The Spartan Military

The Spartan Military


Sparta was a warrior society in ancient Greece that reached the height of its power after defeating rival city-state Athensin the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). Spartan culture was centered on loyalty to the state and military service. At age 7, Spartan boys entered a rigorous state-sponsored education, military training and socialization program. Known as the Agoge, the system emphasized duty, discipline and endurance. Although Spartan women were not active in the military, they were educated and enjoyed more status and freedom than other Greek women. Because Spartan men were professional soldiers, all manual labor was done by a slave class, the Helots. Despite their military prowess, the Spartans’ dominance was short-lived: In 371 B.C., they were defeated by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra, and their empire went into a long period of decline.

Spartan Society

Sparta, also known as Lacedaemon, was an ancient Greek city-state located primarily in the present-day region of southern Greece called Laconia. The population of Sparta consisted of three main groups: the Spartans, or Spartiates, who were full citizens; the Helots, or serfs/slaves; and the Perioeci, who were neither slaves nor citizens. The Perioeci, whose name means “dwellers-around,” worked as craftsmen and traders, and built weapons for the Spartans.
All healthy male Spartan citizens participated in the compulsory state-sponsored education system, the Agoge, which emphasized obedience, endurance, courage and self-control. Spartan men devoted their lives to military service, and lived communally well into adulthood. A Spartan was taught that loyalty to the state came before everything else, including one’s family.
The Helots, whose name means “captives,” were fellow Greeks, originally from Laconia and Messenia, who had been conquered by the Spartans and turned into slaves. The Spartans’ way of life would not have been possible without the Helots, who handled all the day-to-day tasks and unskilled labor required to keep society functioning: They were farmers, domestic servants, nurses and military attendants.
Spartans, who were outnumbered by the Helots, often treated them brutally and oppressively in an effort to prevent uprisings. Spartans would humiliate the Helots by doing such things as forcing them to get debilitatingly drunk on wine and then make fools of themselves in public. (This practice was also intended to demonstrate to young people how an adult Spartan should never act, as self-control was a prized trait.) Methods of mistreatment could be far more extreme: Spartans were allowed to kill Helots for being too smart or too fit, among other reasons.

The Spartan Military

Unlike such Greek city-states as Athens, a center for the arts, learning and philosophy, Sparta was centered on a warrior culture. Male Spartan citizens were allowed only one occupation: solider. Indoctrination into this lifestyle began early. Spartan boys started their military training at age 7, when they left home and entered the Agoge. The boys lived communally under austere conditions. They were subjected to continual physical, competitions (which could involve violence), given meager rations and expected to become skilled at stealing food, among other survival skills.
The teenage boys who demonstrated the most leadership potential were selected for participation in the Crypteia, which acted as a secret police force whose primary goal was to terrorize the general Helot population and murder those who were troublemakers. At age 20, Spartan males became full-time soldiers, and remained on active duty until age 60.
The Spartans’ constant military drilling and discipline made them skilled at the ancient Greek style of fighting in a phalanx formation. In the phalanx, the army worked as a unit in a close, deep formation, and made coordinated mass maneuvers. No one soldier was considered superior to another. Going into battle, a Spartan soldier, or hoplite, wore a large bronze helmet, breastplate and ankle guards, and carried a round shield made of bronze and wood, a long spear and sword. Spartan warriors were also known for their long hair and red cloaks.

Spartan Women and Marriage

Spartan women had a reputation for being independent-minded, and enjoyed more freedoms and power than their counterparts throughout ancient Greece. While they played no role in the military, female Spartans often received a formal education, although separate from boys and not at boarding schools. In part to attract mates, females engaged in athletic competitions, including javelin-throwing and wrestling, and also sang and danced competitively. As adults, Spartan women were allowed to own and manage property. Additionally, they were typically unencumbered by domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and making clothing, tasks which were handled by the helots.
Marriage was important to Spartans, as the state put pressure on people to have male children who would grow up to become citizen-warriors, and replace those who died in battle. Men who delayed marriage were publically shamed, while those who fathered multiple sons could be rewarded.

In preparation for marriage, Spartan women had their heads shaved; they kept their hair short after they wed. Married couples typically lived apart, as men under 30, were required to continue residing in communal barracks. In order to see their wives during this time, husbands had to sneak away at night.

Decline of the Spartans

In 371 B.C., Sparta suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra. In a further blow, late the following year, Thebangeneral Epaminondas (c.418 B.C.-362B.C.)led an invasion into Spartan territory and oversaw the liberation of the Messenian Helots, who had been enslaved by the Spartans for several centuries. The Spartans would continue to exist, although as a second-rate power in a long period of decline. In 1834,Otto (1815-67), the king of Greece, ordered thefounding of the modern-daytown of Spartion the site of ancient Sparta


We may think all the famous ancient Greeks came from Athens, but it's not true. Like many important ancient Greeks, Herodotus was not only not born is Athens, but wasn't even born in what we think of as Europe. He was born in the essentially Dorianon the southwest coast of Asia Minor, which at the time was part of the Persian Empire. Herodotus had not yet been born when Athens defeated Persia in the renowned Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.

Despite major shortcomings in the area of accuracy, Herodotus is called "the father of history" -- even by his contemporaries. Sometimes, however, more accuracy-minded people describe him as "the father of lies".

Occupation: Historian

Herodotus' Histories, celebrating the Greek victory over the Persians, were written in the mid-fifth century B.C. Herodotus wanted to present as much information about the Persian War as he could. What sometimes reads like a travelogue, includes information on the entire Persian Empire, and simultaneously explains the origins (aitia) of the conflict, by reference to mythological prehistory. Even with the fascinating digressions and fantastic elements, Herodotus' history was an advance over the previous writers of quasi-history, who are known as logographers.

Thucydides: “The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage.“

Thucydides was a Greek historian who was born in Alimos between the years 460 and 455 B.C and died between 411 and 400 B.C. He is known for his book The History of the Peloponnesian War which details the war between Sparta and Athens in the 5th Century. As with many authors of that time much of the information we know about him comes from this, his sole work, where we gain our views of his personality and his thoughts on the leaders of Athens.

Thucydides was an Athenian aristocrat who it is believed was in his late twenties or early thirties when the war first broke out in 431 B.C. Thucydides famously describes to us the plague of Athens in 430 B.C, which killed nearly a third of the Athenian population and also Athens leader Pericles. Thucydides gives us a detailed account of the plague and the hardship it caused the Athenians

"Externally the body was not very hot to the touch, nor pale in its appearance, but reddish, livid, and breaking out into small pustules and ulcers. But internally it burned so that the patient could not bear to have on him clothing or linen even of the very lightest description; or indeed to be otherwise than stark naked. What they would have liked best would have been to throw themselves into cold water; as indeed was done by some of the neglected sick, who plunged into the rain tanks in their agonies of unquenchable thirst; though it made no difference whether they drank little or much. Though many lay unburied, birds and beasts would not touch them, or died after tasting them".

It is also known that he was an Athenian general (Strategos) in 424 B.C and was in command of 7 ships which were stationed at Thasos and was subsequently to blame for the capture of Amphipolis.

"It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty yearsafter my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly".

This led to him being condemned to death and fleeing to his Thracian estate. Thucydides did not return to Athens for another 20 years. It was because of this that he decided to write The History of the Peloponnesian Wars.Having been exiled from Athens Thucydides was able to travel among Peloponnesian allies, giving detailed accounts from both sides. Using interviews, researching records, providing giving eye witness accounts and his own take on events provides an insightful look at the war from both sides.

The date of his death is also the subject of much debate as some argue that because of the abrupt ending of his narrative in the middle of 411 B.C., he may have died around that time. However, it is also stated by Pausanias that a law was passed which allowed Thucydides to return to Athens in 404 B.C. but he was murdered on the way home. Therefore as is evident there is room for much debate on when he actually died but it would be fair to assume that he died between 411-404 B.C.

Peloponnesian Wars

The Peloponnesian war was a series of battles between Athens and an alliance of Greek cities which resisted her domination, which began around 460 B.C. and continued until the fall of Athens in 404. The later campaigns, which began after Sparta officially declared war on Athens, are the most well-known, and 431 is often cited as the beginning of the war, but the conflict between the two cities states and their allies began almost as soon as Athens recovered from the Persian war, and started to aggressively build up a powerful naval empire. Unlike the Persian Wars, which involved a few very large scale, pitched battles with conclusive outcomes, the Peloponnesian was a war of attrition, lasting for generations. There were many defeats but few decisive battles or lasting victories, and all of Greece was weakened as a result.

The broad cause of the war was the fact that the wealth and growing influence of Athens was threatening the city-states who desired to stay independent of the Athenian controlled Delian league. The politics were of course, complicated by the fact that some mainland cities had colonies which were under Athens' sway and other cities had ancestral enemies who had chosen opposing sides in the war in order to carry on their hostilities. In some cases, cities attempted to rebel from their war-time alliances and were harshly repressed. And even in cases where the alliances held firm, the citizens of the city-states were often split in their sympathies. So although there were large scale principles and strategies involved, local politics factored greatly in the actual course of events. The course of the Peloponnesian Wars occurred as follows:

In 460 B.C. Athens made an alliance with Megara and Argos, cities near the Isthmus of Corinth. This alliance threatened the cities of the Peloponnese. After several battles, which involved the island city of Aegina, and several cities in Boeotia, a truce between the Athenian and Peloponnesian League was concluded. The peace was quickly broken, however, by a revolt in Boeotia, which, according to the terms of the peace, had become part of the Delian league. In 447 B.C. Boeotia bolted from the Delian league and won its independence at the battle of Coronea. Phocis, and Locris, the northern neighbors of Boeotia also abandoned the league. A revolt in Euboea was repressed by Athens. Finally, a "Thirty-Years" peace was negotiated with Sparta.

The negotiated peace between Sparta and Athens lasted only fifteen years, and during that time, there were several battles, including the revolt of Samos from the Delian league (441 B.C.), and a conflict between Corinth and Corcyra (435 B.C.). Sparta refused to get involved in these matters, but when Potidaea revolted from Athens, Sparta reluctantly declared the peace broken, knowing that war with Athens would be a difficult undertaking.

Battle / Outcome / Description
Battle of Halieis
Athenians defeat Corinthians / Fought B.C. 459 between the Athenians, and the combined forces of Corinth and Epidamnus. The Athenians were victorious.
Battle of Aegina
Athenians defeat Aegina / Fought B.C. 458, between the Athenian fleet, and that of Aegina, aided by the Peloponnesian States. The Athenians were victorious, capturing 70 ships, and landing they invested Aegina, which fell into their hands after a siege of a little less than two years.
Battle of Cecryphalea
Athenians defeat Spartans / A naval action, fought B.C. 458 between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, in which the latter were victorious.
Battle of Tanagra
Spartans defeat Athenians / Fought 457 B.C., between the Spartans, and their Peloponnesian allies, and about 14,000 Athenians and others, including a body of Thessalian cavalry. The battle was stubbornly contested, both sides losing heavily, but the desertion during the action of the Thessalians turned the scale, and the Spartans were victorious, though at a cost which deterred them from their intended attack upon Athens.
Battle of Oenophyta
Athenians defeat Boeotians / Fought B.C. 457, between the Athenians, under Myronides, and the Thebans and other Boeotian states. The Boeotians were totally defeated, and were in consequence compelled to acknowledge the headship of Athens, and to contribute men to her armies.
Battle of Coronea
Boeotian defeat Athenians / Fought B.C. 447, when an Athenian army under Tolmides, which had entered Boeotia to reduce certain of the Boeotian towns which had thrown off their allegiance to Athens, was encountered and totally defeated by a largely superior force of Boeotians. Almost all the surviving Athenians were captured, and, to secure their release, Athens resigned her claims over Boeotia.
Battle of Ambracian Gulf
Corcyrea defeat Corinthians / Fought 435 B.C. when a Corinthian fleet of 75 ships attempted the relief of Epidamnus, which was besieged by the Corcyreans and was defeated with heavy loss by 80 Corcyrean triremes.
Battle of Sybota
Drawn Battle (Corinthians vs. Corcyrea) / Fought 433 B.C., between a Corinthian fleet of 150 sail, and a Corcyrean fleet of 150 sail, aided by 10 Athenian triremes. The Corcyrean right wing was defeated, and would have been destroyed, but for the assistance of the Athenians, and the arrival of a reinforcement of 20 Athenian ships caused the Corinthians to retire. The Corcyreans offered battle on the following day, but the Corinthians declined. Both sides claimed the victory, but the advantage lay with the Corinthians, who captured several ships.
Siege of Potidaea
Athenians defeat Corinthians / This city was besieged by a force of about 3,000 Athenians, B.C. 432, and was defended by a small garrison of Corinthians, under Aristaeus. The town held out until the winter of 429, when the garrison surrendered, and were permitted to go free.
Commander / Short Biography
Archidamus / Spartan King during the early years of Peloponnesian War. Sought peace with Athens, but was forced into the war.
Pericles / Athenian statesman during Golden Age of Athens. Made Athens cultural center of Greece.