Sparta – A military city-state

City of Sparta, in southern Greece, was founded by the Dorians during the 10 century BC, after they conquered the tribes that originally lived there. Two centuries later, Sparta won a neighboring town Messenia, and thus acquired a very fertile land. Spartans in that times enjoyed the life while doing various crafts, music and poetry. Later, after they were vanquished in war and conquered Messenians  have had permanent sought to regain their freedom, the Spartans became completely devoted to improving the skill of warship. 

Sparta became a Greek superpower, the main rival of Athens and the Spartan society was dominated by the need to preserve power over the conquered territories. All Spartans were forced to serve in the army. Their whole life was devoted to perfecting the martial arts. Already as a seven-year-old boys were separated from their families and forced into a kind of military barracks. At the age of eighteen, Spartan boys became reserve members of the Spartan army.

Spartan youth at military training

People with no civil rights in Sparta were divided on the Helots and Perioikoi. Perioikoi were free people who, although they were not citizens of Sparta, was permitted to trade and to serve the army. Helots were the descendants of the original population that inhabited the area. They were farmers, and perform difficult physical tasks rather than the Spartans.

Map showing Sparta and Athens

Full citizens, released from any economic activity, were given a piece of land which was cultivated and run by the helots. As time went on, greater portions of land were concentrated in the hands of large landholders, but the number of full citizens declined.

Spartan shield

Sparta was above all a militarist state, and emphasis on military fitness began virtually at birth. Shortly after birth, a mother would bathe her child in wine to see whether the child was strong. If the child survived it was brought before the Gerousia by the child’s father. The Gerousia then decided whether it was to be reared or not.

Spartan helmet

Spartan women enjoyed a status, power, and respect that was unknown in the rest of the classical world. They controlled their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who were away with the army. It is estimated that women were the sole owners of at least 35% of all land and property in Sparta.

Spartan girl in the race checking how far are other competitors