Sparta; Why the May Fly Only Lives for One Day
Greece, a land of culture and philosophy, separated at its birth into two classes; Athens awoke to the cultural, intellectual side of life while its brother Sparta focused on mainly building up military power. Sparta was the brawn of Greece, while Athens was the brain. In an analogy, it would be comparing Rich Nastro (The Brawn, not to say that he has no brain, but he is the most muscle-built teacher at Saint Pauls, and I needed an example that you, the teacher could relate with, and I know you could relate to yourself,) to Jim Buckler (The Brain, and even though he may know how to build nuclear weapons, he is not war-like enough to use them. In addition, he is not grading this, so I do not have to explain myself to him.) Sparta was located on the southern tip of the Peloponessus, and had little trade with other city-states. It also never set up any colonies, so financial wealth came from conquering other city-states. (Farah 115)
Sparta focused so much on the military, they forgot about other important aspects of daily life, such as flossing, developing an artistic community, or creating a stable government. Poorly managed priorities in Sparta were prevalent and would have caused economic recession if they had not pillaged neighboring countries and city-states. However, Sparta was cruel to the people they conquered, and forced their victims into slavery, a.k.a. Helots. The Helots had to farm the land and honor the Spartans even though, much like the American south during slavery, the Helots outnumbered the Spartans. Despite slaves outnumbering the Spartans, the military ruled with absolute power, and crushed every rebellion the Helots attempted. The rebellion, attempted by the Helots, lasted for thirty years before the Spartans crushed it, and even with the Helots superior numbers (200,000 Helots to 10,000 Spartans), they still did not manage to overthrow the Spartan military because Sparta had developed the Phalanx. (Farah 115)
Despite its initial success, the Phalanx was the ultimate boiling pot for the lobster of Sparta. The Iron Age came about when Sparta was establishing itself, iron weapons and armor were cheaper to produce than their predecessor of bronze, so weapons became readily available for any one who wanted one (just like now!) This meant that everybody and their brother was buying weapons and armor to arm themselves to become part of the Phalanx legions that were the pride and joy of Sparta. (Ellis 109)
The Phalanx (Dear Lord, I need a synonym for Phalanx.) were a group of heavily armed soldiers who lived and died for Sparta, and were generally citizens who had purchased their own armor, and wanted to be a part of the army. They trained heartily and more rigorously than any standard training of any other army in ancient times. However, men did not receive this training, for every boy joined the military at the age of seven. (Ellis 109 and Farah 115-116)
A boy would leave his house to move into the barracks, and begin his regimented (or slave) life. Through harsh training and strict dieting, the Spartan army was able to turn able-bodied boys into thieves. However, this was part of their training, because the army fed them very little, so boys would go out and steal food for themselves. The army encouraged this, and thought that if the boys had to steal for survival, it would increase cunning and battle tact. I can see how this could be beneficial, because stealth would be important for the soldiers when it came to keeping quiet in large wooden horses (This happened ALL the time.) Besides cunning and tact, boys also learned how to use spears and swords, and every activitys purpose was to make the boys stronger. The boys did the bulk of the training without clothes or shoes, and meant the boys would be unaffected by abnormal battle conditions. Required by military law, once the boy joined the military, it would become a part of his life forever. At the age of twenty, the military would allow the soldier to marry, but he still was required to live at the barracks another ten years, and eat there for the next forty years. This may sound like a brutal life, controlled by the military, but if you factor in the average lifestyle, the availability of food, and other social conditions in Sparta, you would realize that the average soldier did not live too long because Sparta was involved in every war it could find. Aside from subjecting boys to military rule at the age of seven, and to serving the army for the rest of his life, women and children were focused on as well for Spartan authorities decided to breed soldiers who were built for the army. Women had to strengthen their bodies by performing strenuous tasks so they could birth healthier sons. Women often played sports, wrestled (get those dirty thoughts out of your head, young man!), and were able to defend the polis (the city) if the men were off at war. Babies were subject to assessment at birth, and if they looked considerably healthy, then the parents could raise them. However, if the child looked sickly and weak, the military ordered the parents to abandon their baby on the side of a mountain, and allow it to die in the wild. (Farah 115-116 and Ellis 109-110)
Enough of the stupid military side of Sparta, allow the governmental side of this ancient city-state numb your brain to the point of arachnocidal (Latin for spider-killer) tendencies. At the head of the Spartan Empire were two kings, and a council of elders to advise the kings. However, there was also an assembly made of men over the age of thirty, who approved any major decisions. Within the assembly were five elected ephors that held all political power. The government controlled the populous by disallowing native-born Spartans from traveling or even leaving the city-state. (Ellis 110)
For lack of better words, the Spartans were a bunch of leaderless, oblivion-seeking, culture-destroying, soldier-building fun-seekers. They spent all of their time developing and producing the Phalanx, and never developed art. They sought to be the greatest warrior class in the land, and they were, but alas, they were too late. Being unable to change its traditions or flex with time, Sparta converted from a God to a non-influential, Ebola-riddled Chihuahua. Other cultures, which had developed strategies and better weapons, defeated Sparta at its own game. Everything that Sparta glorified was its leash and handcuffs, and the Phalanx was the deathblow to Spartan society. (Ellis 110 and Farah 117)
Spartans became famous for their bravery, harsh way of life, and inability to change through the years. Looking back on the Spartan society, of harsh training and patriotism, the quote Spartans are willing to die for their city because they have no reason to live is extremely accurate. This seems relevant today for some Middle Eastern countries that decide to end their crummy lives while taking a few people with them. Maybe if we just gave them MTV, all the violence in the Middle East would end. Maybe if the Spartans had painted and sculpted, they would not have died out so quickly. Maybe if I ended here, I could be done.
Ellis, Elisabeth Gaynor and Anthony Esler. World History; Connections to Today. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1999. P.108-110.
Farah, Mounir A. and Andrea Berens Karls. World History; The Human Experience. Westerville, Ohio: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 1997. P.115-117.