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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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

‘’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 monumets 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).