It has always struck me as odd that the brutal meatheads, the Spartans, were portrayed brilliant heroes in that movie, 300. It was odder that they went into battle half-naked rather than as armored hoplites. It was oddest of all that they kept howling about “FREEDOM!”, but Sparta was a slave society, and one of the reasons they were so focused on war was the need to keep the helots oppressed. Finally, someone says it: the Spartans were morons.
The word spartan, taken separately from a military context has come to mean utilitarian, basic. In ancient times the word was more pejorative, carrying a connotation of stupidity and coarseness. The word Thespian, has come to mean artistic and sensitive. At Thermopylae the 700 Thespians fought as bravely as any other force. There was a city-state that balanced the need of self-defense and to develop culture.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the alt-right idolizes Sparta, with their simplistic worship of brute rigidity and hypocritical adoration of slogans. We just have to remember: the Spartans lost, and left nothing of value to civilization.
What more needs be said?
Gorogh, Lounging Peacromancer says
How dare you, Sir?
Cat Mara says
I wonder if their idolisation of things Spartan will stretch to their adoption of the “black soup”, the mixture of barley, vinegar and pig’s blood that was the staple of a Spartan warrior’s diet. There is a story about how a Spartan cook defected to one of the neighbouring city-states whose leaders were glad to have him, assuming that he’d reveal the secrets of what made the Spartans such feared fighters. He cooked up a batch of the soup and served it.
Leaders: This is foul! You Spartans eat this?!
Cook: Sure, but we’re missing the three secret ingredients.
Leaders (pricking up ears at final divulging of Spartan military secrets): Oh yes? What are those?
Cook: Hunger, thirst and fatigue
Laconic humour at its finest…
Cat Mara says
Oops, ninja’d by Gorogh, Lounging Peacemaker! 🤣
The historical view of Spartans is one of extreme mental and moral* discipline and loyalty to the spirit of Sparta. Conservatives, and especially Republicans have no morality or self discipline, and no loyalty to anyone but themselves. Every weakness and failure is automatically excused or blamed on others.
And don’t get me started on courage.
* For horrific values of “morality” to a Spartan.
Also, the men lived apart from their wives most of the time and had boys as sexual companions. Just sayin’.
[Casts “summon cartomancer”…]
It’s worth remembering that pretty much everything we think we know about the Spartans was written by their enemies, and that whenever somebody has tried to come up with archaeological evidence for any of it, they’ve come up empty. For example, that stuff about “killing babies who don’t appear to have great potential as warriors” is almost certainly not true.
Joseph Zowghi says
And didn’t Leonidas assume the throne after his brother died under…unusual circumstances?
Bronze Dog says
Dunc @7: “It’s worth remembering that pretty much everything we think we know about the Spartans was written by their enemies, and that whenever somebody has tried to come up with archaeological evidence for any of it, they’ve come up empty.”
What I find sad is that many fascists probably believe all that old anti-Sparta propaganda and still admire Sparta anyway.
Jeremy Shaffer says
Despite me being a comic book person since the late 80’s, I’ve never read 300. I read The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One and, while I liked them alright, there was enough there for me to know I wasn’t going to be a Frank Miller fan. That said, I’m not sure if the same framing device was used in the comic as in the movie, but the whole thing being a heavily stilted piece of propaganda by one Spartan to pump up others* before a battle kind of explains why they’re portrayed as brilliant heroes and the people they’re about to face are monstrous and depraved, as are anyone who opposes them or disagrees with them. Their howls about freedom and sneers at those who didn’t hold the same values as themselves was nothing more than the typical cant of people who demand that their self-ascribed designations define their actions instead of the other way around.
In that sense, it seems inevitable that the alt-right would adopt Spartans- as they’re shown in 300 anyway; I doubt many of them are honestly looking to the real Spartans- as objects of adoration and inspiration. Both groups were self-absorbed dipshits who had/ have little to run on beyond self-flattery, insincere boasts, and banal proselytizations.
* Who I suppose never stopped to ask how this guy knew anything more than “all of them died” since he left before the end due to an injury.
Rob Grigjanis says
That comes from a personal name, not the city.
Ho hum, ridiculously oversimplified history. Yeah, where’s cartomancer?
Yes, Thespis was ostensibly the first actor. Thespian means an actor.
FINALLY! Someone who shares my point of view on the Spartans. They were HORRIBLE people, when you read about their initiation rights for the Crypteia, their treatment of the Helots and on and on and on.
The real truth is that they weren’t even that good at War. They frequently lost and I remember reading about one battle where someting like 20,000 Spartans surrendered without even a fight. The reason? They were facing archers and they felt their honor did not require them to fight against ranged weapons.
The stupidest of all is the whole Molon Labe thing that the morons love to yell. In most of the situations where someone has said this, that is exactly what their enemy did. At Thermopylae the Persians were barely delayed at all in their march into Greece. Once they got into the mainland, they essentially laid waste until the Greeks PAID them to leave. Bunker Hill, the Alamo. And on and on. When some idiot says “Come and take them” their opposite numbers says “OK, Sure”
I will admit that there are aspects of Sparta I admire: The strong women, the famed spartan wit, and the absolutely bizarre general nature of the place. But culturally, militarily, they were just an odd little footnote.
Cat Mara says
cervantes @ 6:
In one book on the Ancient Greeks I read, the Spartan marriage ceremony was basically described as a ritualised abduction scenario where the groom would “kidnap” his bride from her father’s house, bring her to his own, consummate their union, and then return to his barracks to celebrate with his (male) mates. Yeah.
Pederasty was practiced nearly universally in Ancient Greece. That wasn’t unusual. Spartan women were educated, though, and encouraged to form same-sex relationships which is more than can be said for other Greek city-states that basically treated women like breeding stock, someone you made babies with but didn’t actually love because love could only be a thing that men could experience… Ancient Greeks, regardless of city-state affiliation, were not enlightened in these matters.
The permanent military footing on which the Spartans built their society was sustainable only by a permanent underclass of helots, slaves who tilled the land and did all the hard work while Spartan men lived as soldiers– the hoplites of other Greek city states were part-time warriors who had real jobs when the fighting was over. In the end, it was successive helot uprisings that undermined Spartan society.
Could it be the alt-right lunkheads idolize the 300 movie portrayal of the Spartans rather that how they were in real life? This would be consistent with how the xtian RWers idolize their bible but constantly pick and choose passages with which to criticize those they oppose. It’s their own mental version of the bible they claim to follow, not the real one (or ones when you look at the number of variants). Same for so-called conservatives who claim to idolize the Constitution while constantly ignoring and rejecting the parts of it that goes against they perceptions.
Rob Grigjanis says
If you mean Sphacteria, your facts and numbers are horribly wrong.
If not, please clarify.
I have long been intrigued by the Spartan Paradox. If you eliminate the weak then what remains is strength, right? Liberals don’t want to face this obvious truth because there’s no answer to it…except to ask: Where are the Spartans?
Where are the Machiavellians? Or the Prussians or anyone else who followed this doctrine?
How well are the Randroids doing these days?
It seems obviously true but it obviously isn’t, that’s what makes it a paradox.
kevinalexander, probably suggests that “strength” is not what is required to survive and thrive.
Not a paradox at all, but merely an expression that no measure of “fitness” cannot be reduced to a single characteristic, and that such characteristics are never 100% heritable–there is always regression toward the mean.
Even something as seemingly straightforward as “strength” is not in fact unidimensional. The strength of a pitcher who can throw a 100 mph fastball is one measure, while that of an offensive lineman is another. Even in baseball, pitchers are almost always piss poor hitters. You have upper body strength, lower body strength, leg strength, endurance…
This is why those who posit that Roger Federer is a better tennis player than Serena are morons–men’s ans women’s tennis are different games.
Sparta was also known for its homosexual praxis. How do the alt-right feel about that?
Funny that it should come up Sparta left nothing behind, except for that lasting interior design, dubbed living like a Spartan. Also, my personal favorite, the frequent allusion of atheists to the Euthyphro dilemma. There’s a plenty who will point out that the pious man lost the debate, which is true, and way fewer will be those who’ll point out, he argued against slavery. The philosopher as smart as he was winning it still remained a douchebag/man of his era for protecting the custom of enslavement.
Of course authoritarians look up to it both on the far left and the far right. It’s the legend of a quasi nation state where even the women were revered and important, “close to man’s nature as an animal”. To such people the others are the hypocrites because nobody can shed instincts (i.e. act civilized) and anybody claiming so is deceptive.
Pierce R. Butler says
Now, now, some may say that “morons” is ableist. Let’s call them, hmm, “exceptional.”
When the Spartan elites decided to switch their villages from a mixed economy to a warrior-aristocracy supported by slaves, they invented a previously unknown founding father named Lycurgus (approximately, “wolf-man”), who purportedly propounded a code of militaristic austerity – and the rubes of Laconia swallowed it whole.
Their susceptibility to self-celebration led to a calendar of multiple prolonged festivals, which soon took priority over even fighting. That, and the awkward structure of having two kings without clearly defined separate powers, played a role (alongside the corrupting army-of-occupation function of helotry) in weakening their military effectiveness. The relatively well-rounded citizen-soldiers of Thebes eventually clobbered them – not long before Alexander II (“the Great”) stomped out the Thebans.
Did he? Where, exactly?
I’ve read the Euthyphro a little more closely to try and figure out what was going on there, and I don’t recall anything that explicit about slavery. But perhaps I overlooked something.
The Spartans might have won the Peloponnesian War, but Sparta is a pile of ruins now, while Athens is the capital of a united Greece (not that the Athenians were saints either).
Ugh, typo. “not that the Athenians were saints by any means”.
Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says
Some people say the earth is flat. What’s your point?
Ronald Couch says
Try “The Wreckage of Agathon” by John Gardner. A wonderful novel about Sparta and the opposition of the helots.
Sorry to pain on the charades, but I suspect Thespiae was a slave society too. It would be the only Greek city that wasn’t. That of course doesn’t make the Spartans any better.
“the alt-right idolizes Sparta”
Then we may hope that the alt-right will share it’s fate as well. According to Wikipedia in the end Sparta was “a tourist attraction for the Roman elite who came to observe exotic Spartan customs.”
If you are looking for an explanation for the strange affection that the alt-right has for Sparta, or more precisely the Myth of Sparta, look no further than Bertrand Russell who long ago saw the connection between the nationalist dreams of the Nazis and the description of the militaristic social practices of the Spartans in Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. Read especially Russell’s History of Western Philosophy and his Skeptical Essays for a full recounting of the myth. These “Spartan dreams” live on among the alt-right, only dimly aware, I suspect, as to their origins in nationalist cultures.
Did anyone have a look at the comments on the article ?
Liberal leftie is a typical come back .
Pierce R. Butler says
Azkyroth… @ # 26: What’s your point?
A set-up for the comparison of Sparta and a certain modern failing & flailing “exceptional” empire.
Is that all right with you?
I get back from a hard day of teaching people about the ancient world and look what happens. Late to the party again. Clearly Kairos is not smiling upon me.
A lot of people have already pointed out that almost everything we know about the Spartans comes from outside sources, and sometimes rather hostile ones. Sparta in the Classical age was not a literate culture, by and large, so it is to the records of other Greeks that we must turn to fill out the picture.
It would be a mistake to assume that everything we know comes from rabidly anti-Spartan sources, though. Herodotus and Thucydides are usually the first port of call – the former for his history of the Persian Wars and the latter for his account of the Peloponnesian War. They, at least, were contemporaries of the Spartans during their big, weird, radically militaristic phase. But Thucydides isn’t much of a one for cultural asides and Herodotus tends to veer almost into myth and fairytale at times. Their subjects were not so much Spartan culture as how these wars happened, and neither was particularly hostile to Spartan culture, despite both being Athenians (Thucydides was even a general with responsibility for prosecuting the war, and he tends to treat the Spartans as worthy enemies rather than lumbering idiots). Then there’s Xenophon, who was somewhat pro-Spartan in his leanings (he lived in Sparta for a while, and knew a number of Spartan generals during his time as a mercenary commander in Asia). He valued their no-nonsense simplicity and authoritarian effectiveness, and considered their frugality to be a sign of moral rectitude. Aristotle talks about the Spartans in his political works, but he seems fairly dispassionate when he does so and his criticisms of their society tend to be of the “with such a rate of attrition in the male population their way of life is unsustainable over the long term” sort. In fact, of all the contemporary Athenian sources for Spartan culture in the Classical age, it’s really only the comedies of Aristophanes that take an outright hostile approach and mock Spartan culture mercilessly (Aristophanes, of course, mocks everyone and everything mercilessly). The thing is that most of Athens’s literati were from the traditional aristocratic classes, and many in that class tended to be somewhat pro-Spartan politically. Sparta, to them, represented not so much excessive military fetishism as a state where those of noble birth were firmly in control. Oligarchic Sparta probably had its democrats just as democratic Athens had its oligarchs. In fact we do hear of discontented Spartans, such as the general Brasidas, who defected in order to get away from the frugality and hoard money.
So the picture from the time is much less black and white than we like to caricature it. It would be going altogether too far to say that there wasn’t something really quite odd and revolutionary about Classical Sparta, but we tend to wallow in a massively exaggerated cartoon Sparta that contemporary Athenians would not have recognised. The main reason for this is that a lot of our information about day to day life in Classical Sparta comes from much later sources – above all from Plutarch, a Greek from Chaeronea near Delphi writing under the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st century AD (so, 600 odd years later). By Plutarch’s day the ideal of Spartan frugality, military courage, masculinity and moral clarity had blown up into the kind of testosterone-fuelled phantasmagoria that the article in the original post decries. Details of such things as the agoge, the “come back with your shield or on it” maxim, the habitual exposure of weak children (a practice common in the ancient world at any rate), the many anecdotes about Black Soup and the rest of the lurid stories tend to originate in this period (albeit with some basis in a less exaggerated reality). mnb0 points out that Sparta became a tourist attraction for the Roman elite, and that’s a key part of this process – Classical Spartan culture was exaggerated to appeal to an Imperial Roman, not a Classical Greek, ideal of military courage and masculinity. We’re getting the theme park version even before the likes of Frank Miller get hold of it.
What got lost? Well, we know that Sparta wasn’t a literate society, but that doesn’t mean it had no art or culture. Spartans were renowned for their traditions of dance and song and storytelling, and for their laconic wit in speech. “Attic salt” – the kind of elaborate, long-winded verbal performance popular at Athens – often came off the worse in cultural comparisons with Spartan brevity and pithiness. The Spartans certainly seem to have had a salutary understanding of the dangers of wealth inequality and the greed that accompanies unchecked mercantile adventure. They had some sculptors and metalworkers (you can’t really run a military state without weapon-makers, but Spartan smiths turned out decorative goods too), and even their strict hierarchical division between Spartiate and Helot broke down numerous times, when they were forced to make slaves into citizens to replenish military losses. Toward the end of the 3rd century BC, under Agis and Cleomenes, they even dabbled with radical wealth and land redistribution to solve the problems of inequality and lack of productivity that their failing constitution had created.
Actually Sparta was much admired in Antiquity by a great many people. Generally it was Athens, more than Sparta that got the negative press in Antiquity. For example Plutarch was a very great admirer of Sparta and he is the source of much of our knowledge of Sparta. It is, for example quite clear that Plato admired aspects of Spartan society and had a much more positive view of it than he did of Athens.
Basically in antiquity the prevailing view of the literary elites was that Athens was a horrible, mob ruled, corrupt state and that Sparta was an ideal state that sadly, eventually fell from virtue due to being corrupted by its contacts with foreign ways.
Even Herodotus who quite definitely admired Athens more than Sparta still is largely positive about Sparta.
Our two chief sources about Sparta are the Athenian Xenophon and Plutarch. Xenophon, (Fourth century B.C.E.) closely resembles the so-called fellow travellers who admired the brutal dictatorial, at times genocidal Stalinist dictatorship. His admiration of Sparta went so far has him living in the Spartan state. He wrote several books and other writings were he positively gushes about the wonders of Sparta. (Although Sparta was Athens enemy Xenophon served in the Spartan army against Athens.) Xenophon’s celebration of Sparta and its leaders led him to writing distorted history and much suck up material.
The other writer Plutarch, (Lived late first century – early 2nd century C.E.), greatly admired Sparta and it’s “wonderful” constitution and he is source of much of our knowledge of Sparta. Sadly according to Plutarch, contact with the world corrupted the “wonderful” Spartan virtues and led to the collapse of this wonderful state.
Amazingly Plutarch thinks Sparta is wonderful despite recording a great deal that is frankly nightmarish about it. For example Intellectually Sparta became a state of philistines, producing virtually nothing of any literary, artistic value. This is remarkable in that Sparta did have Poets, and even artists and was producing good art into the early 6th century B.C.E. But with the full acceptance of the rigorous Spartan way, all that died to be replaced by a cultural desert. Thus the state admired by so many in antiquity, was admired for how it was organized when it was a cultural wasteland.
Then there is the fact that Sparta deliberately adopted a policy of restricting intellectual debate of any kind so that Spartans were generally totally ignorant of the wider intellectual currents in the Greek world. Sparta along with restricting foreigners coming to Sparta, (Least they bring new notions, ideas etc.), also imposed an intellectual embargo. Thus Sparta produced during its height no poets or intellectuals of any note.
Further Sparta imposed on the great majority of its population, the Helots, a system of at least semi slavery. Athens may have had slavery but in Sparta because of fear of the vastly more numerous Helot population, not only militarized themselves but instituted a secret police system to spy on and inform on possible Helot threats. And every once and a while the Spartan state would declare war on the helots and give death squads carte blanche to kill any Helot considered threatening.
And of course to make the Spartans fit for the task of crushing the Helots they were subject to a rigorous, authoritarian, brutal “education” regime that ruthlessly suppressed questioning and intellectual pursuits in favour of narrow military virtues and obedience. Alliked to was the fact that yes the Spartans did cull newborns and we get this from Plutarch.
What is remarkable is that Xenophon and Plutarch actually admired this rather unpleasant tin pot, semi totalitarian state!
From Thucydides we get the truly terrible story that during the early years of the Peloponnesian war the Spartans in order to secure their home turf put out that they would honor and free those Helots who had done outstanding service to the state. About 2000 Helots came forward. They were paraded around and then they disappeared! Apparently all or virtually all were murdered! This story is accepted by practically all modern classical historians has true.
Despite the coarse, brutal features of the Spartan state in antiquity it was Sparta that was admired; far more than Athens which was considered a terrible example of mob rule and the wickedness of democracy.
In antiquity many intellectuals, who would not been able to think an independent thought in Sparta and if they lived suffered accordingly were attracted to a state that actively opposed free inquiry and the life of the mind. I suspect it is the desire to submit to the dictates of the all powerful state and the terror of thinking for yourself that is at the root of that. Of course this abject surrender of the critical intellect has been repeated many times since by intellectuals. In our century by the vast number of fellow travellers who joyfully submitted to the all powerful, benevolent, always right state.
And yes, “Thespian” in the modern sense of an actor and aesthete comes from Thespis of Icaria – an Attic performer of the 6th century BC credited with inventing the play by introducing actors playing characters to interact with a chorus.
Thespiae in Boeotia, where the Spartans’ 700 allies came from, has nothing to do with the theatre. Though the nearby village Ascra was where the great archaic poet Hesiod came from.
@pacal, cartomancer. Having a complex, contextual, and objective opinion is not typically welcome here. Tow the shallow narrative or get out.
Crys T says
Pray tell, how precisely does one “tow a narrative”? Or are you making a reference to “toeing the line”?
In any case, you’re being a supercilious dick.
That’s what you get for hoping someone will stick a flounce for once.
Haha, shallow paxoll is projecting.
Vivec@38, some people will just not go away until they’re convinced they’ve had the last word.
@timgueguen More like a behavioral study, to see if that was simply one specific topic or any topic. It was an “in before trolls” comment.
I had never even heard of the movie “300” and a quick look at the trailer and that shot of the half-naked character with a shield and sword confirms my opinion that one should always assume that an historical film is an oxymoron.
Were those writers raised on tales of berserkers or watching Braveheart?
BTW, I remember reading a review of Braveheart where the reviewer pointed out 105 errors in the movie and then, rather dryly, pointed out that this was only one minute into the movie.
Cartomancer is a highly esteemed contributor to this site, has been for years, and is much admired and valued for his extensive knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman history and culture. You, by contrast, are regarded with almost universal contempt for your sexual assault apologism.
The issue isn’t mere disagreement, paxoll. A brief look at any of the threads about political candidates would show that a huge degree of the commentariat disagree very vehemently with each other on matters.
Correcting historical errors PZ makes is way different in kind than making excuses for a celebrity that committed sexual assault.
@KG, I complemented Cartomancer, and if you want to point out where I’ve ever been a sexual assault apologist, it would be interesting to see.
PZ Myers says
#36: I thought pacal’s and cartomancer’s contributions were useful and informative. Yours haven’t been. So why are you telling them they’re unwelcome and to get out, as if you have any authority here at all?
@KG on second thought why not stick to the actual topic of the post. Such as why PZ is happily providing a quote that is flat wrong.
@PZ it was a sarcastic dig at the people in the comment section. Not an actual request for them to leave. I appreciate that they have opposing views, which makes me want actual sources supporting their claims
Pierce R. Butler says
crossposted from Oct ’17 at stderr:
PZ Myers says
#47, paxoll: ironically, you’re telling others to stick to the subject of the post, while providing nothing at all on the subject of the post.
You will not post any further in this thread, or you will be banned.
Regardless, I’m not surprised that the alt-right fell in love with 300’s version of Sparta – that movie and the corresponding comic it was based on is nothing but fascism apologism written by a fascist apologist.
Frank Miller aka “I wrote glorified OC Batman Fanfic where he beats up TEH TERRORISM because DC rejected my shitty fascist script” is very big on the whole theme of like “BIG GOVERNMENT IS EVIL AND DIRTY BROWN PEOPLE ARE COMING TO RAPE YOUR WOMEN”.
For Spartan dance, song and storytelling (which, like all Greek public performance, had a strongly religious character) both Herodotus and Plato mention the antiquity and importance of the Gymnopaedia dance in Spartan culture (Much later Lucian would note that it still survived in Roman Sparta). Xenophon notes the importance of the Pyrrhichios war-dance (a tradition mentioned in Homer) to Spartan culture in his Anabasis. Athenaeus has several notes in his deinosophistae about the musical competitions at the Spartan Carnea festival (which apparently attracted such luminaries as Terpander, the “father of Greek music”).
For the characteristic Spartan wit and brevity, Plato’s Protagoras mentions it (he specifically says that the Spartans put on a big show of being ignorant, but really they’re just letting you shoot your mouth off, then they strike with deadly precision). Plutarch has a collection of witty sayings attributed to Spartans in his Apothegmata Laconica (part of his Moralia writings).
Sparta when it adopted the full Spartan system, ( A process that took centuries.), basically engaged in an act of self lobotomy. Before Sparta was noted in the so called plastic arts of Bronze casting and even in poetry, but that was over by c. 500 B.C.E. It by then that the full on Spartan system was enforced. Along with a paranoid suspicion of foreigners in Sparta. Thucydides remarks that it was hard to find out much about the inner dealings of Spartan politics because of the paranoia and secrecy. As for “Laconic” wit. To a large extent it was a clock to hide an anti-intellectual elitism and a form of philistinism designed to celebrate no-nothing ignorance. The bottom line was that Spartans were often quite ignorant of the larger intellectual trends of the time and that was largely by choice.
Archeologically Sparta during its years of power was distinctly unimpressive. If it weren’t for surviving historical, literary accounts we would never guess that Sparta was during these years an important site of a powerful state.
Plutarch like so many was impressed by the Spartan mirage. The image of a changeless, rigid, virtuous system that put to rest uncertainty in the name of a changeless virtue.
I have little but contempt for Sparta has a system of government. If forced to choose between Athens and Sparta, Athens wins hands down, even though there is a lot I do not like about Athens. (Slavery for one.)
Reading Xenophon, Plutarch, Thucydides has helped form my contempt for Sparta. For what they say is not pleasant but appalling. More modern writers like Paul Cartledge, M. I. Findley and others have added to my dislike. Sparta was very good at diplomacy, war making and grinding it’s subject serf population into the dust. And also in providing an ideal model of a society for intellectuals who fear freedom. ( Like Plato.)
Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says
…so basically the right wing’s Christmas list?
I agree that the sacrifice of the Thespians at Thermopylae was more poignant than that of the Leonidas’s hippeis, as they were ordinary middle class people rather than trained soldiers.
But the caricature of the Spartans as warlike insensate brutes is a bit far off.
All Greek states were slave owning states. A major part of the economy of Athens was based on the silver mines of Laurion, and thousands of men, women and children worked for that wealth as slaves, often rented out by their owners to the entrepreneurs who owned leases to the mines.
And far from being warlike, Sparta was less likely than some other states (notably Athens) to engage in actual war. In Sparta, they realized that war meant the death of Spartiates. Those people were essential for the running of the economy and defence of the state, and their loss was very bad for Sparta as a whole. Sparta went into decline at least in part as a result of lack of people able to serve as hoplites (partly due to wealth being concentrated in fewer hands.)
There are several accounts of the Spartans delaying sending troops to fight because they had to wait for favourable omens, etc.
In Athens, on the other hand, democracy (slave-owning democracy remember) meant that those voting for war were not necessarily those who would risk their lives in that war. It was far easier for demagogues to whip the mob into a warlike frenzy and launch war on other states with the promise of riches flowing down to the lower classes.
David Marjanović says
A justification given for this was precisely that women weren’t educated: what can you talk about with a woman?
Not “wolf-worker” or perhaps “wolf-maker”? Like a metallurgist?