SP2d: Social StructureSpartiates

Spartan Society

Characteristics of a spartiate
Privilege class holding ALL political power

Original Dorian conquerors of Laconia, they never numbered more than 10,000

All equal under the law and all subject to the same training and discipline

Forbidden to engage in farming, trade and industry.

There were rich and poor Spartiates, but there is some controversy over the existence of nobility

The state supported them by giving them an allotment of land (kleros) and helots

Lived by a high code of honour that involved courage, loyalty, endurance and obedience Full time soldiers owing total obedience to the state

Concept of homoioi
The term Homoioi is often translated to “equals”.  However, Historian Brian Brennan argues that this is a wrong translation and incorrectly implies that all Spartans were equal in status and wealth.

A preferred translation by Brennan is “similars” or “peers”. This implies that the citizens had much in common and were alike or similar, but not equal. FOR DISCUSSION:

With the work studied so far on the Spartans, would you feel more inclined to agree or disagree with Brennan’s translation? Explain your view.

Qualifying for the homoioi

In order for a person living in Laconia to qualify for inclusion in the class of Spartan homoioi, three conditions had to be met:1.Prove to the elders of his tribe that he was descended from the original Dorian tribes. 2. 3.Submit to the agoge. After successful completion of the rigid training regime. Conditional on the basis of ... 4. 5.Being admitted to one of the common messes or syssitia. 6.

Expectations of a Spartiate

How equal is “equal”?

Plutarch wrote in his Life of Lycurgus that each newborn boy and future citizen was given by the state an equal plot of land (kleros). The assumption has been made that this claim by Plutarch is nothing more than a myth to perpetuate the idea of equality amongst the Spartiates. Herodotus refers in his Histories to “wealthy’ and aristocratic Spartans. This alludes to the fact that the Spartiates were in fact not equal in terms of wealth. Xenophon also talks of the rich Spartans who were able to make increased contributions to their military mess. We know of some who were so poor that they couldn’t make their quota, and as such lost their citizenship.





Questions on the sources
 According   Outline   From

to Xenophon, explain why the syssition was instituted. how a Spartan became a member of the mess group. the sources, outline the information that can be gained about the lifestyle of the Spartans.

Analysing the sources

Source 1


Source 2

Lycurgus then noted that the Spartans just like the rest of the Greeks were living at home, and, realising that this was responsible for their taking most things too easily, brought the common messes out into the open, considering that this would reduce disobedience of orders to a minimum. He assigned them a ration of corn, so that they would neither be gorged nor hungry. But they get many additional foods supplied from hunting expeditions; and there are times when the rich also contribute wheaten bread instead; so the table is never bare until they separate and go into their quarters, but neither is it extravagantly supplied. He also puts an end to the compulsory drinking of wine, which undoes both body and mind, and allowed each man to drink when he was thirsty, thinking this would be the least harmful and most pleasurable way of drinking.

The oldest member indicated the doors to each person entering and said:”Not a word goes out through these”. By all accounts anyone desiring to join a mess was vetted in the following way. Each member would take a piece of soft bread in his hand and in silence throw it, like a ballot, into a bowl which a servant carried on his head. Those in favour threw the bread as it was, while those against squeezed it hard with their hand. And should they find even one of these, they do not admit the would-be entrant because it is their wish that all should be happy in each other’s company.

Plutarch on Sparta, p21

Xenophon, cited in Dillon & Garland, Ancient Greece, pp164 - 5

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