Free men: the perioeci (artisans and farmers), having no political rights
Helots (serfs or slaves): were not allowed out at night for fear of an uprising, and were killed at once if found outside
The Fall of Sparta The period following the Peloponnesian War was a disaster for Sparta. With victory came the responsibility to govern, so Sparta, as an oligarchy, sought to impose oligarchic governments on those it defeated. But the Spartans did not know how to govern others and many of their appointed governors became tyrants. A “group of thirty” ruled Athens for only a year before it was overthrown and a democracy restored. Elsewhere puppet governments were despised and resisted. Former allies conspired against the Sparta, fearing its intentions, and it wasn’t long before all the defeated Greeks were independent again.
There was also trouble at home. In 398, a plot was discovered which had helots and two Perioeci towns plotting to overthrow the Spartan government. At the same time, the issue of wealth began to bring out the more base instincts of Spartan men; instincts the Lycurgian laws had blocked for so long. As the spoils of the Peloponnesian War reached Sparta, its people began to forget their simple life. Some became wealthy and others coveted that wealth.
As the Oracle had predicted 300 years before, “Greed will be Sparta’s ruin.” Aristotle put it another way, “The Spartans always prevailed in war but were destroyed by empire simply because they did not know how to use the leisure they had won, because they had practiced no more fundamental skill than skill in war”.
Overseeing this Spartan decline was the king Agesilaus, who ruled from 399-360. Agesilaus was an enigma. He was never supposed to rule being the younger brother of the heir, and excelled in the Agoge despite being lame. Rival of Lysander and admired by Xenophon, Agesilaus did his best to protect Spartan honor despite the handicap of an un-Spartan-like mercenary army. Against Boetia in 398, he was severely injured and had to be carried from the battlefield. Later, his many battles against the rising power of Thebes came to nothing and the defeat at Leuctra in 371 proved the Spartan army was finished. The next year, Thebes and her allies invaded the Peloponnese and attacked Sparta itself. Beaten off, they settled for the liberating the Messenians, which ended three hundred years of the helot system.
MORE ABOUT SPARTA Modern Sparta stands at the same site of ancient Sparta. Situated on the River Eurotas, 225 km from Athens, in the southern part of the Peloponnese, Sparta was the contemporary of other Classical Greek city-states such as Athens, Corinth and Thebes. It was generally referred by the ancient Greeks as Lakedaimon or Lakedaimonia. As per Greek mythology, Lakedaimon was a son of Zeus by the nymph Taygete. He was king of the country which he named after himself, naming the capital after his wife Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas. However historic and archaeological evidence suggests that Sparta was founded during and after the Mycenaean War, in which the Dorian Spartans crossed the Taygetus Mountains and took the territory of Messenia.
Outnumbered by the native population of Messenia the Spartans instituted a military oligarchy under which, the native population of Messenia was relegated to the status of agricultural slavery, or Helots. Above the Helots were the Perioikoi, the traders & merchants of Spartan society. Atop both were the Spartiate who could trace their lineage to the cities original Dorian occupants. They were required to compulsorily serve in the army, could vote and hence were allowed full political rights of the state. Dictated by the same political needs it had a military oligarchy and managed to keep its lineage of kings throughout its existence.
The hierarchy had the two kings (dual monarchy), a counsel of 28 nobles, and the assembly of the Spartiate (composed of Spartan males). The assembly was run democratically and could veto or approve the rulings of the counsel above it. However, beyond the counsel and the assembly, was the Ephorate, a group of five men who practically guided all aspects of Spartan life. Regardless of how odd such a political system may seem, Spartan culture flourished.
Spartans also differed from its classical counterparts from the importance women had in society. Spartan women were taught reading, writing and were expected to be able to protect themselves. A girl's education was equally as brutal as the men's. Many athletic events such as javelin, discus, foot races, and staged battles were held for both sexes. Though Spartan women were expected and driven to produce strong and healthy children their roles were not limited to marriage and procreation. Spartan women had many rights that other Greek women did not have. They could own and control their own property and could also take another husband if their first had been away at war for too long. A woman was expected in times of war to overtake her husband's property, and to guard it against invaders and revolts until her husband returned.
King Leonidas, 300 Spartans & The Battle Of Thermopylae:
Known almost exclusively for its military strength, Sparta rose to military prominence and was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars. The story of Leonidas, the fifth century Spartan military king whose stand against the invading Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece is one of the enduring tales of Greek heroism, invoked throughout Western history as the epitome of bravery exhibited against overwhelming odds. After the Persian army of Xerxes invaded Greece, the Spartan army prepared to join the armies of the other Greek states and march to face the Persians. When a religious festival delayed the departure of the army, Leonidas bravely led a small force of Greeks, mostly his Spartan royal guard of 300 soldiers, but also Thespian and Thebans, against the much larger Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae (Pillars of Fire) in 480 B.C. There, Leonidas and his men held the pass for three days (their tight phalanx wall and discipline were no match for the Persians) and was defeated only after a Greek traitor revealed to the Persians the existence of a mountain trail that allowed them to outflank and attack the Greeks from the rear. All the Spartans and Thespians died, including Leonidas. However, those three days gave valuable time to the Greek armies to prepare for battle and later to defeat the Persians. However, by 362 BC Sparta's role as the dominant military power in Greece was over and today only ruins remain to sing the glory of the fierce valiant warriors who once dominated the region.
But Sparta still continues to fascinate us.
The main attractions from the excavations include:
The Acropolis: In contrast to other ancient Greek cities, Sparta was not a compact fortified city-state centre with monumental civic and religious buildings. It was a loose collection of smaller villages spaced over a large rural area and 6 low hills. The highest of these served as the site for the Acropolis.
Temple of Athena Chalkioikos: The Sanctuary of Athena Chalkioikos on top of the Acropolis lies north of the theatre. Ulysses is supposed to have installed the statue and called it Athena of the Road when he beat Penelope's lovers in the race. The Temple constructed on the plans of the architect Vathykles from Magnesia, had its interior decorated with bronze sheets and was one of the most important cult sites of the classical town.
In the Hellenistic period the Theatre, Stoa and Agora were built near the Acropolis, but the Temple of Athena and the earlier remains at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia on the West bank of the Eurotas river are almost the only archaeological remains from Archaic and Classical Sparta.
However no visit to Sparta is complete without a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Sparta and the unique Museum of the Olive and the Greek Olive Oil.
Other nearby sites includes the Archaeological Site of Pellana. Some views suggest that the Archaeological Site of Pellana is the Homeric Lakedaimon where Menelaus and Helen had their palace.