To celebrate the release of ‘The Queen of Sparta‘ by T.S. Chaudhry, we asked the author to give us all some interesting facts about Ancient Sparta… and here they are!
20 Facts about Ancient Sparta
Ancient Sparta inspires many films and books, as you know. But here are 20 facts about Ancient Sparta you probably don’t know…
- Sparta had two kings. The powers of the Spartan Kings were not very well-defined except that they were meant to lead armies in battle. After one incident it was decided that Spartan kings ought to command separate armies to avoid disagreements.
- The entire Spartan society was organized to support its army. Spartan men were not expected – even required – to do any task other than soldiering. This was the basis of the Spartan code drawn up by their lawgiver, Lycurgus.
- Spartan boys were taken from their mothers at the age of 7 and put through a tough military education programme called the Agoge – the Upbringing. The conditions were brutal and mutual competition and conflict was encouraged. Pupils were punished more often for being caught than for breaking rules.
- Spartan soldiers were trained to control their fear and maintain discipline. Their success lay not only in their considerable tactical skills but also in their staying power in battle.
- Spartans were always confident of victory. They used to say, “Spartans do not ask not how many are the enemy but where they are.”
- Spartans were so proud of their military prowess, they did not see the need to build a wall around their city. This was the origin of the saying: “Sparta’s wall are her warriors.” It was only after Sparta declined as a military power that walls were built to defend Sparta.
- *Spartans disliked long speeches or sentences. When a Spartan general sent back a message that he had taken Athens, he was admonished that all he should have said was “taken.”
- Spartan men lived together in barracks until they were well into their prime. Newly-wed men had to sneak away to visit their wives and were not expected to live with them.
- Spartan men dined together – and not with their families. Each Spartan was expected to contribute equal amounts of ingredients for their meal. Failure to contribute these items could result in the lowering of a Spartan’s status and even loss of citizenship.
- Spartan men wore their hair very long and women were required to cut theirs’ short on their wedding night and most of kept it short for the rest of their lives. Spartan women often slit the lower part of their dresses to aid in dancing and running. Other Greeks called Spartan women: “thigh flashers.”
- Spartan girls received the same education as boys. Unlike elsewhere in Greece, Spartan women were allowed to inherit and own property.
- When saying goodbye to a son going off to war, a Spartan mother while giving him his shield would say, “either with it or on it” – meaning he should return victorious or dead.
- Spartan women were supposed to smile with pride if their loved died bravely in battle and cry if they came back alive after a defeat. One woman is said to have killed her own son for returning a live after an ignominious defeat.
- Helen of Troy was born in Sparta. She was worshipped there as a goddess. Spartans believed that her spirit could turn an ugly child into a beautiful one.
- In theory, all Spartan male citizens were equal under the law and property was allocated to them by the state. The Spartan Kings were supposed to be first among equals and could be punished, and even dethroned, by the magistrates.
- Sparta rejected democracy as it existed in Athens and elsewhere. When a man argued that Sparta should be a democracy, Lycurgus, the Spartan law-giver responded, “start with your family.”
- The Spartan Assembly – the Appella – comprising all adult male would meet to elect magistrates. Usually, the candidates who got the loudest shouts in their favour got elected.
- A group of people, called the Perioiki – “Outlanders” – lived within Spartan domains. They were freemen, who were required to fight and die for Sparta, but they had no political rights.
- The largest group of people living on Spartan territory were the Helots, who were slaves of the Spartan state and whose lives were in the hands of their Spartan masters.
- Every year Spartan magistrates would symbolically declare war on the Helots. Spartan citizens could then kill them, if they wanted, with impunity. And also every year, the brightest graduates of the Agoge were sent out, as a training exercise, to assassinate Helots.
T.S. Chaudhry was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He has a Bachelors Degree from Cornell University, a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. A former Pakistani diplomat, he has been working for the United Nations on peace and security issues in Africa.
The Queen of Sparta is Chaudhry’s first novel. The story came to him several decades ago while he was reading Herodotus for his ‘A’ Level examination. It occurred to him that a case could be made for Gorgo of Sparta orchestrating the Greek resistance to the Persian invasion without essentially changing any of the facts presented by Herodotus. This is essentially an alternative retelling of a well-known tale.
He is currently working on a ‘prequel’ to the Queen of Sparta based on events leading up to the Battle of Marathon, called Fennel of Field.