Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Were the Spartans Penniless?

We’ve talked about money on this blog before: specifically how the Romans used bronze coins until they converted to silver in the late third century B.C. The Greeks were way ahead of the Romans, producing silver coins in the mid-sixth century B.C. They were early active traders, while the Romans did not trade in earnest until the time of the Punic Wars.

What about the Spartans? What was their coinage and how did they use money?

Sparta was a closed society. It used Messenian people (Helots) as an underclass, so the elite could spend their time on military training. There was also another race tightly connected to the Spartans – The Perioeci. These people lived primary in the hills around Sparta as autonomous cities, and also controlled the important Laconian Island of Cythera. They had no foreign policy of their own but served in the Spartan Army.

More importantly the Perioeci acted as the merchants for the Spartans, who shunned practical business dealing. The Spartans did not like money and had no coinage of their own. According to tradition, the man who designed the Spartan government, Lycurgus, banned gold and silver coins as decadent. From that time until the third century B.C. the Perioeci used awkward iron bars as currency for Spartan transactions. After the third century, the Spartans began to strike their own coins.

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