Ancient World (about 3000BC-476AD)
The ancient Greek world has and always will be something to admire. From the beautiful geographical location, the vast cultural landscape, and complex scientific/ technological advancements it is easy to understand why ancient Greece is seen as one of , if not, the greatest civilization of all time. This being said, the ancient Greek landscape was not a uniform country. Ancient Greece was a collection of city-states with their own governments, values, armies, and traditions. Sparta, one of the many ancient city-states, occupied what is currently known as Laconia and was known as the most warlike of the ancient Greek city-states. This warlike nature immensely influenced the cultural landscape of the region, but also allowed for the development of extremely advanced traditional values and innovations; some of which have even carried over into the modern world. More than the other cultural aspects of the civilization, Spartan educational norms, gender/sexual practices, and war innovations are still utilized to some extent in the modern world.
Cultural/ Educational Norms
Ancient Spartan cultural norms are absolutely barbaric compared to today’s standards. From the military training as early as age seven, the utilization of slave labor, and the classification of some as second class citizens, the city-state would not be a popular tourist destination in society today (Sparta, 2009). With this being said, it is easy to see some of the Spartan cultural landscape in modern society. In ancient Sparta, the citizens, specifically the male soldiers, were taught that loyalty to the state came before all else, including and especially their lives (Sparta, 2009). This sentiment is similar to that of the modern military values, teaching brave men and women to lay down their lives for the values the mother country holds dear.
These commonalities between Spartan and modern culture translate to children as well as adults. This concept is seen in the inclusion of sports and young girls in the education system. After the reforms of Lycurgus much of the spartan educational system included sports (Sparta, 2009). This was in order to produce strong male children capable of fighting once they came of age. Also, on an extremely surprising and forward-thinking note, this educational system was also given to young girls of the ancient city-state. Even more than simple inclusion, females engaged in competitive sporting events such as javelin throwing, wrestling, singing, and dancing (Sparta, 2009). The competitive spirit was a driving factor of Spartan culture, and it is likely that the inclusion of women in these competitions was simply a way to facilitate the attraction of young male Spartans (Sparta, 2009). Nonetheless, the inclusion of females in such male dominated traditions should be noted. Furthermore, in an act of early eugenics, the Spartans attempted to mold strong girls who would hopefully bear strong Spartan boys capable of becoming warriors (Sparta, 2009). The modern counterpart to this Spartan education system lies in the presence of school sports, and coeducational schools. While these forms of sport are more optional, the general idea of wanting a physically fit and healthy population of both men and women remains the same.
Gender and Sex Practices
The Spartan cultural landscape was far more advanced than other civilizations of that time period as far as gender rights are concerned. These gender roles somewhat mirror that of modern relationships, especially given the context of the time period. The truth of the matter is that spartan women were empowered and they came to occupy a similar role in society than that of sexually and politically powerful barbarian women (Hodkinson and Powell, 1999). The gendered context of spartan society created a culture wherein women could attain some semblance of wealth similar to men as opposed to other cultures where women were second class citizens. In fact, women were so powerful that they were almost entirely equal to men with one of the only exceptions being voting rights. Women in Sparta were able to own and manage property as well as remain unencumbered by typical female responsibilities. Instead helots or serfs attended to most of the cooking, cleaning , and clothiering (Sparta, 2009). These facts point to the idea that the women of this city-state were not equal to men, but they had much more respect and many more rights than that of the average women in ancient Greece, much less, the entire ancient world. The modern role of women is extremely different than that of ancient Spartan women, but the ability to own property, accrue wealth, and be independent in society rings true for both populations.
More than just gender roles, the practice and acceptance of homosexuality among men was widespread in ancient Sparta. It is said that while most men in the Greek city-state were married, many participated in homosexual sex acts and it was no more criticized than heterosexual sex acts (Hoffman, 2008). While homosexuality is still a controversial topic in modern society, to many it is seen as similar to heterosexual acts. Spartan society takes this a step further in some interpretations. Homosexuality to some Spartans could even be seen as making a positive contribution to the solidarity of the homoioi (full citizens of the Spartan civilization) (Hoffman, 2008). In fact some first person observers of spartan culture, namely Athenians as their perception of the Greek world was far better documented than most other city-states, describe this homosexuality as widely practiced rather than simply tolerated or condemned (Cartledge, 1981). This being said, much of the Greek translations on the subject are biased on top of being out-dated. This makes the perception of Spartan homosexuality somewhat distorted. One thing that is certain though is Spartan homosexuality existed during their empire and was at the very least unencumbered by law-bound restrictions (Hoffman, 2008). While this this alleged appraisal of homosexuality in the ancient city-state was seen as a symbol of comradery, modern society does not see it in the same light. With that in mind, the acceptance thereof is significant in the comparison to the world of today.
Technology and Innovation
Some of the cultural and societal norms of the ancient civilization can be somewhat synonymous with those of the modern world. However, the resemblance does not stop there. Many of the technological innovations of the spartan world have been adapted and modernized to be utilized in the world today. One example of this is the spartan invention of encryption. The scytale was a spartan tool used to encrypt and decrypt secret messages, especially in times of war. The scytale was a belt with characters etched onto it rolled onto a cylinder wherein the characters on the top of the belt corresponded to other characters below (Ellis, 2010). With this they would create ciphers that could only be deciphered with the same diameter scytale. This concept of encrypted communication is seen constantly in the current military and political climate wherein a message may need to be sent, but could be intercepted. To ensure the message remains secret in the case of its interception, a cipher like that of the scytale is extremely useful. Of course modern cyphers are far more complex than the scytale, not to mention digital, but the basic idea is still utilized.
The warlike nature of the Spartan society caused them to develop extremely effective weapon innovations and war strategies. One of the most famous being the phalanx formation. This formation involved a group of soldiers creating a wall of overlapping shields surrounding all sides and spears protruding from between the shields (Hasapis, 2012). This allowed the phalanx to advance while deflecting projectiles and enemy strikes. While the shields and swords utilized by the hoplites of the Spartan army have been wildly outgunned by modern technology, the concept of a heavily armored, well armed mass capable of pushing through enemy lines exists in modern military technology in the form of armored cars and tanks. In the phalanx formation, the soldiers utilized the dory, a lightweight bronze spear capable of mid-long range combat (Murray, 2020). The invention of this weapon not only created stopping power for the phalanx formation, but it also allowed lone hoplites the versatility to compete at multiple ranges while remaining agile in combat (Murray, 2020). Much like the phalanx formation as a whole, the dory has been horrifically outperformed by modern firearms, but the concept behind the weapon’s use can be seen in the way guns are manufactured and utilized. Much like the dory, firearms are made to be as lightweight as possible, while also being able to compete at medium to long ranges.
In its entirety, ancient Sparta is extremely different from the world seen today. Given that the society existed more than 2000 years ago, it is easy to understand why it is so different from modern times. That being said, the two time periods have some commonalities. Socially, loyalty to one’s country, and a sport-inclusive education are aspects of both times. Moreover, the acceptance of homosexuality and more equalized gender roles are present in both the ancient Spartan civilization and modern society. Lastly, the utilization of encryption and the emphasis of protection, stopping power, versatility, and agility in combat has remained a common theme for both populations. While our world may not be as young and naïve as the Spartans of old, it is clear to see a resemblance of the city-state in modern times. The commonalities between the two emphasize the mark that the past leaves on us. Even 2000 years after its fall, to a certain extent, a civilization continues to live on.
Cartledge, P. (1981). The Politics of Spartan Pederasty. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 27 (207), 17–36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44696874
Crowther, N. (1999) Sports, Nationalism and peace in Ancient Greece. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 11(4). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10402659908426311.
Ellis, J.H. (1999) The history of non-secret encryption. Crypotologia, 23(3) . Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0161-119991887919.
Hasapis, C. (2012). Overcoming the Spartan Phalanx : The Evolution of Greek Battlefield Tactics, 394 BC-371 BC (Master’s Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/3854.)
Hoffman, R.J. (1980) Some cultural aspects of Greek male homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, 5(3). Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J0, 82v05n03_05.
Murray, S.R. (2020) Won by the Spear: The Importance of the Dory to the Ancient Greek Warrior. HYPOTHEKAI, 4, 74-88. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from http://hypothekai.ru/images/Nomera/3/074-088-Murray.pdf.
Powell, A. (1999). Spartan Women Assertive in Politics?: Plutarch’s Lives of Agis and Kelomenes. In Sparta. Google Books. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=-PxODgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA393&dq=spartan%2Bculture&ots=LltlPzVt0Z&sig=bShHjloLL4qXEpR6EOwQun4uOGI#v=onepage&q&f=false.
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