Sparta

Those who had little admiration for Athenian democratic 'freedoms' looked to the other large and powerful city-state of the time, Sparta, for inspiration. Indeed, the Athenian oligarch Kritias, the leader of the Thirty Tyrants imposed on Athens by Sparta in 404/3, and an associate of Socrates and relative of Plato, argued against the Thucydidean Perikles. He claimed that the most free of free Greeks were not Athenians but Spartans. We have very few contemporary documents from Sparta, but during the fifth century bc this city-state came to be seen by anti-democrats as an ideal oligarchy of a very distinctive kind.45 Both Herodotus and Thucydides describe Spartan history and organization, although they are not always in agreement. Other information comes from the Spartan admirer Xenophon,4'' from Plato,47 from Aristotle, who is often critical,48 and from the later Plutarch49 among others.

Full citizen Spartiates (also called Lacedaemonians) were members of an Assembly

42 J. K. Davies, Wealth and Power of Wealth in Classical Athens (New York, 1981), pp. 15-37; P. Millett, 'Patronage and its Avoidance in Classical Athens', in A. Wallace-Hadrill, ed., Patronage in Ancient Society (London, 1989), pp. 15-47; P. Cartledge, 'Comparatively Equal' in J. Ober and C. Hedrick, eds, Demokratia: a conversation on democracies, ancient and modern (Princeton, NJ, 1996), pp. 175-85.

43 Against the Law of Leptines.

44 For instance, Isocrates, Areopagiticus, discussed in Millett, 'Patronage', pp. 28ff.

45 E. N. Tigerstedt, The legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity 3 vols (Stockholm and Uppsala, 1965-78); P. Cartledge, Agesilaus and the Crisis of Sparta (London, 1987).

46 Spartan Constitution, Hellenika.

47 Republic, VIII, 548; Uws.

48 Politics II and IV.

49 Lives of Lykourgos and Agesilaus.

where they had some power of decision-making in running their city-state, but not as much as citizens in the Athenian Assembly. Spartan citizens were a small minority of the overall population that included helots, a subjugated, often volatile, indigenous people who were bound to the land and left with a degree of freedom, including the capacity to own goods so long as they produced enough to support the dominant Spartiates. Helots could be liberated by the state as a reward for fighting well for Sparta in war. But they could also be killed with impunity and there was an annual state declaration of war against them! The population of Lakonia also included perioikoi (dwellers around), free men who lived in cities other than Sparta, ran their own communities, engaged in commerce and crafts, and served as military auxiliaries, but they were not full citizens and in greater matters were subject to Spartiates. Spartiates cultivated austerity in a way that set them apart from all other Greeks. They devoted themselves to a near full-time military life in order to maintain their conquests and were forbidden by law to own silver and gold or to engage in commerce and crafts.

The Spartan constitution (the nomoi which included rules, customs and practices), established probably early in the seventh century bc, was held to have been granted by a legendary lawgiver, Lykourgos. His institutions lasted, with modifications, until the third century bc.5" According to Plutarch, Lykourgos had originally persuaded all Spartiates to pool their lands and redistribute them afresh, equally, so that each citizen had an allotment that secured his livelihood, worked for him by helots, and permitted him to devote his time to being a full-time Spartan. Thereafter, Spartiates 'sought primacy through virtue in the belief that there was no difference or inequality between one man and another, except that defined by reproach for shameful actions and praise for good'.31 Spartan virtue was equated with a disdain for personal luxury and wealth and a love of military valour in the service of the city-state's military demands.

Lykourgos was also said to have provided for two hereditary kings, originally said to have descended from Herakles (Hercules), who served both as religious heads of state and as commanders of the army. They were answerable to the citizens when they returned from campaigns. The two kings sat with twenty-eight men over sixty years of age, elected for life and by popular acclaim from a privileged circle of aristocratic families, to constitute the Gerousia. This council of elders acted as a lawcourt to try important cases and not only discussed initial proposals for foreign policy and legislation before these were presented to the Assembly (Ekklesia) of Spartiate citizens, but could reject 'crooked decisions' made by the Assembly. Aristotle says they were not required to render an account of their office holding and hence, were subject to bribery."12 Lastly, there was a group of five Ephors (overseers) who were the civilian heads of state, responsible for day to day affairs, elected for one year from the whole body of male adult Spartiates. Xenophon said the Ephors could, like tyrants, prevent a man from completing his term of office if they detected him to be in breach of the law and they could punish him on the spot. Ephors received the reports of outgoing officials, decided lawsuits concerning contracts and generally supervised the system of Spartiate military life.

To Lykourgos was also attributed the distinctive Spartan system of military training by

50 See D. M. MacDowell, Spartan Law (Edinburgh, 1986).

51 Plutarch, Lykourgos 8, i-viii.

52 Politics II 1270b 35-1271a 6, 1271a 9-12.

age-classes. Spartan fathers did not have the right to decide to rear their offspring. Their infant was inspected by elders and if the child was 'ill born or deformed' it was sent to 'a place with pits by Mount Taygetus' and exposed to die.55 If 'well-built and robust', however, the child was reared at home. But from the age of seven boys were taken from their families and placed in 'herds' with boy leaders, while older men watched them play and provoked them to fight and quarrel so that 'they learned about character and struggles'. Although they 'learned letters', this was taught only so far as literacy was necessary to the rest of their training in responsiveness to command, endurance in hardship and victory in battle. Then their hair was cropped, they went about barefoot and played naked. At twelve they lived without tunics and were given only one cloak for the year. They slept in barracks on rush pallets which they made with their own hands. The older men believed they were fathers, tutors and commanders of all the boys and they encouraged them to take leaders from among the most valiant of the older boys. At twenty, a young Spartiate took command in battle while the younger boys served him at dinner and elsewhere. Dinners were provided for in messes and each member contributed monthly contributions of produce to be shared collectively. Only at thirty did they return home to their families, but they continued to dine in the military mess, as no Spartiate was allowed to dine at home.

While Spartan women did not go into barracks they received an education, based on physical exercise, that was similar to the men. They were not expected to weave or spin, were not allowed jewellery, had to keep their hair cut short, and they mixed freely and exercised with the men. Their role in Spartan society was to produce soldier-sons. In fact, married women could, with their husband's permission, bear children by men other than their husbands in order to ensure a supply of young Spartans for military service.34 When we read Plato's Republic we will need to recall this.

The Spartan constitution showed anti-democrats how a strong polis could be maintained without stasis (civil strife) or tyranny. Almost all the debates which attracted the attention of non-Spartan sources dealt with foreign policy and here, although decisions were taken by shouting approval in the Assembly, the proposals and speeches were almost invariably made by kings, elders and Ephors. Many matters that, in Athens, were decided by the Assembly, in Sparta were left to Ephors and the Gerousia. Plato observed that the power of the Ephors was tyrannical15 but, as we shall see, other aspects of their constitution would be paralleled in the provisions Plato made for the education of his guardian class in the Republic.

Where Perikles had praised the individuality and diversity of Athenian life with its many foci of loyalty to family, friends and private enterprise in economic affairs, Sparta seemed to stand for opposing values that allowed an individual to succeed only through service to the whole community, that is, through military service, patriotism, courage and devotion to the polis over individual pleasure and profit. The Spartan 'state' interfered far more than did the Athenian 'state' in what Athenian citizens considered to be matters pertaining more properly to the autonomy of the family. But Spartan values

53 Plutarch, Lykourgos 16, i—ii; the exposure of unwanted infants was a common practice throughout Greece but outside Sparta it was normally done only on the parents' initiative.

54 P. Cartledge, 'Spartan Wives, liberation or licence?'. Classical Quarterly 31 (1981), pp. 84-105; MacDowell, Spartan Law, p. 85.

55 Laws 712d.

were the ones that left the rest of Greece in their debt when, at Thermopylae, and despite being massively outnumbered, the Spartans led the Greek resistance to the invading Persians at the beginning of the fifth century bc. And Sparta was able to defeat Athens at the end of the fifth century bc. Into the fourth century bc Sparta would continue to try to replace democracies with compliant oligarchies.1''

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