by: R. Aurelius Orcus
Chapter 1: Sparta
Sparta has been known for ages because of its image it had during the apex of classic Greek civlisation. The original inhabitants, the Helotes, had been driven away by the Dorians that came to live in the area of Laconia. The Doric invasion also led to the other Peloponnesian tribes being driven away. The largest tribes of Hellas were the Aeolians, the Dorians, the Ionians and the Achaians. In Epirus, there was a tribe from which the name "Greeks" is derived, called so by the Romans: Graeci.
The Ionians went to live in Attica where they would later found the city of Athens. The Dorians had the chance to become dominant in the Peloponnesos because of the earlier fall of the Mycenian civilisation, somewhere in between the fall of Troy and the Achaic period.
Chapter 2: Lukourgos
The Dorians revered, above all Gods, Apollo, God of Music, Light, the Sun, Science, Arts and Archery. But we suspect, because there are no written documents from Sparta itself, that Ares and Enya were more "respectable" than former after the reforms of Loukurgos (LukourgoV).
After having subjected the Helotes, the Dorians founded five villages that would later grow together in one city: Sparta. The Helotes were slaves in service of the city, and allegedly the first kings were twins that kept each other's powers in balance, that prevented them from absolute tyranny; thus, the people were pleased. After a while, however, an insight grew that in order to evolve, more strict legislation was needed, and Lykurgos was asked for advice.
Legislation more severe than forseen was enacted, but the foundations of the contemporary image of Sparta were created only after Lukourgos discovered a consipary against him, and fled. According to legends, this would have been the cause for his travels, but reliable sources about his life are not in existence. During his travels, he allegedly met the bard Homer, travelled through Asia Minor and went as far as Egypt, being impressed by their military strength.
Until that time, it was common that in wartime, farmers left their fields and went to battle, and Sparta had barely been able to resist hostile attacks. Having travelled around long enough to gather information about governments and other political business, he decided to travel back to Sparta, that was at that time actually asking for him to come back. Upon arriving, he gathered the aristocrats of the city to support him in his reforms, and to be at the town square fully armed first time in the morning, to slay all those who would oppose him.
His first reform was to decrease the power of the kings. Until then, the kings governed alone, but Lukourgos made it so that they now had to govern along with the Council of Elders. Declaring war upon another country or city was impossible without presenting it to the Assembly of the People. Other plans had to be presented to the people as well. The kings, however, remained high priests and were still allowed to bring sacrifices to the gods, and to ride ahead of the army in wartime. They were also still allowed to deal with matters of justice. Former kings had not only been rulers, but also worksmen. The first kings helped working the land, and even the queen and the princesses helped in the daily life. This habit would disappear as the city grew.
The second reform was to found an army so disciplined that it would be invincible. These reforms were cruel, but efficient in the long run, given the fact that the Council of Elders now decided on the life of a child. The only way for a child to stay alive was by being healthy and strong. An ill, weak child was left behind in the mountains. Of course, this military reform meant that Sparta was, from now, on, a totalitarian state: its citizens were living their lives in service of the city.
From their seventh birthday, boys would be sent to a training camp to become a soldier. They only had one set of clothes that they wore throughout all seasons. Their beds were made of rush, that they had to cut with their bare hands from plants that grew on the shores of the river Eurotas, and they put thistles on their beds to warm them. They had to provide for their own food, through means of own cooking, or stealing. Their meals were simple. Lukourgos insisted that everyone ate these meals, but this was heavily contested because people would rather eat with their own families. The trainees had to steal their own food, and were punished not for stealing, but for being caught.
Hence the familiar story of Spartan harshness: a young boy had stolen a small fox and had hidden it under his coat. But the animal had sharp little claws which he used to scratch open his belly. The boy would rather have died than to tell what he was hiding, and how he was suffering. If a boy did not participate in the exercises, or did not try his best hard enough, he was flogged or tortured in another way. One of the tests, to test one's hardiness, was to be whipped without being allowed to utter a sound.
In society, they were not allowed to talk unless they were spoken to, and it was considered their duty to answer in phrases as short as possible. This short, abrupt way of answering was called "Laconic". Spartan education was hard and often cruel, but in the long run, succeeded in producing well-trained, disciplined soldiers. Girls were also trained, be it less intensively than boys. They practised wrestling, running and boxing. On holidays they would march through the city together. Most Spartans married early, around the age of twenty.
A common fact in all of Hellas was the advice mothers gave when their children were sent to fight in a war: "return with your shield or on it", because all warriors and soldiers in Hellas feared death less than defeat or shame. Children also learnt to sing; at some parties, there were over three choirs: one of men, one of young men and one of boys.
When they were twenty, they left the training centres to join the army. Thusly, their life was devoted to Sparta and their country. In times of war, they were treated better than in times of peace: this was made so, to have them long for war, because then they would get better food, and discipline was loosened a little. These trainings and reforms of Lucourgos provided for Sparta's fame in bravery and hardiness. Even today, someone who resists all bad things and circumstances without complaining is called a Spartan.
It is hard to say whether this is true or not, but allegedly Lukourgos would have gone to Delphi after his reforms. He requested of the two kings, the Council of Elders and the People not to change his laws before he would return; which they promised. He then went to Delphi, where he made sacrifices for Apollo, and asked if the laws he had created for his country were good ones. The answer came that the laws were good, and Sparta would thrive as long as the people held itself to these laws. He wrote this answer back to Sparta, and then decided, in the interests of the city, not to return. Lukourgos could not get used to living elsewhere, however, and died of hunger, for the well-being of his people. The Spartans would keep their promise, and so would their offspring. Five hundred years, during the reign of fourteen kings, their laws remained unchanged. After his death, Lukourgos was celebrated and venerated as a God. A temple for him was erected, where sacrifices were made each year.
Chapter 3: The Helotes
The Helotes were the original inhabitants of Sparta, conquered by the Dorians who enslaved them, although they usually did not have supervisors. They lived a hard life, and frequently rose against their master. Worst of all was that every Helote suspected of treason was immediately killed by young Spartans during their training years. They were Sparta's farmers, and sometimes fought along in wars. Soldiers did not have time to work the land, to sow and to harvest because they spent their day doing military exercises. In times of war, the Helotes fought along as light infantry. If they were loyal and brave during the war, they sometimes were made Spartan citizens as a reward.
We all know that Spartans can be cruel, but the best example is perhaps from the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens. The Spartans were convinced that the Helotes would rise, and took a very cruel measure. They gathered two thousand of their bravest and most courageous men, and gave them back their freedom by means of a grand party. When the partying was over, and the Helotes returned back home, the Spartans gave the order to kill them all. They thought that when the bravest had fallen, they wouldn't dare to rise anymore.
By their strong discipline, Sparta was able to conquer the whole Peloponnesos; the situation of the Helotes in this case was comparable to those of the Jews under Roman rulership, or Afro-Americans during the slavery period.
Chapter 4: The First Messenic War
In 743 BC, Sparta decided to expand its territories by declaring war upon the Messenians. Allegedly, this was because three Spartan soldiers, dressed up as girls, had gone to a Messenian party and attacked the guests. Even though the Messenians were unarmed, the soldiers were captured pretty quickly, and thrown into prison. Sparta then declared war upon its western neighbour.
In the war, that would last many years, one of the two kings was slain, and even after a great battle four years later, there was still no victor. Under command of Aristodemos, the Messenians retreated to Ithomè, a fortified mountain keep. As was customary, they would send a messenger to the Oracle of Delphi in times of trouble, or when hard decisions had to be made. The Oracle answered that they shouldn't count on a victory unless they sacrificed a girl from one of the oldest families to the Gods. Aristodemos did not hesitate and sacrificed his own daughter out of patriottism. Through this action, he hoped to gain the support of the Gods, and when this news reached Sparta, they wanted to make peace out of fear of being defeaten by a foe that was being helped by the Gods. Peace was made, but not for long.
Years after peace was made, the Spartans decided to drive the Messenians out of their keep at Ithomè. Again, there was a great battle without victor, and Aristodemos succeeded the king, after he was killed in battle. It lasted five years until he could chase away the Spartans from his territory. This was, however, by no means a sweet victory, as the new king saw bad omens everywhere. In the temple of Artemis, a cupper shield fell off the statue. In a dream, Aristodemos' daughter would have appeared to him, and would have told him to put down his weapons. He did this, and put on a golden crown and a white gown, what meant that the king's death was near. He thought not only he, but also his people, would perish at the vengeful hands of the Spartans, and committed suicide on the grave of his daughter, allegedly out of guilt, and seeing that the sacrifice of his daughter had been pointless.
The war started again, and lasted twenty years before the Spartans could drive the Messenians away from Ithomè. A large part of the population fled, but who stayed was treated worse than the Helotes, and had to give away half of their crop harvest to Sparta. This was the end of the first Messenic War, in approximately 715 BC.
Chapter 5: The Second Messenic War
Almost thirty years later, in 685 BC, the Messenians rose, what lead to the Second Messenic War. Their leader Aristomenes was courageous and unafraid. To show that he did not fear the Spartans, he hung up his shield with the words: "by Aristomenes devoted to the Goddess". With a band of warriors, Aristomenes raided the Spartan region several times, and plundered two cities. Similar to Lukourgos, there are several legends about Aristomenes' bravado. Three times, he would have brought a sacrifice to Zeus, a type of sacrifice that only those who had killed more than one hundred enemies could bring.
The Spartans sought advice from the Oracle of Delphi, who told them that they had to ask Athens for a commander. Of course, this was not Sparta's most ideal choice, and neither did the Athenians like it, because of the tensed relations between the cities, but neither city wanted to oppose the Oracle's verdict, so Athens sent a commander. However, they sent the crippled teacher Turtaios. They thought he wouldn't be able to lead an army, but Turtaios proved to be more than just a teacher. He was also a poet whose songs encouraged the soldiers to march against their foe.
Once again, the Spartans were dominant, and Aristomenes' army retreated to Ira, a fortified keep like Ithomè, in the mountains. The war lasted until 674 BC. Sparta frequently beleaguered Ira, but Aristomenes frequently managed to storm past the enemy lines and invade Lakonia. He destroyed whole areas, and was captured twice, but escaped. However, when he was captured the third time, they took him and fifty of his countrymen to throw him in a gulch near the mountain Taigetos. He was saved by the Gods and was, according to a legend, saved on the wings of an eagle. Another legend has that he was in the gulch for three days, between the bodies of his comrades. Escaping seemed impossible. When it almost became hopeless, he witnessed a fox looking for food. He knew that if the fox could get in the gulch, there was a way out, too. He would have grabbed the animal's tail, and the fox brought him to a hole in the rock through which he escaped.
The day after, Aristomenes had returned to the Messenian keep, to the joy of his countrymen. However, there was a traitor in the ranks of the Messenian army, and that night the Spartans attacked the camps, and although wounded, Aristomenes managed to break through the enemy lines and escape to the isle of Rhodos, where he later died. Legend has it, that Aristomenes was later witnessed, 250 years later, fighting on the battlefield against the Spartans.
This was the end of the second Messenic war, that ended in slavery once again. It would last until 370 BC, when a Theban commander returned the lands of the Messenians to their rightful owners.