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The Influence of Lycurgus on Spartan Society

Updated on May 3, 2018
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Asteriaa writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

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Spartan Society

The Spartans used their philosophy of simplicity and minimalism to conceal their intellect. The Spartans’ austere lifestyle was heavily influenced by Lykourgan propaganda and the emphasis on the Hellenistic idealisms of physicality and intelligence. The Spartan lifestyle extended to leisurely activities, food and clothing unique to their polis, the marriage customs to their occupations. Ultimately, reputable historians have extensively recorded Spartan history, leaving ample evidence to create a broad depiction of the Spartan lifestyle.

Source 1:

Lycurgus, who gave them the laws that they obey, and to which they owe their prosperity, I do regard with wonder; and think the that he reached the utmost limit of wisdom. For it was not by imitating other states, but by devising a system utterly different from that of most others, that he made his country pre-eminently prosperous

-Xenophon, Constitution of the the Lacedaemonian 2

Source 2:

He even authorized them to use other people’s household servants if anything needed them. He also authorized hunting dogs to be shared, so that men who need some, ask to take them on their hunt, and the owner is pleased to send them id he is not at leisure himself.

-Xenophon, Constitution of the the Lacedaemonian 2

This is Sparta: Fierce warriors of the ancient world - Craig Zimmer

Lycurgus influence on leisure life

“Their time was taken up by choral dances, festivals, feasts, hunting expeditions, physical exercise” explains Plutarch. This interprets leisurely activities instilled to stimulate Spartiate conformity to the restriction of artistic occupations. For instance, Plutarch’s claim addresses Spartiate participation of nude discuss, jumping and wrestling. Hence, female participants such as the ‘daughters of Diconyeses’ is conveyed with societal expectations of physicality and development of skill and strength.


Hunting

Hunting targets of male Spartiates consisted of boars, hares and deer. According to Xenophon, “Lykourgus… authorised hunting dogs to be shared”, as Spartiates loaned Helots, weapons and horses. This provides insight to Lykourgan values of equality. Xenaphon continues, “The owner is pleased to send them,” highlighting how dogs were utilised in hunting, extrapolating Xenophon’s belief that hunting improved senses required in battle. Therefore this emphasises Sparta’s fascination of blood-sports was utilised as leisure activities.

Ancient Greek Olympics on vase

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Racing

Equestetrain racing was a prominent pastime. Horses were incorporated into war, transport, and the Olympic Games. This provides substance to sources such as "Creditors are eating me up alive... because of this horse-plague!" (Aristophanes, Clouds l.240ff), emphasizing what Xenophon previously stated, “The owner is pleased to send them,” suggesting loaning created financial issues. Thus this reflects Sparta’s conformity to how horses signified the wealth and status of Hippeis.

Ancient pottery

The Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago in Olympia, in southwest Greece. The Games were part of a religious festival. The Greek Olympics, thought to have begun in 776 BC, inspired the modern Olympic Games (begun in 1896.)
The Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago in Olympia, in southwest Greece. The Games were part of a religious festival. The Greek Olympics, thought to have begun in 776 BC, inspired the modern Olympic Games (begun in 1896.) | Source

Music

Music invoked patriotism into Sparta. Plutarch states boy choirs sung, "We shall be sometime mightier men,” whereas Pindar references, "the sweet art of the harpist." This emphasises the significance of music in Spartan culture, highlighting entertainment used in the Hyakinthia and banqueting. Therefore, leisurely activities evoked prestige and glory for the polis as Lykourgan government was integrated into Spartan lifestyles.

The Constitution of the Spartans

Lycurgan Influence on Food

The Spartans practiced the zealous discipline of frugality in their diet. Their culture dish consisted of the melas zomos which was made of pigs' legs, blood, salt and vinegar. Xenophon states, “[boys were fed] the right amount for them never to become sluggish.” This reveals that Spartans ate what they needed to make wealth "an object of no desire.” Furthermore archeological evidence provides substance to the fact fish and olives were sources of food, uncovering the use of the Gytheon harbour. Therefore historical evidence reveals the meager calorie diet of Spartans despite of the strenuous training and exercise endured.


Lycurgan Influence on Spartan Clothing

Clothing of Spartan Men

Spartans’ clothing indicated compliance to the Lykourgian system. According to Plutarch, adornment was avoided to convey simplicity to neighbouring states, “From the age of twelve they never wore a tunic.” This exposes how the Agelia required bouais to wear chitons whilst protopapas wore himations. This infers how lengthy hair and facial hair conveyed masculinity, contrasting with agoge students. The incorporation of red references reveals the use of Murex mollusks in clothing. Therefore clothing created age distinctions in the agoge.

Spartan Men

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Clothing of Outcasts

The accuracy of suspected outcast clothing is questionable. According to Myron of Priene helots wore kynes as psychological dehumanisation, however lacking supporting primary evidence. Davids who regards this as ‘uniforms of exclusion,’ relies on Myron’s research whereas Pausanias believes Myron is unreliable considering he questionably placed Aristophanes in the first Messiaen war. Hence this makes the following information questionable; outcasts were to parade nude publicly annually and Tresentes wore distinctive coloured patches with half a beard. Therefore due to a lack of primary evidence the clothing of helots and inferiors is debatable.

Figurine of Spartan woman

Bronze statuette of a girl wearing a short tunic. The single-shouldered garment, baring the right breast, was the characteristic dress of competitors in the Heraean Games.
Bronze statuette of a girl wearing a short tunic. The single-shouldered garment, baring the right breast, was the characteristic dress of competitors in the Heraean Games. | Source

Female Attire

Women attire comprised of the doric perplos, chitons and jewellery. Euripides states 'thigh-revellers' would, “go out with bare thighs… to wrestle and run races.” This highlights the use of chitons and women participation in physical activity. Furthermore, make-up and jewellery was forbidden contradicting archaeological evidence of bronze or ivory brooches and pins worn on the peplos. The intricacy and reference to mythology reveals its indication wealth and status, opposing political registrations. Therefore historical evidence reveals the codes of clothing assigned to societal and age classes.

Female Spartan Athlete

Spartan female athelte-victor. Marble, Greek artwork, 1st century BC. Vatican Museum.
Spartan female athelte-victor. Marble, Greek artwork, 1st century BC. Vatican Museum.

Lycurgus' influence on Marriage

Idiosyncratic marriage customs was catered to polis prosperity. Plutarch states, “They might meet that some might have children.” This affirms the groom’s obligated secrecy of engagement by capture of “full bloom” brides until pregnancy. This conveys unscientific methods of eugenics to stimulate lust since, “if both parents were strong their children be more robust.” This discloses how selective breeding was directed to produce successful offspring, increasing the probability of the Gerousia’s acceptance. Hence historical evidence reveals marriage customs was monopolized in creating ‘robust’ offspring.

Marriage in Sparta

Lycurgus' Influence on Occupations

Spartan occupations were divided by status. Spartitate men were warriors as for the state, conveying the existence of Hoplites and positions of officials and priests. Women were regarded as child bearers conveyed by Plutarch, "Yes, we are the only ones that give birth to men." Labours were done by the Perioikoi as craftsmen and traders whilst Helots were slaves as Tyrtaeus describes them, “like asses exhausted under great loads.” Therefore it is clear that Spartans occupations were restricted to status as revealed by written and archeological sources.


Conclusion

In conclusion, minimalism was integrated into leisurely activities, food and clothing, the marriage customs to their occupations. Reputable historians have extensively recorded Spartan history, leaving ample evidence to create a broad depiction of the Spartan lifestyle. Thus Lykourgan propaganda and Hellenistic philosophies on physicality and intellect allowed Sparta to conquer surrounding states.

Sources:

1. Writer873. “The Women of Sparta: Athletic, Educated, and Outspoken Radicals.” Ancient History Encyclopedia 28 Jan. 2012 :1-2. Online.

2. Writer873. “Ancient Greek Clothing.” Ancient History Encyclopedia 18 Jan. 2012 :1-2. online.

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    • profile image

      Neena 

      15 months ago

      Thank you for posting this! It was very helpful in my Ancient History assignment :)

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