The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Very Short Introductions: Brilliant, Sharp, Inspiring
The myths surrounding Sparta are as old as the city itself. Even in antiquity, Sparta was a unique society, and considered an enigma. The Spartans who fought for freedom against the Persians called themselves 'equals' or peers, but their equality was reliant on the ruthless exploitation of the indigenous population known as helots. The Spartans' often bizarre rules and practices have the capacity to horrify as much they do to fascinate us today. Athenian writers were intrigued and appalled in equal measure by a society where weak or disabled babies were said to have been examined carefully by state officials before being dumped off the edge of a cliff. Even today their lurid stories have shaped our image of Sparta; a society in which cowards were forced to shave off half their beards, to dress differently from their peers, and who were ultimately shunned to the extent that suicide seemed preferable. The legend of Sparta was even perpetuated by later Spartans, who ran a thriving tourist industry that exaggerated the famed brutality of their ancestors.
This Very Short Introduction separates myth from reality to reveal the best--and the worst--of the Spartans. Andrew Bayliss explores key aspects of Spartan society, including their civic structure, their day-to-day lifestyle, and traditions such as the krypteia, a brutal rite of passage where teenagers were sent into the countryside and ordered to eliminate the biggest and most dangerous helots. Alongside this, Bayliss also sheds light on the many admirable qualities of ancient Sparta, such as their state-run education system, or the fact that this society was almost unparalleled in the pre-modern world for the rights given to Spartan women.
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