Greece - Features Of Spartan Society

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What does the evidence reveal about the role and status of Spartan women in this period?

“Spartan Reflections” by Paul Cartledge, describes the ancient life and culture of the famous society in Greece. In Spartan society, women were expected to bear children predominantly to join the military academy known as the agoge to become warriors. Lycurgus drafted laws for political and social structure which included rules for women. The roles of women in Sparta were not chronicled extensively, so much of our current knowledge is based on poetry, mythology and some ancient Greek historians.

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Women in Sparta were known for being physically fit, outspoken and educated however this did not afford them special treatments, they remained subservient in their roles as they were primarily considered as childbearing women. Although the Spartans trained their women to fight, companionship in marriage was not assigned any attention (Paul, 2001). During this time, Spartan women were more privileged than their counterparts from other societies, such as Athenians. The focus in Sparta was to promote a masculine warrior culture, where the value of women was inflexible. However, Spartan women had access to free education equally as men but were unable to use the knowledge to earn.

Additionally, physical training and education for women were critical as Spartans believed that strong females would reproduce strong warriors. The draconian Spartan laws of the agoge developed, where young boys at the age of 7 started their training and leadership guidance into adulthood was sought after by many across Greece. The role of women, therefore, remained quite single-minded. Their main and seemingly only function was to raise young men to join the army even though they seemed to have more liberties than other women.

Aristotle noted that women in Sparta were “outspoken”, which he attributed to education and freedom to fraternise with Spartan men, two practices which were frowned upon in the rest of Greece. This implies that Spartan women had few restrictions as there were no specific laws to control their conduct (Paul, 2001). In particular, their role in marriage was not entirely defined beyond mothering young children.

Finally, primary roles, such as military activities and voting rights, were not granted to women, which placed them low in Spartan hierarchy. Although the women were given access to education, physical training and dance, the sole motive was to develop their resilience and physical fitness (Millender, 2017). Young girls were brought up to manage household chores and basic combat skills. Of note, the Battle of Leuctra in 371BC which took place in Leuctra near Thebes, led to the defeat of Sparta by Thebes warriors.

In conclusion, the role of women in Sparta was to ensure the growth of Sparta in a sustainable, strong and disciplined manner. They were seen as the growth engine. Despite being afforded privileges only granted to men, they were not permitted to own land, and earn from the knowledge they had acquired through education. The duality our modern society faces were apparent in Sparta. Women’s importance in being the creators of life was recognised but the independence that came with voting, working and owning land was held tightly by men.

What does the evidence reveal about the role of the ephors in the Spartan government in this period?

The government in Sparta, consisted of two kings and ephors. The two kings would formulate policies, whereas the ephors were to supervise operations of the government. Ephors were elected into political positions by the public, therefore, they acted to represent the will of the people and defended the Constitution. Also, ephors were valuable magistrates, who ensured public discipline, prevented a culture of tyranny in the society, and protected kingship as the ruling government.

First, in Sparta, the role of ephors in the government was indispensable and valuable due to their political contribution. Ephors were a board of five members politically elected and served the citizens in the absence of the two Spartan kings (Rahe, 2015). Initially, the ephors board was given the mandate to manage governmental functions on behalf of the kings, take part in legislative decision-making processes, and maintain public order. Similarly, ephors oversaw the decisions made by the Spartan assembly and ensured that the Constitution of the country was observed.

Secondly, the board extensively maintained public discipline in society to the Messenian Helots, however, after the Battle of Leuctra in 371BC they were freed. However, their overstated authority ruined the prestige of the kings at Lacedaemon. Although Cicero compares the ephors with the tribunes of the Roman plebs, they were elected by the people into office, therefore, their authority was guided by the citizens will. Also, different from the Roman plebs, ephors represented the citizens in the administration and acted to the advantage of the people.

Moreover, ephors prevented the establishment of tyranny at Lacedaemon, which would negatively affect citizens. In Sparta, the aristocratic government would have resulted in harsh tyranny, fortunately, ephors controlled the government and limited the power of oppressive individuals. The board controlled the private lives of the citizens to maintain social and political order, rather than destroy Sparta (Rahe, 2015). Also, ephors during the Battle of Leuctra in 371BC enforced policies in the government. Notably, ephors would defend the Spartan Constitution in unconventional ways, which many citizens disapproved of and branded them as impractical magistrates.

Finally, one of the ephors’ tasks was to observe the heavens and interpret stars, therefore, directives they made were often based on the necessity to protect the kingship and citizens. Noteworthy, ephors swore on behalf of the Spartans, thus they acted to uphold the Constitution of the land (Malan, 2017). Two ephors accompanied their respective kings on campaigns and would exercise the right to supervise the ruler’s actions. Beyond Lacedaemon territories, ephors exercised authority on the kings to ensure they upheld the Constitution, while on their campaigns. In this case, ephors were the people’s representatives in government and executors of the Spartan Constitution.

In conclusion, ephors in the Spartan government were essential players in Spartan administration. They performed religious and executive roles, as they protected kingship and the Constitution. The board played a key role in preventing tyrannical culture, which was on the verge of being established in Sparta. Consequently, two of the ephors had to accompany the king to ensure the kingship was protected. 


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