Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Technology: armour, weapons, pottery

See text: pp.78-82

Economy: creation and distribution of goods and services.

  • Wide range: evidence from things that were made or used.
  • Who performed these tasks? Spartiates, perioeci, helots, foreign slaves, free foreign craftsmen?

Lycurgus forbade Spartiates from craft work. To what extent were these laws followed?

Spartan craftsmen:
  • Gitiadas: sculptor and architect. Designed Temple of Athena Chalkioikos and its cult statue.
  • Cartledge (1976) argues that there were Spartan citizen craftsmen. Chr. Chirstou identified the potter’s kiln found at Mesoa as related to Spartan citizens about 600 BC.
  • Telestas and Ariston made a monumental bronze statue of Zeus (Pausanias 5.23.7). According to Conrad Stibbe they were part of a bronze industry in 600s BC.

Iron smelting and forging

Spartans had the technology of smelting and forging iron. Through this they were able to create iron swords which allowed them to take over their territory and control the helots. The only archaeological find of Spartan iron weapons is of a sword and dagger found in a pithos burial in the area of Limnai, in the late 20th Century. Spartan smiths did not understand the science of forging, so iron weapons varied in their strength. They were however stronger than bronze weapons.

Bronze foundries

Laconia did not have the natural resources to make bronze. Copper was imported from Cyprus and Asia Minor and tin was imported from Elba, Gaul and Britain. This was an ancient technology predating the Spartans’ arrival in the Peloponnese. Bronze was used to make large statues, e.g. Apollo at Amyklai and Athena Chalkioikos, and small objects for decoration.

Bronze was also used for armour: shields, helmets and greaves were made of bronze.

“Now as to their equipment for battle, he arranged that they should have a red cloak and a bronze shield, on the reckoning that the former presents the greatest contrast with any female dress, as well as the most warlike appearance; the latter certainly can be polished very quickly and is very slow to tarnish.” (Xenophon “Constitution of the Lacedaemonians” 11)

Spartan warrior on a red-figured vase c.480 BC

  • Used a hand-turned potter’s wheel made of wood, stone or fired clay.
  • Clay came from within the city.
  • Evidence of potteries in Kynosoura and Mesoa.
  • Conrad Stibbe (Dutch archaeologist): light-brown clay turned reddish or greyish when fired.
  • Reddish slip turned black during firing. This allowed for plain black pottery or decorated pottery.
  • After drying, pots were put in an up-draught wood kiln.
  • Spartans didn’t understand the theory of pottery making, however, through experience, potters knew the correct timing and temperatures.
  • Kiln found by Chr. Christou (Greek archaeologist) at Mesoa in 1964. Dated to 600 BC.