Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spartan Thieves

Every scholar of Sparta knows Xenophon’s descriptions of how Spartan youths and boys were kept hungry so they would learn how to steal, and were punished only for being caught rather than for theft itself.  Credible as Xenophon generally is, his commentary on this aspect of Spartan society is very questionable. Aside from the fact that thieves in any society can only be punished when caught, and many robbers undoubtedly view punishment as the price of poor performance rather than theft itself, the greater problem with this common depiction of Sparta is the notion that Sparta’s youth was continually stealing just to keep alive.
Admittedly, a nation of thieves may well fit Athenian views about their enemy.  The French referred to the English as “perfidious.” Americans and Soviets routinely attributed treachery to each other throughout the Cold War. The Israelis and Arabs have no end of adjectives to describe the deceitful character of the other side. Rather like calling your enemy’s men “fags” and their women “whores,” attributing sly dishonesty and immorality to the enemy is standard fare in propaganda wars regardless of culture or century.
A nation of thieves does not, however, fit well with a society that even her enemies considered remarkably stable and orderly. How do you keep a society orderly, if the entire male population between the ages of 7 and 20 are actively encouraged to steal? More important, how do you keep an economy functioning at the high levels of efficiency needed to finance a brutal, 30 year war, if every farm, shop, house, workshop and warehouse must be locked and guarded against hoards of desperate, half-starved youth? There are thieves in every society, but high levels of crime are one of the most destructive factors to social stability and political credibility.
Admittedly, the theft of food alone might not be so devastating to an economy as the theft of all goods, but the accounts usually cited, supplemented with details such as the absurd story of a youth caught stealing a fox (which is not on anyone’s menu), suggest that theft as such was encouraged. It is this picture of Spartan youth which dominates modern portrayals of Sparta.
To his credit, Anton Powell, in his article “Dining Groups, Marriage, Homosexuality,” in Michael Whitby’s Sparta, notes that “theft offended against two ideals of Spartan society: obedience and respect for elders.” (Sparta, p. 102). However, rather than questioning if Xenophon’s account is accurate or complete, Powell tries to argue that the military benefits of teaching youth stealth and deceit outweighed the disadvantages of corrupting their morals.  The problem with this argument is that such skills were conspicuously not necessary to the phalanx warfare at which Sparta was so good. Powell attempts to make a connection between guerrilla warfare and the custom of theft despite the fact that Thucydides states explicitly that prior to the Pylos campaign the Spartans had little experience of brigandage. Unable to square such a statement with his own image of Sparta, Powell hypothesizes a long history of (completely unrecorded!) helot revolts in which the Spartans learned guerrilla warfare – and so needed training in theft and stealth, but which Thucydides and Herodot knew absolutely nothing about.  
Admittedly, the kryptea was an organization in which the skills of deceit and theft would have been useful, but we are told that only selected Spartan youth ever served in it, not all of them. Furthermore , as Dr. Nic Fields so significantly pointed out, Sparta probably did not have that repulsive institution unit until after the helot revolt of 465.  There is, in fact, no credible indication whatsoever that Sparta had to deal with helot revolts of any kind prior to 465 – unless one counts the Second Messenian War as a major “helot” uprising. It is far more likely that both helots and perioikoi prospered throughout the archaic period.
Rather than inventing unrecorded wars, I think it makes more sense to examine the presumption that Spartan youth were encouraged to steal.   It is far more likely, as Nigel Kennel argues in The Gymnasium of Virtue, that if Spartan youth were encouraged to learn stealth and theft at all, it was only in a very limited and restricted context, and/or only after the degeneration of Spartan society had set in in the mid-fifth century BC.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Spartan Mothers and Sparta's Military Ethos

Probably the second most common myth about Sparta is that Spartan women were lesbian amazons, who had little to do with their men – unless it was telling them to go and die for Sparta.  This myth has its roots in the Plutarch’s collections of Spartan sayings by Spartan women, eighteen of which share the now familiar theme of “with your shield or upon it.” All these women, named and unnamed, share the (alleged) Spartan ethos of preferring to see their sons dead than defeated or disgraced. They either express themselves in graphic and often insulting language to sons who failed to live up to these ideals, or reject comfort and exhibit no grief when told of a son’s death. Three of them even go so far as to kill their disgraced sons themselves. 

These sayings are all too commonly taken at face value, despite serious grounds to doubt their authenticity.  First and foremost, with the exception of the quotes attributed to Gyrtias and Damatria respectively, almost all these sayings are anonymous.  “Anonymous” has been the author of most slander in the history of mankind, and while “anonymous” clearly does have an author and a real identity, he/she is very rarely who he/she purports to be.

Second, except for the quote attributed to Gyrtias, all are vague and generic, with nothing to suggest the date and context. Thus nothing about them requires an intimate knowledge of Spartan society or personalities. Yet the sayings undoubtedly convey an unattractive, not to say alienating, image of Sparta.

After all, what could be more alienating and repulsive than a mother so unnatural that she wants her son to die? The love of a mother for her child is one of the most primeval feelings in the world, a love that mankind has long acknowledged and cherished. Ancient Greek literature sets the standard. Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband is understandable not because he brings Cassandra into her home, but because she is revenging the murder of Iphigenia. Medea remains a repulsive barbarian because she is willing to kill her children out of jealousy. The quoted sayings "of Spartan women" are clearly intended to make Spartan women sound like barbarians, like unnatural, unfeminine creatures, who deserve no sympathy even in their adversity.

Furthermore, all the sayings are predicated on cowardice on the part of young Spartan men.  So, allegedly, while the women were upholding Sparta’s post-Thermopylae ethos of victory or death, the young men were deserting in droves having failed to absorb the proper ethos despite their allegedly harsh upbringing.  Based on these sayings, Sparta was populated by cowardly men, a situation that seems hard to square with the historical record – even if we admit that Spartans were probably no braver than most other Greeks.

Keeping in mind that slogans and apocryphal stories often evolve to counter sentiments that those in power find dangerous, one could hypothesize that these sayings were developed as examples of the “good old days” and were supposed to depict model behavior.  Maybe they were intended to inspire young men and women, who the older generation did not think were living up to the ideals of their own youth. But it seems odd that, if the Spartan elders wanted to motivate the younger generation to behave more like their ancestors, they did not put the slogans into the mouths of historical figures rather than anonymous ones. Surely it would have been more effective to give the women and their sons names? Wouldn’t, for example, the story of the young man killed by his mother after reporting “all the men are dead” have been more effective and intimidating if it had been attributed to the mother of one of the two survivors of Thermopylae?

More plausible to me is that all these sayings are the invention of Athenian or other enemy commentators intended to create/reinforce the “Feindbild” – the image of the enemy as alien and contemptible. The sayings had the two-fold benefit of making Sparta’s warriors seem less frightening, and Spartan women less human.  Sparta’s warriors were diminished because these sayings proved that many of them were really cowards who would run home to their mothers if they could. At the same time, unlike the Trojan women, who are frequently portrayed as loving mothers deserving of sympathy (see Euripides plays), these sayings make Spartan women seem so repulsively unnatural that Athenians could feel justified in any kind of atrocities against them.

The greatest pity is that most modern readers take them a face value and imagine Spartan women as unfeeling beasts – curiously without likewise adopting the image of cowardly Spartan men.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The 300 and Sparta's Military Ethos

One of the most common misperceptions about Sparta today is that the Spartan army had a tradition of “do or die,” that is, that it was against Sparta's laws to retreat. This myth has its roots in Leonidas’ stand at Thermopylae, and the most important piece of evidence is the memorial that the Spartans themselves erected at Thermopylae after the Persians had been driven out of Greece. This famous monument had a dedication that in one common translation ran: “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, in obedience to the laws, we lie.”

This simple epitaph is widely interpreted to mean that the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae had no option of retreating. Allegedly, these men lay buried in the Pass at Thermopylae, so far from home, because Sparta’s “laws” forbade retreat or surrender regardless of the odds or the certainty of death.

But as I have pointed out elsewhere, Spartan forces both retreated and surrendered in a variety of other engagements over the centuries (e.g. Hysiai, Sphakteria). The Spartans didn’t seem to think there was a “law” against retreat even under far less threatening and less hopeless situations than that presented to Leonidas at Thermopylae. Are we to believe Leonidas and his 300 were the only Spartans who lived and died by Sparta’s laws? Or could there be another explanation of the epitaph?

The answer, I believe, can be found in the fact that there were, according to Herodotus, in fact three separate monuments erected to commemorate the men who fought at Thermopylae. First, there was a collective monument which read: Four thousand here from Pelops’ land, Against a million once did stand. This clearly referred to the other Peloponnesian allies that fought with the Spartans at Thermopylae on the first two days. (The Thespians appear to have erected their monument only at home, or a separate monument to the Thespians had disappeared by the time Herodotus visited the site of the battle.) Second there was the monument referred to above, and third there was “a stone lion in memory of Leonidas.”

In short, there were two Spartan monuments: the one to Leonidas and the one to the other Spartiates. If we separate the two, then we see the glimmer of an answer because it suggests that the “law” that the 300 obeyed may not have applied to Leonidas at all.

Leonidas had an option. Leonidas could have decided to pull-out of the Pass as soon as it became indefensible. Leonidas would not have broken any “law” if he had done so, because there was no law that required Spartans to fight until death rather than retreat or surrender.

But there was a law that required obedience to Sparta’s kings as long as they were beyond the borders of Lacedaemon in command of Sparta’s army. This law is documented and was widely respected.  Sparta’s kings could be charged, tried and exiled once they were at home, but not during war, not while campaigning abroad. As long as they were commanding the army in a military engagement outside Lacedaemon, their troops were bound to obey them, and for the most part did. 

What this means is that once Leonidas decided to stay and die – as he no doubt believed was his destiny based on the oracle from Delphi – his body guard had no option but to stay with him. There is anecdotal evidence recorded by Plutarch that Leonidas tried to save some of his companions by asking them to deliver dispatches, but the “older men” saw through him and refused. This is consistent with a king determined to face his destiny, but distressed by the knowledge that his decision will drag three hundred of Sparta’s finest with him.

The erection of two separate monuments and the epitaph makes sense in this context as well. Leonidas was the lion, who decided to go down fighting defiantly rather than live to fight a another day. After he had made that courageous decision, however, his bodyguard had no choice and for them, therefore, they lay buried in a foreign pass not as particular heroes but simply “in obedience to the laws.” 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sparta Lost and Found

Unlike Athens, that remained inhabited from the archaic period to the present day without interruption, Sparta was not only defeated and humiliated, it was destroyed by earthquakes, flooding and ultimately abandoned. When the Franks and the Ottomans came, there was not even a village to mark the site of Ancient Sparta.
Equally devastating was the lack of a Spartan literary tradition. A society that placed value on silence and brevity did not produce historians or play writes, and while Spartan philosophers were admired throughout the rest of the ancient world, they preferred an oral to a written tradition.
The combination of these factors, a lack of a written record, the dispersal of any inhabitants that might have kept an oral tradition alive and the physical destruction of the city, left subsequent generations with an image of Sparta that derives entirely from the accounts of outsiders. Many commentators on Sparta, even in ancient times, had never been there – or at most visited briefly. Some, like Xenophon, knew Sparta relatively well, but remained fundamentally Athenian. Trying to understand Sparta on the basis of the accounts of Athenians and Romans is like trying to understand Africa from the reports of Victorian explorers.  It won’t get you very far.
Our images of Sparta, the city, are dominated to this day by what we have been told about Sparta and Spartans by these visitors from a different culture. Even someone who has never studied Sparta or read a single book about it has images of Sparta that have been transmitted through our language alone.  “Spartan” is an adjective used to denote “severe,” “plain,” and “austere.” Laconic speech is “terse,” “concise” and “economical.” The most rudimentary and fleeting brush with Sparta in literature will not be without reference to rigid discipline, disdain for luxury, self-sacrifice and endurance of hardship.
The more a novice looks into Spartan society, the quicker he/she is confronted by references to a childhood of deprivation in which one had to steal to get enough to eat and was allowed only one garment per year. The boys, we learn, had to cut down the river reeds with their bare hands or the help of a tool which is dismissed as practically worthless, and then sleep upon these instead of real beds. Worse, they had to live practically in the wild, exposed to the elements without shelter or proper clothes.  Books like Gates of Fire describe horrendous beatings to which Spartan boys were apparently subjected for any tiny infraction of the rigid rules of acceptable behavior.
Nor are youths the only Spartans whom, we are led to believe, suffered deprivation. This was a society, according to most sources, where women were prohibited from wearing jewelry or even taking pride in their weaving. Indeed, all gold and silver was banned, and so could adorn nothing - not even the temples of the Gods.  The houses, we are told, were not painted (as else where in the Ancient world), and if one believes the oft quoted “sayings of Spartan kings” they did not even hew their house beams into regular square posts, but left them raw and untreated – one imagines crude timber as in a log cabin. Meanwhile, the young men lived in barracks (notoriously grim places in any society!) and for their entire lives ate their meals at men’s clubs where the cuisine, we soon learn, was infamous throughout the ancient world for its lack of sophistication and variety.
Such a society is most readily imagined in an austere, plain, indeed barren, landscape.  After all, a society characterized by deprivation of food, clothes, decoration and fine cuisine sounds like a desperately poor society, a society barely surviving in a hostile environment, a society which has made a virtue out of necessity. It is logical to assume that the underlying – if unspoken – root cause of Sparta’s obsession with self-discipline and self-denial for the good of the community, the City, was a fundamental lack of resources that required such a rigid regime.
This assumption is reflected in modern literature about Sparta. In his best-selling novel Gates of Fire Stephen Pressfield calls Sparta “a village” adding: “The whole stinking place would fit, with room to spare, within His Majesty’s [Xerxes of Persia’s] strolling garden at Persepolis. It is … a pile of stones. It contains no temples or treasures of note, no gold; it is a barnyard of leeks and onions, with soil so thin a man may kick through it with one strike of the foot.”[i]
But there is a problem here.
If you drive down the modern road from Tripoli (or Tegea as I prefer to think of it) toward Sparti (Sparta) there is a moment when coming around a bend you catch the first glimpse of Taygetos. I will never forget the first time I encountered that view: it took my breath away.  I could hardly concentrate on the winding road for straining to get another glimpse of those spectacular, snow-capped mountains. And when the valley of the Eurotas was spread out before me it was like revelation. My image of Sparta – Ancient Sparta and all that Sparta implied – was transformed in a single instant.
The valley of the Eurotas is anything but barren! It is quite the reverse. It is green and fertile and stunningly beautiful - like riches cupped in the hands of the gods. From the blooming oleander to the wild iris, the valley is a garden. The orange orchards stretch as far as the eye can see, brazenly advertising not only the abundance of soil and sun but water as well. Most spectacular of all, the Eurotas valley is one of those few places on earth that offers the sensually stimulating sight of palm trees waving against a back-drop of snow-capped mountains.
Has Laconia perhaps changed dramatically in the last 2,500 years? Was it poor when the harsh, economical, self-disciplined Spartan society took root in its – then – sparse and almost barren soil?  Does it bloom now artificially because of modern fertilizers and irrigation?
If we are to believe the ancient historians, no. Herodotus speaks of Sparta’s “good soil”[ii] or Thucydides describes the entire Peloponnese (with the exception of Arcadia) as the “richest part of Hellas.”[iii] It is when speaking of Athens, that Thucydides draws attention to “the poverty of her soil.”[iv]
So the fertility and abundance of the valley has not changed since Ancient times any more than the shape of Taygetos beyond. But if this rich valley was the seat of Sparta, then Spartan austerity and deprivation did not come from necessity! Sparta’s land was rich, fertile and productive enough to enable the highest standard of living available in the ancient world – at least to the always modest number of elite Spartiates. In short, if Sparta was as austere a society as it is depicted in modern times, then that austerity was self-imposed.
But is it reasonable to imagine that a people raised in the midst of wealth and beauty had no appreciation for either? Or is the very austerity of Spartan society as mythical as the thin soil of Pressfield’s Sparta?
Maybe our images of a rigid, harsh and brutally disciplined society is also a distortion? A fractured image? A misunderstanding based on ignorant, or prejudiced foreign reporting? Imagine what American society looks like through the eyes of the Taliban!
It's because I firmly believe that modern images of Sparta a largely based on inadequate, hostile and sometimes purely fanciful source material that I have dedicated this blog and my website “Sparta Reconsidered” to questioning common assumptions and misconceptions about Sparta.

[i] Pressfield, p. 188
[ii] Herodotus, Book I.66, p.26.
[iii] Thucydides, Book I.2, p.36.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Nicastro, p. 67
[vi] Pausanias, III.10. p. 37.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Spartan Piety - Reflections on the Relgion of the Spartans

In the ancient world, Sparta was famous for its piety.  Individual Spartans could be granted leave even from a campaign to take part in a religious festival, and on two famous occasions recorded in Herodotus the entire Spartan army delayed deployment in an emergency because of the need to “honor the gods.” (The deployment to Marathon and Thermopylae).
But just what did “piety” or “honoring the gods” entail in Ancient Greece? I admit, I find it difficult to understand this concept of “honoring” fickle, unpredictable, immoral (as well as immortal) gods. And how could one ever please all the different gods of the Greek pantheon when they were so often at odds with one another?  In a polytheist world, honoring one god might offend another.
Yet in trying to understand Spartan society better, I discovered some very interesting aspects of Spartan religion.  First, Sparta’s patron was not, as I expected, Ares, but rather Athena.  On reflection, this made since Sparta was not, as modern commentators would like us to believe, a society obsessed exclusively with war, but a society which placed as high a value on training the intellect as the body. (See the excellent article by w. Lindsay Wheeler, “Doric Crete and Sparta, the home of Greek Philosophy,” in Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History, Vol. 3, # 2). So giving pride of place to Athena was understandable. 
Even more fascinating was to discover how multi-faceted Spartan religious beliefs were, and what an important place gods with positive connotations – Apollo, Asclepius, Helios and even Aphrodite – played in Spartan society. Nikolaos Kouloumpis in his article “The Worship and the role of Religion in the formation of the Spartan state,” (Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History, Vol. 6, #1) lists cults to Asclepius, Achilles, Hercules, Alexandra/Cassandra, Agamemnon, Castor and Pollux/ Polydeukes and Helios. And, of course, Sparta’s most important festivals, the Karneia and Hyacinthia, were dedicated to Apollo.  Even the Gymnopaedia, arguably the most famous of Sparta’s annual festivals, was dedicated to Apollo and Artemis, Dionysus and Leto, while the more infamous than famous festival of Artemis Orthia was, as the name implied, dedicated entirely to Artemis.  However, the cult of Menelaus and Helen was only slightly less important, although we do not know how the Eleneia was celebrated.
Turning from festivals to sanctuaries, Pausanias, in his detailed guide to the “significant” sites of Sparta, records ten temples/shrines to Athena, six to Zeus, and five to Aphrodite.  The Devine Twins, Castor and Polydeukes, Apollo, Artemis, and Poseidon and Asklepios all have four temples each.  In contrast, there are only three temples out of more than 150 temples, sanctuaries and shrines mentioned by Pausanias that are dedicated to Ares. Two are notably located outside of Sparta proper, one in Amyclae and the other even farther away in Geronthrai.  The only temple to Ares in Sparta itself is one in which the God of War is shown in chains, according to Pausanias because “in Lakonia they think the god of war will never desert them if they keep him in chains; [just as] in Athens they believe Victory will stay with them forever because she has no wings.” (Pausanisus, Book III, 15:6). 
While the large number of sanctuaries dedicated to Athena and Zeus hardly need an explanation given their power and prominence in the ancient Greek pantheon, it does seem odd that Aphrodite, Poseidon and Asklepios should receive comparatively more honors than the god of war in land-locked, warlike Sparta.  Poseidon might be explained in that he was also called the “Earth Shaker” and, given impact earthquakes had on Lacedaemon, the Earth Shaker was clearly a god to be appeased.  Notably one of Sparta’s temples to Poseidon is to the “Horse-Breeding” Posiedon, and so a reflection of Sparta’s interest and success in equestrian sports.
But why do Aphrodite and Asclepius place ahead of Ares in terms of the number of sites dedicated to them? One possible explanation would be the association of Aphrodite with Kythera, which was part of Lacedaemon for the better part of 500 years.  Allegedly, the worship of Aphrodite originated on Kythera, and conceivably the cult spread from there to the mainland of Lacedaemon.  However, it is notable that to date the only temple from the Classical period to have been identified on Kythera was dedicated not to Aphrodite but to Asclepius. (Again!)  Possibly the worship of the God of Healing also moved from Kythera to Sparta.  Alternatively, the need to treat battle injuries fostered a particular reverence for Asclepius. Such an interpretation and the fact that there appear to have been more temples to Asclepius than Ares suggests the Spartan’s trusted more to their own skills to win wars, than survive the aftermath.
In short, Sparta was filled with sanctuaries and temples to a great diversity of gods, demi-gods and heroes. By no means was Spartan worship narrowly focused upon the god of war, or even warrior heroes such as Achilles. Instead, the heroes Heracles, Castor and Polydeukes, whose greatest deeds were performed outside the context of war, receive more attention.  This plethora of religious/cult focus in turn suggests that Spartan society was far less narrow-minded and obsessed with things military than most modern commentators imply. 
Yet the essence of Spartan piety and how the Spartans related to these various gods still eludes me.  The very diversity of god and demigods suggests, however, that there was no one Spartan religion or one Spartan way of worship.  On the contrary, I suspect that each Spartiate chose the god or gods he felt closest to and developed a highly individualistic and private relationship with these deities.  At the same time, Spartans publicly took part in the seasonal rituals celebrated by the city for each of the gods in turn -- just as many people do today.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Suffering at Symposiums - Or a major difference between Sparta and Athens

In modern usage, the word symposium has come to mean “a conference organized for the discussion of some particular subject,” “a collection of opinions, especially a published group of essays,” or “any meeting or social gathering at which ideas are freely exchanged.”  The ancient Greek roots of the word have misled many into imagining that ancient symposiums resembled modern symposiums and were also primarily intellectual events.
Little could be farther from the truth. Ancient symposiums resembled drunken stag parties more than a modern symposium.  As a rule, large quantities of wine were consumed, maybe a few poems were recited (more likely dirty little ditties making fun of one’s elders, opponents or rivals), politics might be discussed (not necessarily at a niveau above that of a modern pub) and then there was a lot of drunken singing, or the participants competed in such “elevated” activities as seeing who could throw their wine farthest, while being entertained and/or serviced by prostitutes and the ancient equivalent of strip-tease dancers, before staggering home too drunk to see straight and requiring (sober) slaves to ensure a safe arrival. 
It was not uncommon for drunken bands of youth from rival symposiums to end up brawling in the streets, and the even a leading statesman such as Alcibiades could be accused of committing large-scale sacrilege with his friends after a symposium.  In short, ideas and politics might have been discussed occasionally at some of symposiums, but a symposium was primarily about male indulgence in excessive drink and sex -- not intellectual exchange.
Anyone familiar with Spartan society will understand why the Spartans disdained such activities and why Spartan authorities instituted laws (like not being allowed to light a torch at night) to prevent their young men from being seduced into such activities. But there is another feature of Athenian symposiums which was equally un-Spartan: the exploitation of women.
As James Davidson makes clear in his seminal work on Athenian society Courtesans and Fishcakes, a good Athenian host boasted about the “beautiful girls” and “babes” he would offer his guests. Since no respectable woman (wife, mother or daughter) was allowed to show her face or set foot in a symposium, all the women present were sexual objects, and almost all were slaves. Yes, there were the occasional so-called “hetaere” that like Japanese geishas were trained to cater to a more sophisticated clientele by having a smattering of education and skills such as playing instruments or singing, but very few of these women were free.  They too had to surrender all or some of their earnings to their owner (pimp). And hetaere were the “privileged” prostitutes, the “admired” prostitutes – what we might call “call girls” today or “courtesans” in the 17th and 18th century. But it only went downhill from here – to flute girl, household slave and “sex-worker” in a brothel.
As Anton Powell notes in Athens and Sparta: Constructing Greek Political and Social History from 478 BC (London: 1988), prostitution was widespread, taxed, and consorting with prostitutes was considered perfectly normal and in no way reprehensible, even for youth of the upper-classes -- in Athens.  The only social restriction on male intercourse with prostitutes was that it was considered bad taste for a married man to bring a prostitute into the house where his wife lived, or to spend the money he received from his wife’s dowry on expensive prostitutes.  Powell also notes, however, that it was common for men to maintain concubines under the same roof as their legal wives, and that sex with slave girls did not even count as infidelity in the Athenian courts. Clearly, Athens was a paradise for the sexually active male.
The “pleasures” of Athenian society, and especially of symposiums, were restricted – as was democracy, intellectual achievement, and artistic creativity – to that half of Athens’ population that was male. Respectable women were excluded from the symposium, just as they were excluded from drinking wine, eating fish or meat, exercise, education and political rights.  As for the women allowed to participate in symposium, with very few exceptions, they were slaves with no choice in where they went, who they serviced, or what they were asked to do.  They did not even receive compensation for their services, since the high prices paid by the customers went to their male owners, enriching him, not them. For the women of ancient Athens, symposiums were torture chambers. 
It is to Sparta's credit that no such abuse -- much less the glorification of the abuse of women and children as these symposiums represented -- was sanctioned or recorded in Spartan society.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Leonidas Trilogy: Five New Reviews

S. Walters reviewed Leonidas of Sparta: A Heroic King
*****Excellent read August 16, 2013

I love reading about Sparta. This is a fiction book supported by historical fact. The author is extremely knowledgeable, and I plan to get the other two books in the trilogy.

****An excellent dramatization July 24, 2013

I found this entire series, of which is the final installment to be both entertaining and educational. Though a fictional dramatization of an non-fictional character, the story makes an excellent case for understanding the possibility of how things actually happened. Worth the read for the entire series for those who have an interest in Leonidas and Sparta.

R. Duenow "gciking" reviewed Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge
*****Putting a Human Face on Sparta June 8, 2013

One of best histories I've read on ancient Greece, rivaling Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Most other histories tell only the story of Sparta and its heroes, but Helena Schrader's trilogy permits us to see more than just the people and politics of the time; it also permits us to see the human side of its leaders. She weaves a beautiful story based upon her extensive knowledge and exhaustive research which allows us to...Read More One of best histories I've read on ancient Greece, rivaling Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Most other histories tell only the story of Sparta and its heroes, but Helena Schrader's trilogy permits us to see more than just the people and politics of the time; it also permits us to see the human side of its leaders. She weaves a beautiful story based upon her extensive knowledge and exhaustive research which allows us to understand and appreciate the Sparta Culture and leaders of the age.

The trilogy follows the life of Leonidas from boyhood, through adulthood and finally, his unlikely rise to become one of Sparta's two Kings. Her stories describe Sparta at the height of its power and their relationship to other Greek city states and the other dwellers in Lacedaemonia, the Perioikoi and the Helots, which I never fully understood before.

She also elaborates and provides the details of the Spartiate citizens and women who were far more liberated than any other women of the ancient world, including Athens.

All in all, Schrader's trilogy was thoroughly enjoyable and a must read for history lovers of the ancient world.

natasha reviewed Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge
*****Great book May 18, 2013

This book gives you a detail look into the young Leonidas. It explains the many ways he was made into such a great king.

Pulser "Books with heart & mind" reviewed Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge
*****Sparta brought back to life! April 25, 2013

I really enjoyed this book in more ways than one. The story was compelling and interesting, the characters were multidimensional and believable,the pace was exciting, and the history lessons and finally the truth about the real Sparta abundant!
The author does a wonderful job creating the character of young Leonidas and following him as he develops into a young man is very entertaining. I highly recommend this to those...Read More
I really enjoyed this book in more ways than one. The story was compelling and interesting, the characters were multidimensional and believable, the pace was exciting, and the history lessons and finally the truth about the real Sparta abundant!

The author does a wonderful job creating the character of young Leonidas and following him as he develops into a young man is very entertaining. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction with real historical information of the highest quality. I will be ordering the rest of the series shortly.

The only improvement that I felt was needed, was in the description of the topography. It is obvious that the author knows the area very well and can describe it in minute details. However, for someone who has never been there a map would have been very helpful. With so many names of areas and rivers and mountains, my mind couldn't envision it all-but of course that could be my own personal shortcoming.