Sparta Reconsidered: An Introduction

  • Ancient Sparta is known today (if at all) as the militaristic rival of "enlightened" Athens in Classical Greece. Images of harsh discipline, a merciless emphasis on courage and a society lacking art, literature and culture predominate in popular literature and non-specialist education.


In fact, Ancient Sparta was far more complex and multifaceted.

It was the first democracy in recorded history, possibly predating Athenian democracy by more than 200 years. (Most historians, however, date it 50 to 100 years before Solon in Athens.)

It was the only Greek City-state to introduce a land reform aimed at equalising wealth among its citizens.

It was the first and only Greek City-state to develop a complex system of mutual-defense treaties. It interceded repeatedly to restore democracy in other city-states, which had been seized by tyrants.

It was the only Greek City-state in which women enjoyed elementary rights such as the right to inherit and to public education.

The public educational system was admired almost universally by contemporaries and praised by philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.

Although Spartans were proud to say they built their monuments "in flesh" - meaning that the virtue and courage of its citizens were the greatest monuments any city could possess - they were not lacking in architectural and artistic achievements. Particularly, their music and dance was famous throughout the ancient world. The oldest recorded heterosexual love poem was the work of a Spartan poet praising Spartan maidens.

Sparta was eclipsed by the rise of Athens, a city with roughly 5-times the number of citizens and, following the defeat of Persia in the early 5th Century, an Empire. Sparta's once revolutionary and innovative institutions became calcified while democracy continued to develop in other cities. Its artistic achievements stagnated as the population declined and the demands of power following Sparta's victory in the Peloponnesian Wars grew. But the decline of Sparta starting in the 5th Century BC should not entirely obscure its early accomplishments.

This site is dedicated to throwing some light on those forgotten achievements - and hopefully awaking some more curiosity and understanding for a complex and fascinating ancient culture.