Sparta: The Women Behind the Warrior Culture

Sparta: The Women Behind the Warrior Culture

Sparta succeeded in building an active status during the classical period. Xenophon, a Greek historian, once recorded his surprise concerning the unique position, which Spartan had among the Hella’s states. The historian was especially astonished by Sparta’s extraordinary powers and small population with prestigious community[1].Sparta had merged powerful due to its strong military, which enabled it to conquer other states. The city-state trained its males for war. Loman, for instance, notes that Sparta’s men were exceedingly ready to sacrifice their lives to their city[2]. However, just like men, the female population was at the heart of Sparta’s success in building a reputation for itself during the era. Women performed different kinds of tasks, which were equally critical to the community’s prosperity economically, socially, and culturally. This paper describes the role played by women in building the warrior culture of Sparta.

Spartan women won a solid image in the entire Green for being domineering and forthright. In Sparta, men typically worked and mingled outside their homestead. In most cases, the city’s male population was engaged in wars although they would occasionally appear in their households to enforce their will. However, the city’s men showed little interest in the way their homes were run, but still had some significant influences on family matters[3]. Surprisingly, few historical documents record women’s participation in high profile community matters such as warfare[4]. Therefore, historians rely on 7th century Archaic Greek poets’ accounts as well as subsequent Greek literary figures and historians to understand the culture and lives of Spartan women.

Based on the sources, women of Sparta were responsible for the city’s day-to-day economic, legal, and cultural life. Besides their main roles such as controlling property, running households, and raising children, Spartan women contributed their efforts in the city’s warfare. For example, for example, they actively kept Sparta’s civilization stable during combats. Thus, even though many historians tend to be supportive of men’s military action, and especially their bravery in war, there are suggestions that women made substantial contributions to the city’s prosperity. Three examples of Spartan well-known female characters include Damatria,Queen Gorgoand an unknown woman who rejected her son for being cowardice in a war.

Essentially, Spartan women played a crucial role in the city-state’s warfare. As expected though, women’s participation in combat as opposed to them being victims of the same has received astonishingly minimal attention from the ancient and classical historians.[5] Loman adds previous work on the subject seem to underestimate the effectiveness and role of Spartan’s women’s active participation in warfare. Nevertheless, history suggests that there are women who played a critical role in aiding men in war. Scholars such as Rosivach have analyzed some aspects of the role of women in wars and at home. For example, in his “Execution by stoning in Athens,” Rosivach provides an account of Lycides, who was stoned to death by women of Athens for “supporting peace settlement in 479 BCE.”[6] After a close evaluation of this story, Loman concluded that women, by nature, were not peacekeepers. By contrast, Sparta’s women were voiced strong backing for warfare[7].  Generally, history report women celebrating the victory in wars or mourning the defeat with their men. Moreover, the account of Lycides demonstrates the dedication of women to support their men’s action even if it meant sacrificing peace.

Furthermore, Spartan women are known to be partners of their men not only in marriage but also in statesmanship. For example, according to Plutarch, a Roman historian, Lycurgus, Sparta’s lawmaker recognized bear children to be the primary responsibility of women.[8] However, in Sparta, kids were groomed to be the states’ defenders who calmed down rebellious slaves. Accordingly, Sparta’s ability to possess greater power depended on how many children its women bore. Later how, the Spartan rules were modified by Lycurgus, who ordered that women participate in physical exercises just like men. The new policy aimed to strengthen women and toughen them for childbearing and birth.[9]

Moreover, while this resolution was primarily feminine, women of Sparta received an education in the form of physical training. Plutarch, for example, noted that the energetic bodies of Spartan women symbolized the strength of children they would bear. The power would be passed to consecutive generations because “when both children are strong their children too are born studier.”[10]Accordingly, Spartan devised physical training contests for its women. During the programs, women participated in a variety of activities including weight lifting and running exercises. Therefore, females who outshined in training attained a higher status than their failed counterparts. Spartan men and the state bestowed value and respect upon such successful women.

Furthermore, to some extent, women of Sparta participated in politics and also drove the state’s economy. For example, there was a tendency among women who had proved themselves as good child bearers to use their status to gain politically. The political gains attained through childbearing could be turned into personal benefits. Additionally, Spartans needed many children to provide human resources that the city-state required to protect itself from the threat of slave rebellion. For this reason, a woman could have kids with different males especially when the husband is at training.[11]At the same time, the complex Spartans marriage system and the fact that men spent long periods in training and military combats resulted in women having many legitimate roles in more than one family. These responsibilities created an opportunity for women to own and control up to four per cent of the city-states besides possessing properties.[12]However, other non-Spartan criticizers censured the Spartans for bestowing excessive power and freedom upon women. Aristotle, for instance, noted that women’s desire for luxury increased because they were allowed to own property.[13] However, in spite of such criticisms, the system worked for Spartans, enabling it to rule Greece and defeat Athens.

In addition to economic, political, and wealth power, Spartan women also played the role of preserving the city-state’s culture. In general, women nearly took of Spartan’s culture after Lycurgus’s declaration for men to focus on military duty. While it is known that most Spartan artworks did not survive as a significant part of their resources were spent on war, women poets such as Cleitagoia, Gorgo, and Megalostrata were educated, had and admirers.[14]The fame of these women spread beyond Sparta as they were recognized by many historians who considered them worthy of recording.

 

A literary work, which survived has a direct relation to the warrior culture of Sparta. As creators, writers, and poets of culture, women of Sparta gained a reputation for their witty remarks that were later recorded by historians. As mothers, they encouraged their sons to stay courageous, be strong, and demonstrate the readiness to sacrifice for the sake of their city-state. In that regard, Spartan women acted as moralizers who observed the actions of their sons[15]. According to the author’s documentation, Spartan women would praise their sons who sacrificed for Sparta. However, cowardice boys were publicly shamed by their mothers. For example, Damatria, a Spartan woman killed herself after her cowardice son come from a battle.[16]

However, although Plutarch does not comment on the actions of Damatria, it is evident that the woman’s hyper-patriotismwas remarkablein the eyes of non-Spartans. For example, instead of having a living cowardice son, Damatria would rather have a dead hero. In a different case, a story is told of a woman who rejected her cowardly son. The Spartan mother felt ashamed by the son’s behavior and refused to recognize him as part of her family. She said: “Useless pup, worthless portion, away to Hell.”[17]In general, these kinds of stories support the myth concerning the city-state as a fierce military might. Sparta’s military power is, therefore, partly due to the effort of its women. As shown by Damatria, a son could be scared by his mother remained loyal to Sparta’s ideals.

Another woman, Queen Gorgo had a substantial impact on the Spartan political landscape. She was the queen of the Greek city-state who ruled between 520 and 490 BCE.  Due to her cleverness, wisdom, and authority, Gorgo became a figure of note in Sparta and beyond. Hammond wrote that the genius’ husband and father consulted and listened to her counsel.[18] Moreover, political leaders such as Aristagoras of Miletus sought Gorgo’s opinions as she was greatly trusted since her childhood. Thus, as one of the few Herodotus mentioned in his Histories, Gorgo is still considered among the most impactful of the Spartan women of her time.[19]

Nevertheless, Women in Sparta were powerful and influential. Aristotle linked the downfall of Sparta to Sparta’s women. On the other hand, some historians believe that Sparta’ women influenced critical beliefs of Sparta. The women possessed not only a political influence but also a right to control property. Notably, women such as Agesistrata, presented herself as an activist in public affairs which her possessions could allow her control.[20] Moreover, Plutarch described Ageistrata’s mother, Archidamia, as “already an ancient woman who had lived her life with the highest repute among female citizens.”[21] Consequently, critics such as Aristotle argued that women in Sparta overexploited their sexual power and lust. In contrast, during the Roman era, critics like Plutarch overruled the statement by Aristotle. Instead, Plutarch maintained that nothing was disputable about the girls’ Nudity. He said that they could “make fun of each of the young men, helpfully criticizing their mistakes.”[22] . Therefore, according to Plutarch, girls acted as a corrective tool and a check to the boys rather than just exercising their power. Additionally, mothers continued to offer their moral and military support to male soldiers. Hence, women’s’ roles were undisputable.

Women in Sparta had many responsibilities. For instance, they were expected to act as good examples and inspire the male fighters. However, since ancient Greece was a patriarchal society, these roles seemed to be unusual. William J. O’Neal illustrates that “Athenians selected models for women based on their divine and heroic orders.”[23] Therefore, it meant that women in society exercised their role as a model to the vice. Notably, among the Spartans, both Penelope and Hellas were considered as ideal examples in offering the ‘good role model’ role. Historians believe that the latter displayed almost an excellent example of a wife model. In contrast, Clytemnestra and Medea were portrayed as negative examples regarding the proper role model role. In Sparta, women were also required to undergo training to acquire skills to become a perfect wife. Therefore, it can be argued that those male counterparts were more potent concerning divine order despite their roles as fighters.

Accordingly, in the ancient Greeks, Sparta was considered as a prominent state. The city-state was pictured out as a warrior society, possessing a military might that triumphed over slave threats. Furthermore, women in Sparta maintained a fierce stature that conformed to the requirement by the city-state. Also, women provided moral support to men including childbearing, inspiring and manning property. As a result of their roles, women acquired power since they were able to take full control of properties and form networks with other families through their children. Besides, women in Sparta were also educated. They demonstrated independence and ability to chastise men as well as contributing to nation-building. Thus, these contributions substantially led to the dominant identity of Sparta. Even though it may be said that two kings ruled Sparta, women significantly expressed their authority in this city-state. Consequently, women exercised a substantial rule in Sparta.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Aristotle. “On the Lacedaemonian Constitution, c.340 BCE.” Ancient History Sourcebook, 1900, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/aristotle-sparta.aspAccessed 22 Jan. 2019.

Hammond, Mason. “A Famous” Exemplum” of Spartan Toughness.” The Classical Journal, vol.75, no.2, 1979, p.97-109.

Loman, Pasi. “No Woman No War: Women’s Participation in Ancient Greek Warfare.” Greece & Rome, vol.51, no.1, 2004, p34-54.

Kennell, Nigel M. Spartans: A New History, John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

O’Neal, William J. “The Status of Women in Ancient Athens.” International Social Science Review, vol. 68, no. 3, 1993, pp. 115–121. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41882108.

Plutarch. Plutarch on Sparta, edited and translated by Richard J.A. Talbert, Penguin Books, 1998.

Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Powell, Anton. Athens and Sparta: Construction Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC, third edition, Routledge, 2016.

Rosivach, Vincent J. “Execution by stoning in Athens.” Classical Antiquity, vol.6, no.2, 1987, p.232-248.

Xenophon, “The Polity of the Spartans, c. 375 BCE,” Ancient History Sourcebook, 1998, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/xeno-sparta1.asp. Accessed 22 Jan. 2019.

 

[1]Xenophon, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/xeno-sparta1.asp

[2] Loman, 35

[3] Ibid, 34

[4] Ibid, 35

[5] Ibid, 36

[6] Rosivach

[7] Loman 35-36

[8] Plutarch 167

[9] Plutarch 167.

[10] Plutarch 167

[11] Plutarch, 167.

[12] Pomeroy, 79.

[13] Aristotle, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/aristotle-sparta.asp

[14] Pomeroy, 10.

[15]Plutarch 159

[16] Plutarch, 159.

[17] Plutarch, 159.

[18]Hammond, 98

[19]Hammond, 98

[20] Kennell, 167.

[21] Kennell, 167.

[22] Plutarch, 24.

[23]William J. O’Neal. “The Status of Women in Ancient Athens.” International Social Science Review, vol. 68, no. 3, 1993, pp. 115. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41882108

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