This Is Sparta!

By: Billy Gates


The legendary period of Spartan history is believed to fall into the Dark Age. It treats the mythic heroes such as the Heraclids and the Perseids, offering a view of the occupation of the Peloponnesus that contains both fantastic and possibly historical elements. The subsequent proto-historic period, combining both legend and historical fragments, offers the first credible history.

Between the 8th and 7th centuries BC the Spartans experienced a period of lawlessness and civil strife, later attested by both Herodotus and Thucydides. As a result they carried out a series of political and social reforms of their own society which they later attributed to a semi-mythical lawgiver, Lycurgus. These reforms mark the beginning of the history of Classical Sparta.

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The date of his death is also the subject of much debate as some argue that because of the abrupt ending of his narrative in the middle of 411 B.C., he may have died around that time. However, it is also stated by Pausanias that a law was passed which allowed Thucydides to return to Athens in 404 B.C. but he was murdered on the way home. Therefore as is evident there is room for much debate on when he actually died but it would be fair to assume that he died between 411-404 B.C.

Military Fascination

Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greek-Persian wars. Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponesian war, from which it emerged victorious, though at great cost. Sparta's defeat by Thebes in the Battle of Lucreta in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece. However, it maintained its political independence until the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC. It then underwent a long period of decline, especially in the Middle Ages, when many Spartans moved to live in Mystras.

Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in the West following the revival of classical learning. This love or admiration of Sparta is known as Laconism or Laconphilia. At its peak around 500 BC the size of the city would have been some 20,000-35,000 free residents, plus numerous helots and perioikoi (“dwellers around”). At 40,000 - 50,000 it was one of the largest Greek cities; however, according to Thucydides, the population of Athens in 431 BC was 360,000-610,000, making it unlikely that Athens was smaller than Sparta in 5th century BC.


Sparta is located in the region of Laconia, in the south-eastern Peloponnese. Ancient Sparta was built on the banks of the Evrotas River, the main river of Laconia, which provided it with a source of fresh water. The valley of the Evrotas is a natural fortress, bounded to the west by Mt.Taygetus (2407 m) and to the east by Mt.Parnon (1935 m). To the north, Laconia is separated from Arcadia by hilly uplands reaching 1000 m in altitude. These natural defenses worked to Sparta's advantage and contributed to Sparta never having been sacked. Though landlocked, Sparta had a harbor, Gytheio, on the Laconian Gulf.