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The development of Spartan society.

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Introduction

Despite the general modern historical misconception of Sparta as a reflection of an 'ostia' society, Spartan society was 'culturally very much like the average Greek city-state of the day.'1 Indeed, a culmination of factors and aspects were the significant contributors to the development of Spartan society. Sparta's unique and 'balanced' political structure combining democracy, oligarchy and monarchical elements provided the foundations for political strength and stability. Features of the Spartan government such as the ephorate, the gerousia and ekklesia demonstrated the refined stratification of Spartan politics, while revealing the extent of power each respective authority exercised. The 'militaristic' educational system of the 'agoge' portrayed the development of a 'war-driven' society, whilst implying it as a possible aspect for the perception of an 'ostia' Sparta. The significant economic roles of the helots and the perioikoi reveal the importance of these minor social classes in the functioning of the Spartan economy. The implication arises that such dependence on 'lesser' social classes by the Spartiates, was potentially detrimental in the fear of revolt or uproar. Meanwhile, militarism is portrayed as the sole driving force of Spartan society, and again could be responsible for Sparta's inevitable decline following the Battle of Leuctra 371 BC. Religious aspects such as public sacrificial worship, the close link between Sparta and the Delphic oracle and the importance of proper burial rites furthermore reveal the broad dynamics of Classical Sparta. The Spartan political stratification and structures are rather diverse and unique, despite Sparta's associated general historical stigma as an 'ostia' society. 'The stability which characterized Sparta...is seen in retrospect to have been political petrification.2 Within the Spartan structure of Government, the primary features of significance were the gerousia, the ekklesia (assembly) ...read more.

Middle

'The economic role of the perioikoi and helots have become an important one.'27 Shipley further attests to the notion of the lack of economic superiority portrayed by each respective group, 'their (the perioikoi) contribution to Spartan success was as great as that of the Helots.'28 According to Xenophon, the helots in Lakonia and Messenia were forced to serve as agricultural workers on the 'kleroi' (allotments) and serve the needs of agricultural labour. They also provided significant contributions toward domestic work, in feeding and clothing the Spartiates. However, 'there was no question of the final solution of the helots, because the Spartan economy palpably depended on them.'29 Whitby further comments the helots economic significance inn terms of their contributions to Sparta, 'it was the helot free labour force which permitted the existence of Sparta as a free city.'30 In essence, the Spartan society 'maintained a uniquely profitable system of economic exploitation'31 of the helots. Although some ramifications for this clear manipulation of the helots, were the continuance of the class struggle between the helots and Spartiates, and the constant underlying threat of rebellion suggested by Thucydides.32 Whitby succinctly states, the 'helots were for the Spartan system...its Achilles' heel.'33 In continuity to the economic role of the helots, the industrial and commercial class of the perioikoi provided significant agricultural and economic assistance to Spartan society. 'They possessed raw materials (in particular iron) and the resources for working them, without which the Spartans could not make war.'34 Further, the perioikoi were deemed responsible for the production and distribution of weaponry and arms, for 'it was too dangerous to allow the helots to manufacture the arms,'35 due to the strained social relationship between the Spartiates and the Helots. ...read more.

Conclusion

Indeed, this implies the diversity and broadening of Spartan religion. The praises of 'supernatural heroes' such as Heracles and Lycurgus were a continuance of the acknowledgement of Ares and a militaristic Apollo. Parker affirms that 'Spartan gods tended to be armed.'52 In essence, the praises of such militaristic cult images reflect the military-driven nature of Spartan society. In considering the numerous significant contributions towards the development of Spartan society, it can be argued that Spartan society's progress and maturity was a result of multiple aspects of Spartan life. Sparta's 'balanced' political structure combining democracy, oligarchy and monarchical elements provided the foundations for political strength and stability. Such features of the Spartan government such as the ephorate, the gerousia and ekklesia demonstrated the stratification of Spartan politics. The repressive educational system of the 'agoge' portrayed the development of a 'war-driven' society, and implies this 'obsession' as a possible aspect for the perception of an 'ostia' Sparta. The significant economic roles of the helots and the perioikoi reveal the importance of these minor social classes in the grand functioning of the Spartan economy. The implication that such dependence on 'lesser' social classes by the Spartiates, was potentially detrimental to Spartan society in the fear of revolt. Militarism was portrayed as the sole driving force of Spartan society, and again could be responsible for Sparta's inevitable decline following the Battle of Leuctra 371 BC. Religious aspects such as public sacrificial worship, the close link between Sparta and the Delphic oracle and the importance of proper burial rites furthermore reveal the broad dynamics of Classical Sparta. 'To such aspects, Sparta owed her military prestige, her freedom from tyranny and her influence in the Greek world...(and) elicited favourable comment from Greek political and cultural theorists. ...read more.

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