PHILOSOPHERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD
Sparta is most commonly known today as the militaristic rival of
"enlightened" Athens in ancient Greece.
It is remembered for its military accomplishments –
particularly the heroic defense under King Leonidas of the pass at
Thermopylae in 480 BC. Images of a society characterized by
brutal, mindless discipline and a merciless emphasis on physical
fitness, but lacking artistic and intellectual accomplishments
– or even basic literacy – predominate in popular
In fact, ancient Sparta –
or Lacedaemon, as it was known in ancient
Greece – was far more complex and multifaceted. Plutarch
"devotion to the intellect is more characteristic of Sparta
of physical exercise." Lindsay Wheeler calls the Spartans
philosophers. A quick look at the key facts:
Sparta was the first democracy in recorded
history, predating Athenian democracy by at least 50 and possibly
100 years. Furthermore, Sparta was the only Greek city-state to
introduce land reform aimed at equalizing wealth among its citizens.
Spartan public educational system, the agoge,
trained the mind as well as the body, and Spartans were not only
literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and verbal
skills. Socrates himself says "the most ancient and
fertile homes of philosophy among the Greeks are Crete and Sparta,
where are found more sophists than anywhere on earth."
(Plato, Protagoras, 343b:366.) Certainly, Spartan wit and mastery of
rhetoric were so widely admired that ancient Greek scholars collected
Spartan sayings, and the laconic style of speech was studied and
imitated in intellectual circles.
Sparta was the capital city of
the large, prosperous, and economically powerful city-state of
Lacedaemon. The economy of Lacedaemon was diverse, based on a
wealth of natural resources and abundant fertile land. While
trading in luxury goods, self-sufficiency in grain gave Sparta a
significant political advantage.
was the only Greek city-state in which
women enjoyed elementary rights such as the right to education,
inheritance, and property. Furthermore, Spartan women prided themselves
on their intellectual accomplishments, possessed economic power, and
were not afraid to express their opinions – leading other
Greeks to condemn them as undisciplined, dangerous, and immoral.
high status of women is the best refutation of
persistent allegations that Spartan society institutionalized
pederasty; modern psychology has demonstrated that the victims of
pederasty usually grow up to be misogynous men. There is no convincing
contemporary evidence that homosexuality was more common in Sparta than
elsewhere in ancient Greece.
was the first Greek city-state to develop a
complex system of mutual defenSe treaties, and it repeatedly intervened
to defend democracy against tyranny. Spartan diplomacy was arguably
even more effective than Spartan arms in maintaining Sparta's
status for centuries.
Spartans were proud to say that they
built their monuments "in flesh" –
meaning that the virtue and courage of Sparta's citizens were the
greatest monuments to the city-state – they were not lacking
in architectural and artistic achievements. The ancient Greek
tour guide, Pausanias, cataloged hundreds of sites worth
seeing. Nor was Sparta itself a collection of rural villages,
as Athenian detractors depicted it, but rather a prosperous capital
city with broad, tree-lined avenues, temples, monuments, public
buildings, and royal palaces.
music and dance were famous throughout the
ancient world, and the oldest recorded heterosexual love poem was the
work of a Spartan poet praising Spartan maidens.
In short, in the ancient world Sparta
was admired as much for its constitution, its system of education, its
philosophical culture, its economic self-sufficiency, its diplomacy,
and its music and dance as it was for its famous hoplites.
Not her kings, but her citizens – the lawgiver Lycurgus, the
philosopher Chilon, and the poet Tyrtaios – were the most
widely admired Spartans in ancient times.
But Sparta was eclipsed by the rise of
Athens, a city with roughly 5 times the number of citizens and, by
the mid 5th century, an empire. Sparta's once revolutionary and
innovative institutions became calcified while democracy continued to
develop – and become more radical – in other
cities. Its artistic achievements stagnated as the population declined
and the demands of power grew, following Sparta's victory in the
Peloponnesian War. Yet the decline of Sparta starting in the
5th century BC should not be allowed to obscure its early
This site is dedicated to throwing some
light on those forgotten achievements – and hopefully
awakening more curiosity and understanding for this complex and
fascinating ancient culture. My sources and recommendations
for further reading can be found under "SOURCES".
Last but not least, based on my research and understanding of
human nature, I have written six
novels set in Ancient Sparta, including a trilogy about the life of King Leonidas.
The hero of Thermopylae. In 480 BC he would defy an army half a million
strong. But who was he? This is his story, from his boyhood in the
infamous Spartan agoge to the final stand of the 300 at Thermopylae.
The Leonidas Trilogy brings Leonidas and his queen, Gorgo, back to
This is Sparta!! As you've never
seen it before....
extremely entertaining novel....Anyone interested in exploring the
years prior to the Persian invasion – the alliances and
intrigues, especially between Sparta and her future ally Tegea
– will enjoy this novel."
Martin, author of The
Headlong God of War and In Kithairon's
"…this is another gem to polish and keep in my
bookcase when I want a look back to Greece!"
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Text varies on this site between British and American English
Most research was done in Europe and compiled for British English
Interviews and reviews reflect both American and British
English, as Helena Schrader is a leading authority on this subject
in the US and Europe.