Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Spartan_Hoplite.jpgRole of the Spartan army

See text: Ch.4 The Spartan Army

Past HSC question - 2007:
(d) Explain the importance of the army in Spartan society. (12 marks)

Examiners' comment:
(d) Better responses clearly explained the importance of the army in Spartan society. Many excellent responses incorporated both primary and secondary sources. This, however, was not essential for a full mark in part (d). Many candidates gave largely descriptive responses, outlining the main features of the agoge and the Spartan army, but failed to explain the importance of the army in Spartan society.

Hoplites: heavily armed infantry
  • all citizens expected to fight
  • cavalry became less prominent

Phalanx: tight fighting unit aimed to break through enemy lines, steam roller effect (think rugby scrum, riot police line)
  • eight rows of hoplites
  • trained and drilled extensively
  • required suitable terrain
  • vulnerable from rear and side: cavalry and skirmishers provided protection

Example of phalanx from “300” on YouTube

Thucydides: phalanx of 8 rows; Xenophon: phalanx of 12 rows
enomotia – 4 rows; pentekostis – 4 enomotia; lochos – 4 pentekostis;

Spartan Battles:
  • Thermopylai (480)
  • Plataea (479)
  • Mantinea (418)
  • Leuctra (379) – King Kleombrotos defeated by superior tactics of Epaminondas (Theban)

Assessment of Spartan army:
  • Herodotus, 7.104: idealised view of Spartan army. Context shows that it is meant to be seen as an exaggeration – spoken by Demaratos to the Persians.
  • One soldier of the famous 300 ran away and did not fight. He fought and died at Plataea the next year to regain his honour.
  • At Plataea, an officer questioned the orders of King Pausanias to stage a strategic ‘withdrawal’.
  • Spartan army limited and inflexible – could not take a defensive position e.g. Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War.
  • Spartans surrendered at Sphakteria in 425 – a great humiliation
  • Battle of Mantinea – King Argos ordered two generals, Hipponoidas and Aristocles, to fill gaps in the line. They refused and were later found guilty of cowardice and banished from Sparta. (Thuc. 5.71-2)