Friday, January 28, 2011

Capitalism and Human Relationships – Ancient and Modern

I have been reading Paul Bohannan’s wonderful book Social Anthropology and came across the following, which I paraphrase for continuity:

“All traditional types of economy are based to one degree or another on kinship. As man developed through the stages of hunting and gathering, herding, horticulture, and finally agriculture, he relied on family units and other human associations to accomplish his objectives. Factory industrialism, on the other hand, is associated with the type of society based not on kinship but rather on contract, and usually goes hand in hand with the reduction of the family to the small nuclear group and the pronounced playing down of all other kinship organizations.”

Isn’t this interesting?

Before man became a capitalist, his well being was almost completely dependent on kinship relationships. Men decided early on that operating in a group was more efficient than operating alone, based on the benefits of a division of labor and productivity gains through specialization. From the family standpoint, we see a synergistic unit working together for a common purpose. Grandparents advised their offspring and helped with the care of their children. Parents worked and the fruits of their labor were enjoyed by those who were too old to work. The greater family unit was augmented by other kinship relationships derived from blood relationships or marriage.

Bohannan dates the beginning of factory industrialism to the time of the invention of the steam engine, circa 1760. To him, the steam engine set the stage for modern mass production. My position is that the capitalism of antiquity started the dislocation of the kinship unit long before factory industrialization became a reality.

Capitalism is a economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Sounds like what the Greeks, and later the Romans to a greater degree, were doing. They had mines, small factories, shipping companies and other types of businesses we see in the post-modern age. The difference is that with technology at a low level, the impact on society was less significant. Still, the model was operating.

Working in a business forced people to transition away from a kinship dependency, where output is produced and consumed by the same entity. In business, the output is produced by an individual who is recognized and compensated for a specific skill that he alone possesses. The skills of his kin are irrelevant. Now the worker’s compensation leads to the purchase of goods that will be consumed by his nuclear family. This dislocation from kin has a positive effect on productivity (skills match work), but tears apart the relationship between members of the extended family unit.

Fast forward to the present, where the industrial society is in full bloom. Are we now seeing the final destruction of the family unit because both husband and wife have to work to provide for themselves and their children? Without kin available as substitute caregivers, children are being outsourced to day care and sports coaches, who act as parental surrogates, while the nuclear family disintegrates.

We began this post by describing how mankind organized himself in groups because it saw the advantages of doing so. Was this purely out of necessity or are we inherently social beings as some suggest? Social networking is highly criticized today as being “against human behavior” because communications are not face to face. Perhaps we are adapting to a new kind of kinship with its own benefits – the kind that breaks the boundaries of geography.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Socio-Economic Class in Human Society II

In the last post we discussed the first stage in the development of human society, where men distinguished themselves through physical strength or ability in war to become leaders. Heredity provided a leader’s family with some prestige security, but it was not until the elite began to accumulate wealth through ownership of land that they were able to separate themselves permanently from the lower class.

So, what remained, then, was for the non-wealthy class to differentiate itself. This process eventually produced a class of nobility and a middle class which was able to separate itself from the poor. In many societies slaves were added along the way to form a permanent underclass, sitting beneath the lowest class of freemen. In the end, a fully differentiated socio-economic model resulted, which was the parent of the human society we have today.

There were two main drivers for the differentiation of the lower classes: demand for goods and services by the wealthy and demand for community-wide specialized skills resulting from growth of the population. The wealthy were interested in the goods required to support the prestige of their position – fancy clothing, exotic foods, jewelry, perfume, transportation, and tutors for their children. They also had idle time which needed to be filled by social events, travel, or sport.

The lower class become differentiated above the level of the common laborer when its most able members realized that they could use their unique skills to earn money. Those who were good with their hands could become carpenters, while those with a good ear could become musicians. Analytical types might become accountants or money lenders. All of this was possible because a densely packed population could feed itself from the output of the local farmer. Man now had the time develop his skills, because he didn’t have to look for food.

As crafts developed, some were more prized than others, so the individuals with those skills could expect to earn more money. Some crafts, by their nature, were looked down upon. For example, undertakers and butchers were considered inferior, while those engaged in intellectual pursuits were admired. To the wealthy, all skills not engaged in by them were seen as lowly, especially those where a man had to get his hands dirty.

The Nobility was a sub-class consisting of those individuals who were able to climb above the rest of the middle class. One might call this group “new money” describing a recent status change as opposed to the “old money” of the permanently wealthy. The nobility included those who were either intelligent or resourceful enough to rise to a position of authority or wealth. During the period of the Roman Republic, the Knights (Equites) were the nobility class. Originally cavalry men who were wealthy enough to buy horses and equipment, the knights later took the role of businessmen, working at professions deemed inferior by the patricians, but necessary to them. Cicero was a classic example. Raised as a pleb, he so impressed the elites by his legal skill and oratory, he was elevated to the nobility.

Lastly, we have the development of a slave class, always the lowest class in any society. Slavery can have several definitions, but we will use Aristotle’s as a typical example.

“A slave is a living possession, who is by nature not his own but another’s and yet a man”

Slavery was a bi-product of the maturing human society and did not exist before man developed agriculture. The reason is a practical one in that nomadic tribes had no way to manage slaves while they were on the move. Without close management, slaves would attempt to escape whenever the opportunity arose.

In the history of human society slavery has two types - intra-tribal and extra-tribal. Intra-tribal slavery occurs when members of a community lose their status and fall into a subservient position. An example would be someone who cannot repay his debts or commits a serious crime. Extra-tribal slavery occurs when one group is defeated in war by another and is absorbed into the victor’s population.

Often, the existence of a slave class has an adverse effect on the society. As unpaid laborers, the slaves contribute to high productivity, but they also displace the lower classes from the job market. During the Roman Republic, the accumulation of wealth among a few patricians and their use of slave labor to work their estates led to the death of the small farm and the unemployment of the small farmer. Eventually, there was an exodus of displaced persons to Rome where they became restless urban poor.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Socio-Economic Class in Human Society

We need to let the Spartans rest for a while and move on to other things, namely a discussion of socio-economic class in the history of human society. A pioneer in studying the subject was Gunnar Landtman, the first modern sociological anthropologist. Landtman was Finnish (1878-1940) and he is best known for his study of the cultural behavior of the Papuan tribes of the Pacific. This, and other research he performed, became the basis for one of his best known works, The Origin of the Inequality of the Social Classes.

So, we will dedicate a couple of posts to discussing Landtman’s work. Why? Because the ancient societies developed via the dynamics Landtman describes. Understanding these dynamics not only gives us a view into the early political systems, but also describes what we see in society today. The forward motion of any culture and its political system is constrained by the inherent nature of human beings. If you take geography, climate, and natural resources as catalysts, mix in a large group of people, you get a culture that reflects the character of the environment experienced through those people. One need only reflect on the deserts surrounding Egypt, the mountains of Greece, or the inland position of Rome to understand this.

Landtman starts with the notion of equality as a measure of human society. What is equality? We know that people are not physically or mentally equal, so how can they be equal in society? We can create laws that apply to everyone, but still some will be find an advantage or disadvantage in those laws. In America, we like to think we have equal opportunity, which is a practical form of equality, but even here we must admit that opportunities are only equal for those with equal capabilities and an equal starting point.

As Landtman tells us:

“It is true that, in a certain measure, individual and social differences go together. In every society a man’s social status is more or less influenced by his personal qualifications. People hold an individual of superior ability in higher esteem than others, and value his opinion, whereas the worthless are looked down upon. From the sociological point of view such an individual inequality appears in every respect natural, and consequently unavoidable. We may safely venture the assertion that no human society has ever existed or will ever exist where the social standing and influence of the different individuals does not vary according to their personal merits or demerits.”

Aristotle said, “For that some should rule and other be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

This reality will work against reformers who attempt to abolish the social classes and make us all equal. As Landtman points out, the irony of class leveling is that the most primitive societies have class equality inherent in their structure, but the more developed a society becomes, the more difficult it is to break down class distinctions.

What is it that begins class development progress? Let’s go back to a primitive society, most likely nomadic, where there are no class distinctions. In the beginning, we see the rising of those who are able to use their exceptional qualities to gain influence over other men. The most obvious examples are physical strength and leadership, which are critical in time of war. Every tribe has to protect itself and fight other tribes for dominance. It may lose if weak or win if strong. The leaders on the winning side earn admiration and move into a “class by themselves”. When they have become separated of from others based on perceived status, we have the beginning of a class system. The leader’s trophies of war serve as physical reminders for others who is superior.

Like leadership and courage in war elevate an individual in society and separate him from peers, weakness and cowardice have the opposite effect. Those who may have some superior talents find themselves lowered in status or outcast by their negative traits.

Heredity also plays a part in validating superior status. Those individuals born into “old” families have prestige over those born into “new” families because older families have generations of proof to demonstrate their pedigree. This allows them to avoid the scrutiny placed on the offspring of new families. Although heredity may give some sanction to a family and its leaders, its tradition is still tied to the accomplishments of each generation. One or more failures and the chain is broken.

Acquiring wealth is the most permanent way to insure superior status in a society. In ancient times wealth came from property and property separated a man’s status from his physical attributes. Even though the first landholders were leaders, their wealth was passed on to later generations who may not have possessed the same physical skills. Of course, the ownership of land could not become a factor in creating social class until man had given up his nomadic ways and settled in a particular location. Like today, land and the wealth derived from it accumulates quickly so the wealthy become separated from the masses in a few generations. Those lacking wealth were an undifferentiated population – separate from the elite but equal among themselves.

After a time, we ended up with what Aristotle describes below.
“Those who have too much of the goods of fortune, strength, wealth, friends and the like, are neither able or willing to submit to authority… On the other hand, the very poor, who are in the opposite extreme are degraded. So that one class cannot obey and can only rule despotically; the other knows not to command and must be ruled like slaves. Thus arises a city, not of freemen, but of masters and slaves, the one despising, the other envying.”

We see that the first socio-economic class developed in human society consisted of a wealthy class built through the accumulation of land which was passed on through generations. The masses would not be able to differentiate themselves until population density created demand for a differentiated worker class and the wealthy desired goods an undifferentiated lower class could not provide. Without power over the wealthy, the lower classes could not demand the rights that come with a democratic government. It would take centuries for that power to become a force for change.
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Antiquity on Broadway?

Yep, it finally happened and we lovers of the ancients have lived to see it!

The play is Colin Quinn – Long Story Short, a 75 minute journey through the history of the world, courtesy of one of the best known alumni of Saturday Night Live.

The show opened October 22nd at the Helen Hayes theater in New York and has been extended twice already, but you’ve got to get there by March 5th to experience the action.

See ancient Greece and ancient Rome as you never could have imagined. Their rise, their fall, compressed in time to make your head spin.

Mr. Quinn’s take on the Greeks and the Romans essentially boils down to a duality he sees running through history: “Tough guys versus smart guys.” (I don’t need to tell you who’s who in that pairing, do I?) At several points in the show he compares world conflicts to brawls of various levels of intensity and complexity, a point of view that epitomizes his blue-collar appeal and knack for reducing the world’s intractable macro problems to matters of micro-egoism and macho one-upmanship. -- New York Times

I have two ways to help those who may want to attend: A free ticket opportunity via a drawing or a discounted ticket.

To enter the drawing, e-mail to: The drawing is on 1/17.

For discounts:

1. Click Here or Visit and use code CQHHC74
2. CALL 212.947.8844 and mention code CQHHC74
3. VISIT the Helen Hayes Theatre Box Office at 240 West 44th Street with a printout of this offer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Helots?

Today we focus on the Helots, captive people of the Spartan regime. The word “Helot” is most likely the perfect past participle of the Greek word that means “captives” or “prisoners of war”.

We have discussed the fact that the Spartans adopted the Lycurgan system because they needed an army to control their Helot slaves, but why did the Spartans have Helot slaves in the first place? Why were the Messenians not made an ally, client state, or annexed? Why adopt this strange and rare version of pseudo-slavery?

The truth is we don’t know the reason. Herodotus says that Lycurgus visited Crete, observed their system of government, and brought the concept home. There is an alternate theory also from Herodotus, and later advanced by the Spartans themselves, that Pythia, the priestess at the Oracle of Delphi, told Lycurgus how he should construct his new governmental system. It’s hard to be attracted to either theory given that we do not know whether Lycurgus was a real person.

Toynbee considers both versions suspect because they each appear to support rival power factions in the evolving Spartan political system – the kings and the Ephorate. The kings would have advanced the Pythia story because that would create a link between Spartan royalty and the gods. The Ephors would have supported the story of Cretan origins because the Cretan system had a similar office.

Aristotle, himself, was a advocate of the Cretan theory. Here’s what he had to say:

“The Cretan institutions resemble the Lacedaemonian. The Helots are the husbandmen of the one, the Perioeci of the other, and both Cretans and Lacedaemonians have common meals, which were anciently called by the Lacedaemonians not 'phiditia' but 'andria'; and the Cretans have the same word, the use of which proves that the common meals originally came from Crete. Further, the two constitutions are similar; for the office of the Ephors is the same as that of the Cretan Cosmi, the only difference being that whereas the Ephors are five, the Cosmi are ten in number. The elders, too, answer to the elders in Crete, who are termed by the Cretans the council. And the kingly office once existed in Crete, but was abolished, and the Cosmi have now the duty of leading them in war. All classes share in the ecclesia, but it can only ratify the decrees of the elders and the Cosmi.”

There were, however, two major differences between the versions. While the Spartans kept no land under control of the government (it was 100% allocated), the Cretans kept some of their land for use in re-allocation. Secondly, the Spartan Homoioi were required to bring their share of food to the mess – food harvested from their private land. In Crete, the mess was paid for by the government.

If we accept Aristotle’s opinion on the origin of the Spartan system, we merely transfer our dilemma. That is we must now ask ourselves why the Cretans adopted such a system before we tackle the reasons why the Spartans did. It appears that the Dorian conquerors of the Minoans adopted the “Helot” practice to permanently prevent the Minoans from rising against them. This makes some sense given that Crete is an island that was completely inhabited by Minoans. Perhaps the Dorian conquerors had superior military skill but lacked equal numbers, or possibly the tidal wave produced at Santorini decimated the Minoan people and left them unable to resist an invader. In any case, if the Dorians had a smaller population, they would have lived in fear of an uprising that would leave them no escape.

There is no question that the Spartan version was more extreme, because the Spartans subordinated their entire culture for the singular purpose of holding down the Helots. It is odd though, as Aristotle points out, that the Spartan Helots revolted at every opportunity whereas the Minoan Helots never revolted. Aristotle attributed this to the isolation of Crete. The Minoans had no way to connect themselves to an ally who could help them because they were on an island. The Spartan Helots, on the other hand, had multiple ways to get help and did so every time the opportunity arose. Maybe this is why the Spartan system had to be more rigorous.

So we are still left with the question of the reason for Laconian Helots. My opinion is that when Sparta conquered portions of Messenia, she decided that the land was too valuable to give up. The Messenian population was several times larger, so Sparta was forced to import a system from Crete she was familiar with. After all, the Spartans were Dorians just like the conquerors of that island culture.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sparta – Degradation of the army between Platea and Leuctra

In the last few posts, we have been discussing the Lycurgan reforms and their impact on the Spartan society – both from the standpoint of the army and changes in the social structure. We have talked about the pressure generated by the peculiar form of government that was forced on the Spartan people. Like any new political innovation, the Lycurgan reforms went through a cycle from introduction. to maturity, and then degradation until they were no longer effective.

I thought it would be interesting to examine how the army degraded over time, using information we have about its composition and performance in battle as data points.

Our time span will be 108 years, starting with the Battle of Platea in 479 B.C. and ending with the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B.C. I chose Platea because it is a milestone victory for the Spartans – one where they were fully deployed, engaged, and victorious. The Spartans fielded 10,000 hoplites (5,000 Spartiates and 5,000 Periokoi) out of the allied total of 38,000. At Platea, the Spartans unquestionably showed their superior military skill.

Leuctra stands at the opposite end of the spectrum. Here the Spartans could only field 700 Spartiates, losing 400 of them during the battle. Leuctra was the end of the Spartan army as an effective fighting force.

We are going to look at the ways the Spartan army changed between these two dates – we know that the number of Spartiates decreased and the number of Periokoi increased, but how did these changes occur over time? The desperately small group of Spartiates at Leuctra stands as a negation of the philosophy of the agoge and the ideals of the Lycurgan system.

In reviewing the battles between these two dates, I was struck by a couple of things: there weren’t that many battles that really mattered – that is battles that changed the course of a war or are celebrated in history like Themopylae and Platea. More amazingly, when you look at the chronology of the Peloponnesean War, its military rhythm is a mess. There were a few important battles (e.g. Mantinea), but the rest of the war featured avoidance, internal dissention, obfuscation, signing of treaties, and burning of crops. The Athenians wasted their time in Syracuse and the peace of Nicias spanned six of the twenty-seven years.

I have identified four battles during our span that are significant: Tanagra in 457 B.C, Mantinea in 418 B.C, Nemea River in 394 B.C, and Coronea that same year. Tanagra was part of a war between Sparta and Athens, Mantinea, the Peloponnesean War, and the other two took place during the Corinthian War. Let’s look at these four and see what they tell us.

Tanagra came about when the Phocians made war on the city of Doris--the traditional homeland of Doric Greeks. Sparta sent a relief force under the command of Nicomedes, son of Cleombrotus, acting as regent for his under-age nephew, King Pleistoanax. An army of 1,500 Spartan hoplites (half Periokoi?) with 10,000 of their allies entered Boeotia to compel the submission of Phocis. Their opponents had a combined force of 14,000. The battle ended up a draw and the Spartans went home. We can see the effect of the earthquake on the number of available Spartiates by comparing the numbers with Platea. I am surprised that the Spartans ventured out at a time so close to the earthquake (8 years before). They must have been comforted by the large number of allies willing to go to war with them. We know that the Spartiate contingent consisted of men up to age 45 at Platea, so one may assume the same here (the facts are unknown). The Periokoi would probably have used the same age group.

At Mantinea, the Spartan hoplites numbered 4,632 (28xPentecostys@144 men + 600 Skiratai) according to Thucydides. These were 60% Periokoi and 40% Spartiate. In addition, the Spartiates included those up to age 55. The Battle of Mantinea was the largest land battle fought within Greece during the Peloponnesian War. The Lacedaemonians, with their neighbors the Tegeans, faced the combined armies of Argos, Athens, Mantinea, and Arcadia. The result was a complete victory for the Spartans, who rescued their city from the brink of strategic defeat.

Nemea was a battle in the Corinthian War, between Sparta and the allied cities of Argos, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes. The battle was fought in Corinthian territory, at the dry bed of the Nemea River. The battle was a decisive Spartan victory, which, coupled with the Battle of Coronea later in the same year, gave Sparta the advantage in the early fighting on the Greek mainland. At Nemea, there were about 6,000 hoplites at 60% Periokoi strength. Still 2,400 Spartiates versus 1,600 at Mantinea. One assumes the hoplite disposition at Coronea was the same as Nemea.

Thirteen years after Coronea came the Battle of Leuctra. There were 700 Spartiates participating, including 300 in the king’s guard. The entire guard was wiped out along with 100 other Spartiates. At Leuctra, the ratio of Spartiates to non-Spartiates was one to five. Hardly a demonstration of the power of the agoge.

One might ask why more Periokoi were not used to bring up the strength of the Spartan army at various points There are two answers to that question. In the first place the Periokoi were the citizens of a hundred small towns in the Spartan territory and did not have a large supply of men over the whole time period. Secondly, the Spartans had to include a minimum number of their own hoplites to insure the they were fielding a “Spartan” army that would make the best trained hoplites available.

One sees how the Spartan army was always dependent on its neighbors for fighting strength (Periokoi and allies). It’s easy to forget that Spartiates came from the combined town of Sparta which was not very large. When you factor in the use of Spartiates for other purposes, like occupation and administration of conquered territories, and the necessity to keep some of the fighting strength in reserve, the final number eligible for battle at any one time was quite small.

This review shows us a shortage of Spartiates after the earthquake, growing to a larger number by Mantinea, and then back down by Leuctra. It is surprising to me that Sparta was willing to take on so many in the Peloponnesean War. Maybe mistrust of Athens was the motivator that overcame Sparta’s concerns about the size of its army. Of course, the trump card was the Peloponnesean League, which extended the military strength of the Spartan nation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sparta – Pressure on the Lycurgan System Part 3, Invasion of the Owls

“Owl” is a common term for the Drachma, the most well known silver coin of ancient Athens. This coin generally had an image of Athena of the Obverse and an Owl on the reverse. There was a saying in ancient Athens about “taking owls to Athens”, meaning being redundant, like the English would say “taking coals to Newcastle”.

Once the treaty was signed between Sparta and Athens ending the Peloponnesean War, the owls invaded Sparta as gold and silver currency was transferred to the victors. The result of this seemingly small event would prove to be calamitous for the Spartans.
As Aristotle said:

“A people trained consummately but exclusively for warlike contact with its neighbors found itself suddenly compelled, by the outcome of one particular war, to enter into non-military relations for which they were not only unprepared but were positively unfitted by their peculiar institutions and habits. Those peculiarities which the Spartans had developed in order to grapple with a previous problem, and which had given them superhuman strength within the limits of the narrow environment within which their lines had previously been cast, now took their revenge upon this peculiar people by making them inhumanly or infra-humanly incompetent to live in the wider world into which the fortunes of war had eventually carried them.”

The Spartan authorities ruled that gold and silver hoarding was legal for the state as a monopoly and illegal for individuals. This unrealistic attempt at the control of wealth failed immediately and, instead, fostered the subversive social effects that derive from a money economy in the hands of a people previously sheltered from same. The new money impacted the Spartan attitude toward control of private property and drove the upper and lower classes further apart. Where there had been only a slow concentration of wealth since the reforms began, the imbalance now accelerated.

In addition, the import of money was met with an export of Homoioi, who were sent abroad as administrators of the conquered. Now the number of Homoioi would decrease in greater numbers than those caused by attrition at home. Quoting Toynbee,

“Now that Sparta had inherited from Athens a domination over the entire Hellenic world, she found herself compelled to second her Homoioi from military service, from which they could not safely be spared, to non-military duties with which they could not safely be entrusted.”

And attrition at home would also grow worse on its own. Each Homoioi was given land to own in perpetuity – enough land to support his family. But the state kept no land for itself, so it had no mechanism to adjust an imbalance in the allocation of land to each Homoioi. How was a man to provide for multiple sons with only enough land to support one family?

A policy that seemed logical at the time of the reforms now began to unravel, as Homoioi began to limit the size of their families or look for ways to add to their land holdings. The former was accomplished in any one of several strange ways including polyandry, wife sharing, and pederasty.

With regard to adding to land holdings, the innovations were equally clever. A Homoioi could adopt a member of another family and receive that family’s holdings or a man could marry a women who was her father’s heir because she had no brothers. Others were able to acquire land by the taking of dowries, which were apparently large in ancient Sparta.

The Spartan Government, once it realized the outcome of inaction, tried to combat this problem by offering an exemption from military service to those Homoioi with three children. A father a four was even exempted from paying taxes. How ironic that a system put in place to remove the cares of a man by giving him land would now create an undercurrent of subversive cupidity designed to avoid concern over a man dying landless.

We can now see the reasons behind the rapid decline of Homoioi from the end of the Peloponnesean War to 371 B.C. (Leuctra) when there were only 700 left.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sparta – Pressure on the Lycurgan System Part 2, The Earthquake

The earthquake of 466 or 464 B.C. was one of the most significant events in Spartan history. Why two dates? Because we have two historical accounts which locate the event in time that do not agree exactly.

The first source is Thucydides (The Peloponnesean War, Book 1) writing of the Thasian revolt:

“The Thasians, defeated in battle and under siege, appealed to the Lacedaemonians and asked them to rescue them by invading Attica. They promised to invade, keeping this from the Athenians, and intended to but were prevented by the occurrence of an earthquake, at which time the Helots, also the Thouriatai and Aithaians among the Perioikoi, revolted and fled to Ithome.”

Without Spartan aid, the Thasians surrendered.

Then in Book 4:

“Twenty-nine years later, the Athenians came again when Hagnon son of Nikias was sent out as founder, and they drove out the Edonians and settled the site which was formerly called Ennea Hodoi.”

The new city was known as Amphipolis and was known to have been founded in 437/436 B.C. If you add twenty nine years to 437/436 you arrive at 465/464 B.C. as the year of the earthquake.

Our other source is Plutarch (Cimon);

“In the fourth year of the reign of Archidamus, the son of Zeuxidamus, King of Sparta, there happened in the country of the Lacedaemon the greatest earthquake that was known in the memory of man; the earth opened in chasms, and the Mountain Taygetos was so shaken, that some of the rocky points of it fell down, and except five houses, all the town of Sparta was shattered to pieces.”

According to Diodorus, Archidamus reigned for forty-two years, and we know his son Agis was on the throne in 426 B.C. We also know that his father was alive in 428 B.C. If he died in 427 and you add forty-two and subtract three (Greek method of inclusive counting), you arrive at 466 B.C. for the earthquake.

We have the descriptions of the event from Plutarch and Diodorus but little else to say about what really happened that day. Before we speculate on lives lost (we’ll be guessing), let’s use the behavior of Sparta’s enemies as a guide to how devastating the event must have been.

Messenia revolted immediately. The Periokoi towns of Thouriatai and Aithaians revolted immediately. Athens began a serious of provocative acts, signing a treaty with Sparta’s arch enemy Argos in 461 B.C. In 459, Athens came to the aid of Egyptian insurgents fighting the Persians, and in 457 B.C. she attacked the Spartan allies Algina, Epidauros, and Corinth. This Athenian boldness would not have been possible unless she perceived that Sparta was impotent.

Sparta succeeded in ending the Messenian revolt, but it took over five years to do so. She also battled Athens twice: inconclusively in 457 B.C, and more decisively in 446 B.C. when the Athenians where forced to rein in their designs on central Greece. But Sparta remained weak as we shall see from the casualty estimates.

Plutarch describes the catastrophe as follows:

“They say that a little before any motion was perceived, as young men and the boys grown up were exercising themselves together in the middle of a portico, a hare, of a sudden, started out just by them, which the young men, though all naked and daubed with oil, ran after for sport. No sooner were they gone from the place, than the gymnasium fell down upon the boys who stayed behind, and killed them all.”

If we start with the assumption that they were 9,000 Homoioi in the Spartan army and assume this to be one fourth of the population, when we add 4,000 more for Helot laborers, we arrive at 40,000 people in Sparta that day. According to Diodorus “houses collapsed from their foundations and more than twenty thousand Lacedaemonians perished.” If close to being accurate this number suggests that half the people in Sparta were killed by the earthquake.

The heaviest losses may have been mothers and small children who would normally be in their homes. Loss of mothers caused a chain reaction through the loss of at least two generations of births, because new daughters born after the disaster would have to grow up and raise their offspring. As far as male children goes, young sons could be replaced more quickly than those in the midst of their training, who left a hole in the army.

Two generations later was 430(?), a point where the human losses had been replaced and a steady growth in Homoioi could continue. Perhaps this is why the Spartans were now ready to fight the Athenians for control of Greece.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sparta – Pressures on the Lycurgan System Part I

The militaristic system the Spartans put in place was a web that caused them grief as long as it existed. I call it a “devil’s bargain” because Sparta willingly exchanged culture and normalcy for military superiority. As Aristotle said,

“The whole regime is directed toward securing a high standard in one department only, namely the military field. This is, of course, the key to victory; so the Spartans did well while they were at war but came to grief when they had acquired an empire. This is because they did not know what to make of peace time. They had made their training for war paramount to training for anything else.”

Couldn’t we say without joking that the Messenians had the Spartans under their control in equal proportion to the reverse? After all, the Spartans needed an army (8,000-9,000 Spartiates) to protect themselves. What would happen if the Spartiate numbers were attrited to a point below that level? Must Sparta now avoid war for fear that losses would weaken them to the point not being able to defend themselves? Victory would mean more territory to govern with no additional men: defeat would mean the loss of men and greater vulnerability.

This tells us how profoundly they Messenian revolt had affected the Spartan psyche, for as Toynbee says,

“It (the Messenian revolt) was so terrible an experience that it left Spartan life fast bound in misery and iron, and it sidetracked Spartan evolution into a blind alley. And since the Spartans were never able to forget what they had gone through, they were never able to relax, and never able to extricate themselves from the impasse of their post-war reaction… They lived on as the obedient humble servants of their own dominion over Messenia from that time forth evermore.”

And what of the impact of war on the balance of government? Since the Damos was made up of Homoioi, the loss of a substantial number would destroy that body and its role in balancing the other branches.

And there was still a greater Spartan nightmare than the loss of Homoioi or a Helot revolt. What would happen if a hostile foreign power would come to the aid of the Helots and fight alongside them? Argos was a likely candidate and it took the Battle of Thyrea in 544 B.C. and Sepeia in 494 B.C. to quiesce her, and allow Sparta to relax. Later, when Athens made a pact with the Helots in 425 B.C, Sparta moved with urgency to secure the peace which ended the first phase of the Peloponnesean War.

Sparta also employed another tactic to protect herself – the Peloponnesean League, which was built up in the mid to late sixth century B.C. Using the armies of allies to leverage her own offered to act as a safety value to lower the pressure of the Helots.

But it wasn’t always a case of diplomacy, because we can see Sparta avoiding war too. One suspects there was more to the late arrival at Marathon and the unwillingness to command the forces of libration in 479 B.C, than merely missed appointments. Ultimately, this kind of equivocation would embolden Athens and lead to the Peloponnesean War.