The New Sparta
Forced to learn lessons after their very long wars with the Messenians, and illuminated by the laws of Lycurgus, the Spartans proceeded to build an army-camp nation. It was the knowledge of the power of subversion of the enemy and having been about to fall into their hands which made Sparta what later came to be. It was the paranoia of security, the distrust of the submitted peoples, what wrought Sparta over other Hellenic states and made them surrender to Lycurgus. As the Spartans were obsessed that their subjects, much more numerous, might rebel against their authority again, they chose to harden themselves and raise a new type of man under an authoritarian, totalitarian, militaristic, incorruptible and unquestionable power that they should obey blindly. Thereafter, the laws of Lycurgus acquired their greatest splendor. This was the period from which Sparta was unique in Hellas, the period in which “something changed,” the time when the people of Sparta, quietly and discreetly, suffered the strangest of transformations.
What was precisely this mutation? Among other things, the Spartans learned to direct their aggression not only against their enemies and rivals, but primarily against themselves and their peers in order to stimulate, purify and perfect themselves. In addition to tightening the practitioner, such behavior subtly loomed in the minds of the enemies the subconscious question, “If you do this to yourself, what will you do to your enemies?” Thus was born, then, military asceticism.
The Spartans were militarized. All the people went on organizational mood. Sparta became socialist and totalitarian—understood in its original sense of a civilization organized and disciplined by a gifted elite, formed with its best sons, and based on value-blood-spiritual-biological criteria. Such socialism is something that only could have taken place in the Iron Age, as it tried to bring together what was broken, and was more like an aristocracy than a democracy. Spengler described this type of militarist-imperialist-patriarchal system in his Prussianism and Socialism, noting how this system resurfaces again and again in history, incarnating in the larger towns and leading to empires. (Spengler distinguishes four superior socialisms: the Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, the British Empire and Prussia, which resulted in the Second Reich. We would add two more socialisms: Sparta and the Third Reich.)
The caste organization in Sparta was tripartite: warriors, “bourgeois” and slaves.
(1) The Spartiates (Greek: Σπαρτιάται, “Spartans”). The upper class was that of the Astoi, Damos or citizens: the aristocracy, consisting of Dorian Spartans of pure lineage who owned kleros (a package of land) and that called themselves Spartiates or Homoioi (the same). To be “equal,” however, one had to be part of that jealous clan. That closed, selective and elitist Order was the aristocracy of Sparta, which itself was strongly hierarchical and required as a condition of membership being born within a pure-blooded Spartan family, passing through strict eugenics (from the Greek word meaning “good birth”) and having passed awful trials during instruction. Only Spartan men, brutally trained and militarized to the core, were able to bear arms; though forbidden to fight each other in any way that was not combat. They could not afford the honor duels where men necessary fall instead of defending their country.
The custom of calling themselves “equal” is rooted in the collective unconscious of Indo-Europeans, as the Romans called each other “peers” like the English aristocrats, a word of the same meaning. All this reveals a sanctification of what is one’s own and similar, as well as a disregard for the foreign. In this establishment, the elite all Hippeis aspired was an elite guard of 300 men under 30 years.
The Spartiates were the descendants of the old army of Dorian invaders and their families, that is, the warrior nobility of the ancient Dorians: maybe the best blood of Hellas. They formed, therefore, the actual Spartan warrior caste, where there also came all priests. The caste of citizens, including women and children, never had more than 20,000 members. They were ten times less than the helots.
(2) The Perioeci (or perioikoi) means peripheral, people around, neighbors. They formed the middle class, a kind of bourgeoisie. They lived in villages with local government, without autonomy in military and foreign policy, and engaged mainly in trading, blacksmithing and crafts, activities that were forbidden to the Spartans. The perioeci, then, were those who were in charge of the money and the “logistics.” They were probably descendants of the lower strata of the ancient Dorian population mixed with the Achaeans, who in turn had previously dominated the Pelasgians and were mixed to some extent with them. They also came from people who had not resisted Sparta during the process of defining the polis. All coastal cities had Messenian perioeci status. The perioeci were entitled to a small kleros, lower in quality than the plain plots of Messenia, and they often supervised the helots, acting as intermediaries or foremen between them and the Spartans. They also constituted the crew of the navy (both commercial and naval war). The intermediaries between the perioeci and the Spartans were the Harmosts, twenty Spartans who administered the perioeci. Through them came to Sparta the food, weapons and craft goods.
(3) The Helots: Also called heílotes (“captives”), were at the bottom of social stratification. Most were Messenians, Pelasgians and other pre-Indo-Europeans in Greece, or mixtures between them. Their condition was dedicated servants to work the fields in perpetuity, but allowed to have possessions, that is, private property. A fixed amount of their crops was destined for their Spartan master, and the rest for them.
The helots were legally tied to the land and were forbidden to leave the kleros they cultivated, although it was forbidden to expel them from it. As the status was not slavery, they could not be bought or sold. Thanks to these feudal measures Sparta never had to import large numbers of foreign slaves, as Athens ended up doing.
Helots mortally hated the arrogant Spartan nobility (Cinadon said they wanted to “eat them raw”), for which were often despised and humiliated. Only the unity, the savagery, the warlike character, and the organizational capacity and cruelty of the Spartan elite prevented them from being in continual rebellion. Because whenever a Spartiate ran into them they knew they were before a being who would have no difficulty in killing many with his own hands. This made the helot respect and fear the Spartiate, and Sparta was doing whatever necessary to cultivate this image. In Sparta, the castes knew each other: helots knew that the Spartans were superior and the Spartans knew the helots were their inferiors.
Helot numbers, according to the Greek historian Thucydides (460-395 BCE), ranged between 150,000 and 200,000. As markers of identity they should carry a shaved head, leather clothes and kyne: a dog-skin cap. Failing to comply to these outfits was punished with the penalty of death and a fine for the master of the helot.