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Territory of ancient Sparta

Sparta , located in the south of the Peloponnese , was the capital of the Laconia region and the state of the Lacedaemonians in antiquity . In German, his name is mostly used in the broader sense for this state, which for centuries was the strongest military power in ancient Greece . Although called the Polis , Sparta differed in many ways from other Greek city-states, above all Athens .

Sparta's power rested on a unique state and social order that was more militarily shaped than in most ancient communities . Since Aristotle it has often been described as a hybrid of democracy , oligarchy and monarchy , although the oligarchic-aristocratic elements dominated. Political participation in Sparta was reserved for a small minority of full citizens, the Spartians . These were economically supplied by the oppressed helots , who made up by far the largest part of the population. A third group were the personally free but politically unlawful Periöks . In a simplistic way, these structures are often presented as an alternative to the Attic democracy , which guaranteed a much larger part of the population political equality as citizens. The double kingship was also characteristic of Sparta. According to Aristotle, however, it was more of a hereditary general office, the holder of which had hardly any monarchical powers.

As elite fighters, the Spartans formed the backbone of the Spartan Army . Its military strength enabled Sparta for a long time to exert a great influence on the fortunes of all of Greece. So it played a prominent role in the Persian Wars and went on in 404 BC. BC victorious from the Peloponnesian war against Athens. However, Sparta did not succeed in maintaining the hegemonic position it had now gained over a longer period of time. At the latest after the defeat against Thebes in the Battle of Leuktra in 371 BC. It lost this position again. In the following 200 years Sparta tried in vain to regain its supremacy at least in the Peloponnese. In the 2nd century BC Like all Greek states, it came under Roman rule , but nominally retained its status as a free city until the 3rd century AD.

A peculiarity of Spartan history is that there are no written sources from the hand of the Lacedaimonians themselves. As a result, the image of Sparta was shaped by often hostile contemporaries from other poleis or by the sometimes romanticizing historians of later times. To this day, mythical and idealizing representations make a realistic reconstruction of the history of Sparta difficult .


The ancient name in Attic ancient Greek is Σπάρτη ( fem. ) Spártē , in the Doric dialect Σπάρτα Spártā . In classical times, however, it was only used to refer to the city itself. The state, the capital of which it was, and the associated regions were mostly called Λακεδαίμων ( Lakedaimōn , German also Lacedaemon ). Contemporary sources usually speak of the "Lacedaemonians" (Gr. Οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι ) when they mean Sparta as a state.

The name of the city is mythically traced back to the fact that the state founder Lakedaimon named his capital after his wife Sparte . In this myth, she was the daughter of King Eurotas of Laconia. This mythically reinterprets the conquest of the area as a dynastic union.


Landscape near Sparta
The excavated amphitheater of ancient Sparta, the modern city in Evrotas -Tal and the Taygetos

The urban area lay on the eastern foothills of the Taygetos Mountains, close to the right bank of the Eurotas River and was no longer populated in the Middle Ages. A new establishment took place in 1834, see Sparta (municipality) .

A fertile plain stretches on both sides of the Eurotas River and is flanked by two mountain ranges, Taygetos in the west and Parnon in the east. In this river basin, Sparta emerged from a few villages. The location of Sparta offered natural protection through the mountains surrounding the river valley. However, only a small area of ​​around 500 km² was agriculturally usable.

The city consisted of four spacious, garden-rich quarters, which together had a circumference of about nine kilometers. In contrast to Athens, Sparta did not include its conquered territories, which is why the Spartan population remained relatively small compared to Athens. It is estimated that 600 BC Around 40,000 to 50,000 people lived in the city itself.


Until the Hellenistic period the city had no continuous walls, since the dreaded army could keep all enemies away; Only the tyrant Nabis put on a wall ring, which was destroyed by the Achaeans soon afterwards , but was restored on the orders of the Romans and renewed in early Byzantine times . Of the individual quarters (Komen), Pitana in the northeast is named as the most beautiful. Here was the agora with the assembly buildings of the Gerusia and the Ephors , the Persian hall built by the Persian booty and in Roman times the large theater clad in white marble, of which some remains have been preserved.

Sparta did not have a high acropolis . This name was given to the hill of the city, on the top of which stood the temple of Athene Chalkioikos , the city deity of Sparta. In addition to those mentioned, the city had numerous other temples and monuments, which Pausanias names, the location of which can still be partially verified today. Remains of Roman baths are to the northwest and southeast of the theater, remnants of an old bridge over the Eurotas on today's road to Argos and Tegea . There were other squares in the west of the city: On the road to Messene were the Dromos with two high schools and the Platanistas square, which was planted with plane trees and where the youths used to wrestle.

The construction of the mountain fortress and residence town of Mystras in its west led to the desolation of the ancient city.



The theater from the early imperial era on the slope of the Acropolis is best preserved. On the acropolis itself there are remains of a gate and the city wall as well as a stoa (perhaps the Persian stoa mentioned by Pausanias ). In the northeast of the city center, on the banks of the Eurotas , you can see some remains of the famous sanctuary of Artemis Orthia , where the famous annual ritual of the flagellation of the Ephebe took place. Numerous finds from this sanctuary are exhibited in the city's Archaeological Museum. A little outside the city are well-preserved remains of the Menelaion , the Heroons of Menelaus and Helena .

Politics and the State

The constitution of Sparta was laid down by Lycurgus in the Great Rhetra, which has been handed down by Plutarch. Accordingly, the political institutions of Sparta initially included the double kingship, the gerusia (council of elders) and the apella (popular assembly). Only later were the ephors added.

Lycurgus and the Great Rhetra


Lykurg or Lykurgos was the legendary founder of the political and social order of Sparta, who was regarded as one of the great legislators in ancient times.

The person of Lycurgus cannot be reconstructed in a historically tangible way and probably did not exist. Various attempts at dating place them between the 11th and 8th centuries BC. A. According to different traditions, Lycurgus is said to have been of royal descent and guardian of a king. Other sources, on the other hand, see a divine figure in him, yet others see him as the namesake for a number of institutions whose original meaning has been lost. So Plutarch summarized the various legends in a biography, which today serve as the most detailed ancient source on the life and legislation of Lycurgus.

Lykurg's life was embellished in Hellenistic times and took on many elements that also characterize other legislators (e.g. Solon ). He was said to have traveled abroad to Crete, Asia and Egypt, the establishment of order in the dispute between people and kingship and the legislation in Sparta, which made him lose an eye. He also forbade written laws. Afterwards he swore the citizens to the observance and immutability of the new order by oath and went into exile, where he died. Lycurgus received cultic honors and a sanctuary in Sparta.

Great rhetra

The Great Rhetra is probably the oldest and most controversial document on Greek constitutional history. It is integrated into the biography of Lycurgus written by Plutarch and cited here in detail for the first time. Around 650 BC The text to be added to the BC is presented by Plutarch as a Delphic oracle to Lykurg, which is in the context of the establishment of the Gerusia (the council of elders). It should be noted that the Great Rhetra was not associated with Lycurgus from the beginning, but only initially associated with the Oracle of Delphi.

The dating of the Rhetra to the middle of the seventh century is conclusive, since the Messenian wars resulted in a great expansion of the Spartan territory. This resulted in new tasks, especially with regard to the control of the newly won land and its population. In addition, the introduction of fixed political structures represented a kind of leveling of power that was supposed to counteract the concentration of power in the hands of a few.

Small speeches

Plutarch handed down three other rhetoric. These laws, known as “little rhetoric”, forbade, among other things, the luxury of building a house or repeatedly fighting the same enemy. They are in a different context from the great rhetra and were probably not ascribed to Lycurgus before the fourth century.

Content provisions of the Great Rhetra

“Lycurgus was so dear to this authority (i.e. the Gerusia) that he obtained an oracle from Delphi through it, which is called Rhetra:
'... he shall build a sanctuary of Zeus Syllanios and Athena Syllania; Furnish Phylen and Above; constitute a council of thirty including military leaders (i.e. kings); from time to time (i.e. at regular intervals) the people's assembly between Babyka and Knakion is called and thus (i.e. taking into account the preceding provision) and resign (i.e. submit motions to the assembly for a vote and dissolve them by resigning); ... and strength. '"

- Plut. Lyk. 6.2; Translator Bringmann 1975 [1986]

The Great Rhetra now regulated Sparta's political life. This also meant the construction of two sanctuaries, which emphasized or legitimized the value of the order, which was fixed for the first time, as well as establishing a certain community identity.

With the establishment of Phylen the division into three groups of persons with certain family and local relationships is designated. It illustrates the predominance of a few noble families who held a certain position of power. A presbytate presided over the phyls, presumably from one of the noble families. The above, however, either denoted the subdivisions of the Phylen or were names for the village districts of Sparta.

The council of thirty denotes the gerusia , i.e. the council of elders, which was composed of 28 citizens of Sparta who were older than 60 years and the two kings. The council had two main areas of responsibility. He decided which motions were to be submitted to the people's assembly and thus had a significant influence on the political decision-making process. He also took on procedural tasks in the case law.

It was also determined that a people's assembly was convened at regular intervals , in which the people voted on the respective motions by acclamation. Members were all citizens from the age of 30. However, the people in the Apella could not take political initiative, as no ad hoc motions from the meeting could be made, but only the proposals made by the council were voted on.

The ephorate , which was of great importance in the political constitution of Sparta, is not yet mentioned by the rhetoric.

Supplementary clause at Plutarch

“If the people should speak out in favor of a crooked saying, the elders and generals (that is, the council) should resign (that is, dissolve the congregation in this way). « (Plut. Lyk. 6,8; transl. Bringmann 1975 [1986])

The additional clause thus granted the council a right of veto, since it made it possible to prevent a (then binding) decision by prematurely dissolving the assembly.

Meaning for Sparta

It is certain that the rhetra was not written by Lycurgus alone, but was subject to a lengthy development process. However, this does not diminish its importance, because it was the first time that the institutionalization of political decision-making bodies and the process of decision-making itself were laid down. Furthermore, she established criteria for membership in the citizenry, for example through the establishment of Phylen and Above. Because every citizen, if he wanted to be regarded as such, had to be a member here. The speeches were supposed to create a common identity of the Spartians as members of a cultural community. These are also of great importance for the further course of Spartan history, as they were referred to again and again.

Double kingship


As in many ancient subject areas, the sources of the kingship in Sparta are thinly scattered and, in general, knowledge about the kings before 600 BC. Only sparsely available. Herodotus provides some information that mainly describes the duties and privileges of kings. However, according to recent research, his description does not correspond to the actual situation in some respects. Regarding the historical development of kingship, reference can be made to Thucydides , who includes the kings and their governments living at the time his work The Peloponnesian War was written . Further sources can be found in Xenophon ( Lakedaimonion politeia ) and Plutarch (vitae parallelae) .

The kings in the constitutional system

Constitutional system

In the Eunomia, Lycurgus specifies a certain succession of rulers, according to which (in this order) the "kings" ( basileis ) , geronts and citizens should rule. This concept of order was also to be found in the Great Rhetra, which among other things secured kingship. The Spartan constitutional system essentially provided for the interaction of various organs. In addition to the kings and the gerusia , there were five ephors that controlled the decisions of the kings, but accepted their power and primacy. The relationship between kings and ephorates was always marked by inconsistencies. A monthly oath was supposed to oblige the kings to align their rule with the law, while the ephors swore in return to preserve the kingship. The kings were also members of the Gerusia. If they were unable to attend meetings, their votes were transferred to relatives within that council. The Gerusia controlled the kings and was the highest court before which they could be tried.

Above all, the kings were subordinate to the army, over which they were in command as generals. Its Greek name was basileus . In archaic times, this word did not mean " monarch ", but rather characterized leading men or officials in a polis. In research, therefore, it is often argued that it is better not to speak of kingship even for classical Sparta , since this translation, which is quite possible in other contexts, in this case ultimately leads astray: the two Spartan basilis are rather only primi inter pares and been hereditary commander in chief of the army.

Double kingship

The most important feature of the Basileia Sparta was the so-called double kingship. Its purpose was, among other things, to limit the power of the basileis . The two sexes of the Agiads and Eurypontids each provided a king who could rule together in the form of a dual power for life, with the Agiads enjoying the higher esteem. Theoretically, the two kings were of equal rank and had the same scope of power. In practice, however, the balance of power often changed and was not infrequently transferred to the respective descendants. One of the kings always had sole power, the other could only try to balance things out. A marriage between the two royal houses, which would have created a possible equalization, was not allowed, as the Spartians wanted two royal houses.

King lists

Credible lists of kings only existed around the 6th century BC. Those before that were often compiled by ancient historians at will and briefly kept together in unknown places in the genealogy. This gives the impression that up to around 600 there were always successors, his sons, who were directly descended from the king, while after this time there was no longer necessarily a separate son as a legitimate successor.

Duties and privileges of kings

The kings had two main tasks: commanding the army and exploring the divine will.

Leadership of the army

Since 505 BC During military campaigns only one king, previously elected by the people, was in front of the army. Since the Persian Wars he was occasionally accompanied by two ephors who controlled his decisions, but were not allowed to intervene during the campaign. After that, the ephors were allowed to prosecute the king if they believed they had noticed wrongdoing. The wealth of the kings came from the fact that they were allowed to take a preferential share of the booty of their campaigns in addition to the rich property of their family and the land available to the respective king in the Periöken area.

Exploring the Divine Will

As descendants of the Herakleids , the kings administered certain priesthoods ( Zeus Lakedaimonios and Zeus Uranios) and had Pythians (messengers) through whom they were in contact with the Delphic oracle and who kept the oracle sayings. Further privileges were the judiciary (so they could marry rich heirlooms and adoptions had to take place in their presence) and the responsibility for carrying out public sacrifices. They were the only ones who were excluded from the agoge in childhood . In addition, they received special donations of sacrificial objects and a place of honor at the communal meal. When a king approached, everyone (except the ephors) had to rise. If the king died, his corpse, if it had previously been on the battlefield, was preserved in honey and transferred to Sparta, a privilege that only kings were entitled to. The Spartians, as well as the Helots and some Periöks, were required to attend the funeral, and official life came to a standstill during the general mourning that followed, which lasted ten days. Finally, the dead kings were heroized.


The gerusia represented the council of elders in Sparta.


The term Apella (from ancient Greek ἀπελλάζειν , apellázein: to hold a popular assembly) denotes the assembly of all Spartians who are able to fight and represents one of the four institutions (double kingship, ephors, gerusia) of the Spartan constitution. The term appears only once in the Great Rhetra, furthermore in two early Roman inscriptions. In contrast, Thucydides and Xenophon used the term Ekklesia, which was common for the Greek people's assembly.


In the Great Rhetra, the Spartan constitution, it was stipulated that the Apella should be convened regularly.


The Apella was not an initiative body, but could only reject or accept proposals. The citizens lacked the right to apply and ordinary citizens were only allowed to speak with the approval of the ephors. Preliminary discussions in the people's assembly therefore only offered a picture of the mood, which is a fundamental difference to the Athenian people's assembly, at which every citizen could speak and submit motions. It was also voted by loud shouting (acclamation) and not by counting votes as in Athens, which made it possible to influence decisions. Only in cases of doubt was a so-called mutton jump (split into two groups) decided. Nevertheless, the Apella was important for the formation of opinion in political decisions and was involved in important decisions: It decided on war and peace, certain commanders, passed laws, elected geronts and ephors (from previously determined candidates) and was also able to obtain their removal. In disputed cases, the people's assembly decided on the succession to the throne. The people's assembly was initially called by the kings and / or geronts. It was not until the sixth century that the ephors, who submitted motions for acclamation to the popular assembly, were in charge.


Even if the citizenship has been involved in more decisions since the formation of the Peloponnesian League and the Persian Wars and has thus been given more weight, it has not been granted any expanded powers. The Apella therefore did not develop into an initiative body and did not take on broad civic responsibility for the community, as in Athens, for example. The political weight of the Spartan people's assembly is therefore assessed differently. Its importance lay primarily in the fact that it decided in the event of differences of opinion within the political leadership (Gerusia, Ephors, Kings) and that its scope for action was not limited to simply accepting the plans of the political leadership.


The five ephors (Greek for overseers ) were elected annual officials and belonged to the institutions of the Spartan constitution alongside the dual kingship, the council of elders (Gerusia) and the popular assembly (Apella). However, they are not mentioned in the Great Rhetra, the Spartan constitution.


The time of origin, historical context and beginnings of the ephorate are only partially tangible. In antiquity, the ephorate was ascribed either to Lycurgus or later also to King Theopompus , which made it possible to dismiss the institution of the ephorate as non-lycurgic and to demand that the ephorate be disempowered, like kings Pausanias at the beginning of the fourth century and Cleomenes III. after the middle of the third century.

In ancient times, the ephors were seen as a counterbalance to the kings, since the ephors, for example, were the only ones to remain seated when greeting kings. In addition, since the middle of the 6th century at the earliest, a monthly oath was taken by the ephors as well as by the kings: The ephors recognized the royal position and the kings undertook to comply with the law. Nevertheless, the ephorate did not emerge from a class struggle, and the ephors did not exercise any protective function against the kings, but should be seen as a gradually developing institution that served to balance power within the upper class.


The five ephors were elected for one year by the popular assembly. The minimum age was 30 years. According to Aristotle, they were often poor and came from all over the people, which is why they were seen as a counterbalance to the aristocracy. However, ephors had to have full citizenship, which is why no impoverished and underprivileged Spartians could hold the ephorate. Last but not least, the voting process - whoever received the loudest calls was elected - enabled influence. The traditional ephors ( Chilon , Brasidas, Leon, Endios, Antalkidas) also came from leading circles. In principle, however, the ephorate was open to all Spartians.


  • Inside: general moral supervision (upbringing, conduct of life), penance, arrest and indictment, control over strangers, control and capital criminal law over perioces and helots , civil jurisdiction , criminal processes for political offenses (against citizens, officials and kings) and capital crimes (jointly with geronts and kings), financial management, implementation of resolutions, calling and chairing the people's assembly (which also included the submission of motions for voting and the implementation of elections).
  • Religious area: leading the gymnopaidia , carrying out the state sacrifice in the procession of the youths for Athena Chalkioikos, carrying out a sky observation every nine years, which could lead to the deposition of the kings.
  • Foreign policy: annual declaration of war against the helots, reception or rejection of envoys, leadership of the assembly of the Peloponnesian League.
  • Military area: advice on war and peace and election of commanders in the people's assembly, mobilization , determination of the size of the army, military advice to commanders in the field.

Room for maneuver and importance

The assessment of the meaning of the ephorate is influenced by Aristotle , who saw the function of the ephors in keeping the people calm on the one hand, and compared them with tyrants on the other. Accordingly, the ephorate is largely valued highly in modern research.

Their importance can be seen in the fact that the Spartan year of office was named after the chairman of the ephors, that they were listed in documents after the kings and that they had their business premises in the agora. Nevertheless, no independent policy can be identified, and the ephors could be overruled in the popular assembly. The oath agreement between ephors and kings as well as the integration into the political system prevented the development of power. The ephors were also accountable to their successors. Since the term of office was also limited to one year, a longer-term policy was prevented.

Mikra Ekklesia

A Mikra Ekklesia (Small Gathering) is mentioned in Xenophon in connection with the Kinadon conspiracy. It is not clear how the Mikra Ekklesia was composed, whether it was a permanent institution and what importance it was. It was assumed that it was either the Gerusia, the Tele (governing bodies of Sparta: ephors, geronts, kings), a spontaneously convened and thus incomplete popular assembly or a group of respected people (i.e. not the entirety of the Spartians ) . In general, one sees in the Mikra Ekklesia a reference to the oligarchic character of Spartan politics.


Syssitien (the sources also contain the terms Phiditien and Syskenien ) are used to describe the daily meal communities in which every Spartan full citizen took part. In addition to the compulsory education, they were one of the essential elements of civil life in Sparta.

Social classes in the Spartan state

Lacedaemon society was clearly stratified . Despite the fundamental stability of the class boundaries, social mobility both upwards and downwards was possible. The Spartians were full citizens of the Lacedaemonian state . You alone had political rights. The second main stratum were the Periöks , who ranked one level lower than they were Lacedaemonian citizens but had no political participation rights in state affairs.

Between these two classes of Lacedaemonian citizens stood the grouping of the Hypomeiones , citizens who in principle had the prospect of full citizenship and who came into this space between the two classes through descent from the ranks of the Spartians or ascent from the ranks of the Periöks. Below the Periöks stood the Helots as the deepest integral social grouping of the Lacedaemonian state. They were not citizens, but state property. This group had a status similar to slaves , but differed from the slave groups of buyers, looters and debt slaves that were widespread at the time due to various peculiarities .

Between the Periöken and the helots, an intermediate layer arose in the 5th century due to the services of heavily armed helots who had become freer. Although they were personally free, they had to be ready for permanent armed service, their place of residence was assigned to them and they seem (at least in the generation of those who have been freed themselves) to have owned no land. They were called neodamodes .

Social Role of Women in Sparta

Like all Hellenic communities, Spartan society was organized on a patriarchal basis. The shift assignments mentioned above explicitly only apply to men. No statement is made with this clarity about women. Marginal notes from the sources must serve as clues about them. The women of Sparta apparently got their status after that of their father. There is no mention in the sources of advancement through marriage to a man of a higher class.

The first known laws on the position of women in society (more precisely: the class of full citizens) were drawn up in Sparta. Above all, she had the position of giving birth to a new warrior . Like boys, girls received an upbringing supervised by the state and - not at all common in Hellas at the time - received the same diet as boys. At an older age (from around 20 years of age) the desired status of a woman was marriage. Men, too, presumably often married before the age of 30. Older unmarried women were mocked by those around them - as were unmarried men.

Since the men did military service, women took over most of the economy and the household, as well as the supervision of the servants and child-rearing, until this was taken over by the state at least for the boys at the age of seven. Nevertheless, women were not granted any civil rights, including no formal political influence. However, women from the upper classes had a certain influence and decision-making power in society. This was made possible, among other things, by the fact that, unlike women in other Poleis, the Sparti women could inherit land or, as widows, not only manage the man's property in trust for their sons, but also actually own them. Sparti women were thus at least potentially fully materially secured and also had full right of disposal over these resources.

Even if Sparta was patriarchal and hierarchical, compared to the extreme lack of rights in other parts of ancient Greece, such as Athens or Gortyn, women were granted a certain dignity and self-determination, at least through their role as regulating power in the household.

Education of the youth in Sparta

The educational system of Sparta, known as Agoge (Greek ἀγωγή, agogé "education, rearing, breeding") was known for its rigor. Every male Spartan citizen, with the exception of those descended from the king, had to complete it in physically demanding training. Ancient authors like Plato , Xenophon or Isocrates saw in this education the reason for Sparta's military success.

The boy lived on the seventh or eighth year of life no longer with their parents, but in groups of peers, where they were trained by fighting games and hardened. They also learned to read and write as well as social manners. Their diet was deliberately kept short so that they could get used to hunger and learn to procure their own food, including by stealing.

At the age of 20, the young people joined the ranks of the Spartan military. The institution of the krypteia , a ritual hunt for the helots , played a role in their initiation . They formed all-male groups up to the age of 30 and were only then considered full citizens of Sparta. The girls in Sparta, in complete contrast to the other Greek city-states, also went through state-organized training. However, this was a little less focused on physical exercise than the training of the boys.

Spartan military affairs

The Spartan army has been considered the best citizen troop in Hellas since archaic times. Continuous education, freedom from gainful employment and the civil ethos of the Spartians formed the basis of success. Furthermore, the largest police force could be put together by the raising of perioecs and later the arming of helots and the hiring of mercenaries , which up to 370 BC. Together with the contingents of the cities of the Peloponnesian League, formed the largest army in Greece.

Doric boy love

The pederasty was an "erotic colored mentorship".

Sources and literature

Since there are hardly any sources of love for boys from Sparta itself and beyond that nothing leaked out, little has been passed down to us about love for boys in Sparta itself. One can only say something about it by drawing conclusions from sources found in other Doric cities (e.g. Corinth). For the most part, however, one has to rely on non-Spartan sources (Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Aeschylus). Caution is advised here, however, as they did not come from Sparta, but had a transfigured view of it.

Since there are few sources on Doric boy love, there is also very little specific literature on it. Otherwise one has to rely on books on boyfriends throughout Greece, which contain a small section on the Dorians.


The term Erastes (ἐραστής, erastḗs ) can be translated as "lover, lover". He had to be at least 30 years old and a free citizen of the city. An Eromenos (ἐρώμενος, erṓmenos "lover") was between twelve and 18 years old, so was in the middle of puberty. The Greeks themselves referred to this phenomenon as paiderastía (παιδεραστία "boyish love").

Political and social importance

In his “State of the Lacedaemonians” Xenophon depicts the love of boys as a form of education desired, even required by the State of Sparta, which was even written into the law. This offered quasi religious support. Through the establishment in the law it was brought into regulated forms and anchored in society.

From a legal point of view, the Erastes was on an equal footing with the father of Eromenos, but with the difference that he was punished for the wrongdoing of his Eromenos, not the boy himself or his father. He represented him in business and in the popular assembly.

Ethical importance

Through the relationship with a man, the boy should be taught and exemplified the manners and principles of society. This high requirement presupposed that the Erastes himself was an honorable citizen. Because of this, high demands were placed on him, he had to be courageous, brave, clever, capable and an honorable citizen with a perfect way of life, otherwise he would not be selected. The boy had to be distinguished by courage and bravery. It was considered a great shame not to have an Erastes or Eromenos as it meant not being honorable. Another aspect of boyhood love was the idea that an Erastes or Eromenos did not want to be ashamed in front of his partner and therefore did not allow himself to make mistakes.


If a man fell in love with a boy, he announced to the family of the chosen one that he would be robbed three or four days in advance. If the family did not agree with the man, so if they considered him dishonorable, they thwarted the robbery at the announced location. Hiding the boy himself would have meant the family did not consider him worthy enough to have an Erastes. However, if the family had no objection to the man, they only pursued the couple to the man's house, where the two lived for two months, after which the boy returned richly to his family. The relationship lasted beyond that point until the boy was 18, and then turned into a lifelong friendship.


Religion determined the entire political, social and private life of the city and was present in all areas of society.

Gods and heroes

There were twelve main gods : Zeus , his wife Hera , his brother Poseidon , his sisters Demeter and Hestia , his children Athene , Hephaestus , Ares , Aphrodite and Hermes , Apollon and his sister Artemis , who had their "residence" on Mount Olympus . There were also numerous specific gods, such as the city gods, subterranean gods, demons, the heroes and the family gods.

The supreme god of Olympus was Zeus . He was also venerated as the father of Heracles. The kings derived their origin from these two. In Sparta there were two cults of Zeus, that of Zeus Lakedaimon and that of Zeus Uranios, which the two kings served as priests.

A second main deity of the Spartians besides Zeus was Athene , the daughter of Zeus. She was venerated by the Spartians as the “guardian of the city”, “goddess of the bronze house” and “goddess of the bronze gates”. Athene's temple was referred to as Chalkioikos (Greek "the one who lives in the bronze house"). The temple and the gates were decorated inside and out with large bronze panels.

One of the oldest gods of Olympus was Artemis Orthia . On the one hand, it protected the birth and upbringing of youth. On the other hand, it killed people and animals. She was therefore responsible for the creative and destructive elements of nature.

Artemis Orthia's brother was Apollon , god of light, healing and music. The artists and poets portrayed Apollo as the personification of youthful beauty and the bearer of strength.

Patrons of Sparta were the Dioscuri (ie sons of Zeus), Castor and Polydeikes. They represented the virtues of the Spartians , castor as horse tamer and polydeics as warrior.

The heroes were known or unknown dead who had once served the community and gave their lives for it. In contrast to other deceased, a cult developed around the hero, who was distinguished by his longevity. The most famous hero of Sparta was Lykurg (also Lykurgos), a legendary Spartan lawgiver and alleged creator of the Spartan order. The royal couple Menelaus and Helena were not only revered as heroes, but even achieved the status of gods, as evidenced by the Menelaion sanctuary . It was archaeologically proven around 700 BC. For Menelaus, Helena and the Dioscuri.

Celebrations, rituals, sacrifices

The most important Spartan festivals were associated with Artemis Orthia and Apollon. Numerous festivals and rituals were held in honor of Artemis. Because it was associated with youth education, the Spartans held an annual competition in which the boys had to steal cheese. Another famous ritual in honor of Artemis that took place in her temple was the flagellation of boys. The three most important Spartan festivals in honor of Apollo were the Hyacinthia, the Gymnopaidia and the Karneen.

The importance of religion in Sparta can be understood through numerous sacrifices to the gods. Before the campaign, the king sacrificed to Zeus. If these sacrifices were favorable, the army marched with the altar fire to the national border. There the king again sacrificed to Zeus and Athena. Only when the victim was positive did the army cross the border. The altar fire as well as the sacrificial animals were taken and the sacrifices continued during the campaign as is proven by Herodotus' description of the battle of Plataiai. According to tradition, such border sacrifices were almost exclusively carried out by the Spartians , which means that religion was closely linked to politics. The outcome of the victims, i.e. H. the answer of the gods was taken seriously.

There were different cults in Sparta: Zeus cults, Apollo cults, Helena cult. There are several traditions from Herodotus and Pausanias about the cult of Helen. Helena , the wife of King Menelaus , was worshiped in a tree in Sparta. After the king's death, Helena was expelled from Sparta and found refuge with the Queen of Rhodes. The King of Rhodes had died in the Trojan War and Helena was accused by the Queen of being the "cause" of the war. Helena was killed by the queen's maids and hung on a tree. The poet Theokritos composed a song for a choir of twelve Spartan girls, in which the girls hang flowers on a tree with the inscription “I am Helena holy”.


Traditions about Spartan religion come from various written sources and inscriptions. Through the excavations in Laconia and in Sparta itself, some sanctuaries have been archaeologically proven: the sanctuary of Menelaus in Therapne , the sanctuary of Apollon Hyakinthos in Amyklai , the sanctuary of Demeter Eleusinion southwest of Sparta, the sanctuary of Zeus Messapeus near Sellasia , the sanctuary the Artemis Issoria, the temple of Artemis Orthia, the sanctuary of Athena Poliachos, the temple of Achilles north of the Acropolis Sparta. The individual statements about the gods and heroes are handed down in the notes of the travel writer Pausanias, who traveled to Laconia in the 2nd century AD and described the temples.

The Spartan festivals


The hyacinths were carried out annually at the end of May / beginning of June. The Hyakinthiafest got its name in honor of the beautiful boy Hyakinthos , who was loved by Apollon and unfortunately killed by a discus. The festival was held in Amyklai , a few kilometers south of Sparta, where the tomb of Hyakinthos and an approximately 13 m high statue of Apollo were.

The festival, which was celebrated by the Spartians in honor of Apollo, consisted of two phases. The first phase was marked by "lamenting", prohibitions and renunciation, this phase symbolized death and mourning as overwhelming human feelings. This first phase could be called the “Festival of the Dead”. The second phase was dominated by happy events, singing and dancing, festive processions, etc. This phase was dedicated to life and joy. This phase could also be called “Festival of the Living”.


The Gymnopaidiafest was "the festival of the naked boys". The festival lasted at least three days and was held in the Agora in Sparta at the end of July each year . The administration of the festival was probably in the hands of the Ephors . The entire male population took part in this festival. At the Gymnopaidiafest, choir competitions were held by three age groups of men (boys, youth, older men). These choir competitions were extremely grueling, as they took place in the hottest part of Greece in the hottest month of the year and some of them were apparently "infinite" in length. Plato cited the exertion at this festival as one of the reasons for the perseverance of the Spartians in campaigns. The Gymnopaidiafest can be understood as a kind of initiation festival for young men.


The carnelians were carried out in honor of "Apollon Carneios " (Aries Apollon) in the month of Carneios (August) of each year. The nine-day Carnelian Festival was an imitation of soldier life, as the time shortly before the harvest was also the time of the campaigns. There was a military tone and the feeding took place in nine tent-like huts, each of which held nine men. The Spartians asked Apollon to bring the polis a good harvest. They also commemorated the founding of the city by the Dorians by carrying around replicas of the rafts on which the Heraclids are said to have crossed the straits of the Corinthian Gulf between Antirhion and Rhion. They thanked "Apollon Carneios" as the god under whose guidance this venture had succeeded. Another important rite of this festival was a pursuit race. A young man who had prayed to the “city gods” in advance ran off and was hunted by unmarried men, the so-called “Staphylodromoi” (vine strippers). If the hunted was caught, it was a good omen for the polis, if the caught was not a bad sign for the future. In addition, musical and sporting competitions were held. The first mentioned winner of such a music competition is Terpander (676 BC). The carnelian ended with the full moon.

The Importance of Cults for Sparta

The ritual festivals reflected the Spartan social order. In the Gymnopaidia, for example, older men who had reached the age of 30, were unmarried or had no children, were refused entry. The young men were thus shown what they had to achieve in order to be able to participate in public life as full citizens of Sparta. The influence of religion on the politics of the Spartians is also evident . The religious festivals were the business of the entire city and received the undivided attention of the Spartans. All public shops were closed, court sessions etc. were canceled because all residents had to attend the festivities. Armed acts were stopped and urgent decisions were postponed. B. at the Battle of Marathon , to which the Spartians showed up late due to the Carneia .

"They held their duties to the gods higher than those to mortals."

- Herodotus 5,63

Apollo cults in Sparta

In Sparta, the Apollo cult was an integral part of society. According to the myth, the constitution (Great Rhetra) of Sparta was personally approved by the Delphic Apollo, who assured Lycurgus that Sparta would be the most glorious state as long as he retained the constitution introduced by Lycurgus. The longest and most important Spartan festivals, Karneia, Gymnopaidia and Hyakinthia, were also celebrated in honor of the god Apollo.

Apollo cults in Roman times

During the imperial era, Sparta retained some of the earlier facilities in a modified form. The three most important urban festivals, however, remained the initiation celebrations, Hyakinthia, Gymnopaidia and the Carneia, which were consecrated to Apollo.


The sources that report on the religious cults in Sparta are largely written by ancient authors, whose works are often only preserved in fragments. In his travels in Greece and Plutarch , Pausanias reported in general about the festivals of Sparta . The Gymnopaidia are mentioned in the Hellenica Xenophons . The main source of Karneia provides Athenaios . Polycrates, Pausanias, Herodotus in the Histories and Athenaeus deal primarily with Hyakinthia . Furthermore, inscriptions are known, especially since Roman times, such as B. the inscription of Damonon, which refers to the competitions. Archaeological finds that were made at the cult sites (e.g. Amyklai) are also important for understanding cult.

Sanctuary and cult of Artemis Orthia

The origins of the sanctuary

The identification of the place of worship is possible not only through the description of Pausanias , but also through inscriptions that mentioned Artemis Orthia. The earliest came from the 6th century BC. BC, was on the limestone relief of a horse and reported that a Panidas or Epanidas consecrated the horse of the "virgin" Orthia. The British School of Athens found during their excavations (1906-1910) a total of three phases of construction of the sanctuary, the earliest of which v in the outgoing 9th century. And the last can be dated to the first half of the 6th century. The expansion of the facility, which was located between Limnai and the low terrain of the Eurotas River , was mainly financed by the Spartan wars. In the beginning, the sanctuary consisted only of a small natural basin (30 m²) that was used as an earth altar. Over the centuries, attempts were made several times to build a stable temple, but this was a difficult undertaking due to the unsecured location of the sanctuary. Floods destroyed the temple complex several times and could only be repulsed by massive sand heaps (600 BC), which raised the area. The approximate appearance of the last temple built was illustrated by the Xenocles painter on a relief from the 2nd century BC. The remains of this last temple complex have been preserved to this day. Around 250 AD the Romans built a theater opposite the Temple of Artemis. There, ritual ritual acts like the flagellation of the Ephebe (often to the point of deadly seriousness) were imitated and attracted numerous tourists to Sparta. Archaeologists from the School of Athens made numerous votive finds such as iron skewers and, above all, leather and lead figures (approx. 100,000 pieces) that were affordable for large groups. These finds show the popularity of the cult among the people of Sparta.

The cult and its rituals

Cult legend: Orestes and Iphigenie stole the Xoanon (carving) of the Orthia from the land of the Taurians and then brought it to Sparta. Alopekos and Astrabakos , the sons of Irbos , found the Xoanon in a chaste tree and both went insane at once. Other Spartians wanted to make a sacrifice to the Xoanon of Orthia, but fell out during the ritual and began killing each other. The survivors became infected with a strange disease and also died shortly afterwards. The frightened Spartians questioned an oracle who advised them to make human sacrifices to Orthia. A simple lottery process was used to select the one for the victim. This bloodthirsty ritual lasted until Lycurgus replaced it with the flagellation of the Ephebe . During this ceremony, a priestess stood by the altar and held the Xoanon of Orthia to catch the boy's blood spurting. She was very careful that none of the boys were spared from the lashes in order to satisfy the Orthia's bloodlust.

Flagellation of the Ephebe: Further details on this ceremony, which played a central role in initiation and education ( agoge ), can be found in several ancient sources. Xenophon and Plato reported a dispute over a cheese lying on the altar, which one group had to take away and another to protect. Later texts described the ritual only as flagellation (diamastígosis) . Here boys were flogged every year in the presence of their parents and tutors at the altar of Artemis Orthia. Both descriptions of the ritual emphasize the honor of receiving the most blows and enduring them with the greatest steadfastness. The close connection with the Artemis Orthia cult requires the flagellation to be viewed in a different context: The ritual not only served to harden the men-to-be, but was also intended to strengthen their fertility. The ceremony was a magic of strength and fertility at the same time and underlined the role of Artemis Orthia as the goddess of fertility and growth.

Agone: Numerous inscriptions from the Hellenic and Roman times describe extensive rituals (e.g. animal fights) in honor of the goddess, which consisted of artistic and athletic agons . The prizes were all consecrated and had little to do with the actual competition. Archaeologists confirm several finds of sickle-shaped knives (probably winemaker's knives) and assume that they stood in relation to Artemis Orthia's character as the goddess of fertility and vegetation

Round dances: " Theseus and Peirithoos both came to Sparta, saw the girl ( Helena , daughter of Zeus ) dancing in the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, robbed her and escaped." From this description one can infer that round dances apparently took place in the cult. Participants formed groups known as “herds of cows” and wore crowns of reeds and terracotta masks. The dances connected God and man on a transcendental level and were representative of the myths, beliefs and customs of the Spartians .

Reception in language and literature

Numerous myths and legends have formed about Sparta. Sparta has also left its mark on the German language. Two adjectives have formed with his name:

  1. Spartan , which stands for “strict, tough, undemanding, frugal, simple”, that is, characteristics that relate to the character and way of life of the Spartians ;
  1. laconic , which can be seen as a rhetorical figure and roughly means "taciturn" and aims at the tendency of the Spartans to use short, dry, but apt formulations. The answer of the Spartan King Agis III is a classic . at a threat from a Macedonian ambassador who hurled at him that his king would level the whole city to the ground when he had conquered it. The answer was, “If.” It didn't come to that either.

The short story Wanderer, come to Spa… (1950) by Heinrich Böll refers to the Thermopylae epigram in Friedrich Schiller's translation: “ Wanderer, are you coming to Sparta , proclaim there that you have / seen us lying here like the law it ordered. "

Research history

The scholarly study of Sparta began in the Renaissance with the rediscovery of ancient authors, later became in part an object of idealization and a means of propaganda, and nowadays, with new questions and refined methods, turns primarily to social history. A detailed overview of the history of research was presented by Professor Karl Christ from Marburg in the introduction to the anthology he edited ( Sparta , 1986). Only the most important developments and their main representatives are mentioned below.

Of the early authors who commented on the Spartan constitution, Montesquieu and Rousseau should be mentioned, who, however, did not yet publish any coherent works on Sparta, but instead, in the context of their theoretical treatises on the state, assessed Lycurgus as one of the greatest and most admirable legislators of antiquity. Schiller, on the other hand, saw the constitution of Lycurgus far more critically, just as Herder later rejected the Spartan state in his lectures on philosophy . It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that monographs on the history of Sparta and the Dorians began to be written, among which the works of Johann Kaspar Friedrich Manso (1800–1805) and Karl Otfried Müller (1824) are the first to be mentioned. Since the mid-19th century, Sparta has increasingly been treated in general works on the history and constitutional law of Greece.

In 1925 Viktor Ehrenberg published the monograph New Founders of the State , the statements of which are only partially tenable today. Helmut Berve (1937) developed an image of Sparta that served the propaganda of National Socialism by instrumentalizing the Dorians as a Nordic race and as descendants of the Nordic master people. After the Second World War, extensive studies on Sparta did not accumulate again until the 1980s, such as the one by Manfred Clauss (1983), the anthology edited by Karl Christ (1986) and the monographs by Stefan Link (1994), Lukas Thommen (1996 and 2003), Mischa Meier (1998) and Karl-Wilhelm Welwei (2004). At the same time, Anglo-Saxon research gained in importance, of which Douglas M. MacDowell ( Spartan Law , 1986) and above all Paul Cartledge, Stephen Hodkinson and Anton Powell should be emphasized.

The history of research in Sparta is generally shaped by the tension between resolute rejection and enthusiastic admiration. François Ollier ( Le mirage spartiate , 1933), Eugène Napoleon Tigerstedt ( The Legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity , three volumes, 1965–1978) and finally Elizabeth Rawson ( The Spartan Tradition ) dealt with the idealization of Sparta, which began in antiquity in European Thought , 1969).

See also

Ancient sources


  • Ernst Baltrusch : Sparta. History, society, culture. 2nd Edition. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-41883-X .
  • Paul Cartledge: Sparta and Lakonia. A Regional History 1300 to 362 BC. 2nd Edition. Routledge, London / New York 2002, ISBN 0-415-26276-3 .
  • Paul Cartledge: The Spartans. The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece. Woodstock 2003.
  • Paul Cartledge, Antony Spawforth: Hellenistic and Roman Sparta. A Tale of Two Cities. 2nd Edition. London / New York 2002.
  • Karl Christ (ed.): Sparta (= ways of research . Vol. 622). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1986, ISBN 3-534-08809-3 .
  • Stephen Hodkinson, Anton Powell (Eds.): Sparta. New Perspectives. London 1999.
  • Stefan Link : The early Sparta (= Pharos. Volume 13). St. Katharinen 2000, ISBN 3-89590-096-6 .
  • Nino Luraghi : The Ancient Messenians. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2008, ISBN 978-0-521-85587-7 .
  • Andreas Luther : Kings and Ephors. Investigations into the Spartan constitutional history. Frankfurt am Main 2004.
  • Andreas Luther, Mischa Meier , Lukas Thommen (eds.): The early Sparta. Stuttgart 2006.
  • Douglas M. MacDowell: Spartan Law. Edinburgh 1986. ISBN 0-7073-0470-9 .
  • Robert Paeker: Spartan Religion. In: Anton Powell (Ed.): Classical Sparta. Techniques behind her success . Oklahoma 1989, pp. 142-172.
  • Charlotte Schubert : Athens and Sparta in Classical Times. A study book. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2003.
  • Raimund Schulz : Athens and Sparta. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15493-2 .
  • Conrad M. Stibbe : The other Sparta. Mainz on the Rhine 1996.
  • Lukas Thommen: Sparta. Constitutional and social history of a Greek polis. Metzler, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-476-01964-0 .
  • Elisabeth Charlotte Welskopf (Ed.): Hellenic Poleis. Crisis - change - effect. 4 vols., Akademie Verlag, Berlin 1974.
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei : Sparta. The rise and fall of an ancient great power. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-94016-2
  • Michael Whitby (Ed.): Sparta. Routledge, New York 2002.

Web links

Commons : Sparta  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul Cartledge: Spartan Reflections , London 2001, p. 22 f.
  2. Klaus Bringmann: The Social and Political Constitution of Sparta - A Special Case in Greek Constitutional History? In: Karl Christ (Ed.): Sparta (= ways of research. Volume 622). Darmstadt 1986, pp. 448-469, here p. 448; Ernst Baltrusch: Sparta: History, Society, Culture , Munich 2010, pp. 27–35.
  3. Lukas Thommen: Sparta: Constitutional and Social History of a Greek Polis , Stuttgart / Weimar 2003, p. 1.
  4. Thommen 2003, p. 2.
  5. Cartledge 2001, p. 26; Lukas Thommen : The Spartan cosmos and its "field camp" of the homoioi. Conceptual and research historical considerations on the Sparta myth. In: Robert Rollinger (Ed.): Greek archaic: internal developments - external impulses. Berlin 2003, pp. 127-143, here p. 127; Nino Luraghi : The Helots: Comparative Approaches, Ancient and Modern. In: Stephen Hodkinson (ed.): Sparta. Comparative approaches. Swansea 2009, pp. 261-304, here p. 262; Lukas Thommen: Sparta's handling of the past. In: Historia. Volume 49, 2000, pp. 40-53, here p. 40.
  6. Arnulf Zitelmann: The world of the Greeks. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008, p. 57 f.
  7. Arnulf Zitelmann: The world of the Greeks. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2008, p. 58.
  8. Cf. for example Martin Dreher : Athens and Sparta . Munich 2001, p. 44.
  9. Plutarch, Lykurgos 6.
  10. probably once a month, cf. Scholien zu Thucydides 1:67: at full moon .
  11. cf. z. B. Xenophon, Hellenika 3, 3, 4.
  12. Strabo 8, 5, 5; Aristotle , Politics 1301b.
  13. Plutarch, Kleomenes 10.
  14. Plato , Laws 692a; Aristotle, Politik 1313a 27-29
  15. Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans 15, 6 f.
  16. Plutarch, Lykurgos 25.
  17. Aristotle, Politics 1265 39 f .; 1270b 9 f.
  18. (only documented once in the case of Leonidas 242, Plutarch, Agis 11).
  19. Plutarch, Lykurgos 28.
  20. not sure
  21. Ephors were immediately after kings, their competitors and the most powerful institution in classical times.
  22. Thucydides 5:19 , 25; 8, 58; SEG XIV 330.
  23. Xenophon, Hellenika 3, 3, 8.
  24. ^ Maria Dettenhofer: The women of Sparta. In: Maria Dettenhofer (Ed.): A pure man thing? Women in male domains of the ancient world. Munich 1994, pp. 21-22; see. Paul Cartredge: Spartan Reflections , London 2001, p. 123.
  25. Plutarch speaks of the "λεγόμενη ἀγωγή ἐν Λακεδαιμόνι".
  26. ^ Carola Reinsberg : Marriage, Hetarianism and Boy Love in Ancient Greece. Second edition. Munich 1989, ISBN 3-406-33911-5 , p. 163.
  27. Erich Bethe : The Doric boy love, its ethics and its idea. In: Andreas Karsten Siems (ed.): Sexuality and eroticism in antiquity (= ways of research , 605). Second edition. Darmstadt 1994, pp. 17-57.
  28. Kenneth Dover : Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. CH Beck, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-406-07374-3 .
  29. Herodotus 9:36 .
  30. Theocritus 18:48.
  31. Paul Stengel : Ὑακίνθια . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume IX, 1, Stuttgart 1914, Col. 1 f.
  32. ^ Manfred Clauss : Sparta. An introduction to its history and civilization. Beck, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-406-09476-7 .
  33. Pausanias 3:16.
  34. Xenophon, State Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 9; Plato, nomoi 1 p. 633 B.
  35. Plutarch, moralia 239d .; Philostratos, Vita Apollonii 6, 20.
  36. Plutarch, Theseus 21.

Coordinates: 37 ° 4 '  N , 22 ° 26'  E