Spartan Sources

Notes on Spartan Sources I made for my AS revision.

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Sources
Problems
Most accounts i.e. Plutarch written during Roman period.
Sparta not easily accessible to strangers, so little information available so sources may have
faulty information, as probably did not go to Sparta themselves.
No sources actually written by Spartans, Spartans did not write about themselves.
Only Spartan sources were oral poets and only have information regarding the archaic
period.
Sparta changed after the Messenian Liberation in 370/369 BC (4th Century), no longer
"fortress Sparta" so sources written after 4th century are probably talking about a Sparta
that no longer exists.
View from other city states
Sparta cultivated their own image which was mixed with outsiders' observations and stereotypes
which Sparta took on board and added them to their own image. Sparta had to reinvent itself during
the Hellenistic/ Roman period to fit the Spartan image as at this stage they were no longer the
glorious hegemony that they were.
Spartan life was widely admired but they were also considered alien, especially in the ways they
differed from the Athenian way of life. However there must not be too much emphasis placed on the
alienism of Sparta as every Greek city state had their own different culture, this difference was
something celebrated in Greece.
Upper class Athenians looked up to, and admired Sparta because of the way it managed to free itself
from work and dedicating their lives to leisure and public service. Laconomaniacs were upper class
Athenians who hated democracy and appreciated the Sparta oligarchy.
Rivalry between Athens and Sparta
Herodotus presents rivalry in his writing even before the Peloponnesian war but the rivalry was
particularly prominent between 460 BC- 380 BC (during the Peloponnesian). The Peloponnesian War
is narrated with an Athenian view meaning much of what we hear about Sparta is distorted by an
Athenian view. Thycydides' Pericles' funerary oration gives an Athenian perspective of the rivalry by
describing Athenian qualities and illustrating as superior to Sparta, emphasising the difference.
Sparta is presented as the antithesis of Athens and Sparta's image can be defined by the way it
differed from Athens.
Spartan Mirage
Stereotypes that came to dominate the Spartan image i.e. Spartans being single minded warriors
who submitted themselves to self-discipline, austerity and obedience. It was difficult to get access to
Sparta which contributed to the myth. Spartan way of life was attractive, and the simple way of live
and emphasis on traditional values looked like a perfect way to avoid civil strife and corruption.
Spartans understood that there reputation was an asset particularly in war as their self-cultivated
image of fearsome warriors must have been useful in psyching out the enemy. Spartans also boasted
about the fact they did not need a city wall.
The battle of Thermopylae had a lasting impact on the way the Spartans were perceived, as the
crushing defeat suffered at Thermopylae has become the most famous example of Spartan valour. It
is also forgotten that other Greeks stayed on fought to the bitter end such as the Thespians and the
Thebans but their names are only mentioned in passing, instead the emphasis is on the Spartan 300.

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Lycurgus
Lycurgus was at the centre of the Spartan mirage, but it has been concluded that he was only a
mythical character. Plutarch expresses his doubts at the beginning of his biography on Lycurgus but
nevertheless continues to write his biography. Nothing can be said about him that isn't disputed but it
has been estimated that the legend of Lycurgus came about between the mid-7th century to the
mid-5th century.…read more

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Applies Roman politic to Sparta- explains preference for one man story- similar to Emperor in Rome.
Doesn't appreciate effect of a man's action on future generations
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Thucydides ­Born to upper class Aristocratic Athenians
Good
Travelled Widely
Often reaches judgement
Attempted to discover truth about events, rather than just taking this for their face value.…read more

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Tyrtaeus- Poet; writing during 2nd Peloponnesian war (680-688BC) around time when early
institutional laws were being installed. Army listened to his poetry, aimed to inspire reminding
Spartans of honour or duty.
Good
Tyrtaeus gives insight into life of homioi- physical and mental strain felt.
Only Spartan source
Show some of the values + ideas that made Sparta so famous.…read more

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