Sparta was one of the most dominant of all the Greek city-states, and is most often remembered for their athletic and militaristic values.


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Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations


sparta racecourse

This 1899 illustration depicts the racecourse at Sparta. The original illustration was made in black and white, and was colorized at a later date.

Photograph by Lanmas / Alamy Stock Photo
This 1899 illustration depicts the racecourse at Sparta. The original illustration was made in black and white, and was colorized at a later date.

Sparta was a city-state located in the southeastern Peloponnese region of ancient Greece. Sparta grew to rival the size of the city-states Athens and Thebes by subjugating its neighboring region of Messenia. Though Sparta absorbed this population, it did not integrate the conquered people into society.

Spartan society was separated into social classes, and conquered people were not given political rights or citizenship. Even lower than the conquered population was a group called the helots. Helots were responsible for agricultural duties and other day-to-day tasks that supported the Spartans. Spartan citizens required this support because they focused solely on athletic and military training, and politics. Two kings from two different families ruled Sparta. This ensured that when one king ventured out on a military campaign the other could continue to rule the city. A council of elders advised the kings in addition to serving as judges and hosting public assemblies.

Military activity was essential to Sparta. At the age of seven, boys left home to begin training at a military academy called an agoge (a-go-je). At the academy, the boys lived communally with others in their age group. This was meant to prepare them for life in the army. Soldiers were trained as hoplites, or heavily armed foot soldiers. The Spartan army was known for its skill in on-land combat.

Sparta fought both foreign and neighboring adversaries. However, in 480 B.C.E., Sparta allied with Athens, to prevent the Persian king Xerxes from invading Greece. Not long after, however, the two cities began fighting each other in the two Peloponnesian Wars (460 to 446 B.C.E. and 431 to 404 B.C.E.) and the Corinthian War (396 to 387 B.C.E.).

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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