The Ancient World episode 5 – The Spartans: Bettany Hughes chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most extreme civilisations the world has ever seen, one founded on discipline, sacrifice and frugality where the onus was on the collective and the goal was to create the perfect state and the perfect warrior.
Hughes reveals the secrets and complexities of everyday Spartan life; homosexuality was compulsory, money was outlawed, equality was enforced, weak boys were put to death and women enjoyed a level of social and sexual freedom that was unheard of in the ancient world. It was a nation of fearsome fighters where a glorious death was treasured. This is aptly demonstrated by the kamikaze last stand at Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and his warriors fought with swords, hands and teeth to fend off the Persians.
But there was bitter rivalry between Sparta and Athens, two cities with totally opposed views of the ‘good life’. When war finally came, it raged for decades and split the Greek world until, in a brutal and bloody climax, Sparta finally emerged victorious as the most powerful city-state in Greece. But under King Agesilaus, the dreams of the Spartan utopia come crashing down. By setting out to create a perfect society protected by perfect warriors, Sparta made an enemy of change. A collapsing birth rate, too few warriors, rebellious slaves and outdated attitudes to weaponry and warfare combined to sow the seeds of Sparta’s destruction, until eventually the once great warrior state was reduced to being a destination for Roman tourists who came to view bizarre sado-masochistic rituals.
The Ancient World episode 5 – The Spartans
Thermopylae is a place in Greece where a narrow coastal passage existed in antiquity. It derives its name from its hot sulphur springs. The Hot Gates is “the place of hot springs” and in Greek mythology it is the cavernous entrances to Hades”.
Thermopylae is world-famous for the battle that took place there between the Greek forces (notably the Spartans) and the invading Persian forces, commemorated by Simonides in the famous epitaph, “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, That here obedient to their laws we lie.” Thermopylae is the only land route large enough to bear any significant traffic between Lokris and Thessaly. This passage from north to south along the east coast of the Balkan peninsula requires use of the pass and for this reason Thermopylae has been the site of several battles.
In ancient times it was called Malis which was named after the Malians (Ancient Greek: Μαλιεῖς), a Greek tribe that lived near present-day Lamia at the delta of the river, Spercheios in Greece. The Malian Gulf is also named after them. In the western valley of the Spercheios their land was adjacent to the Aenianes. Their main town was named Trachis. In the town of Anthela, the Malians had an important temple of Demeter, an early center of the Anthelan Amphictiony.