This Week’s Learning: Ancient Sparta

I’m currently listening to A History of Ancient Sparta by Timothy Shutt. Some thoughts, so I keep posting:

  • I thought gay marriage was a new thing, but the Spartan’s practiced a form of contractual gay relationships. Twelve-year old boys were paired with twenty-year old men, and these pairings lasted until the younger’s training was completed, when he turned twenty. Then he’d be picked for another gay contract. Of course neither the modern practice nor the ancient Spartan are marriage, but they do exist under official and overt contracts.
  • Spartans were a feared, but small force. There were never very many Spartan men; usually less than 10,000. The land they controlled was worked by their slaves, the Helots, who outnumbered Spartans 10-1. There were also a class of craftsmen, the perioikoi, who were free, but not citizens of Sparta. Shutt theorizes that Sparta developed into a military state because they needed every man in the professional army to control such an overwhelming number of slaves.
  • Spartan women were known to be beautiful, athletic, naked, (too) outspoken, and “free with their sexuality” in comparison to the other Greek city-states, and even other peoples. Older Spartan men often shared their younger wives with other men. Spartan wives, it is said, liked this arrangement. A wife would preside over two homes and no Spartan–male or female–was allowed to do work. Keeping house meant telling Helot slaves what to do.
  • The crimson cloaks of Sparta–the official and mandatory uniforms–were dyed with the same Phoenician/Canaanite/Tyrian purple dye which the Romans used for their garments, and which is mentioned in Revelations. I may never buy another red or purple shirt.

One thought I had concerning the reasons that Spartan men became so individually imposing is because there were so few of them, and there had to be a lot of Spartan women. The men often died in battle, right? So what do you get when the men are constantly going off to either train for war, or go to war? You get women who can’t be bridled. You get women who expect every man to be better than the one who came before, and men who want to live up to that; if not exceed it. You get an elite group of men who can’t individually “service” the population of beautiful, nude, mouthy women.

As I was listening, I wondered if America isn’t working itself, unreflectively, towards a Spartan model. The author mentions, and I have heard myself directly, that many Europeans consider American women to be beautiful, (too) outspoken, and “free with their sexuality”. I certainly think there is a case to be made that we are developing–again, without thought–a marked separation between peoples which is turning America into a society of:

  • Spartans (Athletes/politicians/entertainers/bankers/etc. In a word: Alphas)
  • Perioikoi (Technicians/programmers/lawyers/accountants/middle management/Master Tradesmen/etc. In a word: Betas)
  • Helots (Mexicans/Blacks/Poor Whites/etc. In a word: Chumps)
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20 thoughts on “This Week’s Learning: Ancient Sparta

  1. Cane, you aren’t the only one who sees parallels between America today and ancient Greece. There are also valid comparisons to be made with ancient Athens as well.

  2. “… Europeans consider American women to be beautiful, (too) outspoken, and ‘free with their sexuality’.”

    Funny. American Soldiers stationed in Europe say the same thing about European women. And most of them date hotties that wouldn’t give them a second glance in the States. Maybe it’s a case of women preferring novelty.

  3. As I was listening, I wondered if America isn’t working itself, unreflectively, towards a Spartan model.

    Not really, if only because Sparta, for all of it’s many other flaws, was a powerful and highly effective military force. America is rapidly devolving from that.

    As far as comparing American women with their ancient Spartan counterparts, the “naked,” “(too) outspoken,” and “free with their sexuality”parts match perfectly, but unless obesity is now considered beauty and tapping on a Smartphone is considered “athletic,” then the comparison falls short.

  4. @feeriker

    You’ve missed the comparison.

    There were only some thousands of actual Spartans in Sparta. The vast majority of people living in Sparta were Helots and Perioiki, who served the Spartans.

    As for American military might: Yes, we have surely peaked. Sparta though, wasn’t a conquering country. That’s another problem with a professional army: Not enough troops/citizens to hold land.

  5. This is always a minefield

    While people make the case for the older man/ younger boy pairing to be homosexual, it wasn’t always viewed as such. Also read because sons were so vitial, homosexuality was punishable by death.

    Probably comes down to what point in history you are looking at

    There were all sorts of Spartan men who were not peers. They were tradesmen, merchants etc vs Spartan soldiers. I think it was a class issue, but can’t recall if families moved up or down with any regularity

    As for physical imposing men, they had an effective breeding program, caring more about quality then paternity coupled with a culture that damn near worshipped strength, endurance, discipline, high pain threshold…. Think that explains it all.

    I’ve read read over 300 non fiction books, but I have also been punched in the head a lot and blown up 7 times, so my brain is sort of scrambled and I might not have all that straight

  6. @SFC Ton

    There were all sorts of Spartan men who were not peers. They were tradesmen, merchants etc vs Spartan soldiers. I think it was a class issue, but can’t recall if families moved up or down with any regularity

    Those were the Helots (slaves who worked the land) and Perioikoi (free tradesman, craftsmen, etc.). They lived in Sparta, under Spartan rule, but were not Spartans, and not citizens.

    As for physical imposing men, they had an effective breeding program, caring more about quality then paternity coupled with a culture that damn near worshipped strength, endurance, discipline, high pain threshold…. Think that explains it all.

    A great deal of the breeding program was killing infants. They “cared more” about quality than quantity, too. Abortion, anyone?

    @DG

    There are also valid comparisons to be made with ancient Athens as well.

    No doubt. The picture I have is that all these things were in each of the Greek cultures. Sparta is more representative of them though. They pursued these over others. Pederasty, for example, was common in Athens, but it wasn’t government recognized, mandated, and controlled as it was in Sparta.

  7. Dalrock is correct. Men and women only came together when they wanted to couple. Otherwise, they were apart. And young boys were quickly taken from their mothers and raised by men.

  8. @ SFC Ton says:
    September 25, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    “I think it was a class issue, but can’t recall if families moved up or down with any regularity”

    It was fairly easy for a male Spartan citizen to lose his status as a Homoioi (peer), and damn near impossible for anyone to attain it. Many Perioiki and half-Spartan bastards went through the Agoge and became Soldiers in the Sapartan Army. Some even became officers, but they were almost never accepted as Homoioi.

  9. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2016/09/29 | Free Northerner

  10. I’m a bit skeptical with respect to the prevalence of homosexuality in Sparta and the rest of Ancient Greece. If homosexuality is hard-wired, then can any amount of socialization overcome the revulsion most me feel towards it?

  11. @Phil

    Welcome.

    Sodomy is an act. It is not “hard-wired”.

    Even if it were: So what? It is mentally difficult for most people to kill a man in close quarters; especially if he has done you no wrong. It takes a lot of training to overcome that mindset, and in modern times it is not always successful.

    The Spartans took great pains to be successful at both.

  12. Perioikoi were Spartan by blood, but not peers. If I recall correctly. They also went to war with Spartan Peers, as light infantry and other support troops.

    I use to read extensively on the topic, sort of my own hillbilly classical education, but for whatever ever reason, it’s the area I have the most recall problems with do to TBI’s.

    As you can probably imagine, I fancied myself quite the modern Spartan at one point in life.

    No doubt culling the herd was part of their low tech breeding program. Not that I condone leaving babies to die. How many young men failed ie died during their training regimes as well? Most def quality over quanity

    I also found their politics fascinating, both internal and external. Plus they lasted, what 700 years? That’s a pretty good run.

    Does anyone thing the usa with last 300-350 years? I mean sure the borders will be the same, mostly likely but culturally, plotlitcally and demographically completely alien from those who founded the nation.

  13. @SFC Ton

    Perioikoi were Spartan by blood, but not peers. If I recall correctly. They also went to war with Spartan Peers, as light infantry and other support troops.

    Yessir. However; their blood might be Spartan, part-Spartan, or not Spartan at all. And if you asked a Spartan if a Perioikoi was Spartan, you would be told no.

    Does anyone thing the usa with last 300-350 years? I mean sure the borders will be the same, mostly likely but culturally, plotlitcally and demographically completely alien from those who founded the nation.

    Back in 2007 (I think) I read Mark Steyn’s “After America” and I had the thought that 1,000 years from now historians will likely see the USA as the Western British Empire similar to the way we see Byzantium/Constantinople as a continuation of the Roman Empire. So have some cheer: The British Empire has has a good run! Ha!

    In all seriousness: I want I and my family to live forever, for real. The USA cannot give me that even if it should run 5,000 years. And if I want that for me and my family, and friends, and all our future heirs the key is to pass them the knowledge of Christ and the church; not the USA.

  14. But they still have to live in the physical world

    No do I see where it’s either or. More like yes to Christ and a secure, prospering nation state.

    Lol never cared for Mark Steyn… but won’t hold that against you because you took your thinking/ writing to a whole other level

  15. 1) Men and women both like a little novelty.

    2) Does the book cover the Spartan approach to money and property? I’ve heard that the Spartans used giant cast iron bars as money so it was hard to hoard up secretly.

  16. @goodluckduck

    Welcome.

    The iron bars money was mentioned. It seems to have been done for a short time in response to growing greed. It was abandoned when powerful Spartans found they liked to also be rich Spartans.

    Anyway: The Oracle at Delphi prefers to be bribed in gold.

  17. @ SFC Ton

    We’re exiles sojourning in Babylon. I commented on this on Dalrock’s blog about a year ago, and I still think Jeremiah 29 contains the right approach and mentality.

    4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their [a]produce. 6 Take wives and [b]become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the [c]welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its [d]welfare you will have [e]welfare.’ 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to [f]the dreams which [g]they dream. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.”

    Note that the Jews exiled in Babylon also had false prophets in their midst.

    The biggest challenge we have – and Cane has identified it – is that we’re scattered throughout a great empire, not concentrated in one area of a great empire. The Jews didn’t face that particular challenge (later they did). We also have an advantage that they didn’t. We can communicate over great distances, so even though we’re scattered, we can still send prayer requests, pray for each other, encourage each other and support each other in practical ways when necessary.

    A few of us have already met in person. I think we may want to organize some more meet-ups. It’s a good step towards vetting each other.

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