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reluctant to accept other cultures other military tactics and forms of government which could have help them. There have been several studies on Sparta. Many writers concern themselves more with Spartan institutions than with the relating of a chronological historical narrative (A. Andrewes, 1954). Sparta's unique social structure and military organizations have also aroused the interests of some who choose to interpret her history in terms of a particular ideology or philosophical orientation.
The more prominent features of Spartan that emerged from these researches and history are its war culture, slavery, a rigid and harsh way of life and that they did not accept changes to their living style. Following a detailed discussion of these aspects followed by the reasons why Sparta was reluctant to accept other cultures.
Sparta and War
The Spartans lived to fight, and they fought to live. The state structure relieved the citizens of the burdens and cares of everyday life. In exchange, they devoted themselves to the ruthless pursuit of a military excellence that defined the state and thereby themselves. This brings us to the last feature of Spartan society it is necessary to discuss here. The last, and by far the most notorious the helots (Trevor Saunders, 2004)
To prevent backsliding, "Lycurgus banned all free men from the pursuit of wealth, and prescribed that their sole concern should be with the things that make cities free."(Figueira, 2004, 345) They literally had no outside interests or pursuits. They existed for Sparta, and the system was structured in such a way that this was never forgotten. Those who lived up to these aspirations were treated as heroes. Those who shirked their duties; especially those unfortunate enough to display some sign of cowardice, died a horrible social death. So terrible was this fate that Xenophon finds it little surprising "that death is preferred there to a life of such dishonor and disgrace."( Figueira, 2004, 330)
Seen darkly through this mirror, Sparta became a reflection of humanity at its worst. Ehrenberg's is the Sparta we now think of, a society of "warlike conquerors, masters and oppressors." A people who practiced a crude, primitive form of eugenics in deciding which of its newborn children would live and which die. A nation that designed a system of education "which forbade the slightest appearance of individuality and personality" so that it could inculcate into every male (and female) citizen the idea that their "ultimate duty . . . was to be prepared to die for Sparta." Here was no genuine heroism, but only that "dictated by obedience, tradition and -- fear." The precincts of their minds were as narrow as those of their city. Shunning trade and all productive labor as beneath them, they disdained even minimal contact with outsiders, cultivating "the strongest possible isolation of life and mind." Nothing mattered to them save the state.
Spartan marriage existed solely for procreation (Rahe, 1994). Not that this was made easy for the young couple. They were forbidden to be seen together, as it was utterly shameful for the man to be seen coming or going to his bride's quarters. Instead, he would come and go surreptitiously. The same stealth which helped him steal his meals when he was a boy now helped him steal into his own home so he could sleep with his bride. This sneaking around reinforced the martial discipline required of every Spartan; it also made both partners all the more eager for sex, the belief being that a child conceived under such circumstances would be stronger than one conceived through what Xenophon calls the "unlimited sex" of newlyweds. Thanks to this sneaking around it was not uncommon that a man might already have several children before he saw his wife in daylight for the first time (Figueira, 2004). As the production of children was paramount, Lycurgus eliminated the taboos on adultery. Indeed, he positively encouraged wife-swapping. Hence, if an impotent older Spartan with a young trophy wife could not impregnate her, he could take aside a younger man he thought well of and loan her to him "so as to fill her with noble sperm." On the other hand, if a man admired another's wife, and saw that she had produced "lovely children," he could ask "her husband's permission to sleep with her -- thereby planting in fruitful soil" and producing more fine future Spartans (Peter Levi, 1971)
Helots of Sparta
"The Helot danger was the curse Sparta had brought upon herself, an admirable illustration of the maxim that a people who oppress another cannot itself be free"( De Ste Croix 1972: 292). These words of De Ste. Croix sum up the traditional view of the Hellos at Sparta. The Helots were the harshly sub-judged, state-owned agricultural slave laborers of Lakonia and Messenia who were enslaved from an early point in Greece's history until the time of Roman occupation in the second century B.C.E. They were different from most of the other servile groups in ancient Greece; slaves in Athens, for example, were usually imported, while Helots of Lakonia and Messenia were subjugated in situ by military force. Unlike chattel slaves who were privately owned and whose lives were at the whim of their masters, the Helots were public property, and were essentially controlled by the state, which had the right to manumit or murder them, and which made an annual declaration of war against them. The Helots have been described as "an enemy lying in wait" because of their tendency to revolt against the ruling class (Aristotle, 1269), and they were often the focus of violent practices by the Spartans.
The majority of Helots lived in the country at a bare subsistence level where they worked the kleroi, the allotments of land granted by the state to individual Satiates, and they provided the food that allowed their masters the leisure to create and maintain their military state. They were the lowest social group within the Spartan system, and coexisted with two other classes: the Perioikoi (literally, the "dwellers around"), whose exact role is unknown, but which may have included the majority of the state's skilled craftsmen and entrepreneurs, and the Spartan, the elite warrior class whose lives were devoted to the pursuit of military excellence. Despite this apparently rigid social structure at Sparta, Helots were increasingly used to support the state's military forces in the Classical period, and some were even freed as a result.
Spartan treatment of the helots was just as cruel and callous when it stopped short of murder. To demonstrate to youngsters the perils of drunkenness, they brought helots to the messes and forced them to drink unmixed wine until they were inebriated (Simon, 2003). The martial orientation of Spartan society was not for show. Before they went to war on others, they went to war on themselves. The Spartan agog was a war game with live fire.
Why Sparta was reluctant to accept other cultures
The remarkable feature of Sparta culture is not that anyone could come up with a system that seems so alien and perverse, but that the Spartans lived it, not only in letter but in spirit. This is most evident in the various sayings attributed to them which have come down to us among Plutarch's works. In one, King Agesilaus, when it is pointed out to him how modest his clothes and meals are, remarks that "Freedom is what we reap from this way of life, my friend." The collection Sayings of Spartan Women is full of expressions of joy from one or another Spartan mother who has just learned her son has fallen in battle; or laments that a son has returned alive. Most famous of all surely is the admonition some Spartan mother gave her son as he set off for battle. Handing him his shield, she encouraged him, "With your shield or on it."(Talbert, 2005) Nor could any Spartan reasonably do less than Lycurgus, who literally gave his life for his country. Having secured an oracle from Delphi that his reforms were just, he made his people vow that they would not alter his constitution until he himself returned from Delphi. Once this was done, he promptly killed himself, reasoning that his laws were too great a legacy to threaten by the possibility he might ever come back (Plutarch, 1962) Lycurgus had done his duty to his people twice: first by giving them a new constitution, and then by sacrificing himself to guarantee its perpetuity. No more could be asked of a true Spartan. In death as in life, Lycurgus set for himself the example he would have his people follow.
"Of all the Hellenic communities, she came closest to giving absolute primacy to the common good." This was what made Sparta so different. Yet the achievement came at some cost. Part of the price was that Sparta lived in perpetual fear. "[F]ear was the fundamental Spartan passion." Fear of the helots and fear of the fragility of her way…[continue]
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