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Sparta Reconsidered title

bulletTHE SPARTANS:bullet

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 literature.

In fact, ancient Sparta – or Lacedaemon, as it was known in ancient Greece – was far more complex and multifaceted. Plutarch claims that "devotion to the intellect is more characteristic of Sparta than love of physical exercise." Lindsay Wheeler calls the Spartans warrior philosophers.  A quick look at the key facts: 
bulletSparta 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.

bulletThe 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.

bulletSparta 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.

bulletSparta 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.

bulletThe 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.

bulletSparta 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.

bulletAlthough 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.

bulletSpartan 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 accomplishments.

        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.

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 life.

This is Sparta!!
As you've never seen it before....

"…an 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." 
Jon Martin, author of The Headlong God of War and In Kithairon's Shadow

"…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 spelling.   Most research was done in Europe and compiled for British English publications.   Interviews and reviews reflect both American and British English, as Helena Schrader is a leading authority on this subject in the US and Europe.

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Last updated September, 2012
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