A map showing Sparta and Olympia
A map showing Sparta and Olympia

Sparta and Olympia

By Bobby Bethke

Long, long ago in ancient Greece, there was a city state called Sparta. They were very violent, and war was the preeminent source of entertainment in their culture. Sparta was one of the most famous city states, along with Athens, and their warriors were immortalized at the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans held off thousands of Persians before falling several days later. This page will cover the G.R.E.A.S.E.S. of Sparta (Government, Religion, Economics, Art & Architecture, Science & Technology, Education, and Social and Cultural Values), along with the Olympia polis of Greece.



The Spartan government had a system created in the 600's B.C., when their constitution, The Great Rhetra, was written. It gave the base of power to a council of elders, along with a citizen's council, which was made up of males over 35 years old. The citizen's council could veto ideas proposed by the council of elders. Five elected magistrates, along with the council of elders, were the main balance of power over the two kings, whose main job was to control the army. Since the Spartans were all soldiers, everyone was equal, owning land worked by the serfs, the bottom class. Artisans and the merchants held the middle class. Furthermore, the Spartans did not want to expand their borders unnecessarily, and would only go outside of their land for defense, or when they felt provoked.

A Greek temple, much like a Spartan temple
A Greek temple, much like a Spartan temple

The Spartans, like all Greeks, worshipped the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, including Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and others. They had temples for different gods, and several patron gods. Obviously, the most revered god was Ares, the God of War. This was inevitable in a civilization that pits you against your fellow Spartans in daily fights, and holds glory in battle above all else. However, Athena and Artemis has strong followings in Sparta as well. Artemis, who required boys and young men to spill blood at her altar, was the twin sister of Apollo, the Sun God.


As opposed to all the other city-states of Greece, Sparta despised everything that did not have to do with the military. Therefore, their economy was nearly non-existent. The Spartans did not even bother to make coins of different values. Instead, they made their slaves and helots do every economic activity such as farming their lands, trading their goods, and sustaining the entire economy, trying to make the society self-suficient. However, the system did not work very well. After all, the Spartans were sending their slaves to get good deals for them and bring in money; it was not a particularly efficient system. The resentment led to Sparta to being a very poor, but very feared, city-state.

Art & Architecture

Today, the common consensus is that the Spartans were too busy killing people to have created any notable art. However, the opposite is true. Their monuments, sculptures, music, poets, and dances are some of the most famous around the world. The Spartan monuments are very old, and most do not stand today. We do have some information about their most famous structures. Perhaps the most famous is the Manelaion, built in 700 B.C., the temple for Menelaos and Helen. The main materials the Spartans used in their creations were bronze, ivory, and terracotta, making things from sculptural epics to small cups. We have learned that Sparta was most famous for their music, dance, and poetry, with Greeks and foreigners coming from around the world to see their performances. Sadly, there is no further insight we can glean about the greatest aspects of Sparta's art.

Science & Technology
Two Spartans in classic Spartan armor

Little is known about science in Sparta, and the main technologies they had were their weapons. The main weapon every Spartan had was his shield. This was used as a defensive blocking tool, along with creating a fail-proof phalanx, and could also be used as an offensive weapon when all else failed. The Spartans did not wear much armor other than their helmet, which covered everything except their eyes and ears, and two bronze disks attached to each shoulder called the cuirass. However, these were very heavy and stiflingly hot, and were replaced by a lighter, more flexible version. The most famous Spartan weapons are the spears and short swords, which were the last things almost anyone who fought a Spartan ever saw.

A Spartan phalanx, one of the many things a boy was taught during his training
A Spartan phalanx, one of the many things a boy was taught during his training

Since the Spartans cast out every baby deemed "unfit" for their lifestyle, as soon as a boy turned seven, his mother willingly sent him away to begin his thirteen years of training to become one of the most feared warriors of all time. His training focused mainly on discipline and physical fitness. They were forced through incredibly harsh challenges, from being cast out to fend for himself in the wilderness, to having to fight his fellow Spartan until one of them gave in. When he reached the age of twenty, the new soldier was sent to live in the barracks until he was thirty. Even though he could marry, he still had to live in the barracks until he reached thirty, and had to eat there until he turned sixty years old. This way, every citizen was a soldier, and a good one at that. The girls were also trained to be physically fit, and the Spartan women were renowned for their toughness. The Spartan Mother was nearly as feared as the Spartan Warrior.

Social and Cultural Values

Obviously, the core values centered around war and fighting. The most famous saying was one a Spartan woman would say to a soldier before he departed, "Come back with your shield, or on it." This meant that they should come back a successful warrior, or return a dead hero. Cowardice of any kind was considered the worst act a Spartan could be guilty of. Sparta was so obsessed about being the perfect army that if a baby had any deformities whatsoever, it would be killed instantly, without any hesitation from the father or the mother. All they cared about was whether the child could complete military training.
The symbol of the Olympic Games, the first of which was held in Olympia in 776 B.C.
The symbol of the Olympic Games, the first of which was held in Olympia in 776 B.C.

Ten Facts About Olympia

1. The First Olympic Games were held in Olympia, in 776 B.C.
2. Supposedly, the Games were founded by Heracles (Hercules).
3. The winners of the Games were often given great prizes, and even statues were made of them.
4 . In the Atlis (the central building, much like an acropolis) there was a very famous Temple to Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
5. The Altar attracted Greeks from all over, as it was considered a sacred pilgrimage to make.
6. Olympia was founded around 3,000 B.C.
7. The first buildings in Olympia were made of uncut stone.
8. The statue of Zeus was removed by Constantine to Constantinople, and was later burned down in a fire.
9. The Statue was 12.4 meters tall, and was made completely of gold, ivory, and jewels.
10. Excavations around Olympia have led scientists to believe that there was an ancient Mycenaean city buried beneath it.
An artist's representation of the Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of Ancient World
An artist's representation of the Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of Ancient World


I think that both Sparta and Olympia have things in common with Ensworth. However, Ensworth definitely does not cast out "unfit" students because they are not normal. However, we do strive to be the best at everything we do, just like Sparta, only about everything, not just the military. Furthermore, Ensworth, like Olympia, has something buried beneath it before it was founded, and is a place that is very prestigious and has a rich history, even though we were only founded in 2002 A.D., not 3,000 B.C. Ensworth is probably most like the city-state Athens, but has things in common with even Sparta and Oympia.

Lingering Questions

Do you think Sparta would have survived if they had not relied on slaves so much?

Should Sparta have changed their ways to make it more open to foreigners?

Why did Sparta have such a great military if they didn't want to expand their borders?

Are there any modern day Spartanesque civilizations?

Should there be any modern day Spartan civilizations? Why or why not?

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Schrader, Helena P. "Cultural Accomplishments: Art, Architecture, Music, Poetry,
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2 Oct. 2010. <http://elysiumgates.com/~helena/Art.html>.

"A Brief Overview of Sparta and Spartan Weapons." Spartan Weapons. Knowledge
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Bradeen, Donald W. "Sparta." Encyclopedia Americana . 1994 ed. 1994. Print.

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