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The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction [#706]
The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction [#706]
  • Lifts the veil on the fascinating and sometimes appalling practices of the most famous ancient Greek society
  • Tells the true story of Thermopylae, drawing on the latest research
  • Focuses on key aspects of Spartan society
  • Seperates the myth surrounding the Spartans from the reality

The myths surrounding Sparta are as old as the city itself. Even in antiquity, Sparta was a unique society, and considered an enigma. The Spartans who fought for freedom against the Persians called themselves 'equals' or peers, but their equality was reliant on the ruthless exploitation of the indigenous population known as helots. The Spartans' often bizarre rules and practices have the capacity to horrify as much they do to fascinate us today. Athenian writers were intrigued and appalled in equal measure by a society where weak or disabled babies were said to have been examined carefully by state officials before being dumped off the edge of a cliff. Even today their lurid stories have shaped our image of Sparta; a society in which cowards were forced to shave off half their beards, to dress differently from their peers, and who were ultimately shunned to the extent that suicide seemed preferable. The legend of Sparta was even perpetuated by later Spartans, who ran a thriving tourist industry that exaggerated the famed brutality of their ancestors.
This Very Short Introduction separates myth from reality to reveal the best—and the worst—of the Spartans. Andrew Bayliss explores key aspects of Spartan society, including their civic structure, their day-to-day lifestyle, and traditions such as the krypteia, a brutal rite of passage where teenagers were sent into the countryside and ordered to eliminate the biggest and most dangerous helots. Alongside this, Bayliss also sheds light on the many admirable qualities of ancient Sparta, such as their state-run education system, or the fact that this society was almost unparalleled in the pre-modern world for the rights given to Spartan women.


1:Introduction: the legend of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae
2:Sparta's civic structure
3:Raising a Spartan
4:The Spartan lifestyle
5:Helots and perioikoi
6:Spartan women
7:The Spartan mirage and normalising Sparta
8:The modern reception of Sparta
Further reading

About the author: 

Andrew J. Bayliss is an Associate Professor in Greek History at the University of Birmingham. He has published extensively on Sparta and Ancient Greece, including After Demosthenes: The Politics of Early Hellenistic Athens (2011) and Oath and State in Ancient Greece (2012), which was co-written with Alan H. Sommerstein. He has completed commentaries on the fragments of the lost Spartan authors Sosobius, Molpis, Nicocles, Hippasus, Phaestus, and Polycrates for Brill's New Jacoby Online, and is currently working on a database of ancient references to Spartan emotions, actions, and attitudes.

"With a succinctness worthy of his subjects - whose 'linguistic austerity' inspired the word 'laconic' - Bayliss distils extensive research to offer an engaging, lucid insight into this unique society." - Madeleine Finney, The Mail on Sunday

"A new history of these extraordinary and often terrifying people, which is both scholarly and highly entertaining." - Christopher Hart, Mail Online

"The Spartans will prove of value not only to the layman interested in learning something about this most famous ancient warrior culture, but also the seasoned student of the subject." - A. A. Nofi, New York Military Affairs

"With deceptive ease, [Bayliss] guides his readers not just across well-trodden ground but sometimes to unexpected vantage points from where he can challenge orthodox views... The Spartans punches above its weight, and with 14 black-and-white illustrations (including two maps), references, suggestions for further reading and an index, it's a knockout. Anyone interested in Sparta should read it, and every school library should own it." - David Stuttard, Classics for All

"Throughout the book, Bayliss never shouts. Yet, in his quiet, succinct way, he has produced a book that can with some justice claim, 'This is Sparta.'" - Alastair Brans, Australian Book Review

Product details

ISBN : 9780198787600

Andrew J. Bayliss
176 Pages
111 x 174 mm
Pub date
May 2022
Very Short Introductions
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The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction [#706]

The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction [#706]

The Spartans: A Very Short Introduction [#706]