The Merits and Demerits of Spartan Society

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The Merits and Demerits of Spartan Society

Advantages

  • Education:
  • Early years:
  • Exposing sickly children meant that the society did not include weaker individuals who might not be strong enough to fight - all would be able to do this
  • From a very young age they were prepared by their mother/nurse to be physically fit, disciplined and taught Spartan ideology
  • Agoge:
  • Separation from home -> eirenes/paidonomes would introduce them to the Spartan spirit
  • Independence
  • Did not allow the boys to be diverted from their duty by less important matters: idleness, laziness and girls
  • Made the boys respect authority figures and Spartan society: even when the graduates were made eirenes, they were supervised - they would walk the streets with their heads bowed and told to face the ground
  • Politics:
  • Their foreign policy ensured the state was protected from outside contamination: Spartans were forbidden from travelling beyond Sparta's borders
  • The constitution was well balanced: no single body could gain too much power.
  • Any member of the Ecclesia was eligible to serve as an ephor or on the Gerousia gave it an important democratic element
  • Their constitution ensured the mistakes of the past were not repeated: Lykourgos, creator of the constitution, observed there was a great inequality of wealth and he felt that all Spartans should be equal; his reforms meant to prevent another helot rebellion, after the Second Messenian War
  • Society:
  • Women:
  • More independent than women in other city-states because they were seen as important: they gave birth to strong, healthy babies; they managed their husbands' farms; they supported the Spartan ideology
  • Furthermore, they, including men, had more freedom; Spartan women were sexually promiscuous. If it was believed a younger warrior had a better chance of impregnating an old warrior's wife, he would allow the young man to sleep with her.
  • The Helots:
  • They could be freed for an outstanding act of courage or service on military campaigns
  • The Perioikoi:
  • As long as they obeyed their Spartan masters, they were allowed to get on with life in their communities.
  • Origins: Dorian settlers living around Laconia
  • Politcal Status: They lived in self-governing, where they had local citizenship
  • Rights/duties: Their chief contribution to Spartan life was economic - they were traders and craftsmen of materials such as clothing, shoes, furniture, storage pots, metalwork, while communities living near the coast also engaged in fishing and shipbuilding. Expected to serves as soldiers alongside Spartiates during times of war

Disadvantages

  • Education:
  • Children would not develop much compassion nor understanding
  • Doesn't exchange children to think for themselves
  • Encourages thinking along one live only -> doesn't encourage flexibility and understanding for the outside world
  • Politics:
  • A vast majority of the Spartan society - women, perioikoi and helots - had no say whatsoever in government
  • If one king was away at war then the other could still rule in a corrupt way
  • The Gerousia had too much power, considering that its members were likely to be elderly and perhaps out of touch with Spartan society, or even senile!
  • It was centred upon the repression of the helots; the ephors declared war upon the helots at the start of each year.
  • The decisions of the Ecclesia could be overturned if the Gerousia were unhappy with them
  • Society:
  • Women:
  • They had no political rights
  • They were still ruled by traditional and, what we would consider to be, sexist roles - similar to the role of Athenian women
  • Non-Spartans were given menial jobs an were treated harshly:
  • The Helots:
  • Origins: Either conquered Messenians or original Achaean inhabitants of Laconia
  • Political Status: state-owned slaves who had no political rights
  • Rights/duties: they had to farm Spartan lands and supply a fixed amount of produce annually to their Spartiate masters. Acted as servants to their masters in times of war (as skirmishers); women helots were household slaves and were famed for being good nurses for babies.
  • Spartiates used to force helots to get drunk to warn young Spartans about the dangers of drunkenness.
  • They were also humiliated by being forced to sing ridiculous songs, to dress up in animal skins, and to receive regular public beatings.
  • Targets of the brutal Krypteia
  • The Perioikoi:
  • Political Status: They had no role or say in Spartan government
  • The economic state of Sparta depended on people, most of whom were deposed by the Spartans, who could cause strife within the society whenever they liked

Evaluation

The Spartan constitution and society kept a perfect balance between a oligarchy and a democracy - no one was more powerful than others - and it ensured the population was strong enough rebuild Sparta, to prevent past mistakes, and to repel foreign threat/contamination. However, only a few amount of people had rights and a say in society and government. 

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