Essay On Spartan Culture And Politics As It Relates To The Battle Of Thermpylae

1619 words - 7 pages

Ancient Greek and Roman Studies

The 300 Spartan Hoplites who were slain during the battle of Thermopylae , 480 BCE, Thermopylae, were a representation of Spartan beliefs and ideals ingrained upon them by the Spartan education process, such as hatred of death and eagerness to die for their country, because they died gloriously in battle defending the honor of Sparta and upholding the law. They epitomized the spartan ethos because they chose an honorable death in the defence of Sparta, rather than flee and disgrace Sparta, polis before self. As a result of their unfailing obedience and upholding of their law, the 300 were commemorated in a monument erected at Thermopylae.

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Lycurgus laws did not only reform the politics of Sparta but are all encompassing and redefined the face of Sparta. The laws created by Lycurgus created an efficient society focused solely on war by removing many nonessential aspects of Spartan life. Despite not possessing political equality, Spartan laws grant all citizens socio economic equality and sameness is all aspects. “With the diffusion of money, at once a number of vices were banished from Lacedaemon.” (Plut. Lyk. 9) This is one of the ways in which Lycurgus creates equality and prevents corruption in the government, he removes bribes and prevents inequality. This also fixed the huge economic disparity at the time , prevented greed and solved the bankruptcy after the Messenian war. Sparta was successful because of laws established by Lycurgus, which gave stability and focus to the Spartan civilization. “And to consent to a new division of the land, and that they should live all together on an equal footing.” (Plut. Lyc. 8) This is another way by which Spartans are equal; in addition to having economic equality, they have equally divided shares of land. Lycurgus gives his people socio economic equality, but only the illusion of political equality and freedom. Sparta is essentially an oligarchy of the old; the three ruling bodies are the kings, the ephori and the council of elders. Sparta is not democratic because the people have no sway in decisions, only in selecting their leaders.
The Spartan ethos and laws grant the Spartans great success, but also greatly hinders them. The Spartans are seen as courageous because of their lack of fear but are cowards because of their fear of disgrace. The Spartans fought solely in battles that they were guaranteed victory. “Since they did not suppose that the fighting in Thermopylae would so soon be decided, they only sent the forerunners of their force.” (Herodotus. 7. 206) The Spartans again give a festival as a reason for not participating in a battle and only send a fraction of their force. The Spartans, although capable of sending their entire force, do not wish to risk defeat at Thermopylae. The Spartan army’s sends the 300 men so that they can aid in the defense of Thermopylae but do not risk losing a great deal of men.
At Thermopylae the mere 300 Spartans and their allies are utterly defeated and must flee to prevent the total desecration of their forces. Sparta remains with the Thebans and the Thespians to give their allies time to flee but also because they themselves are unable to flee. “He ordered them to depart, but held that for himself to go away was not honorable.” (Herodotus. 7. 220) Leonidas and his men do not flee the battle because for them to flee would be damaging to the reputation of Sparta, while if the stayed and died Sparta’s honor would remain intact. Due to the nature of the Spartan ethos, Leonidas does not really have the option to flee as he and his men would be shunned as...

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