History of Sparta

History of Sparta

This article covers the history of Sparta from its founding to the present, concentrating primarily on the Spartan state during the height of its power from the 6th to the 4th century BCE.

The Legend

Tradition relates that Sparta was founded by its first king Lacedaemon, son of Zeus and Taygete, who named the city after his wife, the daughter of Eurotas. However, the nearby archaeological sites of Amyclae and Therapne (Therapnae) before circa 1000 BCE appear to be more important than Sparta; the former is a Minoan ruin a few miles to the south of Sparta, the latter likely the Achaean capital of Laconia and the seat of Menelaus, called the king of Sparta in the annals of the Trojan War, who was Agamemnon's younger brother according to Greek mythology and literature.

Some eighty years after the Trojan War, according to the traditional chronology, the Dorian migration from the north took place and eventually led to the rise of classical Sparta - famous as a martial power, foe of the Persian Empire, and eventual conqueror of Athens. A band of Dorians united with a body of Aetolians to cross the Corinthian Gulf and invade the Peloponnese from the northwest.

The Aetolians settled in Elis, and the Dorians pushed up to the headwaters of the Alpheus where they divided into two forces, one of which under Cresphontes invaded and later subdued Messenia, while the other, led by Aristodemus or, according to another version, by his twin sons Eurysthenes and Procles, made its way down the Eurotas valley and gained Sparta, which became the Dorian capital of Laconia. [Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition]

Prehistoric period

Archeology is however difficult to reconcile with the legend. Sparta itself only begins to show signs of settlement around 1000 BCE, some 200 years after the collapse of Mycenaean civilization [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p25] . Of the four villages that made up the Spartan Polis, Forrest suggests that the two closest to the Acropolis were the originals and the two more far flung of later foundation. The dual kingship may originate in the fusion of the first two villages. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta pp26-30] One of the effects of the of Mycenaean collapse had been a sharp drop in population. Following that however there was a significant recovery and this growth in population is likely to have been more marked in Sparta, situated as it was in the most fertile part of the plain. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p31]

The Reforms of Lycurgus

It is it at this point in the history of Sparta, to be precise the reign of King Charillos [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p55] , that most ancient sources place the life of Lycurgus. Indeed, the Spartans ascribed their subsequent success to Lycurgus who instituted his reforms at a time when Sparta was weakened by internal dissent and lacked the stability of a united and well-organized community [Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition] . His legislation established the Gerousia, the Spartan Senate, and he is also credited with establishing the Spartan system of training, the agoge. There are reasons to doubt whether he ever really existed as his name derives from the word for wolf which was associated with Apollo - hence Lycurgus could be simply the personification of the god [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans pp 58-9]

The expansion of Sparta

Sparta shared the plain with Amyklai which lay to South and was one of the few places to survive from Mycean times and hence was likely to be her most formidable neighbor. Hence the tradition that Sparta, under her kings Archelaos and Charillos moved instead north to secure the upper Eurotas valley is plausible. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p31] Pharis and Geronthrae were then taken and, though the traditions are a little contradictory, also Amyclae which probably fell around 750 BCE. It is probable that inhabitants of Geronthrae were driven out while the inhabitants of Amyclae were simply subjugated to Sparta. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p32] This gave Sparta control of the central Laconian plain and the eastern plateau which lies between the Eurotas and Mount Parnon. Alcmenes, by the subjugation of Helos, brought the lower Eurotas plain under Spartan rule. About this time, probably the Argives, whose territory included the whole east coast of the Peloponnese and the island of Cythera (Herodotus 1.82), were driven back, and the whole of Laconia was thus incorporated in the Spartan state.

It was not long before a further extension took place. Under Alcmenes and Theopompus a war broke out between the Spartans and the Messenians, their neighbors on the west, which, after a struggle lasting for twenty years, ended in the subjection of the Messenians, who were forced to pay half the produce of the soil as tribute to their Spartan overlords. The Second Messenian War resulted from the attempt to throw off the Spartan yoke by the Messenian hero Aristomenes; but Spartan tenacity broke down the resistance of the insurgents, and Messenia was made Spartan territory, just as Laconia had been, its inhabitants being reduced to the status of helots, apart from those who, as perioeci, inhabited the towns on the sea-coast and a few settlements inland.

This extension of Sparta's territory was viewed with apprehension by her neighbors in the Peloponnese. Arcadia and Argos had vigorously aided the Messenians in their two struggles, and help was also sent by the Sicyonians, Pisatans and Triphyhans: only the Corinthians appear to have supported the Spartans, doubtless on account of their jealousy of their powerful neighbors, the Argives. At the close of the second Messenian War (no later than 631 BCE), no power could hope to cope with that of Sparta save Arcadia and Argos.

The 6th century BCE

Early in the 6th century the Spartan kings Leon and Agasicles made a vigorous attack on Tegea, the most powerful of the Arcadian cities, but it was not until the reign of Anaxandridas and Ariston, about the middle of the century, that the attack was successful and Tegea was forced to acknowledge Spartan overlordship, though retaining its independence. The final struggle for Peloponnesian supremacy was with Argos, which had at an early period been the most powerful state of the peninsula and, even though its territory had been curtailed, was a serious rival of Sparta.

But Argos was now no longer at the height of its power: its league had begun to break up early in the century, and it could not in the impending struggle count on the assistance of its old allies, Arcadia and Messenia, since the latter had been robbed of its independence and the former had acknowledged Spartan supremacy. A victory won about 546 BCE, when the Lydian Empire fell before Cyrus of Persia, made the Spartans masters of the Cynuria, the borderland between Laconia and Argolis, for which there had been an age-long struggle.

The final blow was struck by King Kleomenes I, who reduced, for many years to come the power of the city of Argos and left Sparta without a rival in the Peloponnese. In fact, by the middle of the 6th century, and increasingly down to the period of the Persian Wars, Sparta had come to be acknowledged as the leading state of Hellas and the champion of Hellenism. Croesus of Lydia had formed an alliance with her. Scythian envoys sought her aid to stem the invasion of Darius; to her the Greeks of Asia Minor appealed to withstand the Persian advance and to aid the Ionian Revolt; Plataea asked for her protection; Megara acknowledged her supremacy; and at the time of the Persian invasion under Xerxes no state questioned her right to lead the Greek forces on land and sea.

However, in the opinion of the 1911 Britannica, Sparta soon showed herself "wholly unworthy" of such a role. As an ally she was ineffective, nor could she ever rid herself of her narrowly Peloponnesian outlook sufficiently to throw herself heartily into the affairs of the greater Hellas that lay beyond the isthmus and across the sea. She was not a colonizing state, though the inhabitants of Tarentum (Greek Taras; modern Taranto in southern Italy), and of Lyttus, in Crete, claimed her as their mother-city. Moreover, she had no share in the expansion of Greek commerce and Greek culture; and, though she bore the reputation of hating tyrants and putting them down where possible, there can be little doubt that this was done in the interests of oligarchy rather than of liberty. Her military greatness and that of the states under her hegemony formed her sole claim to lead the Greek race: that she should truly represent it was impossible.

At the end of the century Sparta made her first intervention north of the Isthmus when it got involved in Athenian politics by overthrowing Hippias in 510 BCE. Dissension in Athens followed with conflict between Kleisthenes and Isagoras. King Kleomenes turned up in Attica with a small body of troops to back the more conservative Isagoras. Initially he succeeded but then the Athenians got fed up with this treatment and Kleomenes found himself holed up on the Acropolis. But that was not the end for an expedition of the whole Peloponesian League. The expedition was to be led Kleomenes along with his co-King Demaratos. The specific aims of the expedition were kept secret. The secrecy proved disastrous and dissension broke out the more the real aims became clearer. First the Korinthians departed. Then a row broke out between Kleomenes and Demaratos with Demaratos too deciding to go home. As a result of this fiasco the Spartans decided that in future not to send out an army with both Kings at its head. It also seems to have changed the nature of the Peloponesian League. From that time major decisions were discussed. Sparta was still clearly in charge but she now had to carry her allies with her when she wanted something to happen. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta pp86-89]

The 5th century BCE

Spartas's role in the Persian Wars was mixed. After hearing Pheidippides' plea to help Athens face the Persians at Marathon in 490 BCE, Sparta decided to honor its laws and wait until the moon was full to send an army. As a result, Sparta's army arrived at Marathon after the battle had been won by the Athenians.

In the second campaign, conducted ten years later by Xerxes in person, Sparta again faced the same dilemma . The Persians inconveniently chose to attack during the Olympic truce with the Spartans felt they must honour. Other Greek states lacked such foibles making a major effort to assemble a fleet - how could not Sparta contribute on land when others were doing so much on sea? [Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West p258] The solution was to provide the small force under Leonidas to defend Thermopylae. From then on Sparta took a more active share and assumed the command of the combined Greek forces by sea and land. Yet, in spite of the heroic defence of Thermopylae by the Spartan king Leonidas, the glory of the decisive victory at Salamis fell in great measure to the Athenians, and their patriotism, self-sacrifice and energy contrasted strongly with the hesitation of the Spartans and the selfish policy which they advocated of defending the Peloponnese only.With the Battle of Plataea (479 BCE), won by Spartan general Pausanias, and decided chiefly by the steadfastness of Spartan troops, the state partially recovered its prestige, but only so far as land operations were concerned: the victory of Mycale, won in the same year, was achieved by the united Greek fleet, and the capture of Sestos, which followed, was due to the Athenians, the Peloponnesians having returned home before the siege was begun. Sparta felt that an effort was necessary to recover her position, and Pausanias, the victor of Plataea, was sent out as admiral of the Greek fleet. But though he achieved considerable success, his overbearing and despotic behaviour and the suspicion that he was intriguing with the Persian king alienated those under his command: he was recalled by the ephors, and his successor, Dorcis, was a weak man who allowed the transfer of the hegemony from Sparta to Athens to take place without striking a blow (see Delian League). By the withdrawal of Sparta and her Peloponnesian allies from the fleet the perils and the glories of the Persian War were left to Athens, which, though at the outset merely the leading state in a confederacy of free allies, soon began to make herself the mistress of an empire.

Sparta took no steps at first to prevent this. Her interests and those of Athens did not directly clash, for Athens included in her empire only the islands of the Aegean and the towns on its north and east coasts, which lay outside the Spartan political horizon: with the Peloponnese Athens did not meddle. Moreover, Sparta's attention was at this time fully occupied by troubles nearer home — such as the plots of Pausanias not only with the Persian king but with the Laconian helots and the revolt of Tegea (circa 473-471 BCE), rendered all the more formidable by the participation of Argos. The most serious, however was the crisis caused by the earthquake which in 464 BCE devastated Sparta in which many lost their lives. In immediate aftermath the helots saw an opportunity to rebel. There then followed the siege of Ithome which the rebels had fortified and it was this siege that began a growing estrangement from Athens, which was to end at length in an open breach. Cimion had persuaded Athens to send a contingent to aid Sparta. The Athenian hoplites that made up the bulk of the force were from the well to do section of Athenian society. Nonetheless, they were shocked to discover that the rebels were Greeks like themselves and Sparta began to fear that Athens might make common cause with the rebels. [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans pp 140-1] Giving the official reason that as the initial assault on Ithone had failed and what was now requited was a blockade they told the Athenians that for this task they were no longer needed. But as other allies were not so dismissed the Athenians took this as an insult. Further friction was caused by the consummation of the Attic democracy under Ephialtes and Pericles, the conclusion of an alliance between Athens and Argos, which also about this time became democratic, and these united with other causes to bring about a rupture between the Athenians and the Peloponnesian League.

Paul Cartledge hazards that the revolt of hellots and perioeci led the Spartans to reorganize their army and integrate the perioeci into the citizen hoplite regiments. Certainly a system where citizens and non citizens fought together in the same regiments was unusual for Greece. [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans p 142] Hans van Wees is however unconvinced by the "manpower shortage" explanation of the Spartans' use of non citizen hoplites. He agrees that the integration of perioeci and citizens occurred sometime between the Persian and the Peloponesian Wars but doesn't regard that as a significant stage. The Spartans had been using non-citizens as hoplites well before that and the proportion didn't change. He doubts that the Spartans ever subscribed to the citizen only hoplite force ideal so beloved by writers such as Aristotle. [Hans van Wees Greek Warfare, Myths and Realities pp83-4] In the First Peloponnesian War Sparta's involvement was somewhat desultory. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p106-7] It amounted to little more than isolated expeditions the most notable of which involved helping to inflict a defeat on the Athenians at the Battle of Tanagra in 457 BCE in Boeotia. However they then went home gaving the Athenians an opportunity to defeat the Boeotians at the battle of Oenophyta and so overuning Boeotia [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p106-7] . She also failed to prevent Athens subjugating Aegina. In 449 BCE the war was ended by a five years' truce, but after Athens had lost her mainland empire by the Battle of Coronea and the revolt of Megara a thirty years' peace was concluded, probably in the winter 446-445 BCE. By this Athens was obliged to surrender Troezen, Achaea and the two Megarian ports, Nisaea and Pegae, but otherwise the status quo was maintained.

A fresh struggle, the great Peloponnesian War, broke out in 431 BCE. This may be to a certain extent regarded as a contest between Ionians and Dorians; some also claim it can be called a struggle between the democratic and oligarchic principles of government; but truly its cause was neither racial nor constitutional(indeed both Sparta and Athens were Democratic societies), but economic.

The maritime supremacy of Athens was used for commercial purposes, and important members of the Peloponnesian confederacy, whose wealth depended largely on their commerce, notably Corinth, Megara, Sicyon and Epidaurus, were being slowly but relentlessly crushed. Materially Sparta must have remained almost unaffected, but she was forced to take action by the pressure of her allies and by the necessities imposed by her position as head of the league. She did not, however, prosecute the war with any marked vigour: her operations were almost confined to an annual inroad into Attica, and when in 425 BCE a body of Spartans was captured by the Athenians at Pylos she was ready, and even anxious, to terminate the war on any reasonable conditions. That the terms of the Peace of Nicias, which in 421 BCE concluded the first phase of the war, were rather in favour of Sparta than of Athens was due almost entirely to the energy and insight of an individual Spartan, Brasidas, and the disastrous attempt of Athens to regain its lost land empire. The final success of Sparta and the capture of Athens in 405 BCE were brought about partly by the treachery of Alcibiades, who induced the state to send Gylippus to conduct the defence of Syracuse, to fortify Decelea in northern Attica, and to adopt a vigorous policy of aiding Athenian allies to revolt. The lack of funds which would have proved fatal to Spartan naval warfare was remedied by the intervention of Persia, which supplied large subsidies. However Spartan generals showed themselves to be inexperienced at naval warfare (to be expected) but also incompetent and/or brutal [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p119] . The one commander who stood out was Lysander. Though as a general he was merely average he was an exceptional diplomat and organiser. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p120] Crucially he had the confidence of Prince Cyrus. When Cyrus requested Lysander be sent out for a second term both Spartan politics and the Spartan constitution should have ruled this out but in the wake of their defeat at the Battle of Arginusae a way round this was found. [The Peloponnesian War, Donald Kagan p469] Cyrus had such complete confidence in Lysander that Lysander was provided with all the resources he needed to rebuild the Spartan fleet. [The Peloponnesian War, Donald Kagan p469-70] Then in 404 BCE Lysander virtually destroyed the Athenian fleet at the Battle of Aegospotami. Lysander now proceeded from city to city imposing 10 men oligarchies and a massacre of democrats ensued [The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox p178 178] .

With Athens starved into surrender she might have expected the same fate as Plataea and indeed Corinth and Thebes did indeed call for the destruction of Athens. Sparta refused alluding to Athens' contribution to the defeat of the Persians. Some modern historians have, however seen a less disinterested reason - the need for a counterweight to Thebes [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p121] - but Anton Powell sees here an excess of hindsight. The Spartans could not of known, as we do, that it would be Thebes that would break her at the Battle of Leuctra. Powell suspects that Sparta was more disunited than she appeared in public. He argues that it is highly likely that Lysander would also have desired Athens destruction. Lysander's opponents would on the other hand have feared the power of a Lysander enriched by the plundering of Athens and defended Athens from destruction not for love of the city but out of fear of Lysander. [ Sparta and War (International Sparta Seminar) Editors: Stephen Hodkinson , Anton Powell]

The 4th century BCE

The fall of Athens left Sparta once again supreme in the Greek world and demonstrated clearly its poor ability to rule. Everywhere democracy was replaced by a philo-Laconian oligarchy, usually consisting of ten men under a "harmost" or governor pledged to Spartan interests, and even in Laconia itself the narrow and selfish character of the Spartan rule led to a serious conspiracy. For a short time, indeed, under the energetic rule of Agesilaus, it seemed as if Sparta would pursue a Hellenic policy and carry on the war against Persia. But troubles soon broke out in Greece, Agesilaus II was recalled from Asia Minor, and his schemes and successes were rendered fruitless.

Further,the naval activity displayed by Sparta during the closing years of the Peloponnesian War abated when Persian subsidies were withdrawn, and the ambitious projects of Lysander led to his disgrace, which was followed by his death at Haliartus in 395 BCE. In the following year the Spartan navy under Peisander, Agesilaus' brother-in-law, was defeated off Cnidus by the Persian fleet under Conon and Pharnabazus, and for the future Sparta ceased to be a maritime power.

In Greece itself, meanwhile, the opposition to Sparta was growing increasingly powerful. Though at Coronea Agesilaus had slightly the better of the Boeotians and at Corinth the Spartans maintained their position, yet they felt it necessary to rid themselves of Persian hostility and if possible use the Persian power to strengthen their own position at home: they therefore concluded with Artaxerxes II the humiliating Peace of Antalcidas (387 BCE), by which they surrendered to the Great King the Greek cities of the Asia Minor coast and of Cyprus, and stipulated for the independence of all other Greek cities. This last clause led to a long and desultory war with Thebes, which refused to acknowledge the independence of the Boeotian towns under its hegemony: the Cadmeia, the citadel of Thebes, was treacherously seized by Phoebidas in 382 BCE and held by the Spartans until 379 BCE.

Still more momentous was the Spartan action in crushing the Olynthiac Confederation (see Olynthus), which might have been able to stay the growth of Macedonian power. In 371 BCE a fresh peace congress was summoned at Sparta to ratify the Peace of Callias. Again the Thebans refused to renounce their Boeotian hegemony, and the Spartan attempt at coercion ended in the defeat of the Spartan army at the Battle of Leuctra and the death of its leader, King Cleombrotus. The result of the battle was to transfer supremacy from Sparta to Thebes.

In the course of three expeditions to the Peloponnese conducted by Epaminondas, the greatest soldier and statesman Thebes ever produced, Sparta was weakened by the loss of Messenia, which was restored to an independent position with the newly built Messeneas its capital, and by the foundation of Megalopolis as the capital of Arcadia. The invading army even made its way into Laconia and devastated the whole of its southern portion; but the courage and coolness of Agesilaus saved Sparta itself from attack. On Epaminondas' fourth expedition Sparta was again within an ace of capture, but once more the danger was averted just in time; and though at Mantinea (362 BCE) the Thebans, together with the Arcadians, Messenians and Argives, gained a victory over the combined Mantinean, Athenian and Spartan forces, the death of Epaminondas in the battle more than counterbalanced the Theban victory and led to the speedy break-up of their supremacy.

But Sparta had neither the men nor the money to recover her lost position, and the continued existence on her borders of an independent Messenia and Arcadia kept her in constant fear for her own safety. She did, indeed, join with Athens and Achaea in 353 BCE to prevent Philip II of Macedon passing Thermopylae and entering Phocis, but beyond this she took no part in the struggle of Greece with the new power which had sprung up on her northern borders. No Spartans fought on the field of Chaeronea.

After the battle, however, Sparta refused to submit voluntarily to Philip, and was forced to do so by the devastation of Laconia and the transfer of certain border districts to the neighboring states of Argos, Arcadia and Messenia. During the absence of Alexander the Great in the East Agis III revolted, but the rising was crushed by Antipater. The memory of this defeat was still fresh in Spartan minds when the general revolt against Macedonian rule know as the Lamian War - hence Sparta stayed neutral [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p10] .

The 3rd century BCE

During Demetrius Poliorcetes campaign to conquer the Peloponese in 294 BCE, the Spartans led by Archidamus IV attempted to resist but were defeated in two battles. Had not Demetrius decided to turn his attention to Macedonia the city would have fallen. [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p125]

In 272 BCE, at the instigation of Cleonymus of Sparta, Pyrrhus invaded the Peloponnese. [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p144] Pyrrhus was confident he could take the city of Sparta with ease, however, the Spartans, with even the women taking part in the defense, succeeded in beating off Pyrrhus' attacks [Historians History of the World, Editor: Henry Smith Williams vol 4 pp512-13] . At this point Pyrrhus received an appeal for help from his supporters in Argos which was being attacked by Gontas asnd he called off the attack [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p144] . In 267 BCE Sparta joined Athens in attempt to break free of Macedon but the resulting Chremonidean War eventually led to defeat. About 244 BCE an Aetolian army overran Laconia, working irreparable harm and carrying off, it is said, 50,000 captives.

In the middle of the century a slowly building social crisis came to a head. Wealth had become concentrated into the hands of about 100 wealthy families [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p250] . By contrast, the number of equals, who had always formed the backbone of the Spartan army had fallen to 700 - less than a tenth of its 9000 strong highpoint in the 7th century [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p250] . Agis IV was the first to attempt reform. His program combined debt cancellation and land reform. Opposition from king Leonidas was removed when he was deposed on somewhat dubious grounds. However his opponents exploited a period when he was absent from Sparta and on his return he was subjected to a travesty of a trial. [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p253]

The next attempt at reform came from the son of Agis's enemy Leonidas - Cleomenes III. In 229 BCE Cleomenes led an attack on Megalopolis - hence provoking war with Achaea. Aratus who led the Achaean League forces, despite having 20,000 to Cleomenes 5000 men adopted a very cautious strategy. Nonetheless Cleomenes succeeded in defeating him. [Historians History of the World, Editor: Henry Smith Williams vol 4 p523] . With this success behind him he left the citizen troops in the field and with the mercenaries marched on Sparta to stage a coup. The ephorate was abolished - indeed four out of five of them had been killed during Cleomenes' seizure of power [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p257] . Land was redistributed enabling a widening of the citizen body [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p257] . Debts were cancelled. The task of restoring the old severe training and simple life Cleomenes gave to Sphaerus, his stoic advisor. For Green, that a non Spartan should be given such a responsibility is a telling indication of the extent that Sparta had lost her Lycurgian traditions [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p257] . These reforms excited hostility amongst the wealthy of the Peloponese who feared social revolution. For others, especially among the poor, Cleomenes inspired hope - a hope that was to be quickly dashed when Cleomenes started taking cities and it became obvious that social reform outside Sparta was the last thing on his mind. [Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p259-60] Cleomenes reforms had as their aim the restoration of Spartan power. Initially Cleomenes was successful, taking cities that had till then been part of the Achaean League [Historians History of the World, Editor: Henry Smith Williams vol 4 p523-4] and wining the financial backing of Egypt [Alexander The Great And The Hellenistic Age: A Short History, Peter Green p87] . However Aratus the leader of the Achaean League decided to ally with Achea's till then enemy Macedonia. With Egypt deciding to cut financial aid Cleomenes decided to hazard all on one battle. [Alexander The Great And The Hellenistic Age: A Short History, Peter Green p88] In the resulting Battle of Sellasia (222 BCE), Cleomenes was defeated by the Achaeans and Macedonia. Antigonus III Doson, the king of Macedon ceremonially entered Sparta with his army - something Sparta had never endured before. Antigonus. The ephors were restored while the kingship was suspended [Alexander The Great And The Hellenistic Age: A Short History, Peter Green p89]

It was not long afterwards that the dual kingship ceased and Sparta fell under the sway of a series of cruel and rapacious tyrants—Lycurgus, Machanidas, who was killed by Philopoemen.

Nabis and the Intervention of Rome

The sources for Nabis, who took power in 207 BCE, are so uniformly hostile that it is impossible today to judge the truth of the accusation against him - that his reforms were undertake only to serve Nabis's interests. [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans p234] Certainly his reforms went far deeper than those of Cleomenes who had liberated 6000 helots merely as an emergency measure. [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans p235] Were we to trust the accounts given by Polybius and Livy, we would dismiss him little better than a bandit chieftain, holding Sparta by means of extreme cruelty and oppression and using mercenary troops to a large extent in his wars. Forest is willing to take these accusations at face value including that that he murdered his ward and that of state sponsored piracy and brigandage - but not the self interested motives ascribed to him. He sees him as a ruthless version of Cleomenes sincerely attempting to solve Sparta's social crisis. [W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p149] He initiated the building of Sparta's first walls which extended to some 6 miles. [Paul Cartledge , The Spartans p236]

Nonetheless, a vigorous struggle was maintained with the Achaean League and with Macedon until the Romans, after the conclusion of their war with Philip V, sent an army into Laconia under T. Quinctius Flamininus. Nabis was forced to capitulate, evacuating all his possessions outside Laconia, surrendering the Laconian seaports and his navy, and paying an indemnity of 500 talents (Livy xxxiv. 33–43). On the departure of the Romans he succeeded in recovering Gythium, in spite of an attempt to relieve it made by the Achaeans under Philopoemen, but in an encounter he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of that general, who for thirty days ravaged Laconia unopposed.

Nabis was assassinated in 192 BCE, and Sparta was forced by Philopoenien to enroll itself as a member of the Achaean League under a phil-Achaean aristocracy. This gave rise to chronic disorders and disputes, which led to armed intervention by the Achaeans, who compelled the Spartans to submit to the overthrow of their city walls, the dismissal of their mercenary troops, the recall of all exiles, the abandonment of the old Lycurgan constitution and the adoption of the Achaean laws and institutions (188 BCE). Again and again the relations between the Spartans and the Achaean League formed the occasion of discussions in the Roman senate or of the despatch of Roman embassies to Greece, but no decisive intervention took place until a fresh dispute about the position of Sparta in the league led to a decision by the Romans that Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Arcadian Orchomenus and Heraclea on Oeta should be severed from it. This resulted in an open breach between the league and Rome, and eventually, in 146 BCE, after the sack of Corinth, in the dissolution of the league and the annexation of Greece to the Roman province of Macedonia.

For Sparta the long era of war and internal struggle had ceased and one of peace and a revived prosperity took its place, as is witnessed by the numerous extant inscriptions belonging to this period. As an allied city it was exempt from direct taxation, though compelled on occasions to make “voluntary “ presents to Roman generals. Political ambition was restricted to the tenure of the municipal magistracies, culminating in the offices of nomophylax, ephor and patronomus. Augustus showed marked favour to the city, Hadrian twice visited it during his journeys in the East and accepted the title of eponymous patronomus.

The old warlike spirit found an outlet chiefly in the vigorous but peaceful contests held in the gymnasium, the ball-place, and the arena before the temple of Artemis Orthia: sometimes too it found a vent in actual campaigning as when Spartans were enrolled for service against the Parthians by the emperors Lucius Verus, Septimius Severus and Caracalla.

Medieval Sparta

In CE 396 Alaric destroyed the city, and at a later period Laconia was invaded and settled by Slavonic tribes, especially the Melings and Ezerits, who in turn had to give way before the advance of the Byzantine power, though preserving a partial independence in the mountainous regions. It has been theorized that speakers of the now-moribund Doric derived language of Tsakonian are the descendants of Spartans who were isolated as a result of barbarian invasions.

The Franks on their arrival in the Morea found a fortified city named Lacedaemonia (Sparta) occupying part of the site of ancient Sparta, and this continued to exist [Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition] , though greatly depopulated, even after William II Villehardouin had in 1249 founded the fortress and city of Mistra, on a spur of Taygetus some 3 miles northwest of Sparta.

This passed shortly afterwards into the hands of the Byzantine Greeks, who retained it until the Turks under Mehmed II captured it in 1460. In 1687 it came into the possession of the Venetians, from whom it was wrested in 1715 by the Turks. Thus for nearly six centuries it was Mistra and not Sparta which formed the center and focus of Laconian history. The Mani Peninsula region of Laconia retained some measure of autonomy during the Ottoman period, and played a significant role in the Greek War of Independence.

Modern Sparta

In 1834, after the War of Independence had resulted in the liberation of Greece, the town of Sparta was rebuilt as a modern city on part of the ancient site from the designs of Baron Jochmus, and Mistra decayed until now it is in ruins and almost deserted. Sparta is the capital of the prefecture ("nomos") of Laconia.

Notable Spartans

*Cleomenes I
*Leonidas I
*Gorgo, Queen of Sparta

ee also

*List of Kings of Sparta
*Spartan army
*Spartan pederasty


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  • Military history of Sparta (disambiguation) — You may be looking for: History of Sparta for historical information Sparta for a look at Sparta in a more geographical sense Spartan army for the wars and soldiers of Sparta This disambiguation page lists articles associated with the same title …   Wikipedia

  • Sparta (disambiguation) — Sparta or Sparti may refer to:In Greece: * the ancient city of Sparta * modern Sparta Sparti (municipality) in LaconiaIn mythology* The Spartoi, a group of mythical beings figuring in the founding myths of the ancient Greek city of Thebes, which… …   Wikipedia

  • Sparta, New York — Sparta is a town in Livingston County, New York, United States. The population was 1,627 at the 2000 census.The Town of Sparta is in the southeast part of the county and is north of Dansville, NY. History The area was first settled around 1794.… …   Wikipedia

  • Sparta — Infobox Former Country native name = Σπάρτα conventional long name = Sparta common name = Sparta continent = Europe region = Mediterranean country = Greece era = Classical Antiquity government type = Oligarchy event start = Dorian invasion year… …   Wikipedia

  • Sparta High School (New Jersey) — Infobox School name = Sparta High School imagesize = motto = established = 1959 grades = 9 12 district = Sparta Township Public School District type = Public high school principal = Dennis Tobin viceprincipal = Chris Carrubba and James Bevere… …   Wikipedia

  • Sparta, Michigan — Infobox Settlement official name = Sparta settlement type = Village nickname = mapsize = 250x200px map caption = Location of Sparta within Michigan|. mapsize1 = map caption1 = subdivision type = Country subdivision type1 = State subdivision type2 …   Wikipedia

  • SPARTA — SPARTA, city in Greece; ancient city state in the Peloponnesus, called Mistra in Crusader times. The earliest information on the relations between Sparta and the Jews is the letter said to have been sent by Areus, king of Sparta (309–265 B.C.E.) …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • History of the Jews —     History of the Jews     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► History of the Jews     (Yehúd m; Ioudaismos).     Of the two terms, Jews and Judaism, the former denotes usually the Israelites or descendants of Jacob (Israel) in contrast to Gentile races;… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • History of democracy — Part of the Politics series Democracy History · …   Wikipedia

  • History of Greece — This article covers the Greek civilization. For the Greek language as a whole, see Greek language. For the Classical Greek language, see Ancient Greek. For the history of the modern republic, see History of modern Greece. History of Greece …   Wikipedia