In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« DVDs On Sale | Main | A New "Blair Witch Project"? »

September 09, 2006

Case Studies in State Formation - Sparta

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards--

I have recently become intrigued by a division of historical studies that I had not previously been aware of: state formation. Professor Walter Scheidel in a web page for a graduate seminar on Ancient State Formation at Stanford offers the following description of the field:

State formation is a major field in world history, and cross-cultural comparative studies flourish among historical sociologists, political scientists, economists, and prehistorians. Their core questions vary. Some ask why humanity moved away from egalitarian communities toward stratified ones; others, why centralized power has taken the particular forms it has in different parts of the world; others still, how individual agency and structural constraints interact in the centralization of power. Every dimension of the human experience is implicated, from evolutionary theory and economics to crosscultural encounters and gender ideologies. State theorists regularly claim that they are explaining the motor of history.

That last sentence is obviously not written with an entirely straight face, but I think it is fair to say that people study state formation in order to at least try to answer some of the why questions of history. For example, everybody knows that the ancient Near Eastern empires from the Sumerian to the Persian were big and centralized, while the city states of Classical Greece were tiny and rarely cooperated. Why were they so different? During the Early Modern era the very advanced Italian city-states, despite their wealth, were easy prey for the Spanish monarchy, while the equally dynamic cities of the North Netherlands managed to not only win their independence from the same Hapsburg Empire but also to wrest away its domination of world trade. Why were these confrontations between these two sets of mercantile cities and the same multinational empire so different?

Professor Seidel also points out that state formation is not entirely of, um, academic interest:

Recent geopolitical trends have heightened public and scholarly interest in imperialism and state formation. In this seminar we aim to explore the ways that developments in the comparative social sciences across the last twenty years can help us understand ancient state formation, and how ancient state formation can shed new light on some of the biggest questions in contemporary social theory.

Well, for better or worse I have been pondering many of these issues, especially the links between imperial adventures and domestic politics. I thought I would try to present some things I had learned in the form of some case studies. To begin with, I chose some city states of ancient Greece and Italy. Eventually, perhaps, when I have assembled enough case studies (which will hopefully include some modern examples as well) I will try my hand at suggesting some overarching patterns. But whether you find my eventual theories fascinating or laughable, I think the episodes I am discussing are rather interesting in their own right. So here goes, with a bit of an explanatory forward.

Some Background

In the eighth century BCE, aristocrats played a key political role in the city states of Sparta, Athens, Etruria and Rome. I use aristocrats in this context to mean chieftains who (1) led local war bands, (2) controlled sufficient agricultural land to finance their lifestyle, (3) were expected to perform conspicuous feats of bravery in battle, and (4) whose political and military power was connected to their leadership of kinship groups (clans, gens, phratries, etc.)

These city states were either led by kings or like Athens had in the past been led by kings, but none of these kingships were (or had been) strong institutional players. Over the next few centuries increasingly powerful aristocrats in these polities would either weaken the kingship or eliminate it outright, usually replacing their king with some form of aristocratic power sharing arrangement.

Around 700 BCE, however, a military innovation occurred that eventually challenged the political dominance of the aristocrats in these societies. This military innovation was hoplite warfare, which seems to have been invented in Greece, possibly in the city state of Corinth. Hoplite warfare was soon brought to Italy by Etruscan traders, who by adopting it became the most formidable of the Italian peoples.

A hoplite was an armored infantryman. The hoplite warrior was almost always a free peasant who owned land and had enough money to equip himself with bronze armor, a large shield and a spear. Hoplites fought in a tight, multiple row formation known as a phalanx in which every man was protected by the shield of his neighbor. In the phalanx, the spears of the first few rows of soldiers all protruded out beyond the men in the first line. (The soldiers in the rearmost rows seemed to have been useful mostly for adding momentum to the group and for hard pushing if two phalanxes collided, as their spear points could not reach the enemy). If soldiers in a phalanx formation could hold together, the great mass of the group, its bristling front of spear points and its armor of tough cowhide shields and bronze body plates gave it a combination of offensive lethality and defensive strength unknown in the ancient world. Hoplite warfare was almost by definition counter aristocratic; it made the traditional system of treating war as a series of one on one duels, the special combat style of the highly trained aristocratic warrior, obsolete. No Homeric champion, however individually accomplished, could hope to confront a steamroller phalanx of his social inferiors and accomplish anything more than being trampled underfoot. (You can read more about this innovation here or here .)

For aristocrats in all these polities, hoplite warfare presented a significant political challenge. The need for mass manpower in the hoplite army of the city state meant that at least part of the peasantry (roughly the wealthiest third who could afford the requisite equipment) were in a position to demand a voice in politics. How could aristocrats coopt smallholding farmers into serving as the (unpaid) backbone hoplite army of their city state while not surrendering their political domination of the state?

The rise of tyrannies was the first indication of how tricky this problem would prove. The term tyrant was coined in Greece around 650 BCE (i.e., within a couple of generations of the introduction of hoplite warfare). In many Greek city states, charismatic individuals, typically renegade aristocrats, took advantage of popular discontent with the ruling aristocracy to assume one man rule. A similar situation existed in central Italy, where the nonhereditary kings of Rome appear to have intermittently played a tyrannical role as the ally of the general population in their struggle against patrician (aristocratic) power. Clearly any split within the ranks of the aristocracy of an ancient city state, or any constitutional arrangement that permitted one man rule of a city state, was a grave danger to the political dominance of its aristocrats.

In order to gratify the land hunger and agricultural indebtedness that often underlay popular dissatisfaction with aristocratic rule, to enrich their societies by control of trade routes, and ultimately to justify their internal political role, the aristocracies of all these city states embarked on a program of expanding their political, military and economic boundaries. This course of action had its own dangers; ultimately expansion turned Athens into a democracy, led Sparta to overstretch its very limited resources (and eventually implode) and caused the Etruscans to disseminate throughout Italy the advanced military technology that had enabled their imperial expansion in the first place. While the Roman aristocracy survived to become the dominant power over the entire Mediterranean and beyond, it eventually proved unstable and succumbed to something very like tyranny.

Imperialism and Politics in Sparta

There was an extreme egalitarianism on the surface in Sparta, where all men ate in messes and dressed identically until getting married in middle age. Indeed, the Spartans called themselves the homoioi, those who are alike. While egalitarianism was a very strong trend throughout the Greek world during the archaic and classical eras, in Sparta the appearance of egalitarianism was deceptive, at least in a politically. Spartan egalitarianism was the result of military necessity rather than an expression of the economic or social equality. The Spartan aristocracy never surrendered political control of Spartan politics.

The political dominance of the Spartan oligarchy can be seen in the Spartan institution of dual kingship. Each of the two Spartan kings was positioned to block any tendency on the part of their partner to rabble rouse (i.e., play the tyrant). This was such an obsession with the aristocrats of Sparta that only one of the kings at a time was allowed to leave the city as the general of the Spartan army, lest the two rulers collude out of reach of their elite subjects. The ultimate political dominance of Spartiate aristocrats over the divided monarchy was also marked by the institution of the ephors, five aristocratic officials who accompanied the king on military campaigns and who could depose him at any time. Sparta was also famous, of course, for supporting (and attempting to install) oligarchic rule throughout the Greek world.

The need for unity that marked Spartan life was the result of the city state having conquered its eastern neighbors, the inhabitants of Messinia, around 700 BCE. The defeated Messinians were compelled to labor as agricultural serfs (i.e. helots) for their Spartan overlords. Having their helots take care of growing food allowed the Spartans to concentrate full time on practicing their military skills. (Hoplite warfare, like square dancing, was not so much dependent on outstanding individual skill as on close coordination among the group, and this ability to practice constantly constituted a formidable advantage of the Spartans over their more amateurish adversaries.)

Enslaving an entire population in this fashion was a precarious arrangement at best. A generation later the Messinians revolted and the Spartans were forced into a protracted, difficult struggle to regain control over their workforce. Even after forcing the Messinians back into servitude, the Spartans realized that it would be necessary to constantly police the helots; consequently, several years of the adult life of each citizen were dedicated to this task.

The Spartan imperial model (that is, using the military power of the city state to enslave foreigners for economic gain) proved to be practical only on a limited and local scale. Even though the Spartans were the acknowledged champions of Greek hoplite warfare, when they attempted to expand their domination by conquering and converting to helotry the entire population of the Peloponnesian peninsula, they aroused too furious a reaction in their intended victims. In 560 BCE the Spartan army could not defeat their Arcadian neighbors to the north at the battle of Tegea. Clearly, despite the great skill and unparalleled discipline of Spartan hoplite warriors, the Spartans did not possess a sufficient advantage in military technique to permit their small state with its limited manpower to realize the extreme ambitions of their own imperial model. The goal of the Spartan model of reducing entire populations to serfdom automatically created such a determined resistance that Spartan military resources were insufficient to overcome it, at least over any significant geographical area.

(A military aside: A hoplite army, for all its deadly effectiveness on the right terrain, was slow moving, logistically primitive, and useless against fortifications. It was unmatched in its time as an instrument for decisive battle, assuming one could be forced, but it was not a particularly flexible or efficient military tool for controlling large territories. As an illustration of the surprisingly short Spartan military reach in the face of a highly motivated enemy, the defeat at Tegea took place only 60 miles from Sparta.)

After Tegea, Sparta turned, more successfully, to using diplomacy to dominate southern Greece and created the Peloponnesian League. This league allowed hegemonic Sparta, as acknowledged heavyweight hoplite champ (defeat at Tegea nonwithstanding) in time of war to draw on one third of the military forces of its allied city states. This arrangement allowed Sparta to play a major role as a military power in the Greek world.

While the ability to draw on the manpower of allies was useful, it seems to have masked a critical problem for the Spartiates: the city state faced declining reserves of military manpower. In the 480s BCE Sparta could muster about 8,000 hoplite warriors, but because of its peculiar and rigidly observed citizenship and marriage rules (no Spartan citizen could marry a non Spartan) within 60 years its population had dwindled to the point where it could only call up 4,000, or possibly fewer, soldiers. The numbers are uncertain, because the Spartans, sensitive to their shrinking reserves of manpower, kept them a state secret. Another factor that sapped ability of Spartan society to mobilize its military manpower was the constant need to keep sufficient military force on hand domestically to control the helots, whose numbers, unlike those of their masters, apparently continued to grow. The only way Sparta could exert its total military power (actually, a very rare occurrence) was by forcing tens of thousands of helots to come along on campaign so the Spartans could keep an eye on their ever dangerous workforce.

Another key limitation for Sparta was its lack of financial resources. The Spartan imperial economic system stunted the Spartan economy by associating productive work with helotry. Spartan laws reflected a strong bias against the destabilizing social effects of a dynamic economy. Spartans could not buy or sell their land; they had to pass it (together with the captive helots used to work it) on to male heirs, if possible. If there were no male heirs, the law required that land be passed to female heirs, who ended up controlling some 40% of Spartan agriculture. Spartans were forbidden to engage in trade. Spartans could not travel abroad without official permission; likewise, foreigners were discouraged from visiting Sparta. Such trade as existed was in the hands of a class of noncitizen locals; that is, a people who had been conquered in the distant past by the Spartans but who were treated more leniently than the helots. These non Spartan locals apparently prospered from their control of trade, but the financial benefit of such trade to the Spartan state overall was modest. One problem, no doubt, was the Spartan refusal to use the silver coins that became standard throughout the Greek world, instead retaining an archaic and very cumbersome currency made of iron bars.

This economic backwardness and poverty undercut Spartan military strength. Throughout the First Peloponnesian War with Athens and during most of the Second Peloponnesian War, Sparta could never afford to build a fleet large enough to seriously challenge Athenian control of the sea. This finally changed, in 407 BCE, when, decades into the second Peloponnesian War, Sparta obtained a subsidy from the Great King of Persia for that purpose.

The defeat of Athens in the Second Peloponnesian War led to a brief moment in which Sparta was the hegemonic leader of virtually all Greece. However, its inner weaknesses were apparent to careful observers, such as the Thebans. The leadership of that city state challenged Spartan domination shortly thereafter. In 371 BCE Thebes handed the army of Sparta a major defeat at Leuctra, which so reduced Spartan manpower reserves that the city-state thereafter played almost no role in Greek, let alone world, history.

Next, I will examine the imperial model of ancient Athens.



posted by Friedrich at September 9, 2006


Thank you for a most fascinating article! I'm looking forward to the next one.

Posted by: Tom West on September 9, 2006 3:48 PM

This is wonderful stuff! It just cries out for an epic novel version. I kept getting images from "Gladiator," the movie.

On the other hand, one of the reasons I risked the ministry was that there was a new field called "Organizational Design" that promised to eliminate or at least manage dissension and get things moving in a dynamic way. In the four years I was in seminary, it fell into disfavor -- everyone rushed to some other theory base. The same old quarrels continued.

Still, OD was a dynamic structural approach something like what you're taking here and it was often quite revealing -- even helpful. The wild cards are things like charismatic personalities, weather patterns because they affect agriculture (wealth), new technologies and new paradigms: ways of seeing the world. For instance, I think that progress-based liberal denominations like the Unitarians have not recovered from discouraging new history and world events.

I hope for more terrific posts like this one!

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on September 9, 2006 3:48 PM

I have a quibble with your definition of a hoplite as a landholding peasant. Although this is technically true, the term, peasant, has a connotation of economic indebtedness, bordering on slavery, to a lord of some type (landlord, feudal lord). It is true that most hoplites probably lived economically precarious lives, but they were more the equivalent of our colonial yeoman farmers, or, for that matter, today's small family farmers.

In fact, Greek aristocrats themselves were often on the edge, economically. For geographic reasons there were no huge landholders in Greece. Incursions from the sea, small valleys cut off from each other by both north/south and east/west running mountain chains, swift flowing, often impassable rivers, generally rocky soil: all of these factors combined to mitigate against the rise of a powerful landed aristocracy in Greece.

The hoplite way of war arose out of a relatively equal economic condition in the landed Greek population. To the extent that there was a difference between the aristocrat and his brother-in-arms, the landed independent farmer, it showed itself in rank: the aristocrat was "the captain" of his hoplite square. But as captain he marched into battle as part of that square, one of the eight deep, eight across (or was it six deep, six across? I'm not sure).

One of the great paradoxes of classical or ancient Greece, is that though relative to, say, Persia, there was a kind of economic democracy among those who owned land, internally, all freemen (merchants and artisans as well as the landed) thought of themselves as aristocrats. They had all internalized the honor/shame aristocratic standard. Hence, the extreme fractiousness of the Greek world. The constant war of each against all as honor was constantly impugned and shame had constantly to be expunged in battle.

But they had to be short battles because the hoplites had to get back to their fields. Hence: short, decisive shock warfare as square collided with square.

Posted by: ricpic on September 9, 2006 9:12 PM

Thanks for everyone's comments; you're too kind. I have a few more of these case studies in the can so hopefully they won't take too long to appear.

Ricpic: I agree with your statement that many Greeks had internalized the shame/honor attitudes that typically had been an attribute of aristocrats in other cultures. However, I don't think that eliminated class conflict in ancient Greece. Given the importance of kinship groups (phratries) in Archaic Greek society, the leaders of such groups held a distinctly different place in society, and particularly in government, than the common man of whatever degree of wealth. Also, remember that the relatively well off hoplite farmers (perhaps I chose poorly when describing them as peasants) were of a notably different class than their poorer landowning brothers, who not only could not afford hoplite armor but were often in financial thrall to moneylending aristocrats. And, of course, that lower middle class group (so to speak) was clearly differentiated from the landless poor as well. I hope to provide more information on all this in my somewhat more detailed discussion of Athenian internal politics and imperial adventures. I hope you enjoy it.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 9, 2006 11:40 PM

It seems to me that all discussions of state formation should start with a cultural innovation that, while rarely described or even mentioned, is as fundamental to civilization as the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals.

I mean the discrovery that in a densely settled region of primitive agriculural societies it is possible for one group of men to overpower another and, using violence, reduce them to a state of subjugation and servitude. This was not possible in hunting-and-gathering societies, if for no other reason than that ordinary people could easily run away and live off the land.

By contrast with agriculture people have to stick around and tend their crops if they expect to eat next year, and in the meantime last year's crop can be captured and rationed out to them by their physical masters in return for obediance and work. (The English word "Lord" by the way is derived from a medieval word meaning "loaf keeper.")

There is a common word for this cultural innovation though it is rarely defined and almost never analyzed in its origins and historical dimenstions (try looking it up in an encyclopedia for example). The word is "conquest."

Once conquest or its equivalent, agricultural servitude, was demonstrated as a feasible economic institution, it destabilized the entire Neolithic world, or at least in those regions where the density of independent settlements reached a certain critical threshold. In every tribe's mind the thought was, "If we don't conquer them, they will conquer us."

Whether as an aggressive act or a defensive reaction, the political state was born and the competition for empire began. This was until modern times a historical truth that, however basic, was taboo in public discussion -- and whose importance is still not widely appreciated by educated people. It was the original sin that, even more than homosexuality, dare not speak its name. In my opinion at least.

Posted by: Luke Lea on September 10, 2006 2:49 AM

Thanks. A very important topic.

State formation and the related process of changing the territorial size of the state are central to history. For example, George Washington is a very important historical figure because he was involved in both reducing the size of the state, carving off a piece of the British empire, then making it bigger by helping unite the 13 states under an effective federal government in the 1787-97 period.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on September 10, 2006 9:31 PM

good post.

The need for unity that marked Spartan life was the result of the city state having conquered its eastern neighbors, the inhabitants of Messinia, around 700 BCE.

you mean western.

Posted by: razib on September 11, 2006 1:24 AM

>> There was an extreme egalitarianism on the surface in Sparta, where all men ate in messes and dressed identically until getting married in middle age.

There is no evidence that the Spartans generally or mostly married in middle age.

Posted by: Dienekes on September 11, 2006 3:31 AM

Oops, yeah, western. You know, I was going to post a graphic of the Peloponnesian penninsula and didn't. Maybe I still should, huh?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 11, 2006 10:54 AM


What I was trying to get at was the fact that Spartan males could only live with their wives and families above the age of 30, and that previously they were obligated to live and eat in "the barracks", so to speak. I admit this doesn't appear to rule out marriage prior to the age of 30--which was effectively middle-aged in that world--but it does make me wonder if actual procreation was all that likely much earlier in life.

Such an elevated age for fathers may also have played a role in the declining numbers of Spartan soldiers; in the only other environment that I'm aware of where such late marriage was typical--the medieval city--the internal population growth rate was negative. That is to say, the population typically failed to maintain its numbers. However, in medieval cities, population numbers could be maintained by in-migration of peasants from the countryside; this option wasn't open to the Spartans.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 11, 2006 12:21 PM

Oops, yeah, western. You know, I was going to post a graphic of the Peloponnesian penninsula and didn't. Maybe I still should, huh?

i think that's a good idea.

Posted by: razib on September 11, 2006 1:22 PM

By the way, the Greeks had a contraceptive herb called Silphion that apparently really worked. It went extinct around 1 AD. That may partly explain the population shortage of Sparta (along with getting killed in battle).

Posted by: Steve Sailer on September 11, 2006 10:54 PM

Friedrich – Good stuff on Sparta, much of which dovetails with my interest in the rise and persistence of oligarchies (and why some people tolerate or support them against their own best interests)

One of the many things about Sparta that fascinates me is how their xenophobic exclusivity and sense of superiority to other Greeks sealed their fate in the long run. They weren’t much into founding colonies or maintaining good relations with allies, and instead opposed democracy and supported oligarchies in surrounding city-states as a form of self-protection and to check the power of Athens. But they could not see clearly past their own self-interest to consistently support Athens and the other Greek states against the Persians even when it was clear that this would be a good long-term strategy. And it is noteworthy to see how they clung to their sense of their own uniqueness even after the remnants of their society had been reduced to an exotic theme park/tribal reservation by Rome.

On the other hand, I am frustrated that there is so little material on ancient Persia available or easily accessible to us, especially when it is clear that a number of Greek colonies co-operated with Persia and thrived as clients of the Persian empire. I get a sense that more Greeks were willing to serve as mercenaries for Sparta than would later freely serve under Alexander of Macedon (but I could easily be wrong on this).

There was an interesting recent Wikipedia article on The Corinthian War (395 BCE to 387 BCE) which details how Sparta vainly attempted to maintain its power over Athen, Thebes, Corinth and other Greek city states after the Peloponnesian War, and how deftly Persia undermined the Greeks through politics and judicious bribery. Geopolitics is a constant of world history, as is a tendency of great nations to fall when they discount the national interests both of their allies and their adversaries.

By the way, I think that Sparta’s population inevitably declined because of the increasingly costly impact of deaths in military campaigns even when the Spartans were victorious. Since they were a “warrior culture” with a reputation for dominating opponents in land warfare, inevitably a great proportion of their males would be placed in danger, especially since they could not defer to allies to the same degree as Athens or other powers. Also, the organization of Spartan society and the way that they supposedly raised their children to be warriors worked against increasing their population.

Posted by: Alec on September 12, 2006 4:59 AM

I wish I had time to read this carefully. I have bookmarked it.

I'm doing a study of state formation on the Eurasian northern frontier -- Genghis Khan's unification of the Mongols.

There are some generalities in what I've seen of state formation. At the beginning there is usually an armed band led by a strong or absolute leader who destroys all competitors and peers. Very often he makes military innovations which give his group an advantage, and often he claims supernatural backing. The group is usually defined more as a working group than ethnically or in terms of kinship -- whoever is able to fight is part of the group and will get some share of the spoils.

This kind of phenomena can be seen in the classical world, on the steppe, in post-Roman Europe, in pagan Scandinavia, in the rise of the Zulus, in the earliest Chinese history, and so on.

Posted by: John Emerson on September 12, 2006 8:19 AM

>> I admit this doesn't appear to rule out marriage prior to the age of 30--which was effectively middle-aged in that world--but it does make me wonder if actual procreation was all that likely much earlier in life.

Living in the barracks has nothing to do with getting married. The Lycurgan laws encouraged early marriage and discouraged bachelorhood. I know of no evidence that this was the case.

Posted by: Dienenkes on September 13, 2006 2:50 PM

We do not need an elaborate explanation for the decline in the number of Spartan citizens.

"The mention of avarice naturally suggests a criticism on the inequality of property. While some of the Spartan citizen have quite small properties, others have very large ones; hence the land has passed into the hands of a few. And this is due also to faulty laws; for, although the legislator rightly holds up to shame the sale or purchase of an inheritance, he allows anybody who likes to give or bequeath it. Yet both practices lead to the same result. And nearly two-fifths of the whole country are held by women; this is owing to the number of heiresses and to the large dowries which are customary. It would surely have been better to have given no dowries at all, or, if any, but small or moderate ones. As the law now stands, a man may bestow his heiress on any one whom he pleases, and, if he die intestate, the privilege of giving her away descends to his heir. Hence, although the country is able to maintain 1500 cavalry and 30,000 hoplites, the whole number of Spartan citizens fell below 1000. The result proves the faulty nature of their laws respecting property; for the city sank under a single defeat; the want of men was their ruin. There is a tradition that, in the days of their ancient kings, they were in the habit of giving the rights of citizenship to strangers, and therefore, in spite of their long wars, no lack of population was experienced by them; indeed, at one time Sparta is said to have numbered not less than 10,000 citizens Whether this statement is true or not, it would certainly have been better to have maintained their numbers by the equalization of property. Again, the law which relates to the procreation of children is adverse to the correction of this inequality. For the legislator, wanting to have as many Spartans as he could, encouraged the citizens to have large families; and there is a law at Sparta that the father of three sons shall be exempt from military service, and he who has four from all the burdens of the state. Yet it is obvious that, if there were many children, the land being distributed as it is, many of them must necessarily fall into poverty. "

Posted by: Dienekes on September 13, 2006 2:55 PM

Good post! Im doing Sparta as a introduction to A-level Ancient history and this post has really interested me and helped me understand a little more about the Spartan Regime!

Posted by: Clare on September 21, 2006 6:54 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?