| November 26, 2018

Ancient Greece, Podcast

Podcast #461: The Spartan Regime

For thousands of years, the Spartans have captured the imaginations of Westerners. In ancient Greece, the city-state was admired for its military prowess, civic unity, and dedication to leisurely athletic pursuits. Today, we make movies about Spartans and name sports teams after them. When we moderns think of Spartans, we typically think of them simply as fierce warriors.

But while the Spartans were indeed warriors par excellence, their culture was much more complex. Today on the show, I unpack some of these complexities with historian Paul Rahe. Paul is working on a series of books with Yale University Press which explore both the military and political strategy of the Spartans. We begin our conversation discussing why it’s hard for us moderns to truly understand Sparta. We then dig into the history and culture of Spartans, including where they came from, their economic set-up and relationship with the helot population, and the strenuous upbringing of boys that made them fit for battle. We then talk about the mixed government of the Spartans. We end our conversation discussing how the city-state faded into obscurity, and why the Spartans yet live on in modern culture.

Show Highlights

  • How much do we really know about ancient Sparta?
  • Why it’s so hard to understand Sparta using our modern cultural framework
  • Misconceptions we have of ancient cultures
  • The role of secrecy (and brevity) to Spartan culture
  • Where did the Spartans originally come from?
  • The history of the Helots (the subjugated peoples of Sparta), and why it wasn’t slavery in the way we understand it 
  • The agoge — the Spartan training program for children
  • Where did Spartan boys go after the agoge was completed?
  • The role and importance of art — poetry, music, pottery — in Sparta  
  • Why Sparta was looked up to by their contemporaries
  • Laconic wit and brevity 
  • How Sparta was organized differently than other city-states 
  • What Spartans were like in battle  
  • How long did the Spartan regime last?
  • Why does popular culture seem to praise and look up to Sparta more than other city-states? 

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