On Sparta

Extract from the Study of History (Toynbee, 1972) page 41-42:

On the other hand, certain states sought solutions which entailed a variation in their way of life. Sparta, for instance, satisfied the land-hunger of her citizens not by colonizing overseas territories outside the previous geographical limits of the Hellenistic World but by attacking and conquering her nearest Greek neighbours in Messene. The consequences were that Sparta obtained her necessary additional land only at the cost of obstinate and repeated wars with her neighbouring peoples of her own caliber; that, even when conquest was completed, the retention of the conquered territories required a permanent military effort; and that this permanent strain bore upon Sparta herself and not upon some independent daughter-sate overseas who would have been responsible for her own security.

In order to meet this situation, Spartan statesmen were compelled to militarize Spartan life from top to bottom – which they did by reinvigorating and adapting certain primitive social institutions, common to a number of Greek communities, at the moment when, in Sparta as in anywhere, these institutions were at the point of disappearing.


Extract from the Study of History (Toynbee, 1972) page 132:

The Spartans brought a similar fate upon themselves when, in answer to the Hellenic Society’s common problem of population pressure in the eight century B.C., they expanded their territories by conquest within Hellas, and found all their creative energies absorbed in an effort to maintain their control over a hostile population of their own kind.


Extract from The New Penguin History of The World (Roberts, 2007) page 178 – 179:

The hoplite wore helmet and body-armour and carried a shield. His main weapon was a spear which he did not throw, but with which he thrust and stabbed in the melee which followed a charge by an ordered formation of spearmen whose weight gave it its effect. Such tactics would work only on relatively level ground, but it was such ground that was usually being contested in Greek wars, for the agriculture on which a Greek city depended could be devasted by seizure of the little plains of the valley floor where most of its crops were grown. On such terrain, the hoplites would charge as a mass, with the aim of sweeping away defenders by their impact. They depended completely on their power to act as a disciplined unit. This both maximized the effect of the charge and enabled them to prevail in the hand-to-hand fighting which followed, because each hoplite had to rely for protection on his right-hand side by the shield of his neighbour. To keep an ordered line was therefore crucial. The Spartans were particularly admired for their expertise in performing preliminary evolutions which preceded such an encounter and for retaining cohesion as a group once the scrimmage had begun.

The ability to act collectively was the heart of the new warfare. Though bigger numbers now took part in battles numbers were no longer all that counted, as three centuries of Greek success against Asian armies were to prove. Discipline and tactical skills began to matter more and they implied some sort of regular training, as well as social widening of the warrior group. More men thus came to share in the power which comes from a near-monopoly of the means of exercising force.


Extract from The New Penguin History of The World (Roberts, 2007) page 182 – 183:

Much has been made of the contrast between Athens and its great rival, Sparta. Unlike Athens, Sparta met the pressures upon it not by modifying its institutions but by resisting change. Sparta embodied the most rigid social discipline at home and by conquest among its neighbours, which allowed it to meet the demand for land at others’ expense. A very early consequence was a fossilizing of the social structure. So tradition-bound was Sparta that it was alleged that its legendary law-giver, Lycurgus, had even forbidden the writing down of its laws; they were driven home in the minds of the Spartiates by a rigorous training that all underwent in youth, boys and girls alike.

Their conditions of life were, in a word, ‘spartan’, reflecting the idealization of military virtues and strict discipline. The details are often strikingly unpleasant as well as curious. For the marriage ceremony, for example, the bride’s hair was cropped and she was dressed as a boy. This was followed by a stimulated rape, after which the couple did not live together, but the man continued to live with his companions in a male dormitory and eat in messes with them.


Extract from The History of Western Philosophy (Russell, 1972) page 95:

The sole business of a Spartan citizen was war, to which he was trained from birth. Sickly children were exposed after inspection by the heads of the tribe, only those judged vigorous were allowed to be reared. Up to the age of twenty, all the boys were trained in one big school; the purpose of the training was to make them hardy, indifferent to pain, and submissive to discipline.


Roberts, J. W. (2007). The New Penguin History of The World. London, England: Penguin Group, Penguin Books Ltd.

Russell, B. (1972). The History of Western Philosophy. New York, United States of America: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Toynbee, A. (1972). A Study of History (Vol. One Volume Edition). London, England: Oxford University Press and Thames and Hudson Ltd.



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