The Spartans

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“Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?”
“Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”

Gorgo, Queen of Sparta and wife of Leonidas, as quoted by Plutarch[1] via; http://Wikipedia Women in ancient Sparta – Wikipedia

Women in ancient Sparta.  Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier - Courage des femmes de Sparte.
Women in ancient Sparta. 
Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier – Courage des femmes de Sparte. http://Wikimedia Commons

This topic has been lingering in my mind for many years as I’d heard more and more about this interesting but also very strange folk. Even, as I can remember, it was about two years ago that Aquileana (Amalia) https://aquileana.wordpress.com/ had written to me that we could write one time an article together about them, but this, unfortunately, hasn’t come yet.

Therefore, I thought to try it alone; because these Spartans are full of contrasts as we can see in their behaviour. There are many researchers and many tells about them. They might be famous especially because of the movie: 300 which has been run some years ago in cinemas. An action film though, based on lies as the history shows that the Spartans were not alone, they got help by Athens among the others.

Anyway, we see here a folk with a very hard discipline about their masculine and a freewill towards their feminine; The born sons had to learn to be soldiers as children. In this link here we can read how difficult is to be born as a masculine: https://www.history.com/news/8-reasons-it-wasnt-easy-being-spartan

‘The Spartans were a strange people…Their contemporaries in the ancient world were intrigued by the ‘mystery’ that surrounded them, by their secretiveness, their peculiar manner of life and the impenetrable seclusion into which they had withdrawn. In their own day they were a great people; but their greatness sprang from qualities violently and astonishingly different from those that the world regards as typically Greek.’
(H Michell, 1964, Sparta, Cambridge University Press, London, p.1)

The Rise of Sparta | Sparta map, Sparta, Historical maps
http://Pinterest

It seems that as the Greek or better to say, Plato wanted to build his Utopia school, as he described a perfect society as one where everyone lived harmoniously and without the fear of violence or material possession. He believed that political life in Athens was to rowdy and that no one would be able to live a good life with that kind of democracy.

Platón y Aristóteles representados por Rafael en "La escuela de ...
http://Pinterest

We can find it in Plato’s book; The Law: The Laws is one of Plato’s last dialogues. In it, he sketches the basic political structure and the laws of an ideal city named Magnesia. The Laws is Plato’s last, longest, and, perhaps, most loathed work. The book is a conversation on political philosophy between three elderly men: an unnamed Athenian, a Spartan named Megillus, and a Cretan named Clinias. These men work to create a constitution for Magnesia, a new Cretan colony. The government of Magnesia is a mixture of democratic and authoritarian principles that aim at making all of its citizens happy and virtuous. https://iep.utm.edu/pla-laws/

But the Spartans were just thinking of making soldiers for the next war!

Here is another look at them from the way in the Greek art of old “tragicomedy” (SPARTA AND SPARTANS IN OLD COMEDY) by Ralph M. Rosen http://Ralph M. Rosen From the book; “The Greek SuperpowerSparta in the Self-Definitions of Athenians” Edited. by Anton Powell & Paul Cartledge, according to the author:

The Athenian attitude towards Sparta that emerges from Aristophanes’ plays, however, is far more complex than this sweeping overview conveys. Even a quick, superficial reading of Acharnians or Lysistrata is enough to show that Aristophanes was not out to persuade his audience to detest the Spartans, despite the many times Sparta or Spartan customs come in for ridicule throughout all his plays. Over the past half-century, scholars have
taken up the question of Aristophanes and Sparta systematically, and there is little dispute that Aristophanes’ plays serve up a mixture of hostility, admiration, ambivalence and empathy in their depiction of the Spartans.

Tigerstedt (1965) summed up the matter well when he said that the
‘expressions of popular sentiment against Sparta were not approved without reservation by Aristophanes. He – or his mouthpieces in the comedies – agrees with its adversaries in so far as the Spartans were guilty of much evil. But the Athenians are no better’ (1965, 125). Two subsequent studies, by Cozzoli (1984) and Harvey (1994), have reached similar conclusions, although the latter offers a fuller treatment of the evidence and slightly different analyses than the former. These scholars have done the important groundwork: they have collected the passages in Aristophanes where Spartans are featured – negatively, positively or somewhere in between – and tried to make some sense out of the representations that emerge….

And he continues: This leaves us, however, still with an unresolved problem: if we are not willing to call Aristophanes a ‘sympathizer’, what exactly accounts for the restraint of his attacks on the Spartans and on some occasions, as it seems, his open support of their point of view? This is the question I would like to revisit here, partly because I think more needs to be said about the role of comic poetics in this debate, and also to pay at least some attention to what other poets of Old Comedy, fragmentary though they now are, have to contribute. I hope to show, first, that the particular ways in which Aristophanes wove the Spartans into his plots, or how he constructed them as targets more occasionally in other plays, can be explained as a function of the satirical dynamics governing the genre, without recourse to biographical speculation. Second, I would like to spend more time than earlier scholars have on the question of how Sparta was represented by the non-Aristophanic comic poets, in an effort to show that there is little evidence (as is sometimes imagined) 3 that they were any more vehement in their criticism of Sparta than Aristophanes. In the end, as I hope to show, the particular ways in which Sparta was represented by comic poets during the Peloponnesian War can best be explained by the confluence of several quite specific poetic and cultural factors, where generic forces meet historical specifics.

But interestingly, the women were free to choose what they wanted to do in their lives, of course except to taking part in the wars.

WOMEN IN SPARTA

via; https://thespartans-oflaconia.weebly.com/

The women of Sparta were unlike any other women of their time. They were educated, known for their beauty, competent in various sporting activities, and looked upon by their Athenian counterparts as exceptional mothers. Contrasting to other Greek women, the women of Sparta were significant within the biological, social, economic, and religious parts of Spartan society and culture. It has been said that Spartan women were seen as the vehicle by which Sparta advanced; in no other Greek city state did women have the privilege of freedom like the women of Sparta.

This greater freedom for Spartan women and girls began at birth. The same care and food given to their brothers was something required for the Spartan girls by law – opposing to other Greek cities, where it was much more common for girls to be rejected or killed, starved and prevented from exposure to sunlight or fresh air.

Spartan girls, once they had reached a certain age, would receive an education. They would be trained in the arts of literacy; being encouraged to speak in public upon many topics, Moussika; to pass on the traditional values of Sparta, such as music, dance and poetry. They were also taught horsemen ship and athletics. Athletics was something that other Greek girls and women were not permitted to do, however, for Spartan women exercising unclothed, with other men, and performing in various athletic events was standard.

Although Spartan women seemed to have more freedom then most women of the Greek world, their one main role was to make strong Spartan offspring. When women in Sparta reached sexual maturity, they were not rushed into marriage or childbirth; unlike the other women of the Greek and ancient world, who would suffer from psychological and even physical injury from being rushed into childbirth at a young age. Spartan laws even advocated the importance of marriage and pregnancy only after women had reached an appropriate age.

Once married the wife would become in control of the estate of her husband, because of the frequency and length of time that the husband would be away devoting his life to the Spartan military. This is where control of the Spartan agricultural economy fell into the hands of the Spartan women. A Spartan husband became dependant on his wife, that she would pay his fees and supply the money for the son’s agoge fees. This control that Spartan women had is a sharp difference to Athenian women, who were never heiress of their husbands or fathers estates – money would be passed down to the next male in the family. Because of all this power that was given to the Spartan women it was often said by Aristotle that Spartan women “ruled” their husbands. In response to this, the wife of King Leonidas said that “Spartan women were the only women who ruled their husbands, because they were the only women who gave birth to men”.

I hope you’ve not gotten tired to read more of it, here is another article was written by the Greek friends which I more or less translated from Greek. 😉Have a great time and a peaceful weekend everyone 💖

The only ancient Spartans

By SearchingTheMeaningOfLife

As I read all over about the ancients, where so ever from; old Greece, old Persians, or even old Arabs, there are the women who decide over the fate or destiny of all the history of “men” and as I read a lot about Sparta and know them as a brave and advanced folk. WE can really learn a lot from our own history.

Women in ancient Sparta. Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier – Courage des femmes de Sparte.

Women make up half of the population, but historical sources do not pay even half the attention they deserve and demand their role. But the women of Sparta were an exception. They were the only women in antiquity who, instead of remaining silent, had their own opinion and took care to formulate it. So since in the eyes of the rest of the Greeks the Spartans seemed strange with their manners and habits, their wives also seemed even more strange.

The mission given to them by the semi-mythical legislator Lykourgos was to give birth to boys who would be the soldiers of the next generation, with measures to ensure that they were physically fit. The girls were not required to be inspected by the authorities at birth, and the decision to step up was left entirely to the parents. All they needed was to exercise their bodies in running, wrestling, discus and javelin throwing, while participating naked in religious processions, orchestrations and songs.

Aristotle criticized the Spartan law that allowed women, unlike men, living dissolutely and luxury. From the testimonies, we conclude that the women did not need to exercise after the birth of children or after the age at which they could have children.

So, our contexts lead us to think that women should get married when they reach the right age to have children. The Plutarch writes that they used to marry ” not little girls or immature for marriage, but in the prime of their youth and mature .” That is, while in the rest of Greece they married around fourteen, the Spartan law stipulated that the woman had to be fully physically developed, therefore at the age of eighteen to twenty.

In Sparta, unlike in Athens, the official engagement from the bride’s father was not necessary for a legal marriage, so there was no official promise from the father to give a dowry for his daughter. Lykourgos legislated this with the reasoning that no one should remain unmarried because of poverty or be sought after because of wealth, but that everyone should focus on the character and qualifications of the girl. Therefore, marriages were arranged individually, without implying that there was no agreement between the groom and the father of the bride. In addition, there was the so-called abduction, which the husband simply stole due to custom, although there is evidence that this was done knowingly by the father.

But while men had to divorce their wives in order to marry another woman, a woman was allowed to have Spartans from the time they were married, had her hair short, unlike long-haired men, and possibly wore a veil when appearing in public… sex with two men ! If a man, due to old age or incapacity, wanted to have children, he would bring home any man who admired his physique and character to have children with his wife. Also, if someone saw a woman having beautiful children, she asked, with the consent of her husband, to give birth to his children. Of course, the purpose of the law was to increase the population and give birth to as many older children as possible. The children could legally be considered to belong either to their natural father or to the woman’s husband by agreement of the men. Thus, it is not easy to capture the notion of adultery in Sparta. 

However, the moralist and conservative Aristotle refers to sexual  innocence when he spoke of the women of Sparta, who imposed their will and how it constituted the political and moral bankruptcy of Sparta. Like the educated Aristotle, the rest of the Greeks embraced the typical macho view that women were inferior to men and that this freedom of the Spartans alienated them unimaginably! They had the view that the Spartans were living a tender and unselfish life, at the urging of their retreating spouses. The truth is, however, that these women were nurtured within a public educational system, which resulted in a dramatic difference from the typical behaviour of other Greek women.

Apart from sexual relations with other men, a very important element for Aristotle to consider Sparta as a female-dominated society was their right to own and manage the same assets, including land ownership, without being subject to any legal committee status. When the rest of the Greek women transferred their property to their husband or the closest relative, the Spartan patrons were the owners of the property they had inherited!

They were also free from the tedious housework, unlike the other Greek women whose whole world was their home. They didn’t cook, they didn’t sew, they didn’t clean: all this was done by women. It is possible that they did not even breastfeed their children. Whether it happened or not, the fame of the Spartan food, which was obviously helots, was so great that, for example, Alcibiades was raised by a helot. In general, the rest of the Greeks, having a distorted view, considered that a climate of moral depravity prevailed and that the Spartans not only imposed their will on men but also exerted influence on state affairs!

In Sparta, there were no celebrations exclusively for women. The girls on the doorstep competed in dance and song, while the married women sang mocking songs and mocked the bachelors.

Another special feature of them was that they did not mourn or smell after the death of a family member. They did not mourn and did not retreat to their homes when their husbands fell in the war, but they walked proudly with a bright and happy face for the glorious death of their husbands.

Archileonis, Vrasidas’ mother, whose son died when some arrived from Amfipoli in Sparta and went to see her, asked if her son had died in a beautiful and dignified manner in Sparta. As they praised him and said that in his achievements he was the best of the Lacedaemonians, she said: “My son was a foreigner, right and virtuous, but Lacedaemon is much superior to him.” Plutarch.

Young people in ancient Sparta.  Young Spartans Exercising by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Young people in ancient Sparta. Young Spartans Exercising by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Spartan society was the first to try to implement eugenics. The good physical condition of women contributed to being healthy mothers. They were not considered inferior in their society. Young girls were given similar portions of food as boys. They were imbued with a process of education and socialization with the ideals of Spartan society, for the implementation of which their behaviour as adult women was crucial.

Finally, as adults, they had the right to inherit and manage their own property. They could express their opinion about the prospective groom that their father would choose and their opinion was important. It was these women who, if their sons returned defeated and alive, would publicly show them their wombs and ask them insultingly if they wanted to crawl into it! They were just unique in a macho world!

Indicative bibliography

Source: http://eranistis.net/wordpress/

https://www.history.com/news/8-reasons-it-wasnt-easy-being-spartan

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_ancient_Sparta

https://www.classics.upenn.edu/people/ralph-m-rosen

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxmb3

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-utopia/#laws

24 thoughts on “The Spartans

  1. This is such a great, thorough post on Spartan lifestyle during ancient times. You provide great points as to why Spartan Women might probably be the First empowered Women in an ancient society. I had no idea about how free they were when it came to sexuality, which was very interesting to learn…. I found quite surprising to get to know how Spartan women used to cope with grieve as well.
    Again, an excellent post. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it. Love and best wishes, my friend. 😘🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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