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Ancient Authors: Who Was The Most Reliable In Ancient Sparta

977 words - 4 pages

‘It has been said that Sparta had two separate histories, its own and that of its image abroad...Considering how much was written about Sparta in antiquity, it is remarkable how confused, contradictory and incomplete the picture is. Partly this is because the mirage is constantly cutting across the reality, distorting it and often concealing it altogether; and partly because the Spartans themselves were so completely silent.”With respect to our knowledge of the helots in ancient Sparta, how accurate do you believe this statement to be? Support your position by discussing the primary sources available on ancient Sparta.It is accurate to say that many ancient writers recorded works associated with ancient Sparta. Very few of these works were recorded by Spartans or those who had any first hand experience of the city or contact with the people early in Spartan history when the helot class originated and when their role and treatment was being moulded. Those that did, such as Xenophon and Tyrtaeus, were written from the perspective of the most powerful class in Spartan society, the military Spartiates. For these reasons it is entirely accurate to claim that our evidence of Spartan society, and specifically the helot class, is distorted, incomplete and confused. Furthermore, it is accurate to assume that given these reasons the reality could be contradicted by the mirage or myths established by these writers.Thucydides who wrote his famous “The Peloponnesian War” late in the 5th century BC, wrote after the major events in Spartan history that led to the development of the helot class and when the attitudes towards the helots were being developed and their roles formulated. Thucydides work focused on the war and on foreign relations with society and the helot class not being central to his work. Any evidence produced by Thucydides must be read in light of the fact that he greatly admired the Spartan system of controlling and suppressing the helots.Like Thucydides, Herodotus wrote in the 5th century BC when he compiled his famous works ‘The Histories’. While his writings include information related to Sparta he too primarily deals with Spartan foreign policy and thus provides little to no evidence relevant to the helot class. Furthermore, any evidence he does provide on the helots is distorted by his strong bias against the constitution of Sparta and therefore against how the Spartiates controlled and treated the helots.The two famous Athenian philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, while having something to say on the Spartan system and therefore the position of the helot class within this system, provided works that were not only biased, but also written to support the political philosophies they were proposing at this time. Plato greatly admired the Spartan system particularly the order and stability that ensure the helot class remained submissive in Spartan society. Therefore, like the other ancient writers, Plato’s...

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