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The Obligations of Spartans

All Spartan citizens were expected to put service to their city-state before personal concerns because Sparta's survival was continually threatened by its own economic foundation, the great mass of helots1. Since Sparta's well-being depended on the systematic exploitation of these enslaved Greeks, its entire political and social system by necessity had as its aim a staunch militarism and a conservatism in values. Change meant danger at Sparta. As part of its population policy, however, Spartan conservatism encompassed sexual behavior2 seen as overly permissive by other Greeks. The Spartans simultaneously institutionalized a form of equality as the basis for their male social unit, the common mess3, while denying true social and political equality to ordinary male citizens by making their government an oligarchy. Whatever other Greeks may have thought of the particulars of the Spartan system, they admired the Spartans' unswerving respect for their laws 4 as a guide to life in hostile surroundings, albeit of their own making.

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