to be drafted into the army.

The third social order pertained to the helots (heílotes), basically constituting the subjugated population of Laconia and Messenia. Described as slaves by some ancient authors (while defined as slightly above slaves by others), the helots were forced to work as serfs on the agricultural lands of the Spartans.

During the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), given the chronic manpower shortage faced by the Spartans, many of these helots were actively trained and conscripted by the army. And by the end of the war, some of the helots were even freed and they formed a fourth social order – neodamōdeis. Befitting their better rights, the richer of these neodamōdeis were offered lands in the border areas of the Spartan state. But the main reward probably related to their new found ‘freed’ status – a very important social marker in ancient Spartan society.

The Laws of Lycurgus –

Lycurgus of Sparta portrait by Merry Joseph Blondel

Now given the nature of the harsh social order, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Spartans faced frequent revolts from the subjugated sections of their population, mainly entailing the helots. And while not documented in detail, it is highly probable that mirroring the political upheaval in Athens in circa 8th and 7th centuries BC, the Spartans faced their own ‘version’ of civil strifes and lawlessness – as mentioned by both Herodotus and Thucydides. Furthermore, hamstrung by such insurrections, the Spartans also suffered a few defeats at the hands of other Greek city-states, with one famous example relating to their loss to Argos at the Battle of Hysiae in 669 BC.

Consequently, the disruptions and defeats resulted in a set of law-based reforms covering both the social and political aspects of the ancient Spartan state. These series of laws was often ascribed to the semi-legendary lawgiver Lycurgus. As such, he was credited with a myriad of initiated amendments that applied to a vast range of society-based actions from marriage, distribution of wealth and land, constructing houses, and even sexual conduct.

One pertinent law apparently prescribed how the Spartans were barred from trading and manufacturing, which, in turn, allowed the perioikoi to step in like the proverbial middle-class. In essence, the perioikoi emerged as the mercantile class with stable economic backgrounds, while the Spartans retained their landholdings and estates (that were worked upon by the helots). But the most famous of Lycurgus’ reforms was arguably the agoge – the rigorous military training program for Spartan (Spartiate) boys.

The Dual Kingship of Spartans –

Spartan ephors refuse to join the Battle of Marathon. Illustration by Richard Hook.

A pretty unique political system of the Spartans entailed two kings instead of one. And while kingship was hereditary, the kings, who also performed duties as priests of Zeus, had to come from two different families of Spartiate (Homoioi) background. During times of war, one of the kings was given the responsibility of leading the army, while the other stayed back for governing duties.

One pertinent example would relate to the Battle of Thermopylae, during which King Leonidas (Leonidas I) of the Agiad house led the Spartan army, while the co-ruler Leotychidas of the Eurypontid house stayed back. The latter, however, played his military role, after the death of Leonidas, at the Battle of Mycale in 479 BC, by defeating the Persians on the coast of Asia Minor.

The oligarchic governance of Spartans was also aided by a council of elders, known as the gerousia. This council was composed of 28 individuals, all above 60-years of age, who were elected for life – and were probably members of the royal household. The body led and facilitated the citizen assembly known as the appella (or ecclesia), which was held once a month and was open to all free citizens of Sparta (still comprising a minority of the overall population of Sparta or Lacedaemon).

The executive, civic, and criminal decisions were also handled by a committee of five ephors (ephoroi) chosen by the damos – the representative body of the Spartan citizenry. These ephors could only serve for a year and were liable to accompany the king on war campaigns. Over time, it is highly possible that the constitutional power of Sparta passed on to the hands of the ephors and gerousia, while the kings were only figureheads who were expected to showcase their generalship during times of war.

The Spartan Women –

Bronze Statuette of Athletic Spartan Girl, dating from circa 520-500 BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Credit: British Museum

The Spartan women of Spartiate backgrounds enjoyed relatively high degrees of both freedom and respect, especially when compared to other contemporary ancient Greek realms. Pertaining to the first, the girls from their young age were given equal nourishment as boys and were allowed to both exercise and take part in athletic competitions, possibly even including the Gymnopaedia (‘Festival of Youth’). Furthermore, interestingly enough, from the societal perspective, child marriage was forbidden by the Spartans, which in turn increased the average marrying age of women to late teens or early 20s.

From ancient sources, it can also be surmised that literacy rate among the Spartan women was comparatively higher than in other Greek city-states, which, in turn, allowed them to take part in public discourse and discussions. But the most intriguing part about the Spartan women arguably relates to their economic power.

As we will discuss later in the article, Spartans (Spartiates) tended to face a chronic shortage of manpower (males), due to the attritional nature of wars coupled with the low birth rate. Accordingly, it has been hypothesized that by the late 5th century, almost 2/5th of the state’s wealth passed on to the hands of women, thereby making some of them the richest members of the society.

Military of the Spartans –

The Demanding Agoge –

Source: Sparta Reconsidered

The agoge was the Spartan regimen that combined both education and military training into one rigorous package. As noted by Prof. Nick Secunda, it was mandated for all male Spartans (of Spartiate background) from the age of 6 or 7 when the child grew up to be a boy (paidon). This meant leaving his own house and parents behind and relocating to the barracks to live with other boys.

Interestingly enough, one of the very first things that the boy learned in his new quarters was the pyrriche, a sort of dance that also involved the carrying of arms. This was practiced so as to make the Spartan boy nimble-footed even when maneuvering heavy weapons. Along with such physical moves, the boy was also taught exercises in music, the war songs of Tyrtaios, and the ability to read and write.

By the time, the boy grew up to be 12, he was known as the meirakion or youth. Suffice it to say, the rigorous scope was notched up a level with the physical exercises increased in a day. The youth also had to cut his hair short and walk barefooted, while most of his clothes were taken away from him. The Spartans believed that such uncompromising measures made the pre-teen boy tough while enhancing his endurance levels for all climates (in fact, the only bed he was allowed to sleep in the winter was made of reeds that had been plucked personally by the candidate from the River Eurotas valley).

Added to this stringent scope, the youth was intentionally fed with less than adequate food so as to stoke his hunger pangs. This encouraged the youth to sometimes steal food and upon being caught, he was punished – not for stealing the food, but for getting caught.

The Spartan Hoplites –

Spartan Hoplites. Illustration by Richard Hook.

At the age of 18, the Spartan male was perceived as an adult citizen (eiren) of the state and thus was liable for full military service till the age of 60. For the Spartiates (Homoioi), this military service generally equated to being inducted into the ranks of the famed Spartan hoplites. Now from the perspective of history, in spite of the popular imagery of Spartans fighting in massed formations, academia has not reached a consensus when it comes to their original organizational scopes.

However, what we know pertains to the unique ‘tribe’ system of ancient Greeks. This tribe system (with ties of citizenry, not blood) was a natural evolution of the Greek society and military that required disciplined formations and trained men for protracted warfare. Such measures over time gave rise to the Greek hoplites, a class of warriors who were not really separate from the citizens themselves.

In essence, a hoplite was a citizen-soldier who took up arms to defend or expand the realm of his city-state. And it should be noted that as a general rule, most adult males of the Greek city-states were expected to perform military service.

Thus the Greek hoplites, especially the Spartans, were part of an ‘institution’ that fought in a phalanx formation where every member looked out for each other – and thus the aspis shield was considered as the most crucial part of hoplite equipment. For example, when the exiled Spartan king Demaratos was asked the question – why men are dishonored only when they lose their shields but not when they lose their cuirasses? The Spartan king made his case – ‘because the latter [other armors] they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.’

Furthermore, Xenophon also talked about the more tactical side to a hoplite phalanx, which was more than just a closely-packed mass of armored spearmen. He drew comparison to the construction of a well-built house (in Memorabilia) – “just as stones, bricks, timber and tiles flung together anyhow are useless, whereas when the materials that neither rot nor decay, that is, the stones and tiles, are placed at the bottom and the top, and the bricks and timber are put together in the middle, as in building, the result is something of great value, a house, in fact.”

Similarly, in the case of a phalanx of Greek (or Spartan) hoplites, Xenophon talked about how the best men should be placed both in front and rear of the ranks. With this ‘modified’ formation, the men in the middle (with presumably lesser morale or physical prowess or even experience) would be inspired by the front-placed men while also being ‘physically’ driven forth by the rear-placed men.

Interestingly enough, popular depictions of ancient warfare frequently involve the pushing and shoving of the Spartan hoplites when they closed in with the enemy. Now while such a scenario was probably the credible outcome of two tight phalanxes clashing with each other, in reality, many battles didn’t even come to the scope of ‘physical contact’.

In other words, a hoplite charge was often not successful because the citizen-soldiers tended to break their ranks (and disperse) even before starting a bold maneuver. As a result, the army that held its ground often emerged victorious – thus exemplifying how morale was far more important than sheer strength in numbers. This alludes to why the courageous Spartans were considered lethal in a battlefield. As Xenophon, in spite of being an Athenian, heaped his praise on the Spartans by calling them – “the only true craftsmen in matters of war”.

Spears, Shields, and Swords –

The spear was the main offensive weapon of the Spartans, so much so that they were required to carry it during all times of a campaign. Most of these spears were made of ash wood, probably due to its longer grains that allowed for larger pieces – thereby having the advantages of both lightness and strength. The leaf-shaped spearhead was made of iron, while the butt-spike was made of bronze (possibly a later design modification) so as to mitigate the dampness from the ground when the spear was rested upon it.

As for defensive equipment, in the period after the 6th century BC, the hoplite shield or aspis (commonly referred to as the ‘hoplon’) went through a structural modification with the covering of the shield part with a layer of bronze. The supporting wooden (or leather) component underneath was also laminated, thus allowing for more curvature and strength. Suffice it to say, much like the Roman scutum, the aspis was used as a bashing weapon in close quarters – thus effectively making it an instrument of offense in spite of its core defensive credentials.

And even beyond battlefield tactics, there was a symbolic essence attached to the Spartan shield – so much so that it was considered (along with the spear) as the most important part of the Spartan army panoply. Some of us might already know about Plutarch’s famous recounting of an incident where the mother says to his Spartan warrior son – ‘either [with] it [your shield], or on it’. But rhetoric aside, the shield was given importance because of the equipment’s reach and coverage. So soldiers who lost their shields in the battlefield were often punished afterward.

And as for swords, according to Prof. Secunda, by late 5th century BC, Greek armies tended to discard their heavy body armor in favor of enhanced mobility. Interestingly enough, mirroring the very same period, the swords (known as xiphos) carried by the Spartan army got shorter – almost to a point that their length could be compared to daggers. This might have had its tactical benefit, with the short length forcing the Spartan warrior to thrust his weapon at the torso and groin areas of his opponent, as opposed to the conventionally longer Greek sword that was often used to slash at the head.

The advantage for the Spartans pertained to the fact that the contemporary body armor was also changed to lighter linothorax instead of the heavy ‘muscled’ cuirass – and thus a short sword could be used as an effective secondary weapon for inflicting thrusting injuries on the enemy.

And as with many Laconic phrases, there are literary tidbits put forth by Plutarch when it came to the exceedingly short swords of the Spartan army. During one instance when King Agesilaos was asked why Spartan swords are too short, he tersely replied – ‘because we fight close to the enemy’. In another episode, when an Athenian asked a Spartan why his sword was so short, he retorted – ‘it is long enough to reach your heart.’

Singing and Sacrifices –

Despite their ‘laconic’ ways, symbolism and superstitions played a big role in for the Spartans. The ambit is quite evident from the way the Spartan kings sacrificed animals before the start of any military campaign beyond Sparta’s border. The fire from this sacrifice was then carried forth by a specially appointed fire-bearer or pyrphorus, all the way to the border.

The flame was never extinguished as the fire-bearer accompanied the army on its march, and he was followed by a flock of shepherded animals. Among these animals, the katoiades (probably the she-goat) was chosen as the prime sacrificial victim dedicated to the goddess Artemis Agrotera. However, on the practical side of affairs, the flame was probably not snuffed out so that it could also serve as cooking fire for the army on the march while maintaining its symbolic resplendence.

As for recreations, it was said the only time a Spartan warrior took a break from military training was during the war. However, the statement is not entirely true, since the Spartans were expected to exercise daily in both morning and evening sessions, even during ongoing campaigns. The only break they got from camp training was after dinner when soldiers huddled together to sing their hymns.

But even this ‘relaxing’ period was morphed into a competition when every man was then called forth to sing a composition by Tyrtaios. Then the polemarchoi (a senior military title holder) decided the winner and accorded him a choice piece of meat as the gift.

The singing, however, was not just limited to the camp. Before the commencement of a battle, the king once again made sacrifices to the goddess Artemis. The Spartan army officers then grouped the hoplites and their lines started moving forward (with some wearing wreaths), while the king began to sing one of many marching-songs composed by Tyrtaios. He was complemented by pipers who played the familiar tune, thus serving as a powerful auditory accompaniment to the progressing Spartan army.

Interestingly, as with many Greek customs, there might have been a practical side underneath this seemingly religious veneer. According to Thucydides, the songs and their tunes kept the marching line in order, which entailed a major battlefield tactic – since Greek warfare generally involved a steady approach to the enemy positions with a solid, unbroken line. This incredible auditory scope ended in a crescendo with the collective (yet sacred) war-cry of paean, a military custom that was Dorian in origin.

The Chronic Shortage of Spartans –

Source: Thing Link

Unfortunately for the Spartans, by the late 5th century, while their army boasted both courage and tenacity, the intrinsic strength was eroded by the available numbers. For example, at the Battle of Thermopylae (circa 480 BC), the Greek forces possibly had around 7,000 men. Within this force, the Spartiates (Spartan free citizens) themselves only had 300 men, while being accompanied by over a thousand perioikoi and helots from Sparta. Furthermore, Thucydides mentions how the low population of the Spartiates possibly allowed for a paltry force of only 2,560 Spartan hoplites by 418 BC.

The reasons for such low numbers could have pertained to various possibilities, with hypotheses like how a calamitous earthquake afflicted the citizen Spartans in circa 464 BC and the high casualties suffered in the Third Messenian War. To rectify the dwindling numbers, the Spartans began to actively recruit the free but non-citizen perioikoi class into its organizational scope.

By the time of the Second Peloponnesian War, the Spartans even trained hoplites from the helot ranks. The first of these helot hoplites were freed after they returned from their Thracian military campaign that took place over three years and ended in 421 BC. And meanwhile, the ‘home’ Spartan army was supplemented by neodamodeis (discussed earlier), another batch of better-trained helot hoplites.

Unsung Cavalry and Archers –

Illustration by Richard Hook.

After defeating the Spartans at the naval Battle of Pylos in circa 425 BC, the Athenians controlled the Pylos peninsula (southwestern Greece) and established a raiding base in the region. The Spartans tried to counter the Athenian forays by establishing a cavalry force of 400 strength.

And while such a decision seemed tactically appropriate, the Spartan state was already financially debilitated by the Peloponnesian War – and thus could ill afford a mounted force whose logistical scope and battlefield applications were (somewhat) alien to the Spartans. As a solution, only the richest (from both Spartiate and perioikoi background) were allowed in the regiment since they could afford horses. Furthermore, according to the anecdotes of Plutarch, many of the recruits were possibly ill-suited to hoplite combat because of their physical incapability or low morale.

And given the Spartan penchant for close-quarters combat, it is not a big surprise that the art of archery also took a backseat when it came to their ‘conservative’ mode of warfare. But beyond just avoiding any archery training, the Spartans possibly abhorred archery as a skill. Plutarch once again provides numerous anecdotes, and one of them relates to how a Spartan warrior was mortally wounded by an enemy archer. While lying on the ground, he was not worried about his death, but rather remorseful that he would die at the hands of a ‘womanish’ archer.

There were even incidences when the Spartans simply refused to fight when they were at the receiving end of a determined archery barrage. One such episode related to an encounter in 425 BC, when an entire Spartan garrison surrendered after being afflicted by enemy arrows. One of the survivors was later mocked by his Athenian counterpart, who derided the soldier for surrendering and thus not showcasing the braveness expected of a Spartan warrior.

The soldier replied that it was only a fine spindle (atrakon) that could distinguish the brave. The spindle, in this case, alluded to the instrument of a woman. Nevertheless, the austere Spartan army was forced to adopt mixed tactics in the future that involved archers and other missile troops but most of the archers were probably mercenaries employed from Crete. Additionally, the Spartans also began to employ the allied Skiritai, hailing from the mountainous Arcadia, as both hoplites and peltasts (skirmishers).

Culture of the Spartans –

The Crimson Cloaks and Long Hair of Spartans –

Source: Pinterest

According to Xenophon, the crimson robes and bronze shields carried by the Spartans was mandated by their legendary law-giver Lycurgus. Plutarch interestingly added to this view by stating that the red-hued clothing might have psychologically afflicted the enemy while also hiding the bloody wounds of a Spartan warrior. The latter explanation might have some justification since most Greek armies contemporary to even Xenophon’s time adopted some variants of the crimson clothing, probably inspired by their Spartan counterparts.

On the other hand, beyond bravery and masculinity, there was possibly more cultural reasoning behind the preference of crimson clothing in the Spartan army. To that end, crimson was generally considered as an expensive dye. Xenophon also talked about how soldiers should be dressed at their best in a battle, in case the Gods granted them to victory (and the troops, in turn, could mark the occasion in an opulent manner, or die in a regal manner).

So the Spartan mothers and wives proudly made the battle tunics of their sons and husbands with the finest possible materials. This societal tendency later transformed into a norm by 4th century BC, and thus the Spartan army became uniformly draped in crimson robes.

Earlier in the post, we also mentioned how the meirakion or youth was forced to cut his hair short while training in the agoge. But as Prof. Secunda noted, according to Xenophon, once the Spartan male entered manhood (possibly, at the age of 21), he was allowed (and sometimes even encouraged) to grow his hair long. This notion once again had a cultural bearing, with the elders believing that long hair made the person seem taller in stature, and thus more dignified as a Spartan warrior in the battlefield.

And according to Plutarch, long hair made good-looking men more handsome and the ugly-looking men more terrifying – both of which had their psychological value in the Spartan army. And even beyond vanity, long hair has always been associated with freedom in Archaic Lakedaimonian circles – since many servile tasks couldn’t be achieved by keeping one’s hair long.

The Perception of Cowardice –

Given the propensity of Spartans for warfare and nigh ‘egotistic’ bravery, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that cowardice was not accepted as a general rule. Even simple accusations of cowardice against a Spartan warrior could initiate government rulings that officially excluded him from holding any office inside the state of Sparta. And if cowardice was ‘proven’, the person was simply banned from making any kind of legal contract and agreement, which also entailed marriage.

Furthermore, they were made to wear specially designed cloaks with multifarious colors and also had to shave half their beard. Such kinds of bitter episodes frequently led to suicides among the Spartan men who surrendered in battles (or ‘missed out’ on battles). In fact, Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopylae attests to a similar behavioral pattern when two men were publicly shamed for not being part of the ‘heroic’ conflict. Unable to bear the pressure, one of them hanged himself shortly afterward, while the other redeemed himself by getting killed in a later encounter.

Conclusion – The Rise and Decline of the Spartans

Theban hoplite approaching a defeated Spartan hoplite.

The Spartans were on the ascendancy in terms of power and prestige during the intermittent Greco-Persian Wars from circa 499-449 BC – as can be surmised from their leadership roles at the Battle of Thermopylae and Battle of Plataea. However, Sparta was soon embroiled in a far more attritional war with the emergent Athenians, resulting in the protracted Peloponnesian Wars from circa 460 till 404 BC.

Incredibly enough, the Spartans, known for their land-based armies, were successful in naval pursuits, thereby defeating the Athenian Empire and emerging as the most powerful Greek city-state in the late 5th century – early 4th century. The period, also known as the Spartan Hegemony, even entailed Spartan raids and forays into Persian territories of Anatolia.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, their hegemonic tendencies drew the ire of the numerous Greek city-states who formed a coalition against Sparta. And while Sparta once again scored a string of land victories, their naval power was decimated, ironically by the combined efforts of both Athens and Persia.

Moreover, the state’s economic and social orders were crippled by the incessant warfare, low birth rate, and more importantly the revolts of the helots (who far outnumbered the Spartiates). And this long term reversal of fortunes was rather exemplified by the disastrous defeat of a full land army of Spartans by the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra, in circa 371 BC.

In spite of being permanently relegated from its hegemony after the defeat, the ever-persistent Spartans later fought the Macedonians and were forced to join the League of Corinth by Alexander. During the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC, Sparta even remained an important ally of Rome But its political independence was snuffed out a century later when the Spartans were once again defeated by an alliance of Romans and the Achaean League in circa 146 BC.

Thereafter Sparta became a ‘free city’ under Roman influence, and as such, some Laws of Lycurgus were still followed inside the confines of the settlement. One particular episode also epitomizes the relevance of Spartan military legacy in Roman circles – when Emperor Caracalla recruited 500 men (cohort) from Sparta who apparently fought as phalanx infantry in circa 214 AD. However, even the nascent ‘existence’ of Sparta was finally extinguished when the city was sacked by the Visigoths in circa 396 AD and its inhabitants sold into slavery.

Honorable Mention – Krypteia

Despite our popular culture-inspired notions, the Spartan male was only considered as a true soldier from the age of 18 (and not before that) when he was called the eiren or ‘adult citizen’. However, the Spartan secret service, known as krypteia, only inducted male members – who were generally above 27 years old (and below 30 years).

This ‘krypteia’ branch of the military practiced a cruel form of training for its initiates that required them to literally murder innocent ‘helots’. These helots belonged the subjugated populace of Sparta which provided the free Lakedaimonians with slaves to work on fields, while the Spartans trained themselves for wars.

As for the barbarous process in question here, it started off when an ephor (an elected Spartan leader) upon entering his office, often declared war on the helots with the casus belli of fake revolts. This executive decision for all intents-and-purposes made the act of killing a helot legal from the perspective of the state’s judicial system.

And when the terrible order was passed, young Spartan men under the krypteia branch of ‘special services’ armed with just daggers and rations were let loose into the countryside populated by such slaves. These men used stealthy bandit-like tactics and ambushed unsuspecting helots to kill them mostly during times of the night. The planning of such legalized murders was often elaborate and bloodthirsty. For example, there were cases when the strongest and largest helot was targeted first, so as to make a case for Spartan manliness in taking down bigger enemies.


Classical Spartan society was rigidly divided into several castes, each with assigned duties and privileges. The smallest of them, with the most power and freedom, was the Spartiate elite. Spartiates were exempt from manual labour and controlled the government of the state. Spartiates men were expected to prepare constantly for military conflict. Below the Spartiates were the perioeci, literally "dwellers around", inhabitants of outlying towns who carried out most of the trade and commerce of the city since Spartiates were forbidden from engaging in commercial activity. The lowest were the helots, enslaved populations tied to the land and over whom the Spartan state claimed ownership. In the late 5th century BC and later, a new class, the neodamodeis, literally new damos dwellers, arose and seems to have been composed of liberated helots. Also were the hypomeiones, literally inferiors, men who were probably although not certainly Spartiates who had lost their social rank.

Origins Edit

According to classical accounts, the Spartan constitution was the product of a great lawgiver, Lycurgus. He was said to have written the Spartan constitution late in the Archaic period, most likely in the 770s BC.

It is impossible to determine whether Lycurgus was an actual historical figure. It is clear, however, that at some point in the late Archaic period, the model of Spartan society was changed from a monarchical system to an aristocracy for the elite warrior class. That change is likely to have been in some way related to the change from Dark Age warfare, in which nobles were the dominant force, to the hoplite warfare of the classical period. Around the time of that change, Sparta embarked on the conquest of the neighboring state of Messenia. The acquisition of such a comparatively large piece of territory and conquered population seems to have both provided the basis for the system of helotage and required the existence of a large military force to keep the potentially-rebellious Messenians under control. The Spartiates thus became a permanently-armed master class, living off the labour of the helots and preventing rebellion through constant struggle.

During the 6th and the 5th centuries BC, the Spartan system was at its height. In 555 BC, Sparta defeated Tegea and forced that state to become its ally. Around 544 BC, Sparta defeated Argos and established itself as the pre-eminent power in the Peloponnese. For over 150 years, Sparta became the dominant land power of Greece, with the Spartiates hoplites serving as the core of its army.

To maintain the social system of the city, it was necessary to have a force ready to oppose any uprising of the helots (that occurred several times in the classical period). To ensure their military readiness, Spartiate youths enrolled in military training (agoge) from the age of seven to thirty, the age of full citizenship. From that age until they became too old to fight, they would live in their barracks, visiting their families (and, later, their wives) only when they could sneak out. Spartiate women, as well, were expected to remain athletically fit since the Spartans believed that strong and healthy parents would produce strong and healthy children.

Spartiates were expected to adhere to an ideal of military valour, as exemplified by the poems of Tyrtaeus, who praised men who fell in battle and heaped scorn on those who fled.

Each Spartiate male was assigned a plot of land, with the helots that worked it. That was the source of his income since he performed no labour or commerce himself. The primary use of that income was to pay the dues of the communal mess halls to which all Spartiates were required to belong. Any Spartiate who was unable to pay these dues was demoted from his class.

Politically, Spartiate males composed the army assembly, the body that elected the ephors, the most powerful magistrates of Sparta after the kings. The Spartiates were also the source of the krypteia, a sort of secret police, which, by measures such as assassination and kidnapping, sought to prevent rebellion among the helots.

In the late 5th and the early 4th centuries BC, the Spartiate class gradually shrank in number, along with Spartan military prowess, for several reasons. First was attrition through the increasingly-frequent wars that Sparta found itself embroiled in from the mid-5th century onward. Since Spartiates were required to marry late, birth rates were low, and it was difficult to replace losses from the class. Exacerbating that problem was the possibility of demotion from Spartiate status for a number of reasons, such as cowardice in battle and inability to pay for membership in the syssitia. The latter became increasingly severe as commercial activity began to develop in Sparta, some Spartiates would sell the land from which they were supposed to draw their earnings. Since the constitution included no known provisions for promotion to Spartiate status, the number of Spartiates gradually dwindled.

By the mid-4th century BC, the number of Spartiates had been critically reduced although Sparta continued to hold sway over much of Greece. Finally, at Leuctra in 371 BC, a Theban army decisively defeated a Spartan force, killing 400 Spartiates of a force of 700 and breaking the back of Spartan military power. In 370 BC, Messenia was liberated by a Theban army, liberating the helots and destroying the basis of the Spartan social system. The Spartan state never recovered its former power, and the Spartan army, by the later 3rd century, was not particularly superior to other hoplite armies in Greece.