Spartiates were the males of Sparta with full citizenship. They were the elite warrior class of the rigidly hierarchical Spartan society. From a young age, male Spartiates were trained for battle and put through grueling challenges intended to craft them into fearless warriors. In battle, they had the reputation of being the best soldiers in Greece, and the strength of Sparta's hoplite forces led to Sparta becoming the dominant state in Greece at several points during the Hellenic period. No other City-state would dare to attack even though they only had a force of about 8000 Spartiates during their height [cite book|last=Harley|first=T. Rutherford|title=The Public School of Sparta, Greece & Rome, Vol. 3, No. 9 (May 1934) pp. 129-139.) ] .

tructure of Spartan society

Spartan society in the classical period was rigidly divided into several castes, each with assigned duties and privileges. The smallest of these, with the most power and freedom, was the Spartiate elite. Spartiates were exempt from manual labor, and controlled the government of the state. Spartiate men were expected to prepare constantly for military conflict. Below the Spartiates were the Perioikoi, literally "dwellers around," inhabitants of outlying towns who carried out most of the trade and commerce of the city, since Spartiates were forbidden to engage in commercial activity. Further down the ladder were the helots, enslaved populations tied to the land and owned by the Spartan state. In the late 4th century and later, a new class, the neodamodeis (lit. 'new' damos dwellers), arose. It seems to have been composed of liberated helots. Also, there were the hypomeiones (lit. inferiors) men who were probably, although not certainly, Spartiates who had lost social rank.

Origins of the Spartan system

According to classical accounts, the Spartan constitution was the product of a great lawgiver, Lycurgus. He was said to have written the Spartan constitution late in the Archaic Period, most likely in the 770s BC. It is impossible to determine whether Lycurgus was an actual historical figure. It is clear, however, that at some point in the late Archaic period the model of Spartan society was changed from a monarchical system to an oligarchy with an elite warrior class. This change is likely to have been in some way related to the change from Dark age warfare, in which nobles were the dominant force, to the hoplite warfare of the classical period. Around the time of this change in system, Sparta embarked on the conquest of the neighboring state Messenia. This acquisition of a large piece of territory and a large conquered population seems to have both provided the basis for the system of helotage and required the existence of a large military force to keep the potentially rebellious Messenians under control. The Spartiates thus became a permanently armed master class, living off the labour of the helots and preventing rebellion through constant vigilance.

The lifestyle of the Spartiate class

During the 6th and 5th centuries BC, the Spartan system was at its height. In 555 BC, Sparta defeated Tegea and forced that state to become its ally. Around 544 BC, Sparta defeated Argos, establishing itself as the preeminent power in the Peloponnese. For over 150 years, Sparta became the dominant land power of Greece, with the Spartiate hoplites serving as the core of its army.

To maintain the social system of the city, it was necessary to have a force ready to oppose any uprising of the helots (an event which occurred several times in the classical period). To ensure their military readiness, Spartiate youths enrolled in military training from the age of seven onwards to thirty; the age of full citizenship. From that age until they became too old to fight, they would live in their barracks, visiting their families (and later, their wives) only when they could sneak out. Spartiate women, as well, were expected to remain athletically fit, since the Spartans believed that strong and healthy parents would produce strong and healthy children. Spartiates were expected to adhere to an ideal of military valor, exemplified by the poems of Tyrtaeus, who praised men who fall in battle and heaped scorn on those who fled.

Each Spartiate male was assigned a plot of land, with the helots that worked it. This was the source of his income, since he performed no labor or commerce himself. The primary use of this income was to pay the dues of the communal mess halls to which all Spartiates were required to belong. Any Spartiate who was unable to pay these dues was demoted from the class.

Politically, the Spartiate males composed the army assembly, the body which elected the ephors, the most powerful magistrates of Sparta after the kings. The Spartiates were also the source of the krypteia, a sort of secret police which, through measures such as assassination and kidnapping, sought to prevent rebellion among the helots.

The Spartan constitution prescribed a system of education and living for Spartiates that was intended to promote bravery. Musical and athletic education were emphasized. Commercial activity, on the other hand, was strictly forbidden, and for most of its history Sparta had no coinage. Almost all luxuries were also forbidden, since it was believed that they undermined the discipline and training that would be needed for battle. Spartan men were not allowed to marry until late in life, and even then had to see their wives in secrecy. It is from the rigidly ascetic lifestyle that Spartiates led to satisfy these requirements that we obtain our present day word "Spartan."

Decline of the Spartiate class

In the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC, the Spartiate class gradually declined, along with Spartan military prowess. There were several reasons for this decline. First was attrition through the increasingly frequent wars that Sparta found itself embroiled in from the mid 5th century on. Since Spartiates were required to marry late, birth rates were low, and it was difficult to replace losses from the class. To exacerbate this problem, it was possible to be demoted from Spartiate status for a number of reasons; cowardice in battle was a common one, as was inability to pay for membership in the common mess. Inability to pay became an increasingly severe problem as commercial activity began to develop in Sparta, since some Spartiates would sell the land from which they were supposed to draw their earnings. Since the constitution included no provisions for promotion to Spartiate status, the number of Spartiates gradually dwindled as the classical period wore on.

By the mid 4th century BC, the number of Spartiates had been critically reduced, although Sparta continued to hold sway over much of Greece. Finally, at Leuctra in 371 BC, a Theban army decisively defeated a Spartan force, killing 400 Spartiates and breaking the back of Spartan military power. In 370 BC, Messenia was liberated by a Theban army, destroying the basis of the Spartan social system. The Spartan state never recovered its former power, and the Spartan army, by the later 3rd century, was not particularly superior to other hoplite armies in Greece. The glory days of the Spartiates were over.

ee also

*Spartan Army



*Xenophon. "Constitution of the Spartans".

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • spartiate — [ sparsjat ] n. et adj. • 1580; lat. d o. gr. spartiatês, de Spartê « Sparte » 1 ♦ Citoyen de l ancienne Sparte. Les lois sévères des Spartiates. Adj. Les ilotes spartiates. 2 ♦ Adj. (1847) Digne des anciens citoyens de Sparte; qui rappelle leur… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Spartiate — Sparte Pour les articles homonymes, voir Sparte (homonymie). 37°4′27″N 22°25′53″E / …   Wikipédia en Français

  • SPARTIATE — adj. des deux genres Qui est énergique, endurant, ainsi qu’on se représente les anciens Spartiates. Il a supporté les souffrances de sa maladie avec un courage spartiate. On dit de même substantivement : C’est un spartiate, en parlant d’un Homme… …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 8eme edition (1935)

  • Spartiate — El término Spartiate puede hacer referencia a: El navío de guerra inglés HMS Spartiate (1798). Los homoioi o espartiatas, ciudadanos de pleno derecho de Esparta. Esta página de desambiguación cataloga artículos relacionados con el mismo título.… …   Wikipedia Español

  • spartiate — (spar si a t ) s. m. et f. 1°   Homme appartenant à la classe aristocratique de la république lacédémonienne (les Lacédémoniens en formaient la plèbe), laquelle avait été assujétie par Lycurgue à une grande rigidité de moeurs guerrières. •   J ai …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • Spartiate — /spahr tee ayt , shee /, n. a member of the ruling class of ancient Laconia; a Spartan citizen. Cf. Helot (def. 1), Perioeci. [1350 1400; ME < L Spartiates < Doric Gk Spartiátes, equiv. to Spartiá(s) of SPARTA + tes personal n. suffix] * * * …   Universalium

  • spartiate — spar·ti·à·te, spar·tià·te s.m. e f. var. → spartiata …   Dizionario italiano

  • spartiate — spar·ti·ate …   English syllables

  • spartiate — ˈspärd.ēˌāt, rshē noun ( s) Usage: capitalized Etymology: Latin Spartiates, from Greek Spartiatēs, from Sparta, Spartē Sparta : a member of the dominant race of ancient Laconia : spartan …   Useful english dictionary

  • Education spartiate — Éducation spartiate L’éducation spartiate, souvent appelée de son nom grec, ἀγωγή / agōgē[1], présente la triple particularité d être obligatoire, collective et organisée par la cité[2]. Symbole de l « exception spartiate », elle est… …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.