The ancient culture of Greece had enriched the world civilisation. The southern portion of the Balkan Peninsula of Europe is called Greece.
The geography of Greece had helped immensely to create a bright history of this land.
Greece is surrounded by the great Balkan mountain ranges in the north, Mediterranean Sea in the south, Aaegean Sea in the east and Adiatric Sea in the west.
This geographical situation separated Greece from the outside world. In due course of time different tribes like Achaeans, Aeolians, lonians, and Dorians entered into Greece and settled there. Thus, sprang up many small city states inside Greece. For the political unity, religious practices, trade and commerce, the people of a particular race lived together in one area and formed a city state. Among the city states of Greece Sparta and Athens were unique in their own ways.
Rise of Sparta:
Among the city states of Greece, Sparta occupied a special position. It was situated in the Laconia province of Greece. Around 1100 B.C. the Dorians settled at Peloponnesus and formed a city state. Later on, it was named as Sparta. It played a vital role for creating heroes in the soil of Greece.
The people of Sparta were divided into three groups. The Spartans were directly appointed in the administration of Sparta. Below them remained the Periokians who took over the charge of war and defence. The people of the lowest stratum of the society were Heltas who were exploited by their masters. They yielded enormous crops but they had no land of their own. They depended upon the mercy of others and led a miserable life.
Role of Sparta to train citizens as Warriors:
Sparta took care to make a man an able fighter. The experts examined the health of a baby after her birth. If he was healthy, he was ordered to be kept alive. If the baby was weak and ugly, he was deserted at a lonely place only to meet his death. After remaining under the tender care of his parents for seven years, he was sent to a military training centre.
After that began the painful and tortorous training of that boy. He was advised not to care the summer, rain or winter. He was walking on bare foot. He was always engaged in play, racing and gymnastic activities. He was offered a very low category of food. Through all these rigorous practices he was traind to bear pain.
After receiving such type of hard training for long twelve years, he was presented before Atimis, the goddess of war. There he was beaten ruthlessly till blood came out of his body. If he could tolerate such pain, he was declared as a winner in the test.
He was permitted to marry but restrained to enjoy conjugal life. He joined the army as a soldier at the age of 30. After remaining in the military barracks upto 60 years he was permitted to return his home.
In fact, the citizens of Sparta prepared themselves as warriors through hard and regulated training. Every man of sparta was a hero. Thus Sparta prepared herself as a nation full with warriors. A Spartan was able to take the glory of Greece upto the pinnacle through war. Of course, the people of Sparta could not pay attention towards literature, art, architecture, song, music and other finer aspects of culture. However, they struck their name in golden letters as a warrier-race.
The City State Sparta and Wars:
The only aim of Sparta was not to create fighters. Its ardent desire was to conquer territories. Once the Greeks picked up quarrel with the Messenians. This led to war and the king of Greece was defeated by the Messenians. The Spartans carried on protracted struggle with the Messenians for long 20 years from 743 B.C. to 724 B.C.
At last the Messenians were defeated by the Spartans and accepted their authority. They were united again and fought against Sparta only to be defeated again.
After achieving success against the Messenians, the army of Sparta defeated the Archdians in 550 B.C. Success kissed their feet again when they defeated the Argas. After that the entire Peloponnesian territory came under their control. Later on, Sparta played a vital role in the Peloponnesian confederacy.
The Peloponnesian Confederacy:
The newly conquered territories raised Sparta to a great position in the Peloponnesus. She was now made the president of Peloponnesian Confederacy. Of course, all the city states were not the members of that confederacy. It functioned through a Council which was located at Sparta.
Each city state sent its representative to this confederacy. The city sates took decision that if any outside country attacks a city state all the city states would help that particular city state against the foreign enemy. Sparta took the leadership in war. This enhanced the prestige of Sparta.
Political institutions of Sparta: Lycurgus:
The founder of the political institution of Sparta is Lycurgus. As per the legends of Greece, after the death of his father and then elder brother, the political horizon of Sparta became clouded. At this juncture, Lycurgus attained fatherhood. He declared his son as the king of Sparta and left the kingdom. He travelled the foreign countries including Egypt and Crete and returned to Sparta having acquired knowledge in many fields.
After that began his reforms. Lycurgus believed in the monarchical form of government. The king of Sparta was the highest authority in the field of administration. His ordinance or ‘Retra’ has immortalised him in the annals of Greek history. As per this Retra, the ‘Council of Elders’ and ‘Senate’ were formed in Sparta.
The Senate constituted of 30 members. The Council of Elders met in each month. The members of the Senate presented before the Council of Elders different problems of the state and their action for solving these problems. The Council of Elders conveyed its opinion in ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Licurgus put emphasis on military training and hard work.
To bring parity in the economic field, he divided the land of Sparta and Lakonia into 9,000 and 30,000 equal divisions and offered each piece of land to a man. He ordered to circulate iron coins everywhere in the city state. He banned agriculture, trade and commerce, literacy works etc. He only put emphasis to make Sparta a military garrison and enhance its glory through warfare.
The Constitution of Sparta:
With the progress of time, the Constitution of Sparta was framed by following the reforms of Lycurgus. The Constitution of Sparta had fair organs-the King, Jerusia, Appella and Ephor. The Constitution was effected in the following way.
As per the peculiar provisions of the Constitution of Sparta two kings ruled over the country at a time. Kingship was hereditary. The kings also performed the duties of the priests. In each month, the sacrificed animals before the gods. The main duty of the king was to conduct the war. The two kings, played the role of commanders in the battle field. However, they could not declare war or conclude peace.
The Jerusia or Council of Elders was another Pillar of Spartan Constitution. It consisted of two kings and 28 members having more than 60 years of age. The day to day administration was vested upon it. Another great task of this Jerusia was to solve various problems and to impart justice to the people. Even Jerusia was competent to punish the kings for their faults.
The Appella or Assembly was another great organ of the Spartan Constitution. It consisted of all Spartan citizens of 30 years of age or above. This Assembly took important decisions on the declaration of war and conclusion of peace. This Assembly also appointed Ephor, and Justices. That is why its position was very high. It was competent enough to accept or reject any proposal brought before it. In fact, this Assembly played a vital role in the political life of Sparta.
The Ephors were the most important officers of the city state of Sparta. They were very powerful. As per the provision of the constitution the Ephors were elected by the kings. In due course of time, they were elected by the citizens of Sparta. They were five in number. They regulated the administration of Sparta when the two kings were absent during the period of war.
They were empowered to remain present in the meetings or Jerusia and represented the kings. Another sphere of their power was to convene the meetings of Apella. Any citizen of Sparta could be elected for the post of Ephor In due course of time, their power enhanced and the power of king diminished. The power of Ephors was to imprison a king when he was charged for treason. In this way, the constitution of Sparta functioned quite well.
Political History of Sparta:
The history of Sparta is adorned with heroism. Information is gathered from ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ the two epics of ancient Greece composed buys its first poet Homer. As per the description of ‘Iliad’, the Spartan king Minelas had a beautiful queen named Helen.
Once Paris, the price of Troy came to Sparta and lived in the palace of Minelas as a guest. He fell in love with Helen and by trick, took her to Troy. Being furious, Menelas attacked Troy. The soldiers of Sparta suffered reverses at the hands of the soldiers of Troy in the Trojan War. The Spartan soldiers made a plan. They built a wooden horse and deserted it on the sea shore.
Inside that wooden horse remained some Greek soldiers and others kept themselves hidden at a distance. On the next day, the soldiers of Toy sit that deserted horse and became very happy. They could not find any Greek soldier and became happy for their own triumph. The soldiers of Troy brought that wooden horse into the palace as a war trophy.
When the people of the palace were sleeping at night, the Greek Soldiers came out of the horse and opened gate of that palace. The other Greek Soldiers entered into the palace and killed the king and others. They saved Helen and destroyed Troy. From ‘Odessey’, the travel of Greek hero Odysseus or Ulysses after the fall of Troy is known.
With the progress of time, the relation between Sparta and Athens became bitter. Ethens became a great empire and Sparta tried to check its progress. Further, the war—like attitude of Sparta made it unpopular before other city states of Greece. At last the kings of Thebes and Ipaminondaya declared war against Sparta.
In 571 B.C. Sparta was defeated in the battle of Luctra. Chaos and Confusion became regular features in Sparta. At this juncture, Philip, the great king of Macedon attacked Sparta and subdued it. The military glory of Sparta was broken into pieces.
Be that as it may, Sparta was regarded as a great city state of Greece. By exhibiting bravery and heroism, Sparta became famous. It did not care for the growth of art, architecture, literature, song and fine arts. On the other hand, it put emphasis on military glory. The world still remembers the military achievements of Sparta with respect.