Paul Cartledge’s book The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse is an informative, well-researched historical account of the history of this race from 480 to 360 BCE. This is the time during which Sparta rose as a power…
s included within the narrative to make it a vivid and interesting view and in the author’s own words, “explore and illustrate underlying historical themes and processes.”
He begins with a condensed history of ancient Greece, i.e. of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE and Laconian pre-history, explaining Sparta’s formation to locate and establish the right context. He continues to describe their defeat at Alexander’s hands and contrasts it with their allying with the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, which was a fortunate turn of events.
He goes on to chart the influence of Sparta on later history: From the two students of Socrates, Critias and Plato, to thinkers of the Renaissance like Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas More, and further to the Nazis in modern times, Sparta has managed to shine on as an ideal of perfect governance. But, as Cartledge reveals the Spartans were extremely xenophobic and their might lay in subduing the weak.
Sparta has often been thought of as the first “Utopia”; but Cartledge here explains how the “mirage” of Sparta is ambivalent. He elaborates on how it was a repressive and brutal Utopia. Power was based on might and the neighboring peoples of Sparta were often forcefully oppressed and enslaved to gain their means. Their “warrior ideal” of collective sacrifice, as Cartledge puts it, is darkened by the absence of any significant cultural development. The Spartans seemed to largely be rather retrograde in their policies.
In the first of the three parts, which has been named “Go, tell the Spartans”, Cartledge begins with the story of the famous Helen of Troy, or Sparta. He describes Sparta’s immense geographical size, the fertility of the land, accompanied with rich iron deposits made it ideal for human settlements and advantageous for wars also. Here he mentions Homer’s The Iliad and points out how although, places like Sparta and Helos which are mentioned in the book do exist, a palace of the proportions ...
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