How powerful could Sparta be?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by ThatOneGuy, Mar 10, 2019.

  1. ThatOneGuy Fite me m8, swer on me mum

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    Sparta in popular culture is seen as the creme of the crop for ancient Greek armies and while no doubt that was true for some time, they were eventually beaten and broken by the late 300s and were later conquered by the Romans. Even as top military dog in Greece they were not especially powerful and constantly clashed with other city states like Athens. Could Sparta ever achieve a true hegemony over Greece like Alexander did? If so, how? Or was their Soldier/Citizen/Helot system a weight that would inevitably drag them into obscurity?
     
  2. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    They needed either another Lycurges for reform or to significantly alter the reforms of Lycurges in the first place.

    The spartan/helot dynamic was super limiting because of (amongst many things) population dynamics.
    Having your entire male population as citizen soldiers isn't the best for fertility to begin with (greater chance of infection, the deadliness of the agoge, death by combat), but when you need much of that citizen soldiery at home to ensure the Helots don't rise up, your projection capabilities are incredibly limited.
     
  3. Everdarklegion Well-Known Member

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    The problem with any Spartan Empire is that it eventually collides with Rome. The Romans reorganized their military specifically to be able to defeat the phalanx, which was what the Greeks had used for Centuries. Another issue it faces is that Sparta's military would never be large enough. Our Sparta always had a 3 to 1 female to male birthrate. And then only about 1 in 10 boys survived their training and reached adulthood. They might be able to take Greece, but not more than that.
     
  4. kholieken Well-Known Member

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    Sparta is limited to Pelleponnese; they need to control Helots, they only had so many citizen-soldiers, they had no way to increase size of their army or their state.
     
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  5. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

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    The helots were not a fetter particular to Sparta; everyone else had slaves to keep down, after all. Nor was a lack of people surviving to reproduce a problem either. Rather, the core weakness of the Spartan state was the system of divisible inheritance, which made it difficult for many families to keep their Spartiate status. Even then, it's hard to say how much a lack of full citizens actually hurt them; the vast bulk of their armies had always been made up of their allies and the lower class Lakedaemonians, and under Spartan leadership, they were just as effective in combat.

    In terms of the limits of Spartan power, permanently humbling Argos and Achaea and forcing them into the Peloponnesian League would be a good start. Unlike Athens, they don't have quite the wealth and access to international markets to shrug off large scale destruction of their harvests, so a Spartan led invasion could inflict some serious damage. The main problem is that Persia is so powerful and wealthy; if Sparta becomes powerful enough to be a threat to their Western provinces, they have essentially unlimited money to throw at their Greek enemies. Ionia and Cyprus are thus permanently outside their reach, barring the collapse of the Achaemenids. However, the Persians were willing to support Spartan hegemony over basically all of Greece south of Thessaly, though maintaining that is tricky. If the situation in mainland Greece is stable, Sparta can move to enhance their position in Sicily, sending a drip feed of experienced officers (plus mercenaries, helots, allies etc) to lead the armies of whichever Sicilian city they want to see grow in power.
     
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  6. ArchimedesCircle Radical Groucho-Marxist

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    Most of those slaves didn't outnumber their masters.
     
  7. Arcavius Arms and the Man I Sing

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    There's also the fact that, whereas legally a helot might be better off than an Athenian slave, the Helots as a group seem to have been treated much more brutally for cultural and economic reasons.
     
  8. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

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    I think a prerequisite for a Spartan empire would be to treat the Helots better so they aren't always a potential fifth column within the Spartan homeland. I think a good analogy would be medieval Europe -- you had the serfs farming the land to support the knights, but because knights didn't generally go around murdering and humiliating their serfs, they didn't need to constantly worry about peasant uprisings (obviously you did get some uprisings, but they weren't as much of a constant worry as Helot revolts were in Sparta). So maybe make the Helots' status more like that of medieval serfs, and you'd no longer need to keep as large a portion of your manpower at home, freeing up more troops to go a-conquering.
     
  9. stevej713 Well-Known Member

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    This. Sparta could never be like Rome or even Macedon. Rome, upon defeating/conquering an enemy state, would immediately demand that they provide men for the legions. Sparta was basically an apartheid military state, where being in the military was of huge sociopolitical importance. This means that if Sparta were ever defeated in a large battle and its army was massacred, the Spartan state would immediately be ruined. More importantly, awareness of this fact would make dangerous military adventures (of the Alexander the Great variety) insane. That's why Sparta spent most of its history defending its own little scrap of the Pelopponese. The Spartans will always appeal to teenage boy fantasies of a glorified soldierly way of life, but they were never capable of producing a vast military machine like the Macedonians or the Romans.
     
  10. Arcavius Arms and the Man I Sing

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    Even then I feel like the Spartiate manpower base will become overextended. Quality over quantity may win battles, but it doesn't hold territory.
     
  11. dandan_noodles Well-Known Member

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    But they did? For one, slaves were owned by the leisure classes in other Greek states, who were everywhere a small minority; moreover, there actually is evidence that slaves were a majority in 4th century Athens, though establishing any population figures anywhere in Antiquity is methodologically thorny.

    Lack of Spartiate manpower was never a core problem for Sparta, since they had a huge confederation of allies that gave them like 3x the numerical strength of any other Greek city. They had plenty of men to go a-conquering.

    Again, leading their Peloponnesian league, the Spartans were able to invade Attika with 60,000 men every year for five years. Where's the manpower shortage.
    See above. Sparta dominated the Peloponnese, and was able to repeatedly march into the heartland of their chief rival and burn their homes and livelihoods without exposing their citizens to risk; Salaethus was, to our knowledge, the first Spartiate to die in the war after five years of fighting. Spartan-led armies ravaged up and down Asia minor under Agesilaos, and the Spartan-led Cyreans marched right into the heart of the Persian empire and cut their way out. Sparta was perfectly capable of risking armies for major gains; they simply used their Spartiates as an officer corps, while letting their subordinated peoples and allies provide the bulk of the spear-fodder.
     
  12. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    This has made me think of a possible reform. Maybe somehow adopt a more aristocratic approach to conquests, i.e. The Spartan as the ideal noble.

    What I mean by this, is a Sparta that is able to incorporate certain people into it's idea of "Spartan". Sparta Conquers Athens, and then the children of non slave warriors can be incorporated into the Agoge (I think that is the correct name).

    Its not the sole reform that would save them, but its a start towards adressing the population problems.
     
  13. Arcavius Arms and the Man I Sing

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    The fact that Spartan hegemony collapsed following a single loss at Leuctra, when Athens managed to hang on for 30-odd years and only lost after being handed an idiot ball with the word Sicily written on it, suggests otherwise. And you can't really say that it was just the fault of the Corinthian War, since most of the leagues against Sparta were dissolved in that conflict.
     
  14. FillyofDelphi Banned

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    This would require the Spartans completely overturning their self-identity and the cultural system on which they built their society. Sparta was, in its own way, an ethno-state: to be Spartan was to be a direct, pure decendent of the conquering army that came in, established the city, and built the perfect culture as warrior-race ruling over the weakling people they made Helots in what amounted to a permenant occupation, There's a reason every year they ceremonially reaffirmed their state of war on their slaves! If just anybody can be allowed into their system and become a Spartan, than every aspect of their lifestyle and culture comes into question.
     
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  15. RousseauX Well-Known Member

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    the problem with sparta is their citizen numbers are way too low to be major power beyond maybe regional power

    the number of spartan male citizens at any given time were in the thousands, this is a number which could be taken out in a single battle, they also lacked a real commercial economy. Their actual army was above average but as Thebes showed, could be crushed in the field.

    They are a really poor candidate for hegemon
     
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  16. RousseauX Well-Known Member

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    Helots were something like 90% of Spartan population so even if Athens was at one point 51% slaves it's still way more sustainable than sparta
     
  17. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    Sure, but I was suggesting earlier reforms or a more longsighted Lycurges.
     
  18. Superninja76 Well-Known Member

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    Alrighty guys!

    So, we're all discussing how strong sparta could be, but all of you are looking at preventing what makes sparta from being sparta!
    Why not take a look at a few of the reformers, like cleomenes III!
    I mean, the guy was, for a while, really successful. His reforms were working, he damn near got control of the achaean league (or as close to that as you can) and also was wildly successful against the achaeans once that failed. He was also well on the way to winning at sellasia before philopoemen turned the tide with his charge. Given a few PoDs (Cleomenes deciding to extend his reforms to conquered peoples, which could lead to the fracturing of the league and his gaining of a reputation as a liberator. If this does not butterfly sellasia, it should get him some extra men, which maybe could prevent the change in fortune that philopoemen forced.)

    There's alot of potential with this guy, you just need him to think a little bit differently.
     
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  19. FillyofDelphi Banned

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    Then you have a very real chance of having butterflied away the institutions and cultural aspects that give the Spartan warrior-culture its keen tactical edge. It also assumes that if Lycurges pushed for reforms THAT drastic to basic Spartan norms they would have been accepted and able to stick long-term, which I personally have qualms with.
     
  20. CountPeter Apparently the anti-christ.

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    Fair point... no point at which someone might make such reforms?