Spartan Relgion

  • Created by: Alice
  • Created on: 01-08-13 06:35


- Apollo of Amyclae

- Apollo Karneia

- Zeus

- Dionysus

- Poseidon

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- Athenae

- Artemis

- Demeter

- Aphrodite

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Purpose of religion in sparta

- to explain nature and creation

- to illicit benefits/favour from gods

- to avert disaster and defeat by divination

- to uphod values such as endurance, loyality, obediance and conformity

- to provide framework for rites of passage

- religious dances and songs were taught to spartan hoplites which assisted with military training

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basic features of spartan religion

- belief in the pantheon

- participation in common forms of worship and ritual (prayers, sacrifice of food, dancing etc). Also there were rites and sacrifices on special occasions 

- shared beliefs

- belief in the active role of gods in determining the lives of mortals: the importantce of oaths and prophecy, the existence of repriocity, belief in the protection offered by zeus to suppliants, the importance of community response to impiety belief taht the gods were interested in justice, the idea of pollution and the possibility of purification

- beliefs were common to the hellenistic world

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histography of religion

"spartan religion was spartan more in its importance on orderlines and obediance than in any particular military emphasis it may have had...thus it contributes to her success by supporting the dominant norms of spartan society" - Parker

- most spartan gods appeared armed

the fact that the spartans looked down on dionysus because of his drunkeness we find that dionysus was a woman's god. They had different views on this god compared to athens

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Cult Worship - Dioscuri

- mythical twin sons of zeus

- their names were castor and polydeuces

- thought to live at Therapne and they ruled and they ruled alternative days

- they were asscioated with young men and the pursuit of horsemanship, atheletics and warfare

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Cult worship - Hero relief

- A hero semi divine being

- regarded as role models of good behaviour

- seens as protectors of land and places

- involes performance of rites at tombs as well as offerings and libatations

- were sometimes historical figurines when alephonos and Maron the two braviest victims at Thermopolaye and Lycurgus

- parner suggests that such worship of hereos was distinct to Sparta

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archeological evidence to support cult worship

- votive reliefs

- dioscuri relief

- dedications to dioscuri

- strong literary tradition

Spartans also worshipped historical figures, ephors, Chilon, Alepheos and Maron

Parker suggests that such heroisation for patriotic service was distinct to sparta

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Death and burial

the greeks were traditionally fearful of death. they believed in Damoines or spirits that hovered near dead bodies and around places of burial

- the body was normally creamted on a funeral pyre and later the bones were collected and buried within a ceremony

- funeral rights of kings are recorded by hereodetus

- ashes were placed in grave amphoras

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From the lycurgan reforms

- buried bodies in the city, memorials in vicinity of sacred places, nothing could be buried with them

- covered body with scarlett cloak and olive leaves

- no name on grave apart from men who died in battle or women who died in childbirth

- created death a normal everyday thing. It didn't have that taboo

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Religious festivals: Gymnopedia

  • Gymnopedia: festival of the unarmed boys
  • - held in agora
  • - Parker: A festival of dancing unclad or unarmed
  • - choral performances, setting up images of apollo and artemis, "boxing" amongst boys and men
  • - rites of passage, indicated membership or belonging to community
  • - "most solemn of all Lakonian festivals" - Pausanis
  • - created after the defeat at Argos 669BC at the battle of Hysai. To honour Apollo and Artemis
  • - Agamoi (unmarried spartans) were excluded from festival events as to not promote homosexulaity. They were seen as a threat to the social order
  • - seating at the festival was important because it showed prestiges
  • - some modern scholars have now theorised that young girls also danced naked in the festival in order to present themselves as potential wives
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Religious festivals: karneia

  • karneia: harvest festival
  • 9 days in august - extremely important. Holy month (Pausanias)
  • took name from apollo Kerneia - god of ram/herd
  • Syncretistic cult: one that took features of many cults 
  • celebration of migration,  colonisation of city, foundation of Doric people and various military events
  • Evidence: coins with ram heads on them found 
  • men divided into 9 groups of 4 phrateries who dined together and each occupied a skiar (area with tents)
  • There were models of rafts which symbolised the coming of dorians 
  • the activities were to represent early history of sparta, including migration and colonisation 
  • periokoi had local automony at religious festivals
  • ******: believes that this part of the festival is very ancient and relates to the success or failure of the harvest. And that during the time of the participation in the fesitival the young men lived warriors on campaign
  • Demetrios of Skepis: Games as a reflection of the military triaining system. The Karneia had a pacifist aspect. (i.e. No wars were to be fought in the time). Communial aspect with herioic emphasis
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Religious Festivals: Hyakinthia

Hyakinthia: festival for the dead and thanksgiving for the living

Arthenaeus: writing in the 2nd century AD has given account - based on mourning of Hyakinthia (the son of Amyclas, a spartan king) and praise of Apollo

3 day festival in July

2 stages: 

1. rites of honour and sorrow of Hyakinthia: Ban of wealth and joyful song, offerings were placed at dead youths tombs, eating of bread and cakes was forbidden, special funeral meal, then a day of ritual grief.

2. Rejoicing in honour of Apollo: wearing of wreaths, singing joyful songs; sacrifice to Apollo, A fesitival meal, Procession of Amyclae, Choral songs and dance

******: has interpreted the festival as a festival for the dead on one hand, combined with a thanksgiving for life on the other 

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Religious Festivals: Promacheia

- Before battle for frontline soildiers, including Periokoi as an achknowledgement of their contribution to the spartan army

- Festivals involved dancing and choruses celebrating success in war

Parker: "festivals in Sparta reflect intense public concern with the training of future generations"

- festivals were a way of bringing together the community of unity of the gods with the social and political institutions of the Spartan style

Blurs religion and military - celebrated soildiers and demi gods

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Cult of Artemis Orthia

Cult of Artemis Orthia: Godess of fertility and childbirth and protector or children's and women's health

the cult had the following features: May/june was a time of seperation of young men in the wild and a cheese-stealing ritual at the altar of Artemis Orthia. The altar was defended by older youths with whip

temple stood near the eurotas river outside of Sparta 

an endurance test took place in front of family and friends. Songs and dances were followed by a parade of the young men in fine clothes after their ordeal.

At the site archeologists have found many small votive lead figurines and masks used in the cult

Archeological evidence: over 1000 small votive lead figurines and masks in the cult (Most common were the old woman and the hoplite)

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importance of kings and Priests and Delphi

Parker: what impressed the other greeks, was the semi divinity that hedged the Spartan kings

- most important priests were the kings. Regarded as descendents of Herakles 

- Parker: There must of been other priests to conduct day to day ceremonies

- kings were dominant in religious matters

- Aristotle: "dealing with the gods are assigned to the kings"

- Welfare of the kings was a public concern

- closely asscioated with divination

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Granted them unusual importance political debate 

examples of their influence

1. Dual kingship given to the sanction of the Pythia

2. Demaratus was deposed

3. Pleistoanax was recalled

4. Debate on the accession of a third king

5. Exiled Hippias (their good friend) from Athens since they put "the god above human considerations" 

Delphic Apollo was closely asscioated with the kings

The Pytho were permanent officials whose job it was to consult Delphi on public business. They were royal appointees and shared the king's tent and the king's kept the official archives of past response. 

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also means for divination

Every 9 years they looked to the heavens on a clear night. If there was a shooting star that means there was an offence committed and the king was deposed of

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Military Divination

- Behind the spartan army trotted a mixed herd of sacrificial animals 

- plans and campaigns could be disfavoured because of the gods

- When a spartan army was in enemy territory consultive sacrifices were regulary performed before doing anything new. Omens could hold back an army or siege

- Parker: Concludes on the importance of divination as it therefore left room for maneourve even to the pious

- also comments that many modern scholours see spartan religion as one of harsh terms, superstition and relgiosity. He says the real objection is that the so called Spartan superstitious is not a matter of isolated quirks unrelated to the central tenents of greek religion

- Also comments Sparta took relgion seriously, the gods stood on a chain of command which all spartans were taught to respect completely. Rules of surrounding religion were to be obeyed without question and it was necessary to seek further specific instruction through divination supervised by humans just below the chain of command

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Funeral and Burial Rights

Plutarch: Attitude to death was a distinctive trait 

From literary evidence we see that every year the spartans royal tombs made speeches, have games, establish a memorial and that both men and women were remembered 

Archeological evidence: within the city of burial sites

1. group of 4 tombs have been found with a low wall surrounding it 

2. animal bones, a kiln, many tiles and shards and amphora were found near the wall in an enclosed mound

Herodotus "when they are all assembled, many thousands of them with women too, they beat their brows enthusiastically and lament without ceasing"

Parker: "nothing brings out the realities of hierarchy and power as well as funeral"

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Myths and Legends: Lycurgus and the Dioscuri

  • 1. Sparta is an open book 
  • - evidence about sparta is insufficient and conflicting on occasion
  • - Abundance of writing, none written by the Spartans
  • 2. Sparta was poor
  • - Well established and resourced - rich agriculture and manpower
  • - well equipped and at times better equipped than other Greek polis' 
  • - just because they had no coin money does not mean that they were poor - Sparta was not a barren desert
  • 3. Sparta the barracks
  • - conventional image of sparta life and true for young boys, but the whole population was not young boys
  • - Spartan life for the elite was a rich boys club, not a barracks life (they enjoyed a life of festivals, sports, hunting, dancing, physical exercise and so on)
  • 4. All spartans were equal in wealth
  • - there was feeling of equality but this is decieving
  • - sources refer to poor and rich spartiates
  • - spartans could not sell their land (land distribution)
  • - Aristotle: says that if a man had 3 make children he was exempt from military duty and 4 male children he bore no burdens of the state
  • 5. Image of cultural desert
  • - Engraved ivories, bronze statues 
  • - One can establish that the spartan elite has the same taste as any other elite 
  • - archeological evidence is intellectually challenging
  • 6. Lycurgus can be accurately date
  • - he can't, many conflicting dates
  • 7. Sparta had a rubber stamp policy
  • - No one is giving orders, it is about prioties
  • - Policy was decided by the majority
  • 8. Sparta was illiterate
  • - Plutarch: They took no less care in teaching them poetry and singing in making them learn to speak with accuracy and purity
  • - books about sparta are all outsiders views - biased perspective
  • - Cartledge and Boring: the spartans level of literacy was at the same as the other greeks
  • - they taught women too - big deal

The spartan mirage makes sparta seem to be some kind of eutopia 

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Legend in Sparta

- Kings were descended from Herakles 

- Accepted that these descendents returned with the Dorians after the collapse of Mycenar

- Helen of Troy was orginally from Sparta - her brothers were castor and Polydeuces who were the Dioscuri

- they believed the the Dioscuri were Spartan princes

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The spartan legend

- Lycurgus the lawgiver

- chilon and ephor who recieved ritualistic worship

- Military excellence of the army

- rigorous discipline of the army

- never surrended

- always followed orders

- spartans were the tyrant destroyer

- they treated cowards and sons harshly

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