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Essay/Term paper: Sparta: uncultured discipline

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Sparta: Uncultured Discipline


The Spartans were the most formidable warriors in all of history. They
dedicated their entire lives to warfare. They were taught to endure cold, hunger,
pain, their courage on the battlefield was second to none. The Spartan code was
to fight hard, follow orders without question and to die rather then retreat or
surrender. To achieve all this, Sparta sacrificed everything; the arts, culture,
and other things that make life worth while. I believe the price was to high
they went to far and shut off all that was creative and human in Sparta. A
culture that can't change or adapt doesn't survive. This is exactly what
happened , after a single major defeat in 360 B.C Sparta was no longer a
significant factor in the region (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 178).

The original founders of "modern" Sparta were the Dorians. At around
1100 B.C these savages came from the north into what is today Greece. They
attacked the Mycenean civilization thriving there and quickly defeated them. The
secret behind the remarkable victories against the Myceneans was iron, the
Dorians knew how to forge iron weapons which completely outclassed the bronze
weaponry of the Myceneans (Carl Roebuck, 1966, p. 119).

In Mycenean times Sparta had been a important city, but after Dorian
conquest it sank to insignificance. Over the next three hundred years it
recovered and began to prosper. By 800 B.C it ruled over the region called
Lacedonia.

Up to about 650 B.C Sparta was pretty much like every other Greek state.
They had music, art and poetry. During the seventh century, a musician named
Terpander came to Sparta and established himself their. He is called the "father
of Greek music," he's also supposed to off improved the lyre (a harp like
instrument). The most widely known Spartan musician was Tyrtaeus. He lived
during the Second Messenian War and his music inspired many Spartan soldiers to
new heights of bravery (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 53).

But then something happened, a war with the Messinians. The First
Messenian War broke out in 730 B.C, when the Spartans marched into Messenia
eager for more land. After 20 long years of war the Messenians were forced to
surrender. They were made into helots (slave/workers with no rights) and
ruthlessly oppressed. In 685 B.C they rose in revolt, it took 17 years of brutal
fighting they were finally put down (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 50).

These wars were the turning point of Spartan history, nearly half a
century of conflict had made the Spartans very warlike. It seemed to them if
they ever relaxed their guard even a bit, the helots would rise again.

The Spartans went to excessively great extremes in order to make sure
this wouldn't happen. At age seven a boy would be taken from his family and
given military training., his true home was his barracks, his family, his unit.
They hardened their bodies with countless drills and savage games, they were
taught to steal and live of off the land. A young soldier was whipped as
punishment or to make him more resistant to pain. At age 20 he was finally
allowed to marry but was still in military service. Only when he was 60 was he
allowed to retire from the army (National Geographic Society, 1968, p. 178).

To a Spartan warrior surrender was unthinkable, even death was
preferable. To flee a soldier had to throw down his heavy shield (which would
slow him down), if he died he would be carried home, with honor, on his shield.
For this reason Spartan mothers instructed their sons to return form a battle
"with their shield or on them" (V.M Hillyer, E.G Huey, 1966, p. 27)

One of the functions of the Spartan system was to rid the state of
weaklings. At birth each child was inspected by a board of inspectors. If the
child was feeble or deformed it was left on a hill side to die. Spartan women
were told to exercise and keep in shape so that they could have healthy
offspring.

A true Spartan's purpose in life was war, their entire lives were
centered around it. They left agriculture, manufacturing to their slave/workers,
the helots. As a result their culture suffered, it was almost non-existent. For
example after 600 B.C the import of luxury goods such as ivory or spices ceased.
Obviously the taste for such indulgences was denied when the Spartans became
warriors. They disliked trade so much that instead of coins they used heavy iron
rods for money. These rods were difficult to carry and discouraged commerce and
idle shopping (National Geographic Society, 1968, p. 177).

The food at a typical Spartan barracks was designed to fill a person and
keep him alive, but nothing more. An ancient story tells the tale of two
outsiders who were invited to eat in a Spartan barracks. One of the two took sip
of the black broth from a bowl and putting down his spoon, whispered "now I know
why the Spartans do not fear death" (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 52)

Even normal conversation stopped (most Greeks like to talk, from ancient
times to today). Spartans spoke very briefly and to the point. They were all
business. In fact the word "laconic" (form Laconia, another word for Sparta)
means to speak in a concise manner (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 53).

For a while it seemed like all these sacrifices were worthwhile. Indeed
the Spartans were impressive warriors, even when outnumbered. In 480 B.C a force
of 300 Spartans held Thermopylae, a vital pass during the war against Persia.
They held the pass for two days, until a traitor showed the Persians another way
through. The Spartans refused to retreat and fought to the bitter end, until
everyman was killed. However they held the Persians off long enough for the
remaining Greek armies to escape(V.M Hillyer, E.G Huey, 1966, p. 27).
Unfortunately military strength is never enough to keep a culture going, other
things are essential, such as music or literature.

At the same time in history the other Greek peoples were very active in
the arts, science and philosophy. In particular Athens was in it's "Golden Age."
Under the leadership of Pericles, Athens reached the height of it's power and
glory.

During this age the Parthenon was built, it is perhaps the most perfect
structure ever constructed and easily the most famous. Phidias, the genius
behind the Parthenon also carved the statue of Zeus at Olympia., located at the
stadium in which the Olympic games (another Greek accomplishment) were held.
This statue was listed by later Greeks as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The people of Athens were good sculptors and created many fine statues of people,
animals and objects (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 133).

The Athenians produced arguably the most important literary figures
between the time of Homer and Shakespeare. These three men Aeschylus, Sophocles
and Euripides helped advance the art of drama. They were first to make use of
costumes, masks, props and other paraphernalia to make actors more visible to
the audience. Together these writers produced over 280 plays, some of which
survive today (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 134).

Science was another field in which the "normal" Greeks excelled at. Men
such as Anaxagoras believed that the stars were no more special or magical then
the earth was. The sun, stars and planets he said were flaming rocks. Lecippus,
who lived around 450 B.C is supposed to be the first to suggest that matter
wasn't composed of substances that could be divided endlessly, but instead
consisted of tiny particles (atoms). Hippocrates was born in 460 B.C on a island
off the coast of Asia Minor. He was the earliest person to establish a
reasonable theory of medicine, one that didn't depend demons or spirits. For
this reason many call him the "father of medicine." Today the "Hippocratic Oath"
is still taken by medical students after the completion of their training (Isaac
Asimov, 1965, p. 135).

Many famous ancient philosophers were Greek, these people tried to teach
how people should lead their lives. Easily the most widely know is Socrates, who
lived during the "Golden Age" of Athens. Socrates believed we each had a
conscience that tells us what is right and wrong. He is considered by many to be
the wisest man who ever lived.

We owe a great deal to these ancient Greeks who founded the basis of so
much that we know today.

Keep in mind that while the Greeks were accomplishing all this, that
even at the height of it's power, the city of Sparta was very drab and lacked
walls. One historian noted "the ramparts (walls) are her men." It was basically
a collection of five villages, which looked pitiful when compared to Athens
(National Geographic Society, 1968, p. 177). Today little remains of Sparta.

Sparta finally fell after a battle against the combined forces of Athens
and Thebes in 362 BC. This defeat destroyed Sparta's armies and left her exposed.
Epaninondas the leader of the Thebean army won a total victory and was soon at
the gates of Sparta. After this loss Sparta would never return to it's former
self (Isaac Asimov, 1965, p. 178).

In order to achieve military glory the Spartans gave up nearly
everything. Later on Greeks from other city states admired the Spartan way of
life because it seemed so noble. They were wrong to think this way, to art,
music, literature and other such pursuits they donated nothing.

She only had a cruel, inhuman way of life to offer, dependent on a
barbaric slavery of most of her population, with only a kind of blind animal
courage as a virtue. Before long the Spartan way of life was more show then
substance, Sparta seemed strong as long she was victorious, but other states
could survive defeat and rise again. After a single major defeat (against
Thebes) Sparta lost her domination of Greece. This catastrophic loss exposed the
Spartan fraud and disposed of her.

Reference List

- Asimov, Issac. (1965). The Greeks A Great Adventure. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company

- Hillyer V.M, E.G Huey. (1966). Ancient World 500 BC - 500 AD. New York:
Meredith Press

- National Georgraphic Society. (1968). Greece and Rome Builders of Our World.
Washington D.C: Author

- Roebuck, Carl. (1966). The World of Ancient Times. New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons

 

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