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Σπάρτη, Dor. Σπάρτα), also called Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων). The capital of Laconica and the chief city of the Peloponnesus, was situated on the right bank of the Eurotas (Iri), about twenty miles from the sea. It stood on a plain which contained within it several rising grounds and hills. It was bounded on the east by the Eurotas, on the northwest by the small river Oenus (Kelesina), and on the southeast by the small river Tisia (Magula), both of which streams fell into the Eurotas. The plain in which Sparta stood was shut in on the east by Mount Menelaïeum, and on the west by Mount Taÿgetus; whence the city is called by Homer “the hollow Lacedaemon.” It was of a circular form, about six miles in circumference, and consisted of several distinct quarters, which were originally separate villages, and which were never united into one regular town. Its site is occupied by the modern villages of Magula and Psykhiko; and the principal modern town in the neighbourhood is Mistra, which lies about two miles to the west on Mount Taÿgetus.

During the flourishing times of Greek independence, Sparta was never surrounded by walls, since the bravery of its citizens, and the difficulty of access to it, were supposed to render such defences needless. It was first fortified by the tyrant Nabis; but it did not possess regular walls until the time of the Romans. Sparta, unlike most Greek cities, had no proper Acropolis, but this name was given to one of the steepest hills of the town, on the summit of which stood the Temple of Athené Poliuchus, or Chalcioecus.

Five distinct quarters of the city are mentioned:

  • 1. Pităné (Πιτάνη), which appears to have been the most important part of the city, and in which was situated the Agora, containing the council-house of the Senate, and the offices of the public magistrates. It was also surrounded by various temples and other public buildings. Of these, the most splendid was the Persian Stoa or portico, originally built of the spoils taken in the Persian War, and enlarged and adorned at later times. A part of the Agora was called the Chorus or dancing-place, in which the Spartan youths performed dances in honour of Apollo.
  • 2. Limnae (Λίμναι), a suburb of the city, on the banks of the Eurotas, northeast of Pitané, was originally a hollow spot covered with water.
  • 3. Mesoa or Messoa (Μεσόα, Μεσσόα), also by the side of the Eurotas, southeast of the preceding, containing the Dromus and the Platanistas, which was a spot nearly surrounded with water, and so called from the plane-trees growing there.
  • 4. Cynosūra (Κυνόσουρα), in the southwest of the city, and south of Pitané.
  • 5. Aegīdae (Αἰγεῖδαι), in the northwest of the city, and west of Pitané.

The two principal streets of Sparta ran from the Agora to the extreme end of the city: these were,

  • 1. Aphetae or Aphetais (Ἀφέται, Ἀφεταΐς sc. ὁδός), extending in a southeasterly direction, past the temple of Dictynna and the tombs of the Eurypontidae; and
  • 2. Skias (Σκιάς), running nearly parallel to the preceding one, but farther to the east, and which derived its name from an ancient place of assembly, of a circular form, called Skias.
The most important remains of ancient Sparta are the ruins of the theatre, which was near the Agora. On the topography of Sparta see a paper by N. E. Crosby in the American Journal of Archaeology for 1893 (pp. 335 foll.); and Stein, Topographie des alten Sparta (1890).

Sparta is said to have been founded by Lacedaemon, a son of Zeus and Taÿgeté, who married Sparta, the daughter of Eurotas, and called the city after the name of his wife. His son Amyclas is said to have been the founder of Amyclae, which was for a long time a more important town than Sparta itself. In the mythical period, Argos was the chief city in Peloponnesus, and Sparta is represented as subject to it. Here reigned Menelaüs, the younger brother of Agamemnon; and by the marriage of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, with Hermioné, the daughter of Menelaüs, the two kingdoms of Argos and Sparta became united. The Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesus, which, according to tradition, took place thirty years after the Trojan War, made Sparta the capital of the country. Laconica fell to the share of the two sons of Aristodemus, Eurysthenes and Procles, who took up their residence at Sparta, and ruled over the kingdom conjointly. The old inhabitants of the country maintained themselves at Amyclae, which was not conquered for a long time. After the complete subjugation of the country we find three distinct classes in the population: the Dorian conquerors, who resided in the capital, and who were called Spartiatae or Spartans (see Spartiatae); the Perioeci or old Achaean inhabitants, who became tributary to the Spartans, and possessed no political rights; and the Helots, who were also a portion of the old Achaean inhabitants, but were reduced to a state of slavery. (See Helotae.) From various causes the Spartans became distracted by intestine quarrels, till at length Lycurgus, who belonged to the royal family, was

The Dromos at Sparta. (Restoration by Hoffmann.)

selected by all parties to give a new constitution to the State. The date of Lycurgus is uncertain; but it is impossible to place it later than B.C. 825.

The constitution of Lycurgus laid the foundation of Sparta's greatness; yet this constitution, traditionally ascribed to Lycurgus, is not to be regarded as wholly due to him. It represents the union of three distinct principles: the monarchical principle was represented by the kings, the aristocracy by the Senate, and the democratical element by the assembly of the people, and subsequently by their representatives, the ephors. The kings had originally to perform the common functions of the kings of the Heroic Age. They were high-priests, judges, and leaders in war; but in all of these departments they were in course of time superseded more or less. As judges they retained only a particular branch of jurisdiction, that referring to the succession of property. As military commanders they were to some extent restricted and watched by commissioners sent by the Senate; the functions of high-priest were curtailed least, perhaps because least obnoxious. In compensation for the loss of power, the kings enjoyed great honours, both during their life and after their death. The Senate (γερουσία) consisted of thirty members, one from each obé (ὠβά), all elected except the two kings, who were ex officio members, and represented each his own obé. In their functions they replaced the old council of the nobles as a sort of privy council to the kings, but their power was greater, since the votes of the kings were of no greater weight than those of other senators; they had the right of originating and discussing all measures before they could be submitted to the decision of the popular assembly; they had, in conjunction (later) with the ephors, to watch over the due observance of the laws and institutions; and they were judges in all criminal cases, without being bound by any written code. For all this they were not responsible, holding their office for life.

But with all these powers the elders formed no real aristocracy. They were not chosen either for property qualification or for noble birth. The Senate was open to the poorest citizen, who during sixty years had been obedient to the laws and zealous in the performance of his duties. The mass of the people—that is, the Spartans of pure Doric descent (see Spartiatae)—formed the sovereign power of the State. The popular assembly consisted of every Spartan of thirty years of age, and of unblemished character; only those were excluded who had not the means of contributing their portion to the syssitia (q. v.). They met at stated times to decide on all important questions brought before them, after a previous discussion in the Senate. They had no right of amendment, but only that of simple approval or rejection, which was given in the rudest form possible, by shouting. The popular assembly, however, had neither frequent nor very important occasions for directly exerting their sovereign power. Their chief activity consisted in delegating it; hence arose the importance of the ephors, who were the representatives of the popular element of the constitution. The five ephors answer in many points to the Roman tribunes of the people. Their appointment is included by Herodotus among the institutions of Lycurgus, but it is probable that Aristotle is right in dating these later, from the reign of Theopompus. (See Ephori.) Their appointment was perhaps a concession to the people, at first as overseers of the markets and as magistrates who might check illegal oppression by kings or great men. Subsequently they absorbed most of the power in the State. To Lycurgus was ascribed also a prohibition to use written laws, or to have any coinage but iron: but these traditions must refer to later customs, since there were neither coins nor written laws in Greece as early as Lycurgus.

With reference to their subjects, the few Spartans formed a most decided aristocracy. On the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians, part of the ancient inhabitants of the country, under name of the Perioeci (Περίοικοι), were allowed indeed to retain their personal liberty, but lost all civil rights, and were obliged to pay to the State a rent for the land that was left them. But a great part of the old inhabitants were reduced to a state of perfect slavery, different from that of the slaves of Athens and Rome, and more similar to the villanage of the feudal ages. These were called Helots (εἱλῶται). They were allotted, with patches of land, to individual members of the ruling class. They tilled the land, and paid a fixed rent to their masters, not, as Perioeci, to the State. The Spartans formed, as it were, an army of invaders in an enemy's country; their city was a camp, and every man a soldier. At Sparta the citizen only existed for the State; he had no interest but the State's, and no property but what belonged to the State. It was a fundamental principle of the constitution that all citizens were entitled to the enjoyment of an equal portion of the common property. This was done in order to secure to the commonwealth a large number of citizens and soldiers free from labour for their sustenance, and able to devote their whole time to warlike exercises, in order thus to keep up the ascendency of Sparta over her Perioeci and Helots. (See Helotae.) The Spartans were to be warriors, and nothing but warriors. Therefore, not only all mechanical labour was thought to degrade them; not only was husbandry despised and neglected, and commerce prevented, or at least impeded, by prohibitive laws and by the use of iron money; but also the nobler arts and sciences were so effectually stifled that Sparta is a blank in the history of the arts and literature of Greece. The State took care of a Spartan from his cradle to his grave, and superintended his education in the minutest points; and this was not confined to his youth, but extended throughout his whole life. The syssitia, or, as they were called at Sparta, phiditia, the common meals, may be regarded as an educational institution; for at these meals subjects of general interest were discussed and political questions debated. The youths and boys used to eat separately from the men, in their own divisions. See Jannet, Les Institutions Sociales et le Droit Civil à Sparte (2d ed. Paris, 1880).

Sparta gradually extended her sway over the greater part of the Peloponnesus. In B.C. 743 the Spartans attacked Messenia, and after a war of twenty years subdued this country, 723. In 685 the Messenians again took up arms, but at the end of seventeen years were again completely subdued; and their country from this time forward became an integral portion of Laconia. (See Messenia.) After the close of the Second Messenian War the Spartans continued their conquests in Peloponnesus. They defeated the Tegeans, and wrested the district of Thyreae from the Argives. At the time of the Persian invasion they were confessedly the first people in Greece, and to them was granted by unanimous consent the chief command in the war. But after the final defeat of the Persians the haughtiness of Pausanias disgusted most of the Greek States, particularly the Ionians, and led them to transfer the supremacy to Athens (B.C. 477). From this time the power of Athens steadily increased, and Sparta possessed little influence outside of the Peloponnesus. The Spartans, however, made several attempts to check the rising greatness of Athens, and their jealousy of the latter led at length to the Peloponnesian War (B.C. 431). (See Peloponnesian War.) This war ended in the overthrow of Athens, and the restoration of the supremacy of Sparta over the rest of Greece (B.C. 404). But the Spartans did not retain this supremacy more than thirty years. Their decisive defeat by the Thebans under Epaminondas at the battle of Leuctra (B.C. 371) gave the Spartan power a shock from which it never recovered; and the restoration of the Messenians to their country two years afterwards completed the humiliation of Sparta. Thrice was the Spartan territory invaded by the Thebans, and the Spartan women saw for the first time the watch-fires of an enemy's camp. The Spartans now finally lost their supremacy over Greece, but no other Greek state succeeded to their power; and about thirty years afterwards the greater part of Greece was obliged to yield to Philip of Macedon. The Spartans, however, kept aloof from the Macedonian conqueror, and refused to take part in the Asiatic expedition of his son, Alexander the Great.

Under this later Macedonian king the power of Sparta declined still further. The simple institutions of Lycurgus were abandoned, and little by little luxury crept into the State. The number of citizens diminished, and the landed property became vested in a few families. Agis endeavoured to restore the ancient institutions of Lycurgus, but he perished in the attempt (B.C. 240). Cleomenes III., who began to reign 236, was more successful. He succeeded in putting the ephors to death, and overthrowing the existing government (B.C. 225); and he then made a redistribution of the landed property, and augmented the number of the Spartan citizens by admitting some of the Perioeci to this honour. His reforms infused new blood into the State, and for a short time he carried on war with success against the Achaeans. But Aratus, the general of the Achaeans, called in the assistance of Antigonus Doson, the king of Macedonia, who defeated Cleomenes at the decisive battle of Sellasia (B.C. 221), and followed up his success by the capture of Sparta. Sparta now sank into insignificance, and was ruled by a succession of native tyrants, till at length it was compelled to abolish its peculiar institutions, and to join the Achaean League (q.v.). Shortly afterwards it fell, with the rest of Greece, under the Roman power.

See Müller, The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Eng. trans. 2 vols. (Oxford, 1830); Cox, The Greeks and the Persians, (New York, 1876); Jowett's translation of Thucydides (on the Peloponnesian War), with introduction, notes, and analysis, 2 vols. (New York, 1881); and the standard histories of Greece.

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