The beginning of the Archaic and the First Messenian War
With the onset of the archaic period, Sparta was on its way to becoming a militarized state, mainly thanks to the reforms of Lycurgus.
The first major and reasonably well-attested event associated with Sparta during the archaic period was the war with the neighboring Achaean group, another of the four main ethnic groups of Greece, in the neighboring region of Messinia. This event is commonly referred to by historians as the First Messenian War. Part of the background of this war goes back to the legendary Greek period stories and the alleged events associated with the Dorian invasion. Archaeologically, however, it is known that the war took place from about 710 BC to about 745 BC.
The likely cause of the war was ethnic and regional tensions caused by the migration of the Dorians to the Eurotas Valley and the subsequent rise in Spartan power. The ancient Greek scientist Pausanias, whose works mainly shed light on many events of the beginning of the archaic, mentions an event that occurred about 25 years before the start of the war, during which the Spartan king Telekles was killed at a religious festival in the temple of Artemis, where they were present as the Messenians. and the Spartans. If true, then this story would certainly explain the war between them, as it was Alcamenez, son of Teleklos, who ultimately went on to fight in the First Messenian War. It is also important to note that Telekl is said to have participated in the regional expansion of Sparta during his lifetime, conquering towns and villages in the surrounding areas.
Later descriptions say that the premiere event of the First Messenian War was a surprise attack by the Spartans on a Messenian city called Amfea, which is sometimes archaeologically identified with the ruins of the castle of Surya. The attackers, presumably led by King Alcamenez, quickly captured the site and turned it into a strategic position for further incursions into the Messenian lands. The Messenians, unwilling to engage in combat with the main Spartan army, which was a formidable military force even at this early stage in Spartan history, decided to wage a defensive war, forcing the Spartans to attack their positions instead of being drawn into open combat.
This strategy had its merits, as the Spartans could not easily break such positions without suffering heavy losses. However, she also had more than enough flaws. The Spartans had free access to rural lands around the Messenian cities and towns, which meant that their agricultural crops were seriously threatened. Bearing in mind the potential usefulness of this land to the state, the Spartans were careful not to destroy anything that could be used or that could easily be taken to Laconia, such as existing grain warehouses. Therefore, the Messenians were forced to launch a more offensive campaign in order to keep vital resources under control.
The Messenian king, believed to be called Eutheus, began a new strategy in the fourth year of the war, sending troops to create a new fortified position closer to the Spartan garrison at Amfea. Eutheus strategically positioned his forces in a currently unknown location, said to be in an impassable gorge, and this provided Eutheus and his forces with a high degree of natural reinforcement to keep the Spartans on the other side at bay. Although the Spartans are known to have attempted a flanking maneuver, sending troops further up the gorge to a place where it could be crossed without danger, the cavalry force sent by Eutheus was able to repulse the Spartans back.
Before the start of the next season of the campaign, which will be critical for the Spartans, Alcamenez will die and will be succeeded by his son Polydor. While Alkamen's death may have created some minor difficulties in maintaining military continuity in the war, it is important to keep in mind that there were two kings in Sparta at any time. Alkamenez, like his father Telekles and son Polydorus, belonged to the royal dynasty of the Agaids. However, along with these kings were the kings of the Eurypontides, whose representative during the First Messenian War was Theopompus.
Thus, the death of Alkamen and the inheritance of Polydorus would not have caused any particular problems for the Spartan army, although the death of a king in the midst of war could be of serious importance in any other society.
In the next season of the campaign, the nature of the war will completely change, as the Messenians began to engage the Spartans in open battles, the decisive of which took place near the fortified Messenian camp at Amfea.
It was said that the result of this battle was the general victory of the Spartan troops led by Polydorus (one of the Spartan kings). The Spartans, keeping their ranks together, were able to defeat the less organized and less disciplined Messenian army.
After the final defeat of the remaining Messenian troops, the Messenians were subdued and turned into slaves (helots).
Helots were far from a new innovation in Sparta, as it is recorded that the inhabitants of the city of Ilo (from which the word “helot” is believed by some to be derived) were enslaved during the early expansionist phase of Dorian Sparta.
Second Messenian War
The Second Messenian War probably took place about 40-50 years after the end of the First Messenian War.
This war is difficult to describe due to the extreme lack of evidence, both in archaeological finds and in historical sources. According to the available sources, we can say that the cause of the war was the uprising of the Messenian helots. The war itself was much more important for strengthening the power of Sparta.
The uprising, according to the information available about it, began favorably for the Messenians. In the Battle of Derai, the first battle of the war, the long-oppressed helots fought the more organized and militarily capable Spartans. In this battle, the Messenians were led by a man named Aristomenes. Because of his achievements in Derai, the Messenians offered him to become their king. However, he turned down the offer, preferring instead to remain a general, although he asked for absolute control over the armies, which was given to him in lieu of the royal title.
The stories about this war, like much of what has been discussed so far in the history of Sparta, may well be mythological to one degree or another.
It is said that the Second Messenian War, much like the first, ended with the Messenians taking refuge in a mountain fortress, from where Aristomenes and his troops raided the countryside of Laconia. The Messenians were ultimately defeated, giving Sparta a dominant position in the Peloponnese. Many Messenians fled to Italy before the Spartans regained full control of their lands.
It is believed that the Second Messenian War had widespread consequences for the development of the militaristic society of Sparta. War and military prowess have already become an integral part of the Spartan state. However, military traditions were probably not the main driving force behind life in Sparta as they were in the classical period before the end of the Second Messenian War. In his laws, Lycurgus laid out the principle that Sparta should often enter war in order to maintain its military potential at a high level.
After the revolt of the Helots, this idea penetrated much deeper into Spartan society, since Sparta's constant military readiness was necessary to prevent any other similar incidents. By further tightening state control and introducing military training as an almost permanent aspect of daily life, the preventive suppression of any uprisings was guaranteed.
The war also helped Sparta establish general rule over its region of the Peloponnese. The military power it acquired between the two wars, as well as the conquest of Messenia and other parts of the peninsula, made Sparta the strongest city-state with very little competition in its environment.
It was this dominance over the immediate area that led to the next notable event associated with Sparta in the archaic period - the formation of the Peloponnesian League.
Despite its reputation as a city-state driven solely by military ambitions, Sparta was also one of the first pioneers of diplomacy in Greece, and she often used this skill to her advantage.
In preparation for the official creation of the league, the rise of Sparta's power continued. And first of all, before the main competitor - the city-state of Argos, which at that time was the second after Sparta in size and power in the Peloponnese. Although Argos remained an adversary to Sparta for most of its history, it could not compete with the more powerful Sparta, coexisting with it in a semi-subordinate position throughout most of Greek history.
The league began to form after Sparta forged strategic alliances with the city-states of Corinth and Alice, both major regional powers that undoubtedly benefited Sparta as allies. In the case of Corinth, the alliance was struck when Sparta supported a revolution against the Corinthian tyrant Periander, which ended with the assassination of his supposed successor, freeing Corinth from its autocratic form of government under the short-lived Kipselid dynasty in the early XNUMXth century BC.
On the other hand, the alliance of Sparta with Alice gave Sparta the opportunity to host and control the Olympic Games, which was very prestigious. These alliances formed the basis of a powerful military and diplomatic alliance known to history as the Peloponnesian League.
The exact time when the Peloponnesian League officially arose is disputed by scholars, but it usually dates from the beginning of the XNUMXth century BC. e., since it was after this period of time that the league seemed to operate with a greater degree of solidarity under the leadership of Sparta. It is only known that this league of city-states led by the Spartans will play a decisive role in the history of Ancient Greece.
One of the events that marked the expansion of the league was the conquest of a city known as Tegea in the Arcadia region of the Peloponnese.
Arcadia remained one of the last places in the Peloponnese where Doric culture was not universal. This region, a remote mountainous region, has thus resisted the Dorian Spartans from the time they first arrived on the peninsula. As the leading city in the region, Tegea fought to maintain its independence from the growing power of Sparta. Arcadia's isolation won't last long, however. It is generally believed that Tegea finally came under Spartan rule during the reign of the Spartan kings Ariston and Anaxandridas II. These two kings are of great importance in the history of Sparta, since it is with them that a clearer chronology of the history of Sparta becomes possible.
The decline of the archaic and the beginning of the classical period
The end of the archaic was marked by two events.
First of all, the penetration of the Persians into the sphere of influence of the Greek city-states, which began between 546-547 BC. e., when the famous Persian king Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) conquered the kingdom of Lydia. The attack was a retaliation for a similar attack against the Persians by Croesus, then king of Lydia. When Croesus and the Lydians were defeated, Cyrus incorporated the kingdom of Lydia into the empire, which was then tirelessly expanding and already included all of Elam and the Mesopotamian kingdoms.
Together with Lydia, a group of Greek cities in the Ionian region, over which Croesus had previously established Lydian domination, fell under the heel of the Persians. Ionia was the first Greek region to come under the control of the Persians.
The archaic period in the history of Sparta, and indeed of Ancient Greece, laid the foundation for future events.
Sparta emerged from the archaic period as a militaristic, expansionist state. Since the beginning of the archaic period, when the Lycurgus reforms were still a relatively new phenomenon, Sparta turned into the war machine of the ancient Greek world. The two wars of the Spartans with the Messenians gave them great military experience, and also forced them to adopt the unique Spartan idea of a permanently militarized society in order to control the vast number of Messenian helots who were now under their control. Now, many of the wars of the classical period had to test the military prowess of Sparta and its allies.