#1 Sparta was a capital city – it was the city-state of Sparta, which meant that the city was an independent “country” on its own. Sparta had its own rules and laws, and even its own king. His name was Leonidas.
Ancient images of Sparta
I couldn’t find a good drawing or painting of the city of Sparta because they did not spend time on art-making. They were a military focused society. So I chose this famous drawing of the battle of Thermopylae.
Contemporary pictures of Sparta
This is a map showing something about Sparta. It’s in French and it’s not very clear…
This is a sculpture of King Leonidas, who was the famous leader of Sparta.
Sparta was best known for its military might – it was the toughest military city-state of all the Greek city-states. “Sparta, the city state occupying the central finger of Peloponnese, was the greatest military power of Greece and played a catalytic role in her history,” ("Sparta").
Sparta had a very famous enemy – Persia. The leader of the Persian army at the time was Xerxes, and he was a very powerful leader. He brought a huge army to attack and conquer all of Greece, but the Persian army had to pass through a narrow passage between huge mountains. This passage was called the “Hot Gates”. The king of Sparta (Leonidas) decided to try and stop the Persian army at the Hot Gates, so he took 300 of Sparta’s greatest warriors to meet them. This became known as the Battle of Thermopylae. Although Leonidas and his 300 Spartans were killed, they became famous and are still remembered today as one of history’s greatest examples of bravery and valour.
On the arrival of Xerxes at Thermopylae, he found that the place was defended by a body of three hundred Spartans and about seven thousand hoplites from other states, commanded by the Spartan king Leonidas.
Xerxes learning about the small number of Greek forces and that several Spartans outside the walls were exercising and combing their hairs, in his perplexity, immediately called Demaratos to explain him the meaning of all these. Demaratos told him that the Spartans will defend the place to the death and it was custom to wash and dress their hairs with special care when they intended to put their lives in great danger. Xerxes who did not believe Demaratos, delayed his attack for four days, thinking that the Greeks as soon as they would realize his great forces will disperse.
He sent also heralds asking to deliver up their arms. The answer from Leonidas was "come and take them" (Μολών λαβέ).
A Spartan, who was told about the great number of Persian soldiers, who with their arrows will conceal the sun, he answered: "so much the better, we will fight in the shade".
At the fifth day Xerxes attacked but without any results and with heavy losses, though the Medes fought bravely. He then ordered his personal guard the "Immortals" under Hyrdanes, a body of ten thousand consisting from the best Persian soldiers, to advance. They also failed and Xerxes was observed to jump from his throne three times in anger and agony. The following day they attacked, but again made no progress. Xerxes was desperate but his luck changed when a Malian named Ephialtes told him about a secret path across the mountain. Immediately a strong Persian force was sent with Hyrdanes, guided by the traitor. At day's break they reached the summit, where the Phokian army was stationed and who upon seeing the Persians fled.
When Leonidas learned all these incidents, he ordered the council of war to be summoned. Many were of the opinion that they should retire and find a better defendable place, but Leonidas, who was bound by the laws of Sparta and from an oracle, which had declared that either Sparta or a Spartan king must perish, refused. Three hundred Spartans and seven hundred Thespians took the decision to stay and fight. The rest were permitted to leave, with the exception of four hundred Boeotians, which were retained as hostages (“History of Ancient Sparta”).
This is a sculpture of a Spartan warrior wearing a robe. The Spartan warrior was the best fighting unit of not just Sparta, but all of Greece, and is widely considered one of the best fighting units of all time.
#7 Sparta had the same religion as many Greeks. They were polytheistic (many gods) and Spartans would have worshipped the more warlike of the Greek gods such as Ares and Athena.
“The most common Spartan Standard, the Greek letter Λ (Lamda) for Lacedaemon. Lacedaemon-Sparta's ancient name-was the capital of a south eastern region of the Peloponnese, called Laconia. Lacedaemon was the son of Zeus and Taygete, daughter of Atlas and Pleione. It was Lacedaemon who founded the city of Sparta, which was named after his wife. Sparta was often called Lacedaemon, as well, and the two names were often used interchangeably” (
a) Why don’t we know more about Sparta?
We don’t know much about ancient Sparta because they were not interested in art or inscription – they did not leave behind much information for us to look at. Most of what we do know was written by other Greek historians who studied Sparta at the time. “Despite Sparta’s military prominence among Greek states, which is the primary fact about it, Sparta’s development is especially difficult to trace. This is so partly because there are few Archaic or Classical Spartan inscriptions. Even more important, there is very little genuine Spartan history written by Spartans,” (“Ancient Greek Civilization”).
b) How were women treated in Sparta?
Women were not given equal treatment to men in Sparta, but they were given far greater respect and equality than in other Greek regions, as well as other parts of the world at that time period. Spartan women allowed to control households and income (mostly because their husbands were obligated to spend upwards of forty years in the military) and were protected from young marriage (again, because women were supposed to deliver the fittest, strongest children possible). A famous quote is from the writer Plutarch, where he quotes Gorgo, the wife of King Leonidas: “’Why are women allowed to rule Spartan men?’ ‘Because we are also the only women who give birth to men.’” (quote from somewhere)
"Ancient Greek civilization (historical region, Eurasia) :: Sparta and Athens -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. .
" Ancient Greek City-States Standards." Military photos . net. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. .
"History of Ancient Sparta." The Redirector. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. "Sparta." The Redirector. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. .
"Sparta - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.