Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 32 - The Spartans: Defiance, Dominance, Defeat

October 03, 2021 Patrick Garner Season 2 Episode 32
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 32 - The Spartans: Defiance, Dominance, Defeat
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 32. In this episode we hang with the mighty Spartans.

Where did they come from? How did they grow to dominate the Greek world in all things relating to war? 

Their society was founded by a man named Lycurgus. Or was it…? Some say it was Apollo — others claimed their bloodline ran directly from the sons of Heracles.

They rose and fell like all great heroes, their glory lasting a mere 300 years. But what a glorious roll for a city-state whose name became synonymous with bravery!

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical... 

(Musical score includes selections from Fesliyan Studios.)

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EPISODE 32-- The Spartans: Defiance, Dominance, Defeat

2,500 YEARS AGO THE SPARTANS WERE THE INDISPUTABLE MILITARY POWER IN GREECE. NO CITY HAD WARRIORS AS FIERCE, DISCIPLINED & PROUD.

THEY DOMINATED WARFARE. THEY NEVER SURRENDERED. THEIR REPUTATION FOR BRAVERY WAS IMPECCABLE.

UNLIKE OTHER GREEKS, THESE SPARTANS DID NOT LIVE AS INDIVIDUALS, BUT AS PARTS OF A HIVE, OR IN THIS CASE, A WAR MACHINE. 

YET THEIR GLORY LASTED ONLY A FEW CENTURIES ... SHOCKINGLY, THEY BEGAN TO LOSE KEY BATTLES. 

THE UNTHINKABLE HAD EVEN OCCURRED AS ONCE, SCANDalously, SPARTAN SOLDIERS SURRENDERED.

THAT EVENT WAS THE FIRST CRACK IN THEIR MYSTIQUE OF INVINCIBILITY.

IN TODAY'S EPISODE WE LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, WE LOOK AT WHO THE SPARTANS WERE. 

WHY? EVEN TODAY WE REMAIN FASCINATED BY THESE UNIQUE, REMARKABLE GREEKS WHO CLAIMED TO BE DESCENDANTS OF THE MIGHTY HERACLES.

THIS IS EPISODE 32 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 147 COUNTRIES & COUNTING. WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T DONE SO ALREADY, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. 

YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

SPARTA BEGAN ITS EXISTENCE AS EARLY AS 1200 B.C. IT DERIVED ITS NAME FROM A NAIAD-NYMPH NAMED SPARTE.

A DAUGHTER OF THE RIVER-GOD, EUROTAS, SPARTE MARRIED THE CITY'S KING, A MAN NAMED LAKEDAIMON, WHO NAMED THE REGION FOR HIMSELF. 

THEREAFTER, THE GREEKS CALLED THE SPARTANS LAKEDAIMONS. ONLY MANY CENTURIES LATER WERE THEY REFERRED TO AS SPARTANS.

TO ENHANCE THEIR REPUTATION, THE SPARTANS CLAIMED THEY WERE DESCENDED FROM TWO OF THE SONS OF HERACLES.

THE BLOODLINE OF EACH SON SUPPOSEDLY PRODUCED THE SPARTAN KINGS, & EXPLAINS WHY, OF ALL GREEK CITIES, IT HAD TWO KINGS WHO RULED TOGETHER.

SPARTA PROSPERED PARTIALLY DUE TO ITS RICH SOILS. BUT ITS PROSPERITY WAS DUE TO OTHER FACTORS AS WELL.

AROUND 735 B.C. THE SPARTANS ATTACKED & DEFEATED THE MESSENIANS, THEIR NEIGHBORS TO THE WEST, TURNING THEM INTO SLAVES TO SUPPORT THE LAKEDAIMON WAR MACHINE.

THE SPARTANS CALLED THEM HELOTS —WHICH MEANT 'CAPTIVES' ... FOR MORE THAN 300 YEARS THEY GREW THE SPARTAN'S FOOD, MADE THEIR ARMOR & COOKED THEIR MEALS. 

IN RETURN, THEIR NEW MASTERS TREATED THEM WITH EXTREME CRUELTY. IN FACT, TO KEEP THE HELOTS IN A CONSTANT STATE OF TERROR, ONCE A YEAR YOUNG SPARTAN MEN WERE ALLOWED TO RUN WILD, KILLING HELOTS AT WILL.

MORE THAN anything, THE HELOT ENSLAVEMENT ALLOWED THE SPARTANS TO TRAIN FOR WAR. NO OTHER FACTOR WAS AS IMPORTANT TO THEIR SUCCESS ...

LET'S LOOK BRIEFLY AT HOW THE SPARTANS ACHIEVED THEIR MILITARY PROWESS. THEY WERE, INDISPUTABLY, A PROFESSIONAL ARMY, THE ONLY SUCH FORCE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD.  

FROM THE AGE OF 7, ALL SPARTAN BOYS BEGAN THEIR MILITARY TRAINING, THEIR LIVES SHIFTING FROM THE COMFORTS OF HOME TO A BARRACKS-STYLE AUSTERITY.

THEIR PARENTS NO LONGER RAISED THEM. INSTEAD, THE BOYS LIVED COMMUNALLY WITH OTHER BOYS TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT, HARDEN THEIR BODIES AND TAKE PAIN. 

THEIR FATHER WAS REPLACED BY AN OLDER SPARTAN WARRIOR. THIS WARRIOR, TYPICALLY IN HIS 20s, BECAME RESPONSIBLE FOR CREATING A NEW, FIERCE & UNQUESTIONINGLY PATRIOTIC WARRIOR.

THE BOY'S EDUCATION WOULD GO ON UNTIL AT LEAST AGE 18. OVER TIME, THEY LEARNED TO THAT NOTHING WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SACRIFICING THEMSELVES TO THE GREATER GOOD.

FURTHER, THEY WERE PURPOSELY UNDERFED & ENCOURAGED TO STEAL. FINDING QUICK WAYS TO OVERCOME DIFFICULTIES WAS CELEBRATED.

BRAVERY, COURAGE & FEARLESSNESS WERE MANDATORY. ANY SIGN OF WEAKNESS OR COWARDICE WAS PUNISHED.

A BOY WHO SHOWED THE SLIGHTEST SIGN OF FEAR WAS SHUNNED BY THE OTHERS. ANY AVERSION TO COMBAT CAUSED HIM TO BE OSTRACIZED.

AS THEY GREW TO YOUNG MEN, THE WARRIOR IDEAL WAS BEATEN INTO THEM. 

BY THE TIME THEY FOUGHT THEIR FIRST BATTLE, THEY WERE AS HARD AS THE BRONZE ARMOR THEY WORE FOR PROTECTION.

AND SO THE SPARTAN SYSTEM CREATED COURAGEOUS SOLDIERS WHO GLADLY GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR SPARTA ...

IN OTHER CITIES, INDIVIDUALISM WAS CELEBRATED ... IN SPARTA? TODAY WE WOULD DESCRIBE THEIR LIFE AS RADICALLY SOCIALIST. THAT IS, EVERY CITIZEN LIVED TO SERVE THE BODY POLITIC.

GIVEN THAT NO OTHER GREEK CITY WAS SIMILARLY STRUCTURED, WE'RE FORCED TO ASK: WHO CREATED THIS NEW SYSTEM?

AND AT THIS POINT WE COME FACE TO FACE WITH A LAKEDAIMON NAMED LYCURGUS, THE MAN THE SPARTANS CONSIDERED THEIR FOUNDING LAWGIVER.

THIS ONE INDIVIDUAL WAS BELIEVED TO HAVE WRITTEN SPARTA'S LAWS & TO HAVE CREATED THE RIGID SYSTEM THAT FUELED THEIR MILITARY SUCCESS.

IF HE ACTUALLY EXISTED, HE LIVED AROUND 650 B.C. I SAY 'IF HE EXISTED' BECAUSE MANY SCHOLARS BELIEVE LYCURGUS WAS AN INVENTION.

IT MAY NOT BE A COINCIDENCE THAT, IN GREEK, THE NAME LYCURGUS MEANS WOLF-WORKER, OR WOLFISH. 

THESE WERE COMMON TITLES FOR APOLLO, NOT MEN. THE NAME 'LYCURGUS' WAS RARELY GIVEN TO A MORTAL.

AND EVEN MORE STRANGELY, THE SPARTANS THEMSELVES WERE UNSURE OF HIS STATUS, ALTHOUGH THEY WERE QUICK TO CLAIM HE WAS AT LEAST SEMI-DIVINE.

THE ANCIENT GREEK HISTORIAN, HERODOTUS, RELATES A VISIT BY LYCURGUS TO THE ORACLE AT DELPHI WHO FUNCTIONED AS APOLLO'S MOUTHPIECE.

THE STORY IS THAT AS LYCURGUS ENTERED THE SHRINE, THE ORACLE EXCLAIMED LOUDLY,

"HERE TO MY RICH SHRINE YOU HAVE COME, LYCURGUS, DEAR TO ZEUS & TO ALL THE OLYMPUS-DWELLING GODS.

"I KNOW NOT WHETHER TO DECLARE YOU HUMAN OR DIVINE, BUT I AM INCLINED TO BELIEVE YOU'RE A GOD!"

THE GREEK PHILOSOPHER, PLUTARCH, WRITING HUNDREDS OF YEARS LATER, STATED THAT LYCURGUS HAD SERVED THE SPARTANS AS A KING, A CLAIM DISMISSED BY MOST SCHOLARS.

REGARDLESS, WHETHER MAN OR GOD, KING OR COMMONER, LYCURGUS IS CREDITED NOT ONLY WITH INVENTING THE SPARTAN'S UNIQUE MILITARY MACHINE ...

BUT WITH CREATING A NEW POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT RESISTED CHANGE FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS ...

BUT IN FACT, NO WAS SURE OF ANY OF THIS, EVEN AT THE PEAK OF SPARTA'S DOMINANCE.  

SO, WE HAVE TO ASK ... IF LYCURGUS WAS NO MORE THAN AN INVENTION, WHO CREATED THE UNIQUE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT THAT SPARTA SO ADMIRED? 

WAS IT, AFTER ALL, THE OLYMPIC GOD APOLLO? THAT 'LYCURGUS' WAS ONE OF HIS NICKNAMES MAY BE FAR MORE THAN COINCIDENCE.

BUT, THE RECORDS ARE EITHER SILENT OR CONTRADICTORY, & PERHAPS WE'LL NEVER KNOW WHO OR WHAT LAUNCHED THE SPARTAN WAY OF LIFE. 

REGARDLESS, WE CAN'T DISPUTE THAT ITS INNOVATIONS, EVEN IF BUILT ON THE BACK OF SLAVERY, SUCCEEDED FOR THREE CENTURIES ...

AND WHEN I SAY 'SUCCEEDED,' I SPEAK FROM THE SPARTAN POINT OF VIEW ... 

THOSE THEY DEFEATED & ENSLAVED WOULD HAVE DISAGREED ABOUT MY CHOICE OF WORDS. 

by 500 b.c. the spartans, AS A MILITARY FORCE, were indomitable. THE WARRIORS WORE DISTINCTIVE RED CLOAKS & HELMETS MOLDED FROM A SINGLE SHEET OF BRONZE.

FIGHTING WAS HAND-TO-HAND, & FACE-TO-FACE. THEY FOUGHT IN WHAT WAS CALLED A PHALANX, A LINE OF MEN, SHIELDS UP, EIGHT RANKS DEEP. 

AT TIMES, SPARTA FIELDED UP TO 5,000 MEN, ALL RIGOROUSLY TRAINED. 

THEIR LINES, LIKE BRONZE COILS, MOVED IN A FIERCE SYNCHRONICITY, SHIELDS GLISTENING, SPEARS OUT.

THEY NEVER RETREATED. AND AS IMPRESSIVELY, THE LINE THEIR WARRIORS MADE, ALL LOCKED SHOULDER TO SHOULDER, WAS VIRTUALLY IMPENETRABLE. 

SPARTAN DISCIPLINE & THE SPARTAN VOW TO DESTROY THEIR ENEMY WITH MERCILESS, BLUNT FORCE SPREAD FEAR THROUGH OPPONENTS.

IN 480 B.C. THE SPARTANS SEALED THEIR REPUTATION FOREVER, PITTING 300 OF THEIR CHAMPIONS AGAINST TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PERSIAN SOLDIERS.

THE FAMOUS BATTLE TOOK PLACE IN A NARROW PASS AT A PLACE NORTH OF ATHENS CALLED THERMOPYLAE ... 

OVER THREE DAYS, THE SPARTANS BEAT OFF THE PERSIAN KING'S CHARIOTS & ARCHERS & SEEMINGLY ENDLESS SPEARS-MEN.

BUT ONE BY ONE, THE WARRIORS DIED, REFUSING TO RETREAT ... THE DEAD INCLUDED ONE OF THE TWO SPARTAN KINGS, LEONIDAS.

ANTICIPATING THE BATTLE, A SPARTAN DELEGATION HAD VISITED THE DELPHIC ORACLE. HER WORDS TO THE DELEGATION WERE CHILLING:

‘Here is your fate, O you who live in broad-streeted Sparta:
 Great and glorious though your city is, yet men Will sack it UNLESS, 

THROUGH tHE wholE Laconian country, ALL SPARTANS Mourn for the loss of a king, A descendant of great HERACLES.'

LEONIDAS UNDERSTOOD THE PROPHESY, BELIEVING HE WAS DESTINED TO GO TO HIS DEATH DEFENDING GREECE.

ACCORDINGLY, HE SELECTED ONLY WARRIORS WHO HAD SONS, CERTAIN THAT ALL WHO FOUGHT BESIDE HIM WOULD DIE. 

THE ORACLE'S PREDICTION WAS ACCURATE. LEONIDAS DIED FIGHTING. BUT IN TURN, SPARTA WAS SPARED INVASION ...

THE PERSIAN KING, UPON HIS VICTORY,  RAGED AT LEONIDAS, WHOSE OBSTRUCTION HAD COST HIM OVER 20,000 LIVES.

HE ORDERED THAT LEONIDAS' BODY BE DECAPITATED & CRUCIFIED ... 

TODAY'S EPISODE IS NOT SOLELY ABOUT WARFARE. THE SPARTANS REPUTATION AS A UNIQUE SOCIETY WAS ALSO BASED ON THE TREATMENT OF ITS WOMEN.

AS WE'VE DISCUSSED IN MANY OF THESE EPISODES, GREEK WOMEN HAD FEW RIGHTS. THEY MARRIED EARLY & WERE EXPECTED TO MAINTAIN A HOUSEHOLD.

GREEK WOMEN PLAYED NO PART IN PUBLIC LIFE ... WHEN THEY WENT OUT THEY COVERED THEIR HEADS & COULD NOT ENGAGE WITH MEN ...

THEIR EDUCATION, IF ANY, WAS BRIEF ... AT THE DEATH OF A HUSBAND, THEY INHERITED NOTHING. IN SHORT, MEN PREVAILED IN ALL THINGS.

THIS WAS TRUE EVERYWHERE EXCEPT SPARTA ... AS THE SCHOLAR PAUL CARTLEDGE WRITES, "SPARTAN WOMEN COULD OWN PROPERTY, INCLUDING LAND ...

"THEY WERE ACTIVE, PROMINENT, POWERFUL, INDEPENDENT-MINDED & POSITIVELY GARRULOUS."

HE CONTINUES THAT GIRLS HAD A SIMILAR EDUCATION TO THAT OF BOYS — MANY COULD READ & WRITE ... OILED HEAD TO TOE, THE GIRLS RAN RACES ...

THREW JAVELINS & THE DISCUS, WRESTLED & DANCED AT NIGHT IN HONOR OF ZEUS & ATHENE, & RODE HORSES WITH WILD ABANDON. 

THEY WERE CELEBRATED FOR THEIR GYMNASTIC PROWESS, PERFORMING PUBLICLY COMPLETELY NAKED ... WHICH WAS TRUE FOR ALL SPARTAN YOUTH.

SOME SCHOLARS HAVE SPECULATED THAT THE NAKEDNESS ALLOWED POTENTIAL SUITORS TO PICK & CHOOSE THEIR FUTURE WIVES ...

ON TOP OF THAT, SPARTAN FEMALES HAD A REPUTATION FOR BEING THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL GREEK GIRLS. WE SHOULDN'T BE SURPRISED:

REMEMBER THAT HELEN OF TROY WAS ORIGINALLY HELEN OF SPARTA, KNOWN AS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD.

AND UNLIKE THEIR ATHENIAN SISTERS, SPARTAN WOMEN DID NO HOUSE WORK, COOKED NO MEALS & WOULD NOT BE CAUGHT SITTING AT A LOOM.

THEIR SLAVES, THEIR HELOTS, FILLED THESE MENIAL ROLES. CONSEQUENTLY, SPARTAN WOMEN WERE FREE TO THINK & DEBATE & ACQUIRE WEALTH.

FURTHER, A MARRIED WOMAN WAS ENCOURAGED TO TAKE A PARTNER OTHER THAN HER HUSBAND IF THERE WERE GREATER ASSURANCE OF HEALTHY OFFSPRING... 

AS CARTLEDGE NOTES, 'THEY WERE THE MOST REMARKABLE WOMEN IN ALL OF GREECE.'

BUT, AS WE STUDY SPARTA, WE MUST INEVITABLY RETURN TO WARRIORS & WAR BECAUSE, ULTIMATELY, COMBAT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, DEFINED THE SPARTANS.

THEY REACHED THE HEIGHT OF THEIR POWER WHEN THEY DEFEATED THE ATHENIANS IN 404 B.C. AT THE END OF WHAT WE CALL THE Peloponnesian WAR.

THE TWO CITIES HAD WAGED INTERMITTENT WAR FOR 27 YEARS. THEIR ENGAGEMENTS WERE SAVAGE & BECAME INCREASINGLY BARBARIC.

ALTHOUGH SPARTA EVENTUALLY PREVAILED — AND LARGELY BECAUSE ATHENS OVERREACHED IN ITS DESPERATION FOR REVENUE— SPARTA'S GLORY WAS BRIEF.

A MERE 35 YEARS LATER SPARTA SUFFERED A CATASTROPHIC DEFEAT AT THE HANDS OF THE THEBANS.

THEN THEBES INVADED SPARTA'S TERRITORY, & IN A FINAL, CRUSHING BLOW, LIBERATED THE MESSENIAN HELOTS, WHO HAD BEEN ENSLAVED BY SPARTA FOR CENTURIES.

THE MIGHTY SPARTAN WAR MACHINE NEVER RECOVERED & SPARTA LINGERED ON AS NO MORE THAN A SECOND-RATE POWER.

THEIR POWER HAD LASTED 300 YEARS. BUT AS SUDDENLY AS IT AROSE, IT COLLAPSED. WORSE, THE HUMILIATIONS CONTINUED. 

FIRST, ALEXANDER THE GREAT SWEPT THROUGH THE LAKEDAIMON COUNTRYSIDE, THE SPARTANS BARELY RESISTED.

THEN, IN 195 B.C. THE ROMANS DROVE THE FINAL NAIL INTO THE REMNANTS OF SPARTA, TEARING DOWN ITS DEFENSIVE WALLS & FORCING THE REMAINING INHABITANTS TO PLEDGE FEALTY FOREVER TO ROME.

WHAT CAN WE MAKE OF THIS TALE OF BRUTE FORCE & COLLAPSE? FIRST, SPARTAN SOCIETY WAS ASTOUNDINGLY LOPSIDED.

WHEN THEY EVENTUALLY MET A GREATER FORCE, THEY HAD NO ALTERNATE IDEOLOGY TO FALL BACK ON. 

IN SPARTA'S VIEW OF ITSELF, IT WAS EITHER SUPREME OR IT HAD NO PURPOSE.

IT EXISTED FOR ITS MILITARY ... STRIP ITS SPEARS, SWORDS & SHIELDS AWAY & IT WAS A VACUUM. IT HAD NO ART, PHILOSOPHY OR LITERATURE. 

EVEN GREEKS AT THE TIME REMARKED UPON ITS SHALLOWNESS, ON ITS STRANGENESS. NO OTHER CITY HAD SUCH A SINGLE-MINDED & REMARKABLE FOCUS.

ITS OBSESSION SERVED IT UNTIL IT SUDDENLY DID NOT ... ULTIMATELY, SPARTA PAID AN EXTRAORDINARY PRICE FOR ITS BRIEF REIGN OF POWER.

YET, ANY CRITIQUE ASIDE, MUCH OF TODAY'S WORLD THINKS OF SPARTANS AS THE ULTIMATE, FEARLESS WARRIORS, UNRELENTING, BRAVE & WILLING TO GIVE THEIR LIVES FOR A GREATER GOOD ... 

SO ... IN THE EYES OF HISTORY, PERHAPS THEY WON AFTER ALL.

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY

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A GREAT WAY TO FIND OUT IS TO DOWNLOAD MY AUDIBLE BOOK, HOMO DIVINITAS. YOU CAN GET IT AT AMAZON OR AUDIBLE.

AND THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER ...