Sunday, 25 April 2010

Laconia - Sparta

Spartan Heavy Hoplite

Spartan Peleponesian War Hoplite

Spartan Late Hoplite

Spartan Officer Hoplite

The Spartan hoplite
The Spartans had a very peculiar form of government which enabled them to be professional soldiers. To be more precise: it not only enabled them, it even forced them to be superior soldiers as a small group of Spartans had to dominate an enormous amount of subjects and unwilling allies. The helots worked the

The Spartan army was superior in Hellas, and in the rest of the known world. No other army was so well trained, and had such excellent equipment. They believed that a traditional training was the key to success, and for centuries they were right as they had never lost a battle in spite of their small numbers. Ironically enough formed this idea also the end of Spartan supremacy as the Spartan phalanx could not resist the new sloped Theban phalanx and the invading integrated Macedonian forces. The end of the Spartan power marked the end of the domination of the phalanx. 

The organization of the Spartan army.
The Spartan army was certainly not superior without any reason. Their equipment was very good, especially compared to those of non-Greeks, they had very much willpower, had not much fear as dying on the battlefield was the biggest honour for a Spartan, and they received a most excellent training. Each boy of a Spartan family was taken away at the age of seven and placed under the supervision of an adult Spartan till the age of 18. An extensive training till the age of thirty followed when the Spartan became a full citizen. He did not live together with his family any more while he was in training, but became part of an eatgroup. These groups were clubs of Spartans who were together in Sparta as well as on the battlefield. The family was not seen as important, it was only an unfortunately necessary tool to preserve the number of full Spartans. 

Thucydides, a Greek historian and soldier, gives us a detailed overview of the structure of the Spartan army around 400 BC. He says that the organisation was based on an average row of 8 man deep. Four of these rows formed an enomotia or platoon; four enomotiai formed on their turn a pentekostis or company which was commanded by a pentekonter; four pentekosteis formed a lochos or battalion under the leadership of a lochagos. The average army had about seven of these lochois. 

Xenophon, who had also been an officer, tells us about a different structure. Now the average row was 12 man deep, while only two of these rows were needed to form an enomotia. Two enomotiai formed a pentekostis, two pentekosteis formed a lochos, while four lochois formed a mora, or regiment, under the command of a ptolemarch. An army consisted of 6 morae. The reduction of the Spartan population did decrease the total strength of the Spartan army, but not the strength of a mora (500, 600, or 900 men) as this depended on the age of the hoplites who were used.

The enomotiai marched behind eachother in a big row. Before the battle the last troops of each enemotia positioned themselves left behind their leader to form a phalanx of four columns, in total 16 rows wide, and 8 rows deep. A space of two metres was maintained between the columns, but on the order 'close the rows' the last troops walked to the left front to close gaps in the front row. Now the phalanx was in a closed formation and ready for the battle.

Whatever structure the Spartans might have used, it did not decrease their effective communication system. The king gave his orders directly to the ptolemarchs who passed it on through the troops via the lower officers. The biggest problem was that each soldier was trained so well that the Spartan army practically only consisted of men who were officially no officer, but who knew so much about warfare that they were almost equal to an officer. Such an organisation does not always give the best results on the battlefield. An example of this is the battle of Plataea where the Spartan commander refused to follow the order of the Spartan king Pausanias to retreat. At Mantineia the ptolemarchs at the right wing ignored the orders of the king as they wanted to win the battle in their own way. Later on these ptolemarchs were sued and banished from Sparta. Orders where hard to understand in the uproar of a battle, and the Corinthian helmet also reduced the hearing of the soldiers. That is why hornsignals and handsignals were often used. However, sometimes they were misunderstood and during an incident at Amphipolis the unprotected right side of the phalanx was exposed to an Athenian attack with dramatic results.

The equipment of the Spartan hoplite.
The outfit of this Spartan hoplite is not very different from his Athenian colleagues. The most noticeable differences are the Spartan symbol on his hoplon, and the red cape which was not worn during a battle. He has long hair which was common under the Spartan men. In this picture he ties a lace around his spear to increase the grip while thrusting over the wall of hostile shields. 

History of Sparta
During the Archaic and Classical periods, Laconia was dominated by the city of Sparta. There were other settlements in the region, and most inhabitants were not full Spartan citizens (Spartiates), but Lacedaemonians or Perioeci ("about-dwellers"). However, all these citizens and towns were part of the Spartan state. Only after the final eclipse of Spartan power after the War against Nabis did the rest of Laconia become free from Spartan domination. However, Laconia instead fell under the domination of the Achaean League until the whole of the Peloponnese was conquered by the Romans in 146 BC.

In the Second Messenian War, Sparta established itself as a local power in Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece. During the following centuries, Sparta's reputation as a land-fighting force was unequaled. In 480 BC a small force of Spartans, Thespians, and Thebans led by King Leonidas (approximately 300 were full Spartiates, 700 were Thespians, and 400 were Thebans although these numbers do not reflect casualties incurred prior to the final battle), made a legendary last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae against the massive Persian army, inflicting very high casualties on the Persian forces before finally being encircled. The superior weaponry, strategy, and bronze armour of the Greek hoplites and their phalanx again proved their worth one year later when Sparta assembled at full strength and led a Greek alliance against the Persians at the battle of Plataea.

The decisive Greek victory at Plataea put an end to the Greco-Persian War along with Persian ambition of expanding into Europe. Even though this war was won by a pan-Greek army, credit was given to Sparta, who besides being the protagonist at Thermopylae and Plataea, had been the de facto leader of the entire Greek expedition.

In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens, Thebes, and Persia had been the main powers fighting for supremacy against each other. As a result of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta, a traditionally continental culture, became a naval power. At the peak of its power Sparta subdued many of the key Greek states and even managed to overpower the elite Athenian navy. By the end of the 5th century BC it stood out as a state which had defeated the Athenian Empire and had invaded the Persian provinces in Anatolia, a period which marks the Spartan Hegemony.

During the Corinthian War Sparta faced a coalition of the leading Greek states: Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, whose lands in Anatolia had been invaded by Sparta and which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia. Sparta achieved a series of land victories, but many of her ships were destroyed at the battle of Cnidus by a Greek-Phoenician mercenary fleet that Persia had provided to Athens. The event severely damaged Sparta's naval power but did not end its aspirations of invading further into Persia, until Conon the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt.

After a few more years of fighting, in 387 BC the Peace of Antalcidas was established, according to which all Greek cities of Ionia would return to Persian control, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat. The effects of the war were to reaffirm Persia's ability to interfere successfully in Greek politics and to affirm Sparta's weakened hegemonic position in the Greek political system. Sparta entered its long-term decline after a severe military defeat to Epaminondas of Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. This was the first time that a Spartan army lost a land battle at full strength.

As Spartan citizenship was inherited by blood, Sparta now increasingly faced a helot population that vastly outnumbered its citizens. The alarming decline of Spartan citizens was commented on by Aristotle.

Sparta never fully recovered from the losses that the Spartans suffered at Leuctra in 371 BC and the subsequent helot revolts. Nonetheless, it was able to continue as a regional power for over two centuries. Neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to conquer Sparta itself.

During Alexander's campaigns in the east, the Spartan king, Agis III sent a force to Crete in 333 BC with the aim of securing the island for Sparta. Agis next took command of allied Greek forces against Macedon, gaining early successes, before laying siege to Megalopolis in 331 BC. A large Macedonian army under general Antipater marched to its relief and defeated the Spartan-led force in a pitched battle. More than 5,300 of the Spartans and their allies were killed in battle, and 3,500 of Antipater's troops. Agis, now wounded and unable to stand, ordered his men to leave him behind to face the advancing Macedonian army so that he could buy them time to retreat. On his knees, the Spartan king slew several enemy soldiers before being finally killed by a javelin. Alexander was merciful, and he only forced the Spartans to join the League of Corinth, which they had previously refused to join.

Even during its decline, Sparta never forgot its claims on being the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit. An anecdote has it that when Philip II sent a message to Sparta saying "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta", the Spartans responded with the single, terse reply: "If."

When Philip created the league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, the Spartans chose not to join—they had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition if it was not under Spartan leadership. Thus, upon the conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great sent to Athens 300 suits of Persian armour with the following inscription "Alexander, son of Philip, and all the Greeks except the Spartans, give these offerings taken from the foreigners who live in Asia".

During the Punic Wars Sparta was an ally of the Roman Republic. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League. In 146 BC Greece was conquered by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. During the Roman conquest, Spartans continued their way of life, and the city became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe exotic Spartan customs. Supposedly, following the disaster that befell the Roman imperial army at the Battle of Adrianople (AD 378), a Spartan militia phalanx met and defeated a force of raiding Visigoths in battle.

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