Unit 2 - Classical Greece
Lesson 5 - Sparta
In the last lesson you learned about Athens, which was a very famous city state of Ancient Greece. While Athens was known for its poets and learned people and fine buildings, Sparta was famous for something else. It was a land of warriors. Everything in Sparta was geared to producing a huge army of tough, disciplined soldiers.
The Spartans succeeded in building the best army in ancient Greece. They also won most of the prizes at the Olympic Games, but they did not create much art or literature or many fine buildings.
There were three separate social classes in Sparta: Only Spartan men were allowed to be citizens of Sparta and only they could take part in the Government of the state. All citizens had to serve in the Spartan army.
The second class were the free men. They often came from outside Sparta and so were called perioikoi 'neighbours'. They were mainly craftsmen, farmers or traders. They were allowed to serve in the army. But they could take no part in the running of Sparta.
The helots were descended from the people who had originally lived in Sparta, but who had been conquered by the Spartans. They were treated as slaves. They farmed the land for the Spartan masters, who usually treated them cruelly. Most people living in Sparta were helots.
Life in Sparta
There was very little luxury in ancient Sparta. The people lived in hard, uncomfortable conditions because they believed that this would help to keep them strong and able to defend themselves from possible attack. Every Spartan man had to be a soldier. Even kings were not allowed to possess wealth or luxuries; as such things might make them weak or selfish. Children (even when they obeyed orders) were left hungry and flogged. This was to toughen them up into hard, fearful warriors. Babies belonged not so much to their parents as to the State. When a child was born, state officers would come to examine it. If the child was healthy and perfectly formed it "passed" the examination and was allowed to live. If not, the baby would be taken outside and left to die.
The Boy and the Fox (based on an ancient Spartan story)
The Spartan boy had been seeking some excitement when, near the house of local helot, he saw a beautiful young fox - no doubt the pet of some helot child. Remembering how in school he was encouraged to steal from helots, he thought only for a moment before scrambling over the fence. Creeping stealthily upon the animal, he pounced, grabbed the fox and was gone before anyone noticed. The fox's little heart beat with fear. But the boy's heart beat with delight. He could not wait to show his fox cub to his friends and to tell them of his successful adventure.
It was only when he neared his barracks that he heard some guards approach. Knowing that (while successful theft was praised) he must not be actually caught stealing, the boy stuffed the fox inside his tunic. The guards, seeing that the boy seemed to be acting suspiciously, began to question him. The boy lied coolly about his activities and (since boys had to be polite to older Spartan citizens) even held polite conversation with the guards long after they had stopped questioning him.
When, at last, the guards bade him good evening; the boy made his way to his barracks, staggered through the door and fell dead on the floor. His friends gathered around and soon discovered the cause of his death. While the boy was being questioned by the guards, the terrified fox had eaten right into his stomach and intestines. The boy, though in agony, had never cried out.
The leaders in the barracks agreed that the boy had been an ideal young Spartan.