Friday, December 31, 2010

Sparta -- The Strains Caused by Lycurgan Reforms

The adoption of the Lycurgan reforms served two purposes for the Spartan ruling class. It diffused the problem of class warfare by raising the status of the lower classes and it created a homeland army to protect the kingdom from another Messenian revolt. At the same time, in a big picture sense, the Spartans had created a stable political model which would be adopted by future Poleis. In the midst of building it, the Spartans were able to avoid the despotic political trend that swept across the region during the period of its adoption.

This Lycurgan regime survived for 400 years before being completely abandoned. Four hundred years is certainly a long period of success, but the inevitable occurred when Sparta could no longer survive in isolation and new political realities had pushed them into a more compatible model. Sparta had to catch up because political innovation had been sacrificed when they chose to build a closed, structured, political system.

We can lay this outcome at the feet of the Sparta’s purposeful peculiarity, because the agoge-based system was an outlier compared to other contemporary political systems. Toynbee believed that the Spartan leaders were aware of their peculiarity and took purposeful steps to shield their people from the outside world.

For example, they made it illegal for Spartans to travel abroad without the government’s permission. Outsiders could visit Sparta, but they were subject to expulsion at any time if their behavior ran counter to the government’s interests. Foreign merchandizing was discouraged by the peculiar Spartan currency which made trade extremely difficult. Previously, all of Greece used iron coins and the Spartans were compatible, but when the others moved on to precious metals, the Spartans chose to stay with their “spit” iron, which was bulky, heavy, and non-convertible. The government even treated the money with chemicals to destroy any commodity value in the iron.

As discussed before, the Lycurgan reforms took time to infiltrate the Spartan culture. One excellent barometer measuring this process was the artistic output of the Spartan people. Before Lycurgus, Spartan accomplishments in the arts were first-rate and comparable to her neighbors to the north. For example, we know that as of 600 B.C. Spartan pottery was still being exported around the Mediterranean. As the reforms took hold, however, aesthetic output began to decline and by 550 B.C. were almost non-existent. In a hundred years time, the Spartan society had been wholly converted to a structured military society, even ending their participation in the Olympic Games, where they had previous set the Greek standard for performance.

It’s interesting to note that Tarentum, the Spartan colony in Italy settled before the reforms, developed its own political system separate and uninfluenced by the mother country. Perhaps a study of the history of that port city would show us what Sparta would have become without the reforms.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Leveling Society and its Effects

Toynbee, in his chapter titled Social Effects of the Lycurgan Reforms, wrote the following:

“A tug-o’-war between public and private interests at Sparta gradually produced the peculiar Spartan spirit in which the way of life was reflected. The pressures that, at Sparta, were stamping human nature with this peculiar imprint became more and more severe as Sparta’s situation, within her own dominions and abroad, became more and more difficult. But even the utmost turn of the screw could not change human nature. All that it could do was to repress nature; and, if and when the pressure was removed or was even just relaxed, the rebound of human nature was correspondingly violent.”

This quote, as it relates to the Spartans, will be discussed in the next post, but I will use it here to reference the political situation in the United States today. As my readers know, one of the themes of this blog is “relating ancient history to today”. This is one of those comparison points -- the situation where the American Progressive movement is hard at its attempt to implement neo-socialism in America. Neo-socialism, in my use, refers to government control of industry rather than the more classic definition of government ownership. We see government now controlling health care, wanting to control our relationship to the environment, these initiatives to be funded by a re-distribution of wealth through taxation. My first inclination is to suggest that these programs are too idealistic for human nature and will, in the end, be ineffective, but we’ll have to analyze this further.

I wrote about Marx in a post called Karl Marx Redux on September 3, 2009. In that article I discussed Marx’s lack of knowledge of antiquity, and stated that if he would have known the history, he would have realized his own theory was suspect. By theory I mean his notion that people can somehow be made socio-economically equal in a society -- that we can create a system where all people have an equal standing and the rich and poor are eliminated as constituencies. According to Marx, a revolution is supposed to occur by the force of human will when the lower classes become galvanized to overcome repression at the hands of the wealthy and their evil corporations. We all know how the story ends. Communism turned out to be the antithesis of equally when it was implemented via an autocratic bureaucracy.

Today, we have a different force at work; theoretical ideas of the left wing elitist academic class, who believes that leveling society is “the right thing to do”. This fairness doctrine is defined as the rich do not deserve their wealth so as much of it as possible should be taken for the benefit of lower classes.

Communism failed because it was idealistic and did not take into account human behavior. European socialism worked for a time, but now it has run out of money and is experiencing the economic impact of inefficiency. So why are we trying to duplicate something that no longer works in Europe?

The fundamental problem with neo-socialism are that it represents an unrealistic view of man in society AND its attempts to create human leveling are doomed to failure because they can only be inefficiently implemented, and, in the end, will not accomplish their purpose.

I call neo-socialism unrealistic because it imagines that if society were leveled, people would be better off. Somehow the have-nots by becoming haves would be happy. Of course, the main assumption behind this is that they desire to live in this new “leveled” society and be the haves. How well the new haves will be able to manage themselves, after they have been pulled out of a lifestyle that was familiar and placed into one that is foreign is open to question.

In the real world, human nature is quite divergent. People’s accomplishments depend on their intelligence and personality type. These two factors largely determine where a person ends up (as long as he hasn’t been born rich) and there is little that society can do to change this equation. Obviously, there are exceptions; a child who escapes the ghetto to enroll in Harvard Medical School being an obvious example. Still, the majority combine their birth situation, family experience, environment, intelligence, and personality traits to achieve what they achieve, and government proscribing their ultimate placement in society is not only unrealistic but a violation of basic human rights. An artificial “leveler” is as silly as Marx’s notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Let’s set up our leveling system and see how it works. We said we would have the tax rates adjusted to take money from the rich and re-distribute it to the poor. What amount is to be taken? Is a fair amount $ 1,000 per rich person or $ 10,000? How do we decide who to give the money to? Do we start with the poorest, maybe the homeless, and give them money first? How do we know when they have enough money? When they can pay for an apartment? Or when their apartment is full of furniture and they have purchased a car?

The bottom 22% of the American population (yearly income) has about 16,700,000 families. These are people who make less than $ 30,000 per year. The median income of all Americans is $ 65,000, so should we raise the lowest 22% up to the median? If we assume the median income of the lowest 22% is $ 15,000 per year, then it will take $ 50,000 x 16.7 million families or $ 835,000,000,000 to raise the lowest 22%. We still have 28% more families to take care of who are below the median.

Now we have to come up with a mechanism to manage the leveling, so we will create a government bureaucracy to handle the task. This bureaucracy will need tens of thousands of employees to keep track of everything. If person A becomes a “have” he has to be taken off the have-nots list, but remain in monitor status to make sure he doesn’t split back. If he does, the flow of money to him has to begin again. At all times, we will have new haves being monitored, have-nots being funded, and old rich haves giving up their money. Oh yea, we’ll have to monitor the old haves too because they may slip into have-not status.

This all sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

In the real world the rich would have their taxes raised to generate the required $ 835 billion. Then Congress would have to decide how to distribute that money through programs it would create. There would be programs for education, programs for housing, programs for food distribution, and programs for jobs. Wouldn’t those programs have to have a lot of complicated rules? How would they be managed to insure successful outcomes? Wouldn’t they be inefficient like every other bureaucracy?

The other question we have to ask is “How comfortable are we with the permanence of this solution?” In other words is this a teleological (end justifies the means) or deontological (means justifies the ends)? Those on the side of the former are on shaky ground because we cannot predict the long term outcome of a radical re-structuring of a society. Those on the side of the latter can prove their point if there are benefits to society as we move along toward the future. But reality is reality and what will happen will happen.

Today’s western society is in its youth compared to the ancient societies. The Greek Polis lasted 500 years – Rome between Republic and Empire 1000 years. Modern western society had its beginning with the American revolution, a mere two hundred and forty-four years ago. If you read the ancient histories, you know that political systems evolve, as Polybius suggested. Each one has a beginning, middle, and end according to the forces at work on the culture. Radical changes can be effective for a time, but as Toynbee suggests, circumstances spring people back to an equilibrium state at some point.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Comments on Comments

I like to monitor comments about my posts because they’re almost always good ones, but when people comment on older posts I may miss them because I am not paying attention to the older ones. Fortunately blogger keeps track of them.

It’s interesting to see what posts new readers are choosing. Often they are more interested in the old rather than the new. No doubt they are choosing content no matter how old the post is.

Over the past six months, the post Factors in the Development on Ancient Greek Culture has been viewed 1,117 times. It was first posted on April 22, 2009.

In second place is Warships of the Greek Navy, which has been viewed 1,007 times. It was originally posted July 13, 2009.

Third is Hannibal’s March Across the Alps, viewed 916 times. Originally posted on February 23, 2009, this post was updated with more accurate information on August 19, 2010 but the new post is not nearly as popular.

Now to the recent comments:

1. From anonymous – commenting on my post The Spartan Army after the Peloponnesean War. 6/22/2010

A refreshing text, with many rarely heard points.
However I have few disagreements as well as praise.

‘’...maintain its fighting strength during Peloponnesian wars’’ – MAINTAIN or survive. As you said, victories in that war were hollow, political ones if you like..More importantly, system did not survive, no matter how many generations were killed in 465/4,system did not work on principles from before, nor in that level of expectations. Army that was an elite in 550-470,being brought down to counting on Periokoi, Eirenes and Helots in 425 is no longer ‘strong’ and far from maintaining strength..maintain maybe in the sense of being able to prevail even more shattered enemies, but not in a sense of being on the former level.

I agree with the comment. The Spartan Army started a downhill slide once it ran out of Homoioi and had to recruit from outside the agoge. The earthquake of 466 B.C. (or perhaps 464 B.C.) wiped out a generation of recruits and Sparta certainly had to look to the Periokoi for help. I’m not sure Sparta ever got back to 100% Homoioi after that.

I would not call Sparta an oligarchy, especially with their Apella, and especially in comparison with absolute Athenian ‘democracy’.

I think the answer to this question is subjective. Sparta was run by the Gerousia and Ephors in a similar was to the Roman Republic being run by the consuls and Senate, although the details of the Spartan political system’s operation are more obscure. We know that after the land redistribution the wealthy retained their status. One expects they continued to exert great influence, especially in an authoritarian regime.

‘’Spartan army was degraded after 400 B.C’’ – I will argue it being 50 yrs earlier at least (wonder if anyone bothered to see who won which events in Olympia..Spartans COMPLETELY ceased to win athletic events which they dominated until early 5th BC, earthquake, system fall, lowering the criteria etc – I think so)

I agree.

‘’hollowest of victories for Sparta’’ -absolutely true

‘’The date 371 B.C.’’ – If I may I would call it official end, real one being much earlier, during those hollowest of victories in Peloponnesian wars, mentioned so brilliantly in the text. Even Peloponnesian wars saw the reform of Spartan army..especially with Neodamodeis being presented, and armor being discarded (and it was not because it was bad, it lasted so well for centuries..but because no one fought gallantly anymore, including Spartans, no one had time or money for cut throats became better choice than expensive hoplites, fewer in numbers and harder to equip and bring to the battlefield..10:1 ratio of mercenaries versus heavy hoplites would never work out for the hoplites..And it did not unfortunately.) That is why I think 370 is way low for a date when all went downhill for Sparta and hoplite warriors.

‘’There is no question that the traditions of the agoge were degraded after Leuctra’’ – Again I argue that it happened much before, and proof can be in the clear ‘ survive' rather than ‘excel' politic of Spartan government. By the way, junior Olympic victors from Sparta also ceased to exist completely in the 5th BC, and they were the most numerous ones in Golden age of Sparta, Archaic era – and it sounds like earthquake aka system shatter to me.

I agree.

2. From anonymous – commenting on my post Two Kings Better than One. 8/16/2010. I maybe be wrong but don't overestimate the role of the helots.

Spartan wives were the ones mostly doing all the managing and periokoi did basically all that wasn't agriculture and squire jobs. Helots did of course enable Spartans do be a full time ATHLETES and warriors, but not all credit goes to helots only, and arms and armor was not the only thing Spartiate had to manage.

The Spartan/Helot relationship was one of the most unique in history, but as I said before it was a devil’s bargain. To keep the Helots under control, Sparta needed a full time army. They lived in fear if an uprising and went to the trouble of declaring war on the Helots each year.

3. From Vojkan – commenting on my post Day -12 Sparta. 9/16/2010

This is truly an impressive article. Thank you. But
I will have two big remarks however.

Marble statue made of Parian marble is an import that may not represent one particular person, and it is called Leonidas simply because archaeologist who excavated it said 'this is Leonidas', no other reason other than that.

Absolutely right. The statute is called Leonidas but no one knows what it refers to. I didn’t mean to imply that it is known to be Leonidas.

And the other one s Villages are completely mixed up and severely misplaced in the image/map. Pitana lay behind the temple of Athina Kalioikos to the North West. Limnae was smallest village where the temple of Artemis Orthia is located.

Kynosuria was in the area of modern town centre, the Eastern part of it. Mesoa also but slightly nearer to Pitana and acropolis. Other than Amykleia which was around 5km to the south, other villages were not that far away.

I have three maps of the ancient Spartan villages: two match the image I constructed for the post and one matches your description. I do not know which is right.

Did you visit Amykleia and site of Amykleion at modern Ag Kyriaki hill?

Unfortunately no. I was with a small group and my flexibility was limited. The major activity for that day other than the Spartan acropolis was a visit to Mystras.

4. From anonymous – commenting on my post The Spartans as Lacedaemonians. 11/22/2010

‘’because there is no evidence of Mycenaean or sub-Mycenaean culture there’’ – There is no evidence in the Eurotas valley but there is in the Menelaion site.

‘’ and the Spartans were known as the Lacedaemonians from at least the fifth century B.C’’ – There is few of the inscribed monuments in Olympia, dedicated by Spartans (Akmatidas and Gorgos for example),one winning the pentathlon and one probably being one of the judges..both dated from 6th BC. So Lakedaimonioi is the term archeology knows much before 5th BC, Spartans is the term only used rarely, and in the context of Spartan citizens (while Lakedaimonioi is used in the very same context by Spartans themselves).

Later in the post I reference the use of Lacedaemonian by the Spartans as early as when there were two villages (~ 750 B.C.). Indeed, as the commenter points out, there were Lacedaemonians at the Olympics. One of them, named Acanthus the Lacedaemonian, won the diaulos (400 meter race) in 720 B.C.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spartan Armor and the Phalanx Rebuttal

The ink wasn’t dry on my last post before I received a comment from an anonymous reader criticizing the post on multiple grounds. He seems to be a Spartan defender (as am I) emotionally invested in correcting my mistakes.

I thought I’d use this post to discuss the criticisms because I want all my readers to be exposed to the arguments. Although I approach my subjects from an academic point of view, I’m not immune to mistakes particularly in the way the facts are presented. I think there is some of the latter at work here but my readers can judge for themselves what they believe to be the correct arguments.

In the following discussion I have highlighted my own quotes from the post, then listed the criticisms in italics, and then entered a response to the criticisms.

‘’Historical evidence suggests that the hoplite armor (chest corslet, helmet, and greaves) developed at about the same time (circa 650 B.C.)’’

Please forgive me but I don’t understand this one..Bronze armor goes back to Mycenean era.Corinthian helmet and bell curiass however were developed somewhere in the Dark Ages, or after, let’s say 700 BC.

I didn’t mean to suggest at the various components of the Spartan armor were developed simultaneously but that they came together as a set of armor in about 650 B.C. I count the porpax shield as a new development because we know that the Assyrians were using single handled shields a century before. The porpax shield probably contributed to the development of the phalanx as a tactic.

‘’Also with the left hand unavailable, the hoplite would have to use a thrusting spear in his right hand.’’

Shield is among the most powerful weapons of the hoplite since spear could probably survive only the beginning phase of combat. Other parts being brute wrestling, killing with swords, shields, helmets, rocks, hands

I don’t dispute this comment, however, the hoplites also carried a sword and multiple spears. There are more examples on Greek pottery of hoplites carrying multiple weapons than there are of them carrying a single one.

‘This is a picture of frightened Spartan hoplites trying to survive’

That was a picture of LIGHTLY ARMED troops, not the full warriors-hoplites by any means. You severely misunderstood the probably poor translation. I would not go so far sir to call those Messenian war era men cowards Leonidas would be ashamed of. And second Messenian war probably came after reform of 650.

Here I’m looking at the big picture and my critic is taking a closer view. We know that Tyrtaios composed his poems during the Second Messenian War (First Messenian Revolt). My theory backing Toynbee is that the Messenian revolt was the igniter for the reforms of the Spartan army. Prior to the reforms, the Spartan army was not disciplined because it contained citizen soldiers rather than professionals. The reforms were driven by the realization by the Spartan elite that they could not control their vast new territory without a professional army, and the only way to build a professional army was to grant land to the people and level the classes. As I wrote in a previous post, the elite needed the phalanx and the phalanx was made up of commoners. The commoners refused to man the phalanx without rights.

The other reason to quote the poem was to show that we can pinpoint a time when the Spartan army was ineffective, again making it obvious that reforms were needed.

I wouldn’t say the men in the poem were cowards but I don’t think Leonidas would respect their performance.

I will also furiously disagree that they fought poorly before 6th C..First of all Spartans were by far most successful in disciplines of strength in Pan-Hellenic games at the time and later as well, and strength (lifting, wrestling, sprint) was absolutely necessary for hoplite combat, and it was almost the only thing that decided who won and who lost...

The commenter is correct in saying that the Spartans exhibited great athletic prowess at the Pan-Hellenic Games, but I think there is a difference between a few good athletes and 9,000 equally athletic hoplites. It takes a discipline on the order of the agoge to get there.

Again I agree with the commenter. If two armies are using a phalanx, the stronger and better conditioned army should win.

Secondly 669 Hysiae is mentioned only once, by a controversial author almost a millennium after the battle!?!? Never before, not by Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides??? No archaeological finds. Nothing..It may have never happened, there is no proof except his doubtful testimony...And Tegean chains is the episode of the overconfident therefore severely outnumbered Spartans. If they took it seriously outcome might be different. By the way Herodotus says ‘ALL other wars with Tegea at the time were successful’’

Regarding the Battle of Hysiae, I believe the battle actually happened and even though there is not a great deal of evidence, Toynbee, Cartledge, and Jones believe it happened and that’s good enough for me.

Again, I think the criticism misses the mark. All I’m trying to show is that once the military reforms were adopted in Sparta, it took a while for the Spartan army to exhibit the superiority it would be known for later.

I would also argue on Spartan achieving superiority and remaining there (Although I agree with 650 being date of new reform, and 550 being date of the peak of Spartan strength that lasted until wars with Tegea, Argos in 470)..Spartans were not invincible after 544 either.

Yes indeed, there are some surprising defeats later when one would think the Spartans were invincible.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spartan Armor and the Phalanx

We’re still on Toynbee and there is much more to discuss.

The Phalanx was the superior close order battle formation of antiquity until the time of the Romans. Its soldiers wore heavy metallic armor and carried thrusting spears and swords for attacking the enemy at close quarters. While the armor would have been useful in single combat, it became much more lethal in formation.

The origin of the phalanx is not known, but when adopted by the Greeks it became superior to any alternative from the time of Marathon to 197 B.C, when the Greeks were defeated by a Roman javelin and sword army.

Historical evidence suggests that the hoplite armor (chest corslet, helmet, and greaves) developed at about the same time (circa 650 B.C.), and that the phalanx resulted from the armor, not the reverse. The shield predated the other equipment and is of particular importance because the way its use evolved over time.

Originally the shield was carried with the left hand only, but when metal was added to make it stronger, it became too heavy for one hand. The Mycenaeans were the first to add a telemon (strap) which passed over the shoulder and helped support the shield. Later, the Greeks developed a more efficient design by fitting a metal strap (porpax) on the inside of the shield. The hoplite passed his arm through the porpax and then gripped the handle. While the single grip shield offered protection of any part of the body, the hoplite shield could only protect the left side. Also with the left hand unavailable, the hoplite would have to use a thrusting spear in his right hand. Perhaps these limitations pointed to the need for a battle formation that offered protection for the individual while creating a powerful offensive weapon.

The historical evidence is that the porpax shield was adopted first by Corinth in the early seventh century B.C. and Sparta soon after. Geometric pottery displays the hoplite shield as early as 750 B.C, but hoplite tactics are not shown in geometric art. An artifact called the Chigi vase (circa 650 B.C.) is one of the first examples of pottery displaying a phalanx formation.

And then we have the poetry of Tyrtaios, referenced in a previous post, who described the Spartans in battle. Remember he is contemporary to the Second Messenian War.

"For those who, remaining beside one another, dare to go into the hand-to-hand fight and the front rank, fewer die, and they preserve the people behind them. But of men who have begun to tremble every excellence is lost, and no one would ever finish speaking all the ills which happen to a man if he suffers something shameful. For attractive it is to split from behind the back of a fleeing man in hostile war, but shameful is a corpse lying in the dust with the head of a spear driven through its back.

But let a man, having taken his stride, remain in his place, firmly set upon the earth, biting his lip with his teeth and covering thighs and legs below and chest and shoulders with the wide belly of his shield. In his right hand let me brandish a might spear, and let him move the dread helmet crest above his head. By doing mighty deeds let him learn to make war, and let him not stand apart from the missiles holding his shield. But let someone going into the hand-to-hand fight with long spear or wounding with sword take an enemy man, having placed foot against foot and leaned shield against shield, crest to crest, helmet to helmet, breast to breast, drawn close let him fight man to man, taking hold of the haft of his sword or his long spear.

And you, the unarmed ones, crouching beneath a shield, one on one side, another on the other, throw great rocks and cast smooth javelins against them, standing near the fully-armored men."

This is a picture of frightened Spartan hoplites trying to survive – not men Leonidas would admire. We’re getting an early picture of Spartan tactics before the Lycurgian reforms had taken hold.

We know that the Spartans fought poorly in the battle against the Argives in 669 B.C, so at some point after that (perhaps 650 B.C.), the decision was made to re-distribute land and build a real army. Unlike the changes to the government, the Spartan battle tactics took time to develop. Generations would have to pass through the agoge before the fighting machine was tuned. The Spartans were defeated at Tegea in the first quarter of the sixth century, but triumphant against the Argives in 544. Finally the Spartan phalanx had achieved superiority.

In my last post we discussed the Ephor Khilon who was in power circa 550 B.C. He is said to be the statesman who ended the Spartan pattern of conquest in favor of a league of allies (later the Peloponnesean League). His approach was grounded in the reality that Sparta could not both control the Helots and conquer the peninsula. The Homoioi would be needed to control the Helot lands so their marching off to foreign battles would have to be reserved for emergencies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spartan Kings and the Ephors

One recalls the early scene from 300 when Leonidas travels to see the Ephors and they tell him he cannot take the army north to fight the Persians because he must “Honor the Carneia.” In actuality, the kings didn’t have to visit the Ephors on a mountain top, because they were Spartan citizens living in the city. Their term of office was one year so individual Ephors could never establish their own power base. In fact, on many occasions, private citizens were elected to the Ephorate so one did not need wealth or experience to be elected. Still by the time of Thermopylae, the Ephors could block a king’s attempt to wage war.

As Toynbee points out, the relationship between kings and Ephors is not critical to Spartan history, yet it is instructive to examine the expanding authority of the Ephorate as an example of an evolving political system.

The Ephors began as a branch of the Spartan government during the period of the Lycurgian reforms (circa 650 B.C.), after previously acting as private advisors to the kings. The office lasted until 227 B.C. when King Kleomenes III abolished it.

The Ephors main political adversary was the kings, since they appear to have acquired power from the Assembly and Gerousia early on without much difficulty. But the kings fought against their growing political power and the strongest ones succeeded in containing them.

Kings had absolute power when on a campaign and the Ephors had no jurisdiction outside of Sparta, although a pair of them usually accompanied the king on his campaigns. They had no authority to interfere with the campaign or any political activities connected to it, but were known to gather information that could be used to prosecute the king when the conflict was over.

But the military sphere is not where the Ephors began their encroachment against the kings. Let us look at a few examples of what they were up to.

In Plutarch’s Kleomenes, it is stated that Asteropus was the first Ephor to infringe on the power of the kings, sometime prior to the mid-sixth century B.C. We don’t know exactly what he did; only that his influence was considerable. Here is the quote from Plutarch:

“He said that Lycurgus had blended the powers of senate and kings, and that for a long time the state was administered in this way and had no need of other officials. But later, when the Messenian war proved to be long, the kings, since their campaigns abroad left them no time to administer justice themselves, chose out some of their friends and left them behind to serve the citizens in their stead. These were called Ephors, or guardians, and as a matter of fact they continued at first to be assistants of the kings, but then gradually diverted the power into their own hands, and so, ere men were aware, established a magistracy of their own. As proof of this, Cleomenes cited the fact that down to that day, when the Ephors summoned a king to appear before them, he refused to go at the first summons, and at the second, but at the third rose up and went with them; and he said that the one who first added weight to this office, and extended its powers, Asteropus, was Ephor many generations later.”

In the second and most quirky example, the Ephors began traveling to the Oracular shrine at Ino-Pasiphae every eight years for the purpose of stargazing. This practice could only have begun after the eight year calendar cycle was introduced to Greece at the end of the sixth century B.C. If, while stargazing, the Ephors noticed a shooting star, they had a right to put the king on trial. The king could avoid prosecution only if the Ephors received notice of his innocence from the Oracle at Olympia or Delphi. This mysterious ritual represented a gross infringement on the religious authority of the monarchs, because it linked the Ephors to the will of the gods.

In the third case, an Ephor named Khilon was known to have been in office circa 550 B.C. His reign was so notable it was marked by a shrine which was still in existence four hundred years after his death.

In growing their power over time, the Ephors took advantage of the dual monarchy by striking when the kings were at odds with each other. Famous for keeping themselves unified, the Ephors could make accusations against one of the kings without fear of a reprisal coming from the other. There are four documented cases in the fifth century B.C. where kings were put on trial for one reason or another, and by the time of the Persian Wars, the Ephors were managing Spartan foreign policy. Envoys from Athens, coming to Sparta to ask for its participation against the Persians at Plataea, met with the Ephors. In another example, the peace treaty ending the Archidamian War in 421 B.C. was signed by the Ephors.

What does this all mean? One can certainly see a similarity with the Roman Republic. There, the Etruscan Kings were overthrown and consuls substituted. These consuls were elected officials entrusted with the administration of the government. In the Ephors case, they drained power from the kings and became the administrators of Sparta. The result was a Polis with three branches of government: Damos (assembly or House of Representatives), Gerousia (elders or Senate), and the Ephors (consuls, presidents). Sparta had created a model political system for the future – balanced and representative of the competing interests of its people.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

More about the Beginning of the Unique Spartan Political System

A key component added to the Spartan political system, as part of the reforms, was the Damos, or assembly of hoplites. Members of this body were called Homoioi, and to maintain that designation, an individual was required to make his assigned food contribution to the mess, carry out his military duties, and attend the meetings of the assembly.

This Damos, unlike most of the others, was not an aristocratic assembly, but rather one of peers. Originally consisting of Homoioi and Hypomeiones (inferiors), this class differentiation disappeared over time as the new system matured.

The Damos was a “Sparta only” political body, so it did not include enfranchised citizens from outside the city like other Greek Poleis. And there were certainly some eccentricities in its implementation. It did not include all of the Spartiatai (eligible Spartan citizens) or any Helots. Since all members were Hoplites, those outside the military were not represented.

Beyond these political changes, sat the redistribution of land as the practical force behind the leveling of the classes. New landowners found themselves better off than they had been previously, even though they could never really become peers of the wealthy.

To balance the nobles being merged into the Damos, the kings were merged into the Gerousia. They were added as the twenty-ninth and thirtieth members, with no greater power than any of the other members save not having to stand for election. The kings other functions, besides leading their men into battle, were to oversee the maintenance of roads, approve adoptions, and select the men heiresses could be betrothed to.

These Lycurgian reforms must be considered a great achievement, though they only benefited a minority and were heavily dependent on the subjugation of the Helots. They would serve as a model for all future Poleis in Greece. Other democracies and the oligarchies that passed through an interim period of dictatorships, emerged on the other side with Sparta as the model for a stable and successful political system.

That model included a sovereign assembly and a small councilor body charged with introducing legislation for consideration by the assembly – predating in basic form the Roman Republic. The Athenians would later (461 B.C) increase the sophistication of the assembly by allowing its members to debate and amend bills the council sent to it. Government officials and members of the council were also allowed to speak about the merits of a bill under consideration. At least in its early stages, the Spartan Assembly did not allow debate and was limited to the role of voting on the legislation by a simple majority. It did, however, possess the power to replace deceased members of the Gerousia and elect the Ephors.

The latter was the wellspring of the power of the Damos and fundamental to the goal of a balanced stable political system. Later, the Ephors would expand their own powers to include convening the Damos and presenting motions to it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sparta’s Two Messenian Wars and the Military Government

Following the annexation of Aigytis, Sparta maintained contact with the remnants of the Aipytid Kingdom located at Stenykharos northwest of Sparta on the west side of the Taygetos Mountains. But after the Spartans annexed the Taygetan Minyai (a surviving clan of the Mycenaean Age located on the Laconian side of the Taygetos), they were emboldened to move for control of the west side of the mountain range. The First Messenian War (740-720 B.C.) was the outcome of that desire. After Stenykharos surrendered, its plain became new Helot territory. The full extent of this conquest was not known, but it appears that most of the land west of the Taygetos to the Ionian Sea and north to the Neda River was taken.

Tyrtaios, the Attic poet, sent to Sparta by the Oracle to assist with the Second Messenian War, stated that the first war was fought by the grandfathers of the men who fought in the second war. That would put the timeframe of the second war at about 690 B.C. Technically his words were “the fathers of our fathers”, which could have been an imprecise use of the term, so the second war may have taken place in the middle of the seventh century.

The second war was not one of conquest but the putting down of a revolt. Toynbee suggests that it was the time of establishment of the Lycurgian reforms, not earlier as others have suggested. His reasoning was that the Spartan commoners would have demanded rights in return for their help in protecting the new kingdom.

Let’s look at this is a little more detail. Many of the ancients, including Thucydides connect Lycurgus with the militaristic Spartan system we’re all familiar with and set his date farther back than it should be. In reality we don’t know when Lycurgus lived or whether he even existed. It has been written that the Lycurgian reforms were put into place to overcome the domestic instability in Sparta existing before that time. What was the cause of this instability and when did it occur? A logical explanation derives from the rapid conquests preceding the Second Messenian War. In the period from 760-720 B.C. Sparta conquered Amyklai, Aigiai, Gythion, the lower Eurotos Basin, the Tagetan Minyai, and Stenyklaros – a vast amount of territory to try and control. The administrative challenges associated with these conquests must have been formidable.

With the risk of revolt great and the administrative challenge daunting, the ruling class must have realized the importance of a citizen-based military (hoplite phalanx), and they may have been pushed in this direction by the commons who wouldn’t serve without receiving a property allocation. One piece of evidence to support this is found in Aristotle’s Politics.

“When the difference between the rich and poor is too extreme, the situation is particularly apt to be produced by wars. This too happened at Lacedaemon at the time of the second war with the Messenians. The evidence for this is found in Tyrtaios’ poem Eunomia where he says that there were Spartans who were so hard pressed economically by the war that they demanded that the country be carved up into allotments.”

The Spartan leadership was certainly in a position to allocate land because of the enormous size of the conquered lands. So the devil’s bargain was made – land to the commons in exchange for their willingness to fight in phalanx formation.

It seems that the new structure would have been instituted in a single step because of its interdependency. The need for a new kind of army generated a new constitution and social system. Of course a constitution can be created as a single event while changes in a social system take time and generations to take hold. Even the governmental changes must have occurred over time. For example, the Ephors had to transition from advisors to the king to being elected by a citizen assembly which did not exist before the reforms.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Expansion of Ancient Sparta

I’ve been reading a great book called Some Problems of Greek History by Arnold Toynbee, the well known English historian, which was published in 1969. Toynbee is best known for his The Study of History, a monumental work published in 1934 and 1939. This significant contribution to comparative history has been criticized for a variety of reasons mostly around his assumptions and use of questionable data. Still, A Study of History is worth reading because of its unique approach.

Some Problems of Greek History does not create controversy and is a rigorous review and dissection of all data known about parts of Greek history -- mostly Sparta. In my last post, I talked about the origins of Sparta and Lacedaemon. This time, we’ll review the expansion of Sparta geographically through the lower Peloponnese.

Sparta conquered Laconia and Messenia during the eighth century B.C, a date which Toynbee points out is more accurate than theoretical dates farther back which are unsupportable. Most notably, he asserts that the two Spartan royal families were extended backward by myth to Herakles, a connection that cannot be (and according Toynbee) should not be made. To him, the Dorian invasion and fall of Mycenae are not connected directly to the rise of the Lacedaemonians.

The first step in the expansion of Sparta was the conquest on Amyklai (eighth century timeframe unknown) and its incorporation into Sparta as an equal. This victory gained Sparta an influential ally and opened up southern Laconia to them. The Spartans then continued their southern expansion through Aigytis until they reached the coast, circa 720 B.C. I use that date because the Italian colony of Tarentum was founded by Sparta in the time period 708-702 B.C. and for Sparta to have sent colonists to Italy, she would have needed to control of a port for some period of time. That port was most likely Gythion, which we know was a Spartan naval base by 413 B.C.

While Sparta gave Perioecic status to the communities of the Mani peninsula down to Cape Tainaron, the lower Eurotos Valley was conquered and forced to choose between enslavement and deportation. This was the beginning of Helotry and the use of Messenian lands for agriculture.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Spartans as Lacedaemonians

The region of the Peloponnese which held the Spartan people was called Lacedaemon (now Laconia) and the Spartans were known as the Lacedaemonians from at least the fifth century B.C. By that time, Lacedaemon was used interchangeably with Sparta when referring to the political entity. What happened before that time?

In the Iliad, the land ruled by Menelaus is referred to as “a hollow” which is “scarred with ravines”, certainly an apt description of the Spartan lands as they look today. But if the setting of the Iliad was the Mycenaean Age, the residence of Menelaus would have been a castle. Where was it? Toynbee speculates that the original “Sparta” may have been at Therapne or Amyklai, nearby towns that date back to the Mycenaean time.

Sparta originally meant “sown land” and represented part of the cultivated area of the Eurotos Valley. Later, at some point, the land became the town when the Spartans relocated there. They may have called themselves Lacedaemonians from the time their territory encompassed more than one or two villages, but Spartans only when they needed to distinguish themselves from the Perioeci and the Messenians.

The city of Sparta consisted of four settlements: Pitane, Limnai, Kynosoura, and Messoa. The tombs of the Agiadai kings were located in Pitane, while the tombs of the Eurypontidai were located in Limnai. This suggests that the two royal houses originated from these towns and their combination occurred voluntarily. How Kynosaura and Messoa may have joined the Spartan community is obscure.

It appears that the foundation of Sparta must have occurred no earlier than the beginning of the ninth century B.C. because there is no evidence of Mycenaean or sub-Mycenaean culture there. The earliest that Spartan kings can be dated is through independent evidence is ~ 730 B.C. when Polydoros and Theopompos reigned. This was also the time of the First Messenian War, when Messenian names ceased to be listed among the winners at the Olympic Games.

Although we don’t know the origin of the Lacedaemonians, the Spartans and Messenians of the fifth century were speaking the same dialect of Northwest Greek as the Dorian invaders who attacked the entire Peloponnese and destroyed Mycenae. The fertile plain of Sparta and whatever wealth existed there as a result of the Mycenaean culture would have been attractive to the invaders sweeping down from the north. After the invasion, the newcomers combined with the natives to form what would become the Lacedaemonian people.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Basileus as a Bridge Political Figure in Ancient Greece

Basileus is a strange word – hard to pronounce (Bas-sill-es) and difficult to define. It has an obscure origin, although the Mycenaeans used it as gwasileus. Many linguists consider it a non-Greek word adopted by Bronze Age Greeks from eastern Mediterranean origins. Although Basileus has had many definitions during the last three thousand years, it’s the one that was used during the Greek Dark Ages that we’ll focus on here.

After the fall of Mycenae in 1200 B.C, Greece sank into a period of decline commonly known as the Dark Ages, which lasted until approximately 800 B.C. During that time, Greece became separated from the Orient and collapsed into itself. Writing ceased as a sub-Mycenaean culture tried unsuccessfully to carry on what had come before. Most of what we know of the first half of the dark ages is told through items buried with the dead and remnants of pottery. The second half saw a reawakening of the Greek spirit and an evolving political system leading to the Polis as the ultimate end point.

With the death of the Mycenaean kings, the notion of hereditary royalty was erased. In its place rose the Basileus as a new kind of leader. He could never be a king because the king’s powers had been dispersed among the people. Priests served the role as spiritual advisors and the common people organized themselves in assemblies to handle local administration. The Basileus was left with (or took) the role of war leader and successor to the war leaders of the invaders from the north who combined with elements of local government. He was only able to dominate a small area – a single village and its environs because he did not possess the power to control more. Consequently, his war leading ability was confined to raids on other villages.

The Basileis were not wealthy and lived by agriculture – on their own land and the land assigned to them by the community. Their possessions were mainly treasures, food, and metals as described in the Iliad. They did not have a higher standing than their fellow tribesmen economically, politically, or by their customs which basically mirrored those of the wealthy. The reputation of any one of them depended on their own prowess -- the ability to be a military leader. Some locales had more than one Basileus working together as in Elis as described in the Odyssey.

The Basileus was absolutely fundamental to the development of the Polis because without him there would have been no unified structure to serve as its foundation. In the late dark age period, the Greeks could have gone in either of two directions politically: strengthen collective action through a complex political organization or move toward personal leadership. There is evidence that the latter was attempted; that the Basileus became more powerful for a time. But that path was a dead end and he was eventually replaced by an administrator type – like the Archons of Athens. He lacked the historical requirements for personal leadership – wealth, a significant following among the people, and precedent. Ultimately, the people were unwilling to cede power to the Basileus and turn him into a king. They kept the power for themselves and elected administrators who they felt they could control.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Meteora -- Story and Photo Album

Although Meteora does not fit into the general focus of this blog, I decided to write a post about it to accompany the photos I took when I was there recently. Most Greek travel guides have Meteora at the top of the “must see” list and I can give testimony that its accolades are well deserved. My single greatest impression of Greece is the mountains – tall, rough, treed, bare, and any other terrain you can imagine. When I think of Greek Mountains, I include Meteora.

This fantastic vista, sitting 180 miles northwest of Athens, is located near the Pindus Mountains in northern Greece. They were formed sixty million years ago during the Tertiary Period taking their current shape as a result of earthquakes and erosion.

The word Meteora means “suspended in air” and refers to the monasteries that were built there in the middle ages. Long before that, fifth thousand years ago to be exact, The Theopetra Caves nearby were inhabited by humans. But that and subsequent history was obscured until the 9th century when the monks began to inhabit the rocks. During the fifteenth century, twenty monasteries were built as the Byzantine orders sought refuge from Turkish raiders. Today, six monasteries survive.

Click on the link below to see the photo album.
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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Roman Forum Photo Album

The following link will take you to a photo album of the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum

I've been to the Forum twice -- 25 years apart. It was interesting to note the changes over that time, mainly that of new excavations. Several structures that were covered or under repair in 1985 are now seen in all their glory.

In 1985 you could wander through the ruins at will: now the House of the Vestals and the Basilica Julia are blocked off.

It's funny to contemplate changes during my little span of time when the structures have stood there 80 times as long.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thermopylae Photo Album

The link below will display a Thermopylae Photo Album.


The following photograph shows some of the hundreds of Persian arrowheads found on Kolonos Hill.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sparta Photo Album

The link below will take you to a Sparta Photo Album.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Thucydides on Sparta

"If the city of the Lacedaemonians were deserted, and the shrines and foundations of buildings preserved, I think that after the passage of considerable time there would eventually be widespread doubt that their power measured up to their reputation. Since the city is not unified or furnished with elaborate shrines or public buildings but settled in villages the old Hellenic way, it would be considered inferior to those it has under its control."

I read that the olive trees on the Spartan Acropolis were planted to prevent significant erosion to the site.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reflections on a Visit to Ancient Sparta

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was disappointed that the ruins of ancient Sparta were unidentifiable, and that drove me to try and make more sense of what was there and understand its part in the history of Spartan culture.

To accomplish this we have to start with the realization that the area now referred to as ancient Sparta is really its Acropolis and nothing else. The remainder of Sparta was spread out over four villages and all traces of those villages are gone. Over time the Acropolis itself took on the role of a citadel: more important to those controlling Sparta than it was to the Spartans themselves.

Sparta had no walls (by design) until 318 B.C. when she had become a second rate power and the principles of Lycurgus were no longer being followed. That year marked 458 years since the first Olympic Games, traditionally thought of as the time of Lycurgus and the blossoming of the new Spartan society. Classical Sparta had lasted nearly half a millennium. Remnants of the walls of 318 can be seen at the north side of the Acropolis.

There are also two other sets of ruins extant and dated after 318: Roman and Byzantine. Rome began to exert suzerainty on Sparta beginning in the late third century B.C. and invaded the city in 188 B.C. That year, the Spartan walls were torn down. Eight years later the Romans allowed them to be re-built. Rome continued to control Sparta until the collapse of the Western Empire, and the emergence of the Byzantine world.

The amphitheater at the Spartan acropolis was built by the Romans in 50 B.C. and there are also Roman walls around the hilltop. Lower down and covering a larger area are Byzantine walls in ruins. Both of these sets of walls protected a citadel that was post-Spartan.

There are only two ancient Spartan structures that have been uncovered: the Temple of Athena Chalkioikos, located on the Acropolis and The Temple of Artemis Orthia located east of the Acropolis near the Eurotos River. Chalkioikos was constructed no later than 500 B.C, because artifacts from that time have been found in the ruins.

Marble statue of a helmed hoplite (5th century...Image via Wikipedia

Among them is the sculpture thought to be Leonidas.

The temple gets its name from the bronze sheets that covered the interior walls.

The Sanctuary of Artemis celebrates the cult of Orthia, common to the villages who made up Sparta. It was built in 570 B.C. and excavated around 1910.

We can see why a visit to modern Sparta is less satisfying than one would hope because there is not much left of ancient Sparta to experience. One has to be content to stand on Spartan ground and see what the Spartans saw when they owned this land – the mountains, the valley, and the sky.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Acropolis Photo Album

The link below will take you to an Acropolis photo album.

The Acropolis

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 13 - Thermopylae

"Go, tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here obedient to their laws we lie."

Those words are packed with emotion for all who know or care what happened at Thermopylae, arguably the most famous battle in history.

Thermopylae sits 11 kilometers south of Lamia, Greece, which lies some 200 kilometers north of Athens. That means the 300 marched about 400 kilometers from Sparta before they arrived at the Hot Gates.
Thermopylae means hot gates in Greek and refers to the three hot springs at the battle site. They are called gates because the pass narrows near them, so they are ideal for a military defense.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel as we approached the site. I'd seen all the pictures (everyone takes the same ones) and read all the stories. Needless to say, I didn't need an sign to tell me where to go.

As you travel north on Route 1, you come to an exit sign for Thermopylae. The ramp becomes a road dedicated to providing access to the battle site, looping back to the main road after a mile or so.

You first look for Leonidas on the north side of the road. He stands on top of a wall depicting the battle. Below his feet is the immortal saying, "come and get them". There are two statues flanking him: Eurotas (the river of Sparta and Taygetos (the mountain of Sparta). The wall faces south so you spin around to find Kolonos Hill, which is immediately across the road. Without a sign you wouldn't be able to find it because its obscured by trees.

Crossing the road, you take the path up the hill to the plaque containing the quote cited at the beginning of the post. To read the plaque you look west toward the Persian camp. Above your left shoulder is the pass traversed by the traitor Ephialtes and the immortals.

Here's what Herodotus had to say about the end of the battle. "This conflict continued until those who had gone with Ephialtes came up; and when the Hellenes learned that these had come, from that moment the nature of the combat was changed; for they retired backwards to the narrow part of the way, and having passed by the wall they went and placed themselves upon the hillock, all in a body together except only the Thebans: now this hillock is in the entrance, where now the stone lion is placed for Leonidas. On this spot while defending themselves with daggers, that is those who still had them left, and also with hands and with teeth, they were overwhelmed by the missiles of the Barbarians, some of these having followed directly after them and destroyed the fence of the wall, while others had come round and stood about them on all sides."

I look up to the left and imagine the Persian archers by the hundreds on the hill above me. What chance would I have with a couple hundred of my colleagues?

All that remained of my visit was the middle gate which sits just west of where the Phocian Wall stood. One has to imagine the scene since there are no current landmarks near the gate. The water is hot (spa temperature) and flows quickly out of a mill race into the stream below. It comes out of the mountain side so as you approach you face the shear elevation.

There is no sound except the falling water. When you move away from the gate and the sound dies away, you're left alone with the murmur of the soft breeze.

Standing here, it's easy to apply a little imagination and take yourself back 2,490 years -- same mountains, same pass, Hot Gates flowing. I think of the men who fought and died here and how their immortality is a beacon for all mankind.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Oracle at Delphi Photo Album

The link below will take you to a photo album of the Oracle at Delphi.

The Oracle at Delphi
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Straights Of Messina Photo Album

The following link will take you to a photo album of our passage through the Straits of Messina on September 2nd.

The Straits of Messina

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 12 - Sparta

The Peloponnese is mountainous, its center filled in the north with all manner of peaks -- a huge spine which tapers off into the Parnon Range to the southeast like a lizard's tail.

As you begin the trip down from Corinth, the elevation increases steadily until you approach Tripoli, which sits on a plateau. The wheat fields of the north have now given way to pasture land and olive groves.

You're only 30 kilometers from Sparta when the Taygetos begin to rise from the background. Higher and higher they push as your drop down into the valley of Sparta until the impression is complete. The elevation of Sparta is 600 feet. The Taygetos tops are at 6,000 feet.

The modern Sparta looks similar to other Greek cities, full of square uninteresting concrete apartments, but its location sits inside the boundary of the ancient one which existed as the union of four separate villages.

At the northern edge of the city stands the statue of Leonidas. Using him as a guide, you drive around the soccer field to reach the ancient Spartan Acropolis.

There is no ticket window, bookshop, or refreshment stand at the entrance -- you just move along to discover what's there.

Almost immediately the wrong emotion works its way to the surface. You pass by ancient walls and portions of structures unmarked, wondering why this should be. Does no one care? Is Sparta gone save its story in history books? Maybe that's the way it should be because the gods have determined that no one of this age can be trusted to tell the story. Maybe the Spartan ghosts are the only ones to explain what's there.

The site is now an olive orchard and there must be 8,000 of them, one for every Spartan warrior. I feel a soft breeze which touches the olive leaves, making them whisper in unison. It's those Spartan ghosts telling their tales of battle. No other sound competes: no car horn, dog bark, or child's laugh to interrupt the message. Only the whispers.

The ruins are mostly post-Spartan: some Byzantine walls, built by people who needed walls to protect them. A Roman amphitheater is recognizable but it's new -- 50 B.C.

As you stand at the highest point and look around, you understand that Sparta was an idea as much as a culture. The culture exists only in what was written down while the idea is eternal -- that people can unite for a common purpose to become stronger than the individual. That unified strength can overcome the pursuit of wealth and popularity, which can destroy all that man has accomplished.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hot Gates - September 10, 2010

The link below will point you to a video I made last week of the Middle Gate, closest of the three Hot Gates to the Battle of Thermopylae. It lies about one half mile west of Kolonos Hill, where the Spartans were attacked by arrows in their final defense.

I put my hand in the water and judge it to be 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit - about the same as a hot tub.
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 11 - The Acropolis

I'm going to sound like a broken record before my trip is over, but I have to say that NO picture of the ancient sites of Greece fairly depicts the grandeur and scale of the real experience.

Let me use the Acropolis as an example. I've seen enough pictures of it to know the structures and the basic configuration, but what you don't get photos is the scale and three dimensional reference.

The Acropolis is visible from anywhere in Athens. Impressively lit with spotlights, it becomes a beacon for travel around the city at night. If you're lost, you can look at the Acropolis and orient yourself because the Parthenon faces east to west. It's the compass of Athens!

The elevation of the site is stunning. I had a preconceived notion that the walls rise from the street level, when, in fact, they start a couple hundred feet above street level.

After the cab dropped us off, we walked up a curving pathway to the ticket office. From there you continue up the incline to the Propylaean Gate. The gate itself is being reconstructed and there are wooden steps over a section where the original steps are missing.

As you reach the floor of the site, the Parthenon makes an immediate impression because of its size and scale. The Erechtheion by comparison is much smaller.

There is a construction crane in the middle of the Parthenon being used for re-building and repairs, so its tough to get a photograph without the modern technology. One can see in the structure where new mable has replaced or been added. The new mable is impressively integrated. On the west side of the site sit pieces of the original structures in piles (a marble junkyard) -- scrolled Doric capitals with no home. Part of the re-building attempts to correct previous repairs which were done with iron rods. The rods rusted, causing the marble to crack. The rods are being replaced with titanium.

The view from the Acropolis is one of a kind -- the agora to the north and the city surrounding it all.

We walked through the agora and also visited the Theater of Dionysus, which sits adjacent to the south wall of the Acropolis. I imagined the great plays being performed and the audience of 17,000 hanging on each scene. What a history!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 6 - The Oracle

It's a thirty minute twenty-one hundred foot white-knuckle bus ride from the town of Itea on the Gulf of Corinth up to Delphi. You pass through one of the largest olive groves in the world and find yourself struck by the arid climate -- not a drop of water to be seen. Dry creekbeds remind of past rains and the people appear to be inside hiding from the 90 degree heat.

In Delphi, the shops are open because everyone knows there's a cruise ship in port, but the restaurants are empty in early afternoon (Greeks have lunch at 3pm). We step off the bus in town and walk a kilometer to the Oracle, which is hidden behind a bend in the road so that pirates from twenty-seven hundred years ago could not observe it from the sea.

One is immediately impressed by the topography -- to the left of the road the Oracle rises steeply and to the right the gorge of Pleistos Valley drops off preceptisely a thousand feet or so. You climb the zig-zag path by the (new) Roman columns, past the Athenian Treasury, and on to the Temple. Its six columns point to the sky like arrows pointing at Zeus. Above the Temple is the amphitheater and above it the stadium where the Pythian Games were held. The site takes your breath away as you contemplate the Greeks trekking in from the four corners of their country to seek the Oracle's advice.

Why here? Zeus sent out two eagles to find the center (navel) of the earth and they came together here. There is actually a navel stone on the site designating the center of the earth.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 5 - The Straights of Messina

Traveling through the Straights of Messina is an interesting experience.

Approaching from the north, you pass the active volcano on Stromboli (a rock jutting out of the Tyrrenian Sea). The straights itself, is only 3.1km wide, and ships have to use a pilot to navigate through. Of course the area was settled by the Greeks as part of Magna Graecia. Syracusa on the Sicilan side and Reggio (Roman Rhegium, Greek Rhegion) on the Italian side. The Greeks originally settled Messina as Zancle (scythe), because of the shape of its natural harbor.

The Romans didin't pay much attention to Sicily until they began to reach beyond Latina. This expansion coincided with Greek and Carthiginian disagreements over control of Sicily. Ultimately, Rome was dragged into the first Punic War when they took the side of the Mammertines in Messina who had come under the control of a Carthaginian garrison. Three kilometers from Italy was too close for the Romans to tolerate, and the Senate eventully decided to oppose Carthage.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 4 -- Crusing the Tyrrenian Sea

Three days in Rome and now on a ship bound for Delphi.

Visited the Roman Forum and Colesseum Monday. Both are much changed since I was last there. Fifteen Euros to enter the Colesseum and it was packed. The cats have been replaced by people.

The Forum is quite different with a lot of digging going on. I had forgotten the change in grade between the Arch of Titus and the flat area in front of the Rostra. Must be 50 feet lower. Villa of Caligula now excavated at the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill. The Curia is a museum. There are lots of nice photo positions from the Palatine down onto the Forum, but the Hill remains a mystery because very little is identified there.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Heading for Antiquity

Ruins of the Roman ForumImage via Wikipedia

I'm off today for a two week vacation to Italy and Greece.

The plan is to post along the way and take photos which will be posted when I get back. I expect to visit the following:

Roman Forum and Colosseum
Mount Olympus

Can't wait to get there.
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thermopylae Views

The link below will connect you to two views of the Thermopylae battlefield.

Thermopylae Views

I have taken current Google Earth views in three dimensions (east and west) and modified them.  Labels identify the location of Leonidas statute, Kolonos Hill (where the last Spartans were killed by arrows), the Middle Hot Gate, and Mt Anopaea, which is where the Persians did their end around to trap the Spartans.

The position of the Marian Gulf has been modified to show its ancient shoreline near the current highway.  Twenty centuries of silt have pushed to shoreline some four kilometers northward.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Domesticated Man – not as clever has his ancestors

I just finished reading an article discussing human brain size and its relationship to behavior and intelligence. It seems that over the past 20,000 years man’s brain has decreased in size from 1500 to 1350ccs (10%). Women’s brains are lighter in the same proportion.

What does this mean? We’re obviously smarter, so how can our brains be smaller? Throughout recent history our brain to body size ratio (EQ) has remained relatively constant, so the decrease in our brain size has been accompanied by a decrease in body size. There are theories that attempt to explain this phenomena, but no consensus has been reached in the scientific community.

One theory, which I label the Climate Theory, suggests that the warming of the earth has decreased the need for large bodies to protect against the cold. Twenty thousand years ago the earth was in the last stages of an ice age, and the earth has warmed steadily since that time. Natural selection, operating during this period, favored smaller bodies which use less energy, so humans began to shrink – body and brain.

There is a second much more interesting theory about the decrease in size of human beings; the notion that we small-brained moderns are “dumber” than our predecessors. The story goes like this. Among the thirty or so domesticated animals, the wild ancestors had bigger brains than their more docile descendants AND were more clever at surviving. For example, a wild dog is more resourceful than a domesticated dog. Of course, the domesticated dog has his master to help him get thorough life so he can give up whatever brain function the wild dog needed for survival.

What does this data mean when applied to human beings? Scientists have looked at brain size in people as a function of population density and have found that people living in larger groups have smaller brains. That is those living in densely populated areas had smaller brains than nomadic types. Of course, agriculture and the domestication of animals helped drive this because they set the stage for people to live closer together and created a differentiation of roles in those cultures. Over time, strength and the ability to fight became specialized so the majority of men could live their lives without having to be physically aggressive.

If we buy the analog with domesticated animals, then we too, like them, have become less clever – at least as it relates to the ability to survive. We have essentially domesticated ourselves, and, in doing so, taken advantage of our newly acquired free time to intellectualize.

But one question still remains. What would have happened if our big brained, clever ancestors would have had time to think? Would they have acquired knowledge faster than we have because they were more clever or is it a zero sum game?
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hannibal’s March over the Alps Revisited

This is an updated post on Hannibal’s march over the Alps, amending my previous post from February 23, 2009. I recently noticed that Google Earth had updated images of the region and the result was a clearer more consistent view, so I decided to re-visit the story. I also reviewed research on the route itself, since the previous post was more concerned with Hannibal’s objective and not his journey.

The chronology below combines information from the two best sources we have on the subject -- Polybius and Livy. Their accounts are similar but do not contain many place names that can be used as landmarks. The place names have been added by modern researchers based on geographical analysis -- taking the descriptions of the terrain and fitting them to the geography.

Day 1 March along the Drôme to the foothills; first encounters, near Die
Night Camp on fairly level ground; near Die

Day 2 March towards blocked Col de Cabre
Night Attack on abandoned blockade at Col de Cabre

Day 3 Enemy attack on baggage train; capture of a fort at Saint-Mens
Night Camp in Gap

Day 4 Easy march towards Durance and Col du Montgenèvre
Night Camp near Prunières?

Day 5 Easy march along the Durance towards Col du Montgenèvre
Night Camp near Embrun?

Day 6 Easy march along the Durance towards Col du Montgenèvre
Night Camp near Mont Dauphin?

Day 7 Envoys from tribe near Briançon; ambush 10 km before Briançon
Night Hannibal's infantry separated from cavalry and baggage train

Day 8 Hannibal's army united near Briançon; march towards Col du Mont Genèvre
Night Camp at La Vachette, near the sources of the Durance?

Day 9 Hannibal's army reaches the Col du Montgenèvre
Night On the summit of Col du Montgenèvre

Col de Montgenèvre - Hautes-Alpes - FranceImage via Wikipedia

Day 10 Halt on the summit of Col du Montgenèvre
Night On the summit of Col du Montgenèvre

Day 11 Halt on the summit of Col du Montgenèvre; it begins to snow
Night On the summit of Col du Montgenèvre

Day 12 Precipitous and dangerous descent for about 9 km (1854 to 1354 meters)
Night Camp near Cesana Torinese

Day 13 Repairing the road; infantry starts to descend
Night Elephant camp near Cesana; infantry camp near Mollières

Day 14 Building a road for the elephants; infantry descends
Night Elephant camp near Cesana; infantry camp near Oulx

Day 15 Building a road for the elephants; infantry descends to Susa
Night Elephant camp near Cesana; infantry camp near Susa

Day 16 Infantry stays at Susa; first of three days' rest to recover from the fatigue

It turns out that there are three proposed routes – north, south, and south/central. The evidence favors the southern route, shown here.

The chronology used here comes from and Peter Connolly's book Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome (1978 London).
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Two Kings Better than One?

If you google “dual monarchy”, you get references to the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which lasted from 1867-1918. This made me laugh because of the insignificance of the Austria example next to that of the Spartans. Was this just another case where antiquity is ignored? Still experimenting, I tried using the words “dual kingship” and Sparta appeared, filling up the first page. Accompanying the Spartans was the Quarlug Confederation, The Khazars, and Havelok the Dane.

For this post, we’ll leave the obscure to their rightful place and focus on the Lacedaemonians, whose dual kingship was one aspect of their unique political system, one that lasted about 900 years longer than any other example. No one knows how the dual kingship started in Sparta. Herodotus gives an explanation but that is more folklore than anything else. He said the kings came from two dynasties: The Agiad and the Eurypontid, named after Agis and Eurypon, the first of each line. There were two kings because a mix-up of twins and the resulting confusion over who was supposed to rule. The genealogies for these two lines that have come down to us today are based on information from no less than eight historians, including the heavy hitters Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, and Livy. Still, much of the information is incomplete or questionable.

Starting around 550 B.C, the names become more familiar and there is some history about most of them. The famous Leonidas was of the Agiad line and, after he was killed at Thermopylae, his brother Cleombrotus served as regent for a year until his own son Pausanias was named the new Agiad king.

The Spartan kings had several major responsibilities, including acting as high priests for Spartan people and leading the army into battle. War was declared by the Assembly and the levy proclaimed by the Ephors, but the kings were the commanders. They also served on the Gerusia (council of elders) where their votes counted for two out of the thirty.  Aristotle called the Spartan kingship a hereditary generalship but he was only half right. As hereditary leaders, the kings could wield great power over their peers who had to be elected.

Bronze Spartan shield conquered, as the inscri...Image via WikipediaAt home the kings had special privileges. They took the first seats at dinner and were served a double portion. They had front row seats for all the games. They choose the Pythii (envoys to the Oracle at Delphi) and give them money for the Oracle. When a king died, the Spartiates mourned for ten days -- women wailing and beating their brows.

What, then, was the significance of the dual kingship as it related to the Spartan political system and the history of governments? For the former, it was a balancing force which helped perpetuate a 1000 year civilization. For the latter, very little. The Spartan way of life succeeded because the helot system allowed the Spartans to train and be the best warriors of all time. Without that one aspect, the Spartan soldiers would have been part timers like everyone else.
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