Spartan hegemony

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The city-state of Sparta was the greatest military land power of classical Greek antiquity. During the classical period, Sparta owned, dominated or influenced the entire Peloponnese. Additionally, the defeat of the Athenians and the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War in 431-404 BCE. resulted in a short-lived Spartan dominance of the Greek world[1]. However, Sparta is a poorly documented city-state. Due to their mistrust of others the Spartans discouraged the creation of records about their internal affairs. The only histories of Sparta are from the writings of Xenophon, Thucydides, Herodotus and Plutarch, none of whom were Spartans; Plutarch was writing after the period of Spartan hegemony had ceased[1]. This is particularly difficult in understanding the Spartan political system, which was distinctly different from any other Greek polis.

Contents

History and rise to power

(See History of Sparta)

The Spartans had early conquered much of the Peloponnese and incorporated the territory into the enlarged Sparta state. Spartan society functioned within three classes: homoiois or spartiates, perioeci, and the helots. The helots were captives of war and were state-owned slaves of Sparta[2]. The helots powered the city-state’s agrarian economy and were the work force. Additionally, the other class of working population in Spartan society were the perioeci meaning “dwellers around” who were free peoples of conquered territories. The perioeci were allowed to maintain their own infrastructures, administrative arrangements and local economy, but had to pay tribute to Sparta and provide soldiers for the military. The homoios were the citizens of Sparta[3]. They were the elite class and were the only deserving of the title Spartan. As a result, the Spartan population was very small in comparison with the working classes. There was a ratio of 7 or 8 helots to every Spartan citizen[2]. These three populations performed complementary functions that distinguished Sparta with a unique economic and social organization. While the helots and the perioeci were the workforce in agriculture and industry, the Spartans could devote themselves to training, maintaining, and operating the military. The reason for the continual strong military existence was to preserve order in Sparta and hold the large enslaved populations in check.

Sparta's Post Peloponnesian War Regime

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