Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, Spártā; Attic Greek: Σπάρτη, Spártē), or Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων, Lakedaímōn) was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.
Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars.  Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War,  from which it emerged victorious, though at great cost of lives lost. Sparta's defeat by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece. However, it maintained its political independence until the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC. It then underwent a long period of decline, especially in the Middle Ages, when many Spartans moved to live in Mystras. Modern Sparta is the capital of the Greek regional unit of Laconia and a center for the processing of goods such as citrus and olives.

Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which completely focused on military training and excellence. Its inhabitants were classified as Spartiates (Spartan citizens, who enjoyed full rights), Mothakes (non-Spartan free men raised as Spartans), Perioikoi (freedmen), and Helots (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population). Spartiates underwent the rigorous agoge training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanges were widely considered to be among the best in battle. Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical world.

Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in the West following the revival of classical learning.  This love or admiration of Sparta is known as Laconism or Laconophilia. At its peak around 500 BC the size of the city would have been some 20,000 – 35,000 free residents, plus numerous helots and perioikoi (“dwellers around”). At 40,000 – 50,000 it was one of the largest Greek cities, however, according to Thucydides, the population of Athens in 431 BC was 360,000 – 610,000, making it unlikely that Athens was smaller than Sparta in 5th century BC.

 Marble statue of a helmed hoplite (5th century BC), Archaeological Museum of Sparta, Greece

Sparta, Modern Greek Spartí, historically Lacedaemon,  ancient capital of the Laconia district of the southeastern Peloponnese, Greece, and capital of the present-day nomós (department) of Laconia (Modern Greek: Lakonía) on the right bank of the Evrótas Potamós (river). The sparsity of ruins from antiquity around the modern city reflects the austerity of the military oligarchy that ruled the Spartan city-state from the 6th to the 2nd century bce.

Reputedly founded in the 9th century bce with a rigid oligarchic constitution, the state of Sparta for centuries retained as lifetime corulers two kings who arbitrated in time of war. In time of peace, power was concentrated in a Senate of 30 members. Between the 8th and 5th century bce, Sparta subdued Messenia, reducing the inhabitants to serflike status. From the 5th century the ruling class of Sparta devoted itself to war and diplomacy, deliberately neglecting the arts, philosophy, and literature, and forged the most powerful army standing in Greece.

Sparta’s single-minded dedication to rule by a militarized oligarchy precluded any hope of a political unification of Classical Greece, but it performed a great service in 480 bce by its heroic stand at Thermopylae and its subsequent leadership in the Greco-Persian wars. The Battle of Salamis (480) revealed the magnitude of Athenian naval power and set in motion the deadly struggle between the two powers that ended in Athenian defeat at the close of the Peloponnesian War in 404 and the emergence of Sparta as the most powerful state in Greece. In the Corinthian War (395–387) Sparta had two land victories over Athenian allied states and a severe naval defeat at Cnidus by a combined Athenian and Persian fleet. Sparta’s involvement in Persian civil wars in Asia Minor under Agesilaus II (ruled 399–360) and the subsequent Spartan occupation (382) of the Theban citadel, Cadmea, overextended Spartan power and exposed the state to defeat at Leuctra (371) by the Theban Epaminondas, who went on to liberate Messenia. A century-long decline followed.

Sparta’s continued agitation spurred Rome’s war on the Achaeans (146) and the Roman conquest of the Peloponnese. In 396 ce the modest city was destroyed by the Visigoths. The Byzantines repopulated the site and gave it the ancient Homeric name Lacedaemon. After 1204 the Franks built a new fortress city, Mistra, on a spur of the Taygetus range southwest of Sparta; after 1259 Mistra was capital of the Despotate of Morea (i.e., the Peloponnese) and flourished for about two centuries. From 1460 until the War of Greek Independence (1821–29), except for a Venetian interlude, the region was under Turkish rule.

The present-day town was built in 1834 on the ancient site; it is called Néa (New) Spartí locally to distinguish it from the ruins that were excavated in 1906–10 and 1924–29. A small commercial and industrial centre of the European plain, the city trades in citrus fruits and olive oil. As in antiquity, it is served by the small port of Githion (Yíthion), 28 miles (45 km) southeast, to which it is linked by a paved road. Pop. (2001) 14,817.

The prehistory of Sparta is difficult to reconstruct because the literary evidence is far removed in time from the events it describes and is also distorted by oral tradition. However, the earliest certain evidence of human settlement in the region of Sparta consists of pottery dating from the Middle Neolithic period, found in the vicinity of Kouphovouno some two kilometres (1.2 miles) south-southwest of Sparta. These are the earliest traces of the original Mycenaean Spartan civilisation, as represented in Homer's Iliad.

This civilization seems to have fallen into decline by the late Bronze Age, when, according to Herodotus, Macedonian tribes from the north marched into Peloponnese, where they were called Dorians and subjugating the local tribes, settled there.  The Dorians seem to have set about expanding the frontiers of Spartan territory almost before they had established their own state. They fought against the Argive Dorians to the east and southeast, and also the Arcadian Achaeans to the northwest. The evidence suggests that Sparta, relatively inaccessible because of the topography of the Taygetan plain, was secure from early on: it was never fortified.

Nothing distinctive in the archaeology of the Eurotas River Valley identifies the Dorians or the Dorian Spartan state. The prehistory of the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Dark Age (the Early Iron Age) at this moment must be treated apart from the stream of Dorian Spartan history.

The legendary period of Spartan history is believed to fall into the Dark Age. It treats the mythic heroes such as the Heraclids and the Perseids, offering a view of the occupation of the Peloponnesus that contains both fantastic and possibly historical elements. The subsequent proto-historic period, combining both legend and historical fragments, offers the first credible history.

Between the 8th and 7th centuries BC the Spartans experienced a period of lawlessness and civil strife, later attested by both Herodotus and Thucydides. As a result they carried out a series of political and social reforms of their own society which they later attributed to a semi-mythical lawgiver, Lycurgus. These reforms mark the beginning of the history of Classical Sparta.

In the Second Messenian War, Sparta established itself as a local power in Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece. During the following centuries, Sparta's reputation as a land-fighting force was unequaled.  In 480 BC a small force of Spartans, Thespians, and Thebans led by King Leonidas (approximately 300 were full Spartiates, 700 were Thespians, and 400 were Thebans although these numbers do not reflect casualties incurred prior to the final battle), made a legendary last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae against the massive Persian army, inflicting very high casualties on the Persian forces before finally being encircled. The superior weaponry, strategy, and bronze armour of the Greek hoplites and their phalanx again proved their worth one year later when Sparta assembled at full strength and led a Greek alliance against the Persians at the battle of Plataea.
Leonidas I of Sparta

The decisive Greek victory at Plataea put an end to the Greco-Persian War along with Persian ambition of expanding into Europe. Even though this war was won by a pan-Greek army, credit was given to Sparta, who besides being the protagonist at Thermopylae and Plataea, had been the de facto leader of the entire Greek expedition.

In later Classical times, Sparta along with Athens, Thebes, and Persia had been the main powers fighting for supremacy against each other. As a result of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta, a traditionally continental culture, became a naval power. At the peak of its power Sparta subdued many of the key Greek states and even managed to overpower the elite Athenian navy. By the end of the 5th century BC it stood out as a state which had defeated the Athenian Empire and had invaded the Persian provinces in Anatolia, a period which marks the Spartan Hegemony.

During the Corinthian War Sparta faced a coalition of the leading Greek states: Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos. The alliance was initially backed by Persia, whose lands in Anatolia had been invaded by Sparta and which feared further Spartan expansion into Asia. Sparta achieved a series of land victories, but many of her ships were destroyed at the battle of Cnidus by a Greek-Phoenician mercenary fleet that Persia had provided to Athens. The event severely damaged Sparta's naval power but did not end its aspirations of invading further into Persia, until Conon the Athenian ravaged the Spartan coastline and provoked the old Spartan fear of a helot revolt.

After a few more years of fighting, in 387 BC the Peace of Antalcidas was established, according to which all Greek cities of Ionia would return to Persian control, and Persia's Asian border would be free of the Spartan threat.  The effects of the war were to reaffirm Persia's ability to interfere successfully in Greek politics and to affirm Sparta's weakened hegemonic position in the Greek political system.  Sparta entered its long-term decline after a severe military defeat to Epaminondas of Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra. This was the first time that a Spartan army lost a land battle at full strength.

As Spartan citizenship was inherited by blood, Sparta now increasingly faced a helot population that vastly outnumbered its citizens. The alarming decline of Spartan citizens was commented on by Aristotle.

Sparta never fully recovered from the losses that the Spartans suffered at Leuctra in 371 BC and the subsequent helot revolts. Nonetheless, it was able to continue as a regional power for over two centuries. Neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to conquer Sparta itself.

During Alexander's campaigns in the east, the Spartan king, Agis III sent a force to Crete in 333 BC with the aim of securing the island for Sparta.  Agis next took command of allied Greek forces against Macedon, gaining early successes, before laying siege to Megalopolis in 331 BC. A large Macedonian army under general Antipater marched to its relief and defeated the Spartan-led force in a pitched battle.  More than 5,300 of the Spartans and their allies were killed in battle, and 3,500 of Antipater's troops.  Agis, now wounded and unable to stand, ordered his men to leave him behind to face the advancing Macedonian army so that he could buy them time to retreat. On his knees, the Spartan king slew several enemy soldiers before being finally killed by a javelin.  Alexander was merciful, and he only forced the Spartans to join the League of Corinth, which they had previously refused to join.

Even during its decline, Sparta never forgot its claim to be the "defender of Hellenism" and its Laconic wit. An anecdote has it that when Philip II sent a message to Sparta saying "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta", the Spartans responded with the single, terse reply: αἴκα, "if". 

When Philip created the league of the Greeks on the pretext of unifying Greece against Persia, the Spartans chose not to join, since they had no interest in joining a pan-Greek expedition unless it were under Spartan leadership. Thus, upon the conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great sent to Athens 300 suits of Persian armour with the following inscription: Alexander, son of Philip, and all the Greeks except the Spartans, give these offerings taken from the foreigners who live in Asia.

During the Punic Wars Sparta was an ally of the Roman Republic. Spartan political independence was put to an end when it was eventually forced into the Achaean League. In 146 BC Greece was conquered by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. Following the Roman conquest, the Spartans continued their way of life, and the city became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe exotic Spartan customs.

According to Byzantine sources, some parts of the Laconian region remained pagan until well into the 10th century AD. Doric-speaking populations survive today in Tsakonia. In the Middle Ages, the political and cultural center of Laconia shifted to the nearby settlement of Mystras. Modern Sparti was re-founded in 1834, by a decree of King Otto of Greece.
The Spartan Military
Spartan Military

      The Spartan City State (Sparta) produced what is probably the most iconic military in ancient history. The ancient Spartan warriors are known for their bravery, professionalism and skill, a reputation well deserved. At their zenith they proved themselves to be the best of the Greek hoplite warriors, the premier fighting force of their time. Spartan political power peaked from the 6th to 4th century BC; however Spartan military power had its roots much earlier.
The evolution of the Spartan army began during the heroic Mycenaean age (1600 BCE to 1100 BCE), a time in Greek history when tactics were simple and warriors sought individual glory (and fought out of formation). Invading warlike Indo-Europeans attacked from the North in one part of histories most massive invasions, spanning the ancient near east from Egypt to India. Waves of invaders vied for land with the local populations.

 Ancient Spartan Miliary Origins

Dark Times in Ancient Greece
This was the Bronze Age, the time of Homers epic Iliad and a time when champions on the battlefield were heroes. They fought in full body armor, with figure eight shields for protection. They attacked with spears, swords and bows (which the Spartans considered cowardly) and used basic tactics like the mass charge. Routed armies were often massacred. Classical Greece proved to be a cauldron of military development and infantry tactics. The rugged terrain isolated groups and made the use of chariots and cavalry very difficult. This combined with frequent, massive invasions from the Balkans created an early arms race. In this super heated environment infantry tactics geared up very quickly, driven by the continuous warfare.

Ancient Spartan Warfare
The ancient Greeks found protection in natural citadels, or poleis, where they could defend themselves from raiding neighbors and pirates. Soon leaders of the each polis organized efforts to defend their crops and pastures and formed the political bases of the Greek city states. During the 6th and 7th century the Greeks reached their population limits and in an extraordinary event sent their surplus population abroad. The Greeks soon had colonies stretching from the North of the Black Sea to Spain. Each polis or several working together sponsored independent colonies, which intern became a trading and cultural extension of the original polis. These Greek colonies where generally welcomed by the indigenous populations and the trade in turn created wealth and a new middle class in Greek society back home.

In Peloponnesia excavations at Pylos and Nichoria have revealed for Messenia's late Bronze Age (1300s BC) a bureaucratic, agricultural kingdom ruled by the wanax at Pylos. The Messenians spoke Mycenaean Greek, and worshipped the Greek gods at local shrines. Later, Greeks believed a body of Dorians under Cresphontes invaded the country from the Northern Greece or Macedonia, establishing control over Peloponnesia. However, given that the Arcadian language is a direct and conservative descendent of Mycenaean Greek, it is more likely that the Dorians pushed the native Messenians into Arcadia if the invasion happened at all. The Dorians then merged with the previous inhabitants producing an the Messenian and Spartan tribes, groups that developed a strong national feeling. However, the relative wealth of Messenia in fertile soil and favourable climate attracted the expansionistic neighbouring Spartans. War broke out, it was said, as a result of the murder of the Spartan king Teleclus by the Messenians - which, in spite of the heroism of King Euphaes and his successor Aristodemus ended in the subjection of Messenia to Sparta (c. 720 BC). The numericaly inferior Spartans, realizing that they probably wouldn’t be as lucky the next time they fought the Messenians decided on a very rare course of action in the Greek world and set out to obtain complete military and social supremacy over their defeated neighbors. Two generations later the Messenians revolted and under the leadership of Aristomenes kept the Spartans at bay for some seventeen years (648 BC—631 BC). However, the stronghold of Ira (Eira) fell after a siege of eleven years and the Messenians where placed back under the heal of Sparta.

Bury and Meiggs, "A History of Greece," 4th Ed quotes. "As the object of the Spartans was to increase the number of lots of land for their citizens, many of the conquered Messenians (those who did not manage to leave the area) were reduced to the condition of Helots. Servitude was hard, though their plight might have been harder, for they paid to their lords only one-half of the produce of the lands which they tilled."

The Spartan poet Tyrtaeus describes how the Messenians endured the insolence of the masters:
"As asses worn by loads intolerable,
So Them did stress of cruel force compel,
Of all the fruits the well-tilled land affords,
The moiety to bear to their proud lords."

During the 7th century Lelantine War, a long war between the Greek trading powers Eretria and Chalcis and their allies, distracted the Greeks, Sparta made a power grab. The Spartans vowed to conquer their neighbors, Messenia, no matter how long and how many set backs they suffered. Messenia, a group of eight polis that had never quite united, had rich soil and that attracted the Spartans. The Spartan attack came as a surprise; however it took two more decades to win the war. The numericaly inferior Spartans, realizing that they probably wouldn’t be as lucky the next time they fought the Messenians decided on a very rare course of action in the Greek world and set out to obtain complete military and social supremacy over their defeated neighbors.Two generations later the Messenians revolted, it took the Spartans took 17 years to bring them back under control, including an eleven year siege on the stronghold of Ira.

The next revolt didn’t breakout until 464 BC, but fear of Messenian uprisings would linger in the Spartans national memory for the rest of its existence. The Spartans called those who hadn’t fled helots and forced them into grueling servitude. However, the Spartans realizing that they were outnumbered four to one, and that the Helots would kill them at the first chance they got, fearful of the Messenians uprising the Spartans created a unique society among the Greeks. They used the helots as laborers and farmers to free the Spartan men for professional military service. Spartan life then became more militarized then any other city state, while the other Greeks became citizen/farmers and warriors the Spartan men all became professional warriors. In fact it was the only job available to a Spartan man. This freed them to launch military champions during any season while the other Greeks had to tend to their fields.

The society of the Spartans was considered strange to the other Greeks. They became obsessed with military power, focusing on exercise, discipline and their ability to endure any hardship. Around Greece they gained, and promoted, this reputation as a tough, unyielding and hardened society. When some diplomats visited from Athens they were given a black gruel for their meal, although this wasn’t standard Spartan fair, the Athenians returned home with tales about the Spartan’s disgusting food and obsession with warfare.

After their subjugation of Messenia the Spartans went to war against Argos, where they were taught a lesson. A Spartan army was defeated by a phalanx; this formation of spearmen was a major advancement over the free for all tactics previously used. The Greek world took notice and soon the new middle class formed a warrior class based on phalanx heavy infantry tactics. These hoplites (named after their large shields or hoplons) became both a major political and military force throughout Greece. They employed basically the same tactics as the Argos but Spartan weapons were tweaked for efficiency in close order combat.

In a phalanx formation hoplites formed shieldwalls by overlapping their large shields, the left of each shield protecting the warrior to the left. Only the shins and head of the hoplite wear exposed, and these were well protected by grieves and helmets. The spears of the first three ranks of a phalanx formation could be used offensively. Although the phalanx was not a Spartan innovation they became the best hoplites in Greece through constant drilling. Individual Spartan warriors were highly disciplined and frequently exercised to increase their stamina, an important attribute when phalanxes clashed. (For more details on phalanx formations and tactics see Ancient Weapons: Spears or Greek Warriors - Hoplites and Phalanxes section).

Spartan Military Culture
From this environment was born the Spartan war machine, the era's pinnacle of heavy infantry tactics. The Spartans gained eternal military fame for their stand against the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae when 300 Spartan hoplites held off an entire Persian army and inflicted severe damage to it before succumbing to the vast Persian forces and dying to a man.

The Spartan armies dominated Greece after their victory in the exhausting Peloponnesian Wars (460 to 404 BC). Both their individual warriors and group tactics where honed to a perfection never before seen on the battlefield. The lifestyle of these ancient warriors has even become a word in the English language meaning sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere. Spartan also means brave and undaunted.

Spartan Warriors: Birth and Training
The selection of Spartan warriors started before their birth. The Spartans encouraged athletic completion and the victors where held in high esteem. They married the strongest boys with the strongest girls and the fastest boys with the fastest girls in order to bread the best warriors. Infamously, the Spartan elders would inspect new born infants and any found to be imperfect, judged to be puny or deformed, were thrown from a cliff. The cliff was a chasm on Mount Taygetos known euphemistically as “The Deposits".

The training of Spartan warriors started when they were boys. They were sent to a military boarding school, or agoge, at age seven where they formed a class with other boys their age. Their education emphasized physical, mental and spiritual toughness and could be quite brutal. They where taught to endure hardship and pitted against each other in fights by their instructors. Adolescents were used to terrorize the Helots, and in a particularly nasty tradition called a Krypteia they were sent out at night with the goal of killing any helot precieved to be a threat or unlucky enough to be discovered out alone. Each fall the Spartans would declare war on the Helot making it legal to kill any Helot.

Spartan Military Duty & Hoplites
At age twenty the men of Sparta moved into the barracks and became full time soldiers. Even if they married, which they were expected to due, they lived in the barracks. Military service lasted until the age of forty, duty in the reserves lasted from forty to sixty years of age. In desperate time’s men as old as sixty-five could be called up to protect supplies.

Sparta was known for being the only Greek city without a city wall, a famous saying among Spartans went something like, “Our men are our walls.”

Spartan Armor
A hoplite typically had a bronze, muscled breastplate, a helmet with cheek plates, as well as greaves and other shin armor. They carried a bowl-shaped wood and bronze shield called an aspis or hoplon, and when worn a dispus. It was very heavy and protected the warrior from chin to knee. In Spartan military culture, throwing away a soldiers hoplon during a retreat like other routed hoplites was not acceptable. "Come home with this shield or upon it" was a there motto. Meanings, if you can’t come home victorious, then come home dead. Most Greek hoplites had family symbols on their shield, as the expensive equipment was often inherited from ones parents. In contrast, the Spartans (starting in 420 BC) had the same uniform instead of customized armor and the Greek letter lambda on their shield, referring to their homeland Lacedaemonia. They also wore a scarlet cape to represent them as Spartans, though the cape was never worn in combat.

Spartan Weapons
Their primary weapon was a spear around 7-9 feet (2.7 meters) in length called a doru. The doru had a leaf shaped spearhead on the business end and a spike on the other. The spike, called a “lizard killer” could be used to stand the spear up by planting it in the ground or it can be used to finish off fallen enemies that the formation is moving over. Additionaly, if the spearhead broke off the spear could then be spun around and the spike used in its place.

Spartan warriors also carried a short sword, the xiphos, to be used as a secondary weapon and in the crush of battle when only a short weapon could be used effectively. The blade of a xiphos was typically about 2 feet (50-60 cm) long. The blade was shaped like a long leaf and could be used for slashing; however they were usually used for stabbing. The Spartans used an even shorter xiphos than the other Greeks, the blade measuring only 1-1½ feet (30-40cm) long making it even easier to use in tight places. The xiphos could be used to stab at the unprotected groin, armpit or throat of an enemy.

Another secondary weapon available was the kopis, a short sword with a heavy curved blade that could be used for hacking away at enemies. Although it had a point that could be used for stabbing the weapon was designed to be used almost like a hatchet. The results of the use of this weapon were gruesome, giving it a reputation as a “bad guys” weapon. In the art of Sparta’s arch rival, Athens, Spartan warriors are often depicted using the kopis. (See Spartan Weapons for more details.)

Spartan Military Decline:
After the Pelopensian War Spartan military dominance was challenged by Thebes, with the Aid of Athens, Corinth and Argos in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC ). Although Sparta was able to achieve a number of land victories but was weekend by raiding on its Coast and provoking the helots to revolt. However after a short truce the war again flared up in an all out battle for supremacy. The Spartans were defeated in the Battle of Lauctra by the great general and strategist Epaminondas of Thebes. His tactic of using and echelon formation with the leading side loaded up with his best troops and in very deep formation allowed him to break the unbreakable, the Spartan hoplite line crumbled.

The Spartans had lost up to 4000 hoplites and the helots revolted, a one two punch they would never recover from as Spartan citizenship was dependant on blood lines and their was no way to quickly regain manpower in their rigid society. The Spartan military had entered its long slow decline, eventualy their once cutting edge ancient weapons and tactics were even eclipsed. Nonetheless, Sparta was able to continue as a regional power for another two centuries. Neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to conquer Sparta itself respecting Spartan martial skill and not wanting to risk potentially high losses. It was reported that as late as 378 AD, following the disastrous defeat of the Roman imperial army at the Battle of Adrianople that a Spartan militia organized a phalanx and defeated a force of raiding Goths in battle.

Sparta’s Military Legacy
Spartan warriors have been inspired many throughout history. Admiration for the Spartans even has a name, Laconophilia. Their actions at the Battle of Thermopylae in particular have a place in the modern culture and it is perhaps the most famous last stand in history. The story about how 300 Spartans (and 700 Thespiae, who are often neglected) defended the pass at Thermopylae for 3 days against what against a massive Persian army (2 million according to Herodotus, although probably around 70,000 – 300,000 by modern estimations) has been told countless times. Modern interpretations of the Spartans have typically whitewashed some of their more brutal intuitions and portrayed them as the saviors of Western culture. This honorific, if applied to them along with the other Greek States, is not entirely undeserved though as Greek culture would become the bases for Western culture. A Persian victory over the Greeks would certainly have extinguished this light, along with ideas such as democracy, philosophy and science.

Site Monuments

 The Acropolis of Sparta
Findings at this archaeological site were unearthed by the pioneer excavations of the British School of Archaeology starting in 1910.  Excavations resumed in the early 1990’s, primarily in the areas of the ancient theatre and the merchant stalls.
The most significant monuments of this archeological site include:
The Temple of Athena Chalkioikos whose position has been defined by few surviving relics found at the northwest end of the Acropolis. The temple, designed by the architect Vathyklis from Magnesia, had an interior design adorned with copper sheets (dated 6th century BC onwards) to which it owes its name (chalkioikos = copper). From the inscription by Damononos (dated before 430 BC), it seems it was called Temple of Athena Poliouchos (Guardian of the City).  Pausanias adds that the temple was left unfinished until Gitiada, a local craftsman, built both the statue of the goddess and completed the temple. The temple also served as a place of refuge for Lycurgus, Pausanias and Agis IV.
The ancient theater of Sparta on the south side of the Acropolis is a product of the early Imperial Period. The orchestra, the retaining wall with engraved inscriptions of the rulers of Sparta in Roman times and the concave portion of the large theater has been preserved. The concave of the theatre was dug into the southwest end of the Acropolis. The retaining wall of the concave is marble and its east side was engraved in the 2nd century AD with various inscriptions. The theatre was used primarily for public gatherings and celebrations. It had no permanent stage. For theater  performances, a wooden, mobile stage equipped with wheels was easily moved into position. Nearly all the findings of the ancient theater that were discovered by the British School of Archaeology date back to the Roman Era.
The so-called Circular Building of Unknown Destination is a circular structure built of hewn blocks and smaller stones. The section that has been preserved, perhaps due to Roman repairs, seems to have been an important building in ancient Spartan life (the Skias).
The remains of merchant stalls adjacent to the ancient theater discovered in recent excavations by the British School seem to be products of the Roman Imperial period. Mainly built with brick and decorated on the interior with plaster or mortar, they served the audiences of performances and other events held at the ancient theatre.
The relics of a grand Basilica of the mid Byzantine Era have been linked to the Basilica of Saint Nikon (10th century AD).

 Leonidaion is an ancient, ruined structure also known as “the tomb of Leonidas”. Ancient lore places the tomb of Leonidas in Sparta, opposite the theater, but many dispute this. The structure is a temple-form enclosure with two spaces. Its elaborate, rectangular stone blocks of unusual proportions are quite impressive.

The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia 
The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia was built near the banks of the Evrotas River, near the ancient town of Limnon. It was one of the most significant sanctuaries of the Spartan cult and was associated with the education of young Spartans.

Early on, the deity worshipped was referred to as Orthias who was considered the goddess of salvation and fertility, as well as the protector of vegetation. Later on, the cult was linked to that of Artemis and the temple became a center of religious education for young people. During the Imperial Period, it served as the site of bloody spectacles performed in accordance to the customs of the time.

The temple was excavated by the British Archaeological School of Athens (1906-1910). We can now distinguish three sections: (1) a great Roman structure (during the Imperial Period, the shrine of Orthias had taken the form of a circular amphitheater where the temple held the position of the stage), (2) the remains of an altar in the center of the site and (3) a section of the temple to the west. The temple was built with rough stones in the 6th century BC.

The presence of the impressive amphitheater indicates that people gathered there to observe rituals performed in honor of Artemis Orthia.

From the numerous inscriptions found at the temple, it seems that the goddess was associated with the education of Spartan children under the age of 13.

Below this temple, a smaller, older temple has been discovered which probably dates back to the 9th century BC.


On the hill of Prophet Elias, just a few kilometers east of Sparta, opposite the Evrotas River, we encounter one of the most significant sanctuaries of Sparta. It is an area with precious Mycenaean relics. After Amykles, Therapnes is the second prehistoric site inhabited since the early Bronze Age. Its name was taken from Therapne, the daughter of King Lelex.
A short distance west of the Mycenaean site in Therapnes, an impressive sanctuary constructed in historical times has been discovered. Here, Menelaos and Helen were worshipped as gods. Excavations conducted by the British School have brought to light a truly odd structure. It is a large pyramidal foundation that rises to the top of the hill and forms a kind of base for the temple. It was built with large, well-carved stones and it has been well-preserved, although we still do not recognize its significance.
This sanctuary succeeded a much older one. At the time of Pausanias, it is believed that Menelaos and Helen were buried there. They were considered gods and sacrifices were made in Therapnes in their honor.

Sources / Bibliography / Photos 

Cartledge 2002, p. 91
Cartledge 2002, p. 174
Cartledge 2002, p. 192
Morris, Ian (December 2005), The growth of Greek cities in the first millennium BC. v.1, Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics
Δοντάς Γ., "Χρονικά", ΑΔ 19, Β3 1964 (1966), σ. 325
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Παπανικόλα-Μπακιρτζή Δ. (επιμ.), Ώρες Βυζαντίου: έργα και ημέρες στο Βυζάντιο. Καθημερινή ζωή στο Βυζάντιο: κατάλογος έκθεσης: Θεσσαλονίκη, Λευκός Πύργος, Οκτώβριος 2001- Ιανουάριος 2002, Αθήνα 2002, 333
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Ehrenberg 2004, p. 31
Ehrenberg 2004, p. 36
Ehrenberg 2004, p. 33
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Agis III
Agis III, by E. Badian © 1967 - Jstor
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Diodorus, World History, 17.62.1-63.4;tr. C.B. Welles
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The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and ... - Page 611. primary secondary source
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Talbert, p.26.
Apud Athenaeus, 14, 647d = FGH 106 F 2. Trans. by Cartledge, p.305.
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(Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 28, 7)
Powell 2001, p. 254
Thucydides (Book IV 80.4).
Classical historian Anton Powell has recorded a similar story from 1980s El Salvador. Cf. Powell, 2001, p. 256
Cartledge 2002, pp. 153–155
Cartledge 2002, p. 158,178
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Buxton 2001, p. 201
Ancient Sparta – Research Program of Keadas Cavern Theodoros K. Pitsios
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Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Deipnosophists, XIII: Concerning Women
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Plutarch 2004, p. 465
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Pomeroy 2002, p. 42
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Guttentag and Secord, 1983; Finley, 1982; Pomeroy, 1975
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Powell 2001, p. 248
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Powell 2001, p. 246
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Pomeroy, 1975
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Mueller:Dorians II, 192
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