Skip to Main Content


UE: POL 110-HA: Democracy in Troubled Times: Spartan Republic

Practical Instruction in Civic Discourse

The Legacy of Sparta

     Only known portrait of a Spartan soldier

American Soldiers are seen as the embodiment of American values, standing together as a team, fearless in the face of danger, determined to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. Combined Task Force Spartan Soldiers -- with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division -- truly demonstrated their commitment to joining as a team, while living by a mantra of the Warrior Ethos: never leave a fallen comrade.

By Spc. Melissa Stewart, Task Force Spartan Public Affairs


Take a Quiz on Ancient Sparta.   Click Here for the Quiz.

The Significance of the 300 Spartans

Though long pregnant with meaning for all of Western civilization--Thermopylae was "the battle that changed the world" in the words of the subtitle to Greek scholar Paul Cartledge's recent book on the battle --never in American history have the epoch-making events at Thermopylae weighed so heavily as they do today.

In a blood-spattered, gore-filled, nudity-laced, and unnecessarily eroticized grotesquerie, the Spartans as envisioned by master illustrator Frank Miller have now leapt onto movie screens around the country in the form of the film 300, the cinematic version of Miller's graphical novel of the same name. The movie tells the story of the epic Spartan defiance of the colossal Persian army at the "hot gates" of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., a battle of unparalleled heroism on the part of the Greek defenders, led by the Spartans, and one which has never ceased to resonate within subsequent Western culture.

The events of September 11th, 2001, jolted many of us into rethinking what was distinctive and admirable--or at least defensible -- about Western civilization, values and culture. Some of us were provoked into wondering whether any definition of that civilization and its cultural values would justify our dying for them, or even maybe killing for them. Those of us who are historians of ancient Greece wondered with especial intensity, since the world of ancient Greece is one of the principal taproots of Western civilization. As J.S. Mill put it, the battle of Marathon fought in 490 BC between the Athenians with support from Plataea and the invading Persians was more important than the Battle of Hastings, even as an event in English history. So too, arguably, was the battle of Thermopylae of ten years later. Although this was a defeat for the small Spartan-led Greek force at the hands of the Persians, it was none the less glorious or culturally significant for that. Indeed, some would say that Thermopylae was Sparta's finest hour.

The Spartans were the Dorian inhabitants of a Greek city-state in the Peloponnese that for many centuries was one of the greatest of Greek powers. But who were they really, these Spartans? That question was supposedly asked in about 550 BC by the Persian Great King Cyrus, as reported by Herodotus. Three generations later, Cyrus's successor Xerxes found out all too painfully who they were, and what they were made of: a fighting machine strong enough, skillful enough and sufficiently iron-willed to repel his hordes from the attempt to incorporate the mainland Greeks in his oriental empire already stretching from the Aegean in the West to beyond the Hindu Kush. He discovered these things in person, at Thermopylae. Although this was formally a defeat for the Spartan forces under King Leonidas, the battle constituted a massive morale victory for the Greeks, and the following year the army Xerxes had left behind in Greece was decisively defeated in a pitched battle at Plataea, principally at the hands of the drilled and disciplined Spartan hoplite phalangites (heavy infantry) commanded by the Spartan regent Pausanias.

Thus, one not insignificant reason why today we should care who the ancient Spartans were is that they played a key role--some might say the key role -- in defending Greece and so preserving a form of culture or civilisation that constitutes one of the chief roots of our own Western civilization. That, at any rate, is certainly arguable. It helps to explain why 2002 might be called the Year of Sparta, rather as 2004 is to be the Year of Athens--and by extension of ancient Olympia and the Olympics.

-- extracted from HighBeam
< /doc/1G1-90164031.html?key=01-42160D517E111468150E021C07224E263C4D3C437779710F720E0B61651A617F137155> (9/10/13)