The Archaic Age of Sparta
Sparta which had already existed in the Mycenaean Age and is seen as one of the most important cities of that period, was a very different kind of city-state. The people of Sparta were descendants of the Dorians.
The life of the people of Sparta was a very strict one, similar to the military. Young boys would be taken from their homes at an early age to begin military training and young girls were forced to maintain a healthy way of life in order to produce healthy children. The reason for this will be explained shortly.
In the Spartan society, there were three classes of people: the Upper Class which consisted of people who had a voice and would speak and also be listened to, the Lower Class known as perioeci (meaning neighbours), who though not being full members of the society were financially well off through the economics of trade, and the Lower Class who were the Helmots (the original inhabitants of Laconnia), who were used as slaves by the upper classes.
It was common belief that the Helmots came with the ground and were public property. They were seen as the enemy even though they were actually slaves. Overpopulation was a big problem for Sparta as it was for the other city-states. Other city-states helped to overcome this problem by founding daughter-cities. Sparta on the other hand took a more radical approach. From 735 – 716 BC during the first Messian war, Sparta conquered fertile land in Messania. As well as gaining new land on which to settle and produce crops, they also inherited a large number of Helmots.
Arch enemy Argos was a serious threat to Sparta’s position and at the battle of Hysiae in 668 BC Sparta was defeated. This sparked a revolt among the Helmots in Messenia. The second Messian War began from 650 – 629 B.C., though the Spartans were able to suppress this revolt. Sharing the same beliefs and way of life as the other city-states, when this situation with the Helmots got very bad, Sparta asked Athens for assistance. The Athenian army willingly arrived, but were sent back immediately when the Spartans did not trust them. This was the beginning of a very strange relationship between the two city-states.
After the second Messian War with which Sparta becoming very powerful, there was a radical change in their foreign policy. Sparta literally isolated itself from the rest of Greece. Even though it had becoma a very powerful city-state, the number of Spartans was small in comparison.
Foreign military actions were avoided and suspicions arose around anything foreign to their culture. Even the introduction of coins was refused as it was believed that even the smallest change to Sparta’s way of life could result in a threat to their nation. Social life changed rapidly as Sparta became an almost military city-state.
Boys as young as seven or eight began military training as this was seen as the only tool in which to preserve the Spartans and their dwindling numbers. Sparta still had plans to have control of the whole of the Peloponesse, though due to their small number, adopted a different tactic to do so. Instead of launching an all out attack as they may have done in the past, they offered themselves as protection from attacks by other parties.
This plan was eventually realized and Sparta did become the leader of the Peloponesse. This was done by agreeing a pact with the other smaller cities and accepting to provide military support for each other.
Though the Spartans were victorious in the second Messian War and were able to keep control of both the Helmots and the allies, the began to slip behind the rest of Greece when it entered into its cultural Classical Age. They had also managed to avoid a democratic way of governing and it was this which made Sparta the most powerful city-state in all of Greece at around 500 B.C.