Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ancient Greece, Sparta; Act 1 Our Journey Begins.

Ancient Greece left a legacy of achievement that would make any modern nation proud.   Democracy was born in Ancient Greece.  They pioneered jury trials and public literacy.  Critical analysis was an idea driven from this amazing time.   Philosophy, mathematics, drama, these all have roots in Ancient Greece.  It was ancient texts discovered and translated at the end of the middle ages that led to the explosion, and learning of the renaissance.  It was a glorious time, in some ways, for humanity.  But, it was still "humanity," and as normal, that meant trouble.

Sparta was a city without walls, which at that time was an oddity in Greece.  Walls provide protection, and cities had plenty of need for protection.  It really did not matter the relative wealth of a city, sooner or later another city would decide it should be theirs.  Of course, you needed an army, but you needed walls to intimidate potential invaders.  Not a very comforting thought for farmers, or traveling merchants, but such was life in those times.  Sparta felt it did not need walls to be intimidating, that being a bunch of Spartans (or Spartiates, which might be correct, but, if nobody minds, we will use Spartans) was probably enough.  They were wrong.  As were all of the cities that built walls, and over the next few posts we will see why.

Free Spartans were warriors, that was their job, their hobby, their life.  It was, they felt, their heritage, they were the offspring of Heracles, and that gave them some divine rights.  One of which was to subjugate their neighbors in Messinia.  These people became known as the Helots, and were forced into abject slavery at the hands of the Spartans.  

It is one of the oddities of history, without the Helots, who held a ten to one advantage over the Spartans, the ability to train, and nothing else from the age of seven, as a warrior would have been impossible.  It took the ten slaves to provide the labor to support a "Free Spartan" and allow the time it took for training.   Training that was needed to ruthlessly oppress the Helots, and allow the time needed for training.  

Often times this military prowess was used to aid Spartan allies.  Allies who occasionally helped Sparta crush Helot revolts.   In our next post we will learn about the First Messenian War, it's origins, it's tragedy, it's inevitability, and it's outcome.  Or at least as much as we can find.