The beginning of Sparta
Like most stories classical Greece, the history of Sparta actually begins with the end of another great civilization - the Mycenaean. Mycenaean Greece was a regional power that first emerged around 1600 BC. NS. and dominated what is now Greece for the next 500 years.
Like other civilizations in the Mediterranean region of that time, the Mycenaean civilization would have fallen into disrepair due to an event known as the "Bronze Age catastrophe" in the XNUMXth century BC. There are many competing theories as to the exact cause of the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, although there is ample reason to believe that its collapse was caused, at least in part, by a group known as the Sea Peoples. This enigmatic group has never been satisfactorily identified.
Another theory links the collapse of Mycenae to a hypothetical event known as the Dorian invasion. This event, based on the myth of the ancient Greeks, detailing the capture of the Peloponnese by an ethnic group known as the Dorians, was used as a possible explanation for the sudden emergence and spread of Dorian culture.
However, this so-called invasion was more likely the spread of a number of cultural ideas and the migration of peoples from Greece itself, rather than the result of an actual invasion of external forces.
Whether the Doric Greeks were responsible for the decline of the Mycenaean civilization or not, their arrival in the Peloponnese is a critical event in history prior to Sparta's history. This is because the Spartans themselves were, in fact, of Dorian origin and spoke a Doric dialect of Greek.
Had it not been for some of the events leading to the migration or invasion of the Dorians into southeastern Greece, the history of Sparta as we know it today would not have happened.
After the collapse of the Bronze Age and the possible invasions of the Dorians and the peoples of the sea that may have caused or accompanied it, Greece as a whole entered a period known as the Greek "Dark Ages". It was a period that was very similar to the state of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire about 1500 years later, during which a power vacuum created by the sudden collapse of a highly developed and organized civilization (in this case the Mycenaean) led to a prolonged period of social stagnation for more low level of development.
In Greece, this period lasted for almost 300 years, between 1100 and 800 BC.
It was at this time that Sparta was founded.
The place where the city was formed was located in the valley of the Eurotus River and had excellent defensive characteristics.
According to archaeological data, the territory of ancient Sparta itself, as well as the surrounding areas, were not inhabited until about 1000 BC, which indicates the date of the city's founding - much later than the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. At this point, the territory of the future city is believed to have consisted of two allied villages, which eventually merged to form Sparta.
It is believed that during this period Sparta did not display anything similar to military power. Instead, she, like many other Greek city-states of the time, was still in its infancy.
Spartan king Lycurgus
In semi-mythical stories describing the first decades of Sparta's existence, the period after the city's founding is characterized by extreme instability, during which there was no law or order. These records may or may not be entirely accurate, as the Spartans themselves did not maintain their own chronicles, relying instead on a complex oral historical tradition. However, according to them, it was during this period that a man appeared to whom classical Sparta owes its very statehood.
This man's name was Lycurgus.
He was a citizen of Sparta, and probably lived sometime in the late XNUMXth or early XNUMXth century BC. There is much debate as to whether Lycurgus was a real historical figure or simply a mythological personification of the development of Spartan society in its final form.
Many scholars, however, tentatively admit that Lycurgus was most likely a real character in Sparta who began the process of transforming the Dorian city-state into a military society. According to the history of his life, written by Plutarch, Lycurgus was the king of Sparta, who, after the birth of his nephew, who had more faithful rights to the throne due to inheritance by genealogy, departed for a trip to the Mediterranean Sea. Lycurgus, according to Plutarch, traveled to Crete, Asia, Egypt and Spain, all over the place learning important lessons about the structuring and management of various societies.
The beginning of the Lycurgus reforms
Upon his return to Sparta, Lycurgus used his accumulated experience, transferring what he found interesting in the distant civilizations of the world that surrounded Greece, into the format of a Spartan state.
The greatest of his reforms, again in line with Plutarch's later interpretation of earlier historical evidence, was the creation of the Spartan Legislature, a body that balanced its power with the power of two kings who could rule in Sparta at any moment.
This legislature, with 28 elders elected for life in its upper house and made up of all Spartans eligible to vote in the lower house, provided protection from absolute monarchy and the rights of the free citizens of Sparta.
True, it should not be argued that the Lycurgus reforms concerned only the formation of bodies that would balance the power of the kings. After all, almost the entire character of classical Sparta is attributed to the reforms of the state that he carried out.
Lycurgus' radical reforms
Lycurgus' next step was reforms that would forever separate Spartan society from other Greek city-states.
Seeing a high degree of inequality in wealth between the various inhabitants of Sparta, Lycurgus is said to have founded what may have been the first historical socialist state.
According to Plutarch's account, Lycurgus
I got them to give up their property and agree to a new division of land, and that they all live together on an equal basis ...
By doing this, Lycurgus is said to have redistributed the lands previously owned by the various Spartans into equal plots. These land plots eventually became those plots that were provided to every citizen of Sparta as his personal farm. From this moment onwards, the acquisition of more land than provided by the state will be impossible.
Lycurgus continued to disrupt the more traditional social system of ancient Sparta by requiring all men to eat in public rather than dine at home. Therefore, people who were once rich were forced to eat at the same tables with poor and the same food and drink that all Spartans ate and drank.
It is clear that in the history of Lycurgus we see the formation of a later Spartan hatred for everything that made citizens materially unequal. This was one of the greatest restrictions on personal freedom in ancient Sparta, although it would also serve her in her later military ambitions.
From here, Lycurgus went further, banning Sparta's traditional monetary system, which was reportedly based on gold and silver typical of modern economies. Instead, he allowed only lumps of iron to continue to exist. Iron, which in the popular mind cost much less than gold or silver and due to its prevalence was of lesser value, did not accumulate in large quantities among the Spartans.
Between this and the even distribution of land throughout society, Lycurgus achieved an almost complete redistribution of wealth within Sparta, almost certainly against the will of those from whom it was originally taken away.
Subsequent generations viewed this system as the norm, although it was almost certainly imposed by threats of the use of force in the early days of its existence, as it severely violated the pre-existing freedoms of the citizens of Sparta.
Having banned almost all forms of material wealth, Lycurgus also expelled from the Spartan state all sellers of goods and services that are not essential. Those who worked in precious metals, created most of the artwork, or sold services that benefited individuals rather than the state, quickly died out within the new structure of Spartan society.
Because of the already difficult question of whether all of these reforms were really the work of one person, and the lack of modern historical records of these events, it is impossible to tell if this was actually a formal decree or just an economic side effect.
However, there is a definite but.
Modern archaeologists very much question the moment with the "destruction" of people involved in the creation of works of art, since they found works of art on the territory of Sparta, in particular, bronze items. Many, however, have suggested that the responsibility for these works was not borne by the Spartans, but by the earlier people who inhabited these places, which were conquered by the Dorians. They are best known to historians as perieki.
Finally, Lycurgus is said to have introduced a measure that, politically, may have been a masterful move that allowed the powerful state of Sparta to function as it did in the classical period. This was the method by which the laws he established against luxury and wealth would be passed on to younger generations. Lycurgus forbade the writing of these laws ever, so that their teaching and study would remain a purely oral tradition.
Since it was never possible to find a simple reference to written laws, every Spartan citizen had to know these laws by heart, had to know every letter of the law in order to live and work in their own society.
Thus, Lycurgus made sure that the careful, necessary memorization of the laws would help to further familiarize the youth of Sparta with their practice at the time when they became full members of Spartan society.
How true this alleged Lycurgus story is likely will never be known, as the lack of direct source material from the Spartans themselves makes it nearly impossible to establish its veracity with any high degree of reliability.
Whether the history of Lycurgus reflects the real historical facts of the existence of this king or is it just a myth, some combination of both, this, however, does not affect the attitude with which the Spartans treated Lycurgus and his reforms.
This legislator was considered the founder of the Spartan way of life, which became very different from the rules and regulations in other Greek city-states, and allowed the Spartans to enjoy the successes they would see later in their history.
Based on the laws of Lycurgus and the already powerful military traditions of the Dorian tribes, the society of Sparta was formed. From that moment on in the development of the city-state from now on, its main goal was to expand its territory to the surrounding plains.
As the Spartans intensified their territorial claims, they undoubtedly became more and more proficient in the art of war, gradually evolving into a war-based society as they were in the classical period.
This all roughly coincides with the end of the Greek "Dark Ages" and the beginning of the so-called Greek "Archaic period". It is believed that during this period the population grew at a significantly higher rate, which marked the beginning of the further development of the Greek city-states.