Di benedicaris vos.
This research was inspired by a BBC Documentary by Bettany Hughes on the Spartans for Channel Four. The documentary itself was well made and, in the first few minutes of the broadcast, one receives many over-arching concepts that historians have established about the Spartans. As Mme Hughes points out, the Spartans established a radical social reform before the Classical world even began. The results of this social reform was to make a state wherein all Spartans were equal, where our concepts on the rights and duties of citizens are derived from, and where both genders had many privileges. Studying the Spartans, however, is difficult. They left few records and they did not build grand architecture; in fact, in the same documentary, a comparison was made: if Athens was a state made famous by the arts and grand architecture, Sparta was a state made famous by the minds of its citizens. Our concept of utopia is derived from the Spartans, a people — as Mme Hughes points out — who tried “to be as human as humanly possible”.
Much we know of the Spartans comes from later writers or from Athenian writers, Sparta’s enemy. Considering the staunch bias of Athenian writers, the Sôgmô has instead turned to a later writer, Plutarch, who wrote from Roman Boeotia. Using the Penguin Classic’s On Sparta, which is a collection of Plutarch’s Lives on Lycurgus and on Agesilaus and several other authors who wrote on Sparta, the Sôgmô shall write a paper in the next month and a half on why the study of Lycurgan Sparta is important to the Sandum Nation-State’s construction by the very hands of its own citizens — a sort of self-created, sovereign state.
What do we mean ‘Lycurgan Sparta’?
Sparta was not always the state we know of as being militaristic. In fact, in its very beginning, pre-Classical time, it was not “Good Ordered” (Good Order is an ancient Greek governing concept, where the common good is derived). Sparta was settled early on in a valley between the Taygete and Parnon mountains, on the river Eurotas. Three kings prior to Lycurgus, the man who made Sparta the most “Well Ordered” state in all of Greece, Sparta began to expand into the rest of Lacedaemonia, or Laconia. Expanding west, past the Taygete ridge, the Spartans captured Messenia, the region from which helots came from.
At this time in Peloponnesian history, even in broader Greece, states were unstable. Power was being constantly being fought over by autocrats and by mobs of democrats. Sparta was considered to be the worst of those states, and Lycurgus’s brother was even murdered by one such mob. When Lycurgus was prepared to take the throne, he opted out as his brother’s widow was pregnant with the rightful king. Lycurgus ceded the throne to be a protector of the new-born king. When he was scandalised into trying to usurp the young king, Lycurgus journey all across Greece to find a solution to Sparta’s poor Order. He travelled across Greece, to the islands, to Crete, and to Egypt. He returned to turn Sparta into a new state.
Without taking away from the future research paper, Lycurgus established the best Ordered state in all of Greece. Although today we condemn Sparta for being a regime based upon helot slaves and non-citizen perioikoi, being led instead by citizen Spartiates, we ought not to take Spartan governance out of context when these forms of slavery and disenfranchisement were common throughout Greece, especially in Athens (this is to say that we should not hold the ancients to our contemporary standards). By the end of Lycurgus’s life, before he left Sparta and committed suicide so that the Spartiates would not alter his revolutionary constitution, he remarked how it seemed all of Lacedaemonia was as if an estate of brothers, remarking on the similarly sized homes with similarly sized bales of grain stacked together.
The word we use today that is derived from Spartans, ‘spartan’, truly describes their unique lifestyle. Sworn to not use fanciful tools in construction, educated from birth to follow the purposefully unwritten rhetras (Spartan laws which were made to be spoken and remembered), and practicing their religion in small, economical ways “so that [they] may never stop honouring the Gods”, the Spartans are a unique example in the Classical period whose purpose for being the way they were is so very Sandum. The militarism of the Spartiate and perioikoi classes, whereas in Sandus we are very much pacifist, reminds us of Sandum Libera; their conventional rhetras remind us of Realism; their religio reminds us of the Collegio; their economic system — Sandum Socialism; the Lycurgan way of life — Sandum modesty and compassion.
With the Sôgmô’s research, we hope to bring to light just how related Sandus is to this Classical example. More so related than to Athens or to Rome, Sparta was a state of the people and a state of mind.