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Spartans

The Spartan Army (Elite). The Spartan Army. Sparta was a city in the ancient Greek state of Lakedaimon, the only state in Greece to have a full-time army. The institutions of the state and the system of education were organised with a view to creating superbly trained soldiers. Isocrates compared the Lakedaimonian political community to a military camp and Aristotyle criticised the Lakedaimonian constitution because it was organised entirely to promote military virtue. Nick Sekunda examines this ancient military machine, describing the organisational system of the Spartan army, the battles they fought and the society that produced them.

The Spartans: An Epic History. The Spartans: An Epic History. The main chronological period of focus in The Spartans will be from 480 to 360 BC, from the time when Sparta, as head of the new Peloponnesian League, led the loyalist Greeks in their defence of their homeland against a massive Persian invasion, down to the time of Sparta's crisis as a society and collapse as a great Greek power three or four generations later. We shall follow the story of Sparta's developing difficulties with its Peloponnesian League allies, the major disaster of a massive earthquake followed by a prolonged and potentially deadly revolt of its servile class of Helots, Sparta's increasing differences and then major military confrontation with Athens, and its takeover from Athens as the great power of the Aegean Greek world followed by severe and ultimately terminal overstretch. The narrative will be interspersed with snapshot biographies that bring the story of the past vividly and personally to life and explore underlying historical themes and processes. In order to place the years 480 to 360 in context, an account will first be given of the formation of the Spartan state in the so-called Archaic period of Greece, and especially in the seventh and sixth centuries. Then, to illustrate the depth of Sparta's plunge from power and grace, the story will be continued on as far as the ineffectual resistance led by Sparta against the might of Alexander the Great.
Besides the chronological narrative there is another, no less fascinating and important side to our Spartan sotry, which can be summed up as the Spartan myth. Sparta's enormously protracted period of exceptional success, both as a society and as a great power, naturally attracted unusual attention from outside observers, often admiring but sometimes deeply critical. Despite its ultimate failure, catastrophe and collapse in real power terms, Sparta's hold over non-Spartan Greek and foreign imaginations grew, and continues to grow stronger and more complicated. It began with Socrates' pupils Critias and Plato (a relative of Critias) in the late fifth and fourth century BC and has continued almost without a pause via the Romans, who liked to think they were genetically related to the Spartans, and such Renaissance and early modern thinkers as More, Machiavelli and Rousseau, who admired Sparta's prodigious political stability and order, on through to the Nazis in the twentieth century AD and their contemporary would-be emulators. Deeply xenophobic, the Spartans were considered in antiquity to be as intriguing, extreme and even alien as they probably should be considered by us today. Sparta was the original utopia, Thomas More, who coined the term Utopia in 1516, had Sparta very centrally in mind, but it was an authoritarian, hierarchical and repressive utopia, not a utopia of liberal creativity and free expression. The principal focus of the community was on the use of war for self-preservation and the domination of others. Unlike other Greek cities, which satisfied their hunger for land by exporting populations to form new 'colonial' cities among non-Greek 'natives', the Spartans attacked, subdued or enslaved their fellow-Greek neighbours in the southern Peloponnese. The image or mirage of Sparta is therefore at least ambivalent and double-faceted. Against the positive image of the Spartans' uplifting warrior ideal of the collective self-sacrifice, emblematized in the Termoylae story, has to be pitted their lack of high cultural achievement, their refusal for the most part of open government, both at home and abroad, and their brutally efficient suppression for several centuries of a whole enslaved Greek people. The book will be divided into three parts. The first, 'Go, tell the Spartans!', which has also been used as the title of a movie based on the Vietnam War, is named after the opening words of the famous contemporary epitaph on the Thermopylae battle-dead attributed to Simonides. It examines the evolution of one of the most intriguing of ancient societies and cultures, one that has left a deep mark on the development of the West. While Athens is justly credited with phenomenal achievements in visual art, architecture, theatre, philosophy and democratic politics, the ideals and traditions ofher greatest rival Sparta are equally potent and enduring: duty, discipline, the nobility of arms in a cause worth dying for, the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good of the community, and the triumph of will over seemingly insurperable obstacles.

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