The most important traits of Spartans were toughness, obedience, and fearlessness. A fictional testament to the discipline and toughness of the Spartan culture is the tale of a Spartan boy and a fox, in which a boy steals a fox cub and is caught by the land owner. The owner confronts the boy and after a lengthy interrogation the boy suddenly drops dead. The owner discovers that the fox has eaten the boy\'s insides and the boy had bled to death. Another great example of Spartan toughness of mind and body that actually occurred is the march from Sparta to Athens in 490 BC; a distance of 140 miles accomplished in less than three days.
Spartan philosophy, Who needs numbers? This idea enabled them to \"fight to the death.\" Sparta was the only city state in Greece to buy the arms and armor for its soldiers. The mark of the Spartan army was a red cape and red helmet crest with a shield displaying the symbol lambda which is a Greek letter standing for Laconia, or Lacedaemon the area surrounding Sparta. The primary weapon used by the Spartan soldier was the spear and the secondary weapon was the short sword used for close-in fighting. They would march at the enemy or hold their ground, either way they simply let the spears do the talking. The formation used in battle was the phalanx. It was a tight formation that moved as one and provided an almost impenetrable wall of spears. If one man fell, the next soldier would come forward to take his place. Their style of fighting influenced other city state armies in the region as the Spartan Army would easily lay waste to armies of superior numbers.
Teamwork and the individual’s effort to benefit the group were extremely important. The shield (aspis) symbolized an individual soldier\'s subordination to his unit which was an integral part to the army’s success. The shield further symbolized a soldier’s solemn responsibility to his brothers-in-arms. It was critical that the shield not be lost. Spartan mothers sent their son off to battle with the clear understanding of \"bear your shield or be borne on it\", in other words,\"either return victorious or return dead\". If a Spartan soldier (hoplite) were to return to Sparta alive and without his shield, it was assumed that he threw his shield at the enemy in an effort to flee; an act punishable by death or banishment. Of note, soldiers losing his helmet, breastplate or greaves (leg armor) was not similarly punished, as these items were personal pieces of armor designed to protect the individual soldier. However, in a phalanx, the shield protected the soldiers on both sides and to the rear. The greatest honor to be bestowed upon a Spartan solider was death in the heat of battle.
For centuries, Sparta\'s reputation as a land-fighting force was unequaled. In fact, Sparta possessed the most formidable army in the Greek World from 550 to 371 BC. Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece devoted to military training. It regarded itself as the natural protector of Greece. The society was devoted to maintaining a disciplined and ready fighting force of its male citizens. Spartan males left home for military boarding school at the age of 7 and were required to serve in the army until age 30.
Perhaps the most widely known event of Spartan war-machine effectiveness is related to the conflict with Persia. The Spartan stand at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC has been repeatedly cited as an example of the advantages of discipline, training, and courage against overwhelming odds.
In the Battle of Thermopylae, an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian Army at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece near the east coast. The Greeks were vastly outnumbered 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and about 6,000 other the Greeks held back the Persian force of 1,000,000 for three days in one of history\'s most famous last stands. The small force led by King Leonidas of Sparta blocked the pass through the mountains to delay Persia’s massive army from passing into southern Greece.
King Leonidas dismissed the majority of the Greeks on the third day and stayed behind with the remaining 300 Spartans and 700 Thespian volunteers. The Persians succeeded in taking the pass and killing all of the remaining Greeks, but sustained heavy losses (20,000 dead). The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens the invaluable time to prepare for the Persian arrival.
This led to the subsequent Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis leaving much of the Persian Empire\'s navy destroyed and heavily influenced the Persian King’s (Xerxes) decision to withdraw back to Asia. He decided to leave a portion (50,000 Persian soldiers) of his army in north-western Greece for the Winter. And in the Spring, his army marched south to confront the Greeks. The Spartans assembled at full strength and led a pan-Greek army that defeated the Persians decisively at the Battle of Plataea. This battle ended the Greco-Persian War and, with it, the expansion of the Persian Empire westward into Europe. The defiance of the Greeks to be subjugated by the Persians preserved a culture that would prosper under democracy and be the founding principals for modern day western governments.
Even after the decline of Sparta as a regional power, it still necessitated respect. The father of “Alexander the Great”, Philip II, sent a message to Sparta saying \"If I enter Laconia, I will level Sparta to the ground\", the Spartans responded with a single, brief reply: \"If\". Philip of Macedon created a league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece for an invasion of Persia. The Spartans were excluded from the league because Philip understood the risk of attempting to pressure by use of force Laconia to fight with his army.
After Philip’s death and upon the conquest of Persia, Alexander sent 300 suits of Persian armor to Athens with the following inscription \"Alexander son of Philip, and the Greeks - except the Spartans - from the barbarians living in Asia\". The 300 suits was symbolic of the sacifice of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. The whole gesture of sending the suits to Athens was directed against the Spartans who were not interested in participating in the conquest of Persia. He wanted the Spartans to know the lesser Greeks were able to defeat the Persians without the Spartans.
Historical Context of Spartan Dominance
(1) Marathon 1st Marathon run. The origins of the \"marathon\" comes from the legend of a Greek soldier who was sent from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to request assistance in the fight against the Persians. The Persians were defeated by the existing Greek soldiers on-site without outside assistance. It is said that the soldier ran the entire distance without stopping and moments after proclaiming his message to the city he collapsed dead from exhaustion. The mountainous path taken by the soldier has a distance of about 34.5 km (21.4 miles). The modern day marathon is a long-distance running event that measures 42.195 km (26 miles 385 yards).
(2) The Battle The Thermopylae portion of the “Spartan” history above also in red.
The source for this Spartan History is Wikipedia
|This article comes from Spartan War Fighters|
The URL for this story is: