Spartan Society – Year 12 Ancient History Assignment

Part 1 (a)He was believed to be the creator of the Spartan society and how it functioned. Most of the Spartans thought him as a God-like figure and worshipped him. There is no certain source or a piece of evidence about Lycurgus and archeological records contradicted his existence often. Even Spartans had no idea of what Lycurgus looked like but there were his portraits and statues as what people imagined how a wise lawgiver would look like. (b)The Hyakinthia festival This was a festival named after Hyakinthos, a youth who was lover of the god Apollo and died when Apollo accidentally hit him with a discus.
The flower of the red hyacinth was believed to have sprung from his blood. In his grief, Apollo ordained an annual festival. This festival was held at the ancient shrine of Amyclae (about five kilometres from Sparta). This site was the location of a huge statue of Apollo, the tomb of Hyakinthos and an open area for festival dances. The festival took place over three days in the (summer) month of July. Athenaeus, writing in the 2nd century A. D. , has given an account of this festival, which basically revolves around mourning for Hyakinthos, and praise of Apollo: The festival had two stages: 1.
The first stage involved rites of sorrow and mourning in honour of Hyakinthos. There was a ban on the wearing of wreaths and on joyful songs. Offerings were placed at the dead youth’s tomb. The eating of bread and cakes was forbidden; there was a special funeral meal, then a day of ritual grief. 2. The second stage involved rejoicing in honour of Apollo, the wearing of wreaths, the singing of joyful songs, sacrifice to Apollo, a festive meal, a procession to Amyclae, choral song and dance. The historian Hooker has interpreted the festival as a festival for the dead on one hand, combined with a thanksgiving for life on the other.

The Gymnopaediae festival This was ‘The Festival of the Unarmed Boys’. The festival was held in the Spartan agora (market place). It commemorated the battle of Thyrea fought against Argos c. 550 B. C. The festival featured: choral performances; the setting up of images of Apollo and Artemis “boxing” amongst boys and men. Although much has been written about the violent aspect of the festival, it has been interpreted as a ‘rite of passage’; on the way to manhood, an initiation that indicated membership or belonging to the community.
The Gymnipaediae were celebrated in July, the hottest part of the year. The festival consisted of a series of athletic competitions and musical events among boys and men. Dancing and running in tough conditions proved the strength of the Spartan citizens to the onlookers. In its early context it was part of the whole warrior code to initiate the young soldier to a life of physical excellence. It was not confined to Sparta. This festival was a thank-offering to Apollo for military success. c)Religion in Sparta, like in many civilizations, had a commitment to support the ideals of a militaristic society. The Spartan ideal of an elite military state influenced the approach to religion and the ways in which religion would be molded to suite state doctrine, therefore highlighting the importance of religion in upholding the values of Spartan society such as endurance, loyalty, obedience, conformity, and skill. Religion was also use to create social coherence, important in promoting conformity and in controlling the society under the ideals of the military state.
At an individual level religion provided a way of ensuring fertility both human and natural as well as averting disaster and ensuring victory in war. Religion was important for the State and this could also be seen in the wartime practices of the Spartan Army. According to Powell, Spartans believed in military divination, following an army to war was a herd of sacrificial animals ready to appease the Gods. Consultative sacrifices were held before embarking on a military campaign, before a battle and when stepping into the threshold of the enemy.
As written by Herodotus, Cleomenes in 494 on an invasion campaign to Argo was sent troops home because he had seen bad omens at the river Erasinus. Spartans also consulted Oracles at Delphi for predictions, famously at the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas was told to give up or fight to the death against Persian troops. The Spartan reliance on divination is reflective of how religion was used for military organisation and was important in supporting the state with battle strategy and on issues of joining battles. The reliance on religion creates a sense of reassurance for warriors if they had een given a good battle prediction and also a justification for retreat with a bad omen, as seen through Cleomenes. The mythology was interwoven with every aspect of Greek life. Each city devoted itself to a particular god or group of gods, for whom the citizens often built temples of worship. They regularly honoured the gods in festivals, which high officials supervised. At festivals and other official gatherings, poets recited or sang great legends and stories. Many Greeks learned about the gods through the words of poets.
Spartan mythology was different than any other city-state in the Ancient Greece. Their gods were the same as others but Spartan gods were geared with armors and weapons. This is an example of how militarised Sparta was. Even their lawgiver Lycurgus is believed to be a myth by historians. Many Spartans worshipped as a god and in order to create a perfect city-state, he could be constantly recreated to explain why things were as they were. Although the Greeks had no official church organization, they universally honoured certain holy places.
Delphi, for example, was a holy site dedicated to Apollo. A temple built at Delphi contained an oracle, or prophet, whom brave travellers questioned about the future. A group of priests represented each of the holy sites. These priests, who also might be community officials, interpreted the words of the gods but did not possess any special knowledge or power. In addition to prayers, the Greeks often offered sacrifices to the gods, usually of a domestic animal such as a goat. (d) The religious connection to the military can be first seen in the Greek Gods the Spartiates emphasised and worshipped.
The principal Spartan Gods were Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Discouri and Zeus. Apollo, Artemis and Athena more explicitly demonstrate the militaristic nature of Sparta with the three Gods associated with victory, wisdom, and skill in battle. Even Gods that were not usually known for battle were given militaristic traits, like the statue of the Armed Aphrodite in Thornax. The worship of Apollo and Artemis and their high status reflects the military value of Spartan society in training the youth for future defence.
Such devotion to Apollo and Artemis can be seen in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Amyclae where coins in the likeness of Apollo were found and at the Temple of Artemis Orthia where thousands of votive offerings were found. Rites of passage within Spartan society were also carried out at the Artemis Orthia and can be likened to a vigorous military test of endurance with religious overtones. Young boys endured harsh whippings whilst trying grabbing stringed cheeses off the shrine. Those who could withstand the punishment were given honour and moved onto another stage in their military training.
Religion in this case was used to sort out those with better warrior potential. Another function of religion in Spartan society was to train the hoplites. Hoplites were taught religiously devotional dances and songs, but the worship taught in the barracks also had military purpose. The song and dance helped with coordinating war movement, as the musical devotions not only praised the Gods but taught ideas of rhythm that was used in coordinating Phalanx in battle and the ability to move in a manner that was in harmony with the other warriors.
Other examples of religion being a form of endurance training and test can be seen in the Spartan festivals. In the Carneia, the participants had to live in barracks as though on campaign and were made to run and chase a figure to train, test and celebrate athletic ability. The festival was associated with military success and the state used this festival as a way of glorifying past victories, therefore promoting the successes of the military state.
According to Hooker ‘The Principle aim of the Gymnipaediae [another festival] was the habituation of the Spartan manhood to arduous activity’. The festival consisted of athletic competitions, musical events and dancing as displays of strength and endurance. This gave the state the opportunity to train hoplites, and separate the strong from the weak The role of religion was to support the military organisation and was vital to a state, which valued an elite defence force and celebrated skill in battle.
As shown above religion was used a form of preparation, training assurance and guide in military situations. It was believed in Sparta that “a king by virtue of his divine descent should perform all the public sacrifices on the city’s behalf” [Xenophon]. The Kings acted as a priest towards the Gods. Aristotle, “Dealings with the Gods are assigned to the kings” Ritual responsibility was associated with political power giving kings special authority in religious interpretation or jurisdiction.
The kings through public sacrifices first received the divine messages of Gods and Kings could also consult the oracles as they wished. As divination was passed through the kings to the rest of society, the Kings had the power to make the people to bow to the ‘Gods’ will. Religious authority equates to political power an example of such power was when King Cleomenes refused to go into battle but got off trial by saying that the omens were bad so he could not fight. If a Spartan King had reasonable religious excuse he could be forgiven for losing battles and refusing battles.
Such religious connection was important in gaining, loyalty and obedience in the political arena, the divine status of the Kings was sign of military elitism. Spartan society according to Xenophon depended on the king and was loyal to the King, even believing that if an untitled person occupied the royal seat military disaster and famine would ensue. Spartan society valued conformity, coherence and believed in strong social controls, which religion then reinforced.
Sparta’s social organisation was formed to encourage a sense of community and kinship, which in turn intruded on private religious practice. The Spartiate was required to share sacrificial meat with his mess-companions. Religion was interpreted to support the system of shared messes. Other ideals or Social cohesion can be seen in the Spartan religious festivals. In this festival people would communally mourn the dead and have a thanksgiving to life, it was to religiously as a community reaffirm the need for a close society.
The festival of Carneia also emphasised a communal time of celebration, which honoured heroism and past successes in battles. During this time the Spartans were not allowed to travel to wars or battles, the Carneia being the reason they were late to fight in the Marathon 490BC and the lesser numbers at Thermopylae. Spartans had special departments, which were in charge of dealing with the oracles from Delphi and keeping records of signs from God. The power to consult the Gods however was exclusively among the authoritative forces of the state just as power itself was.
Even Ephors had divination powers and all political classes of Sparta had religious duties to perform. It is evident that religion in Sparta functioned as political organisation; religion was used to demonstrate prestige, power and authority which were vital to society that honoured divinity and, religion also assisted in creating a way for the governing forces to manipulate the wider society with claims of celestially ordained political decisions. The political connection to religion was a way of promoting the Spartan ideal of an elite warrior society.
Part 2 (a) 1- Leonidas (Famous for the Battle of Thermopylae and the Persian Wars. ) 2- Menelaus (Famous for the Trojan Wars and the husband of the Helen of Sparta, later became known as the Helen of Troy. ) (b) According to Plutarch, the council originated when Lycurgus attempted to reduce royal power. More than likely, Gerousia originated as a result of a conflict between the kings and nobles during the first Messenian War. There were 28 members and the two kings in the Gerousia.
Membership was restricted to Spartans over 60 years of age that were no longer liable for military service. Thus it was a body of elders who held their office for life. The Assembly elected members by acclamation and although any Spartiate was eligible in practice members probably belonged to highly respected noble families. Aristotle mentions “ the best families”, Plutarch says that they have to be” the best and most deserving. ” and the selection was by acclamation (shouting and clapping).
The Gerousia was a Probletic body and this meant that they prepared and deliberated on bills to be presented to the Assembly for voting and if the vote was not approved by the Gerousia, it could simply ignore it by adjourning the bill would not be passed. The Gerousia, Kings and Ephors acted as a court of justice and they tried cases of murder and treason and imposed penalties ranging from death to banishment and fines even the prosecution of a king would come before the Gerousia and the 5 Ephors.
All these factors ensued that men of conservative opinion had the best chance of getting into the council, staying there and replacing themselves with people of the same outlook. “It would take a brave and confident king to pursue a policy that did not command the support of the majority of the Gerousia, knowing that in the event of failure, he was likely to be prosecuted upon his return. ” T. J Buckley stated in his book “Aspects of Greek History” to exemplify the power of the Gerousia. (c) The Ephorate was the fourth major institution in the Spartan constitution.
Five Ephors were elected each year from the whole citizen body and by the fifth century, they were constitutionally the most powerful public officials. They were in charge of the day-today business; and were also main executive body of state, implementing the decisions of the Assembly, at which they presided. They were also in charge of private lawsuits, which they judged sitting separately. They were combined with the Gerousia in the trial of a king. They supervised the other public officials, having the power to suspend, imprison and even bring capital charges against them.
One of their most important responsibilities was the supervision of the “agoge”, the long and tough system of state education that was essential for the high standards of the Spartan army. In the field of foreign affairs, they would receive foreign ambassadors to ascertain their business before presenting them to the Assembly. In time of war, it was their responsibility to organise the call-up of the army, deciding the precise size of the army that was needed for the coming campaign and may even have possessed the power to give orders to commanders (except for the king) in the battlefield.
When king set out an expedition with the army, he was accompanied by two of the Ephors who acted as overseers. Aristotle saw the Ephors as the most powerful of the four key institutions of state but also the most corrupt. However, Ephors had disadvantages as well. For example, Ephors did not have a continuous power in the state as they were only elected for a year and could not be re-elected ever again. This caused differences of opinion over policy between successive boards of Ephors, but also between individual members of the same board.
There was often disagreement, even personal animosity, between the kings and it is likely that each king would have his supporters among the Ephors. However, Ephors, for all their constitutional powers, only held office for one year and then returned to political obscurity, whereas the prestige of the king was long-standing. Some of their other functions were: * They had the right to declare war on Helots. * They could fine people in the spot for being lazy. * They were the only magistrates who could conduct a civil trial. * They had the absolute power over all the magistrates. They controlled Krypteia and state finances. (d) Spartan government contained elements of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy and this was described as a mixed constitution. Spartan government was consisted of 2 kings and this dual kingship maybe was to prevent one king becoming too powerful. The Spartan Kings had ranges of powers and responsibilities. Some of them were; they were the supreme commanders of the army, were the chief priests and decided on the marriages of orphaned heiresses. Spartan kings were the supreme commanders in the battlefield.
However, the policy stated that only one king was suppose to lead the army to prevent any differences of opinion about the strategies and tactics during the battle while the other remained at home. This dual kingship ensured that each could keep an eye on the other. The leading king was usually accompanied by 2 Ephors and they kept a close supervision of the king’s leadership and the Kings were blamed if the campaign had failed and severely punished. The king that leads the army had the absolute power in the battlefield and picked bodyguards were to accompany the king.
Aside from the kings’ responsibilities for the military, they were also the chiefs of priests. It was believed that Spartan kings were the priests of Zeus and they were to offer solemn sacrifices to Zeus requiring a favourable omen to proceed. Those sacrifices were performed on the frontier and the fire from these sacrifices carried with them throughout the entire campaign. Kings were also expected of to be responsible for the oracles of Delphi. It was believed in Sparta that “a king by virtue of his divine descent should perform all the public sacrifices on the city’s behalf” [Xenophon].
The Kings acted as a priest towards the Gods. Aristotle, “Dealings with the Gods are assigned to the kings” Ritual responsibility was associated with political power giving kings special authority in religious interpretation or jurisdiction. The kings through public sacrifices first received the divine messages of Gods and Kings could also consult the oracles as they wished. As divination was passed through the kings to the rest of society, the Kings had the power to make the people to bow to the ‘Gods’ will. Source B is an excavation of a portrait in Acropolis area of Sparta in 1925.
It is believed that the statue was a portrait of Leonidas. By the look of the statue, it is a typical Spartan man with a helmet, however it does not necessarily indicate that it is Leonidas or even a king. Though in the Spartan religion, Gods were geared up with weapons and armors. This is evident of even if it was a statue of Leonidas, it illustrates what sort of people kings were to the Spartan people. Spartans assumed the kings were descended from Heracles and they are the best kinds of semi-humans, this might be the reason why the king was wearing a helmet, if it really was a statue of Leonidas.

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