ANTH 3020 Chapter Notes -Great Rhetra, Spartiate, Gerousia
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Clas 1000 JW-14
Sparta: a different system
Sources: Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus; Hdt. 1.59, 65-69, 5.39ff., 6.51ff., 9.32-38 & via index; Thuc. 1.66-
88, 4.80, 5.68; Pausanias, Guide to Greece Book 2; Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans.
Background and Mythology
Helen and Menelaus; kings descended from Heracles; a Dorian people; Tyrtaeus—a martial poet
Topography of Laconia
c. 950 B.C. proto-Spartans settled in Eurotas river valley between the Taegetus & Parnon Ranges;
wonderfully fertile, but isolated region in SE Peloponnese.
The Spartan Hoplites and the Messenian Wars
War with western neighbours, finally crushed and enslaved them by 650s, cemented Spartan social
system; note Aristomenes of Messenia—a ‘Robin Hood’ figure
Lycurgus (the ‘Wolf-Worker’)
Homeric/Heroic political institutions; Lycurgus produced the ‘Great Rhetra’ (Saying); redistributed
land in Laconia & Messenia evenly into 9000 plots (kleroi); Gerousia (Council of 28, all over 60)
similar function to Athenian Boule; Dual Kingship (Diarchy), Eurypontids & Agiads; Assembly of
Damos; 5 Ephors (magistrates) elected annually to balance kings’ power.
The Social System
Helots (=captives=slaves), Perioikoi (= dwellers around about), Spartiates (adult male citizen-
hoplites): forbidden to work at crafts or business; supported by income from land allotments (kleroi)
worked by helots; could gain full citizen rights at age 20, became homoioi (peers), gained membership
of public barracks (men’s’ clubs): responsibility of supplying produce (syssitia).
Infanticide; the Agoge (Rearing or Upbringing) from age 7, brutal, austere, diet of black bread & bean
soup; physical training in gymnastics & music; institutionalised pederasty; the Krypteia (SS), see Plut.
Lycurgus 28. Hallmarks of a Spartan: discipline, duty, submission to Law.
4 villages (obae), no walls, few public buildings
Enjoyed MUCH more freedom and power than elsewhere, but baby-factories…
Crisis in Spartan ‘Utopia’: Pylos and Sphacteria 425 B.C.
Terrible defeat & humiliation for ‘invincible’ Spartans, & critical loss of manpower: Thuc. 4.1-57
P. Cartledge, The Spartans (N.Y. 2002) [contains the most up-to-date bibliography]
P. Cartledge, Spartan Reflections (London 2001) [DF261 S8 CA12]
P. Cartledge, Sparta and Laconia. A Regional History 1300-362 B.C. (London 1979)
W.G. Forrest, A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C. (London 1968)
S.B. Pomeroy et al. A Brief History of Ancient Greece (N.Y. 2004), ch. 4
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