For I know that formerly the Lacedaemonians preferred to live together at home with moderate fortunes rather than expose themselves to the corrupting influences of flattery as governors of dependent states.
And I know too that in former days they were afraid to be found in possession of gold; whereas nowadays there are some who even boast of their possessions.
There were expulsions of aliens in the former days, and to live abroad was illegal; and I have no doubt that the purpose of these regulations was to keep the citizens from being demoralized by contact with foreigners; and now I have no doubt that the fixed ambition of those who are thought to be first among them is to live to their dying day as governors in a foreign land.
There was a time when they would fain be worthy of leadership; but now they strive far more earnestly to exercise rule than to be worthy of it.
Therefore in times past the Greeks would come to Lacedaemon and beg her to lead them against reputed wrongdoers; but now many are calling on one another to prevent a revival of Lacedaemonian supremacy.
—Xenophon, Constitution of the Lacedaemonians
The rivalry between Sparta and Athens eventually culminated in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). This war had a certain spiritual-ideological character: the Athenians saw Sparta as a state of brutality, oppression of the individual and uncompromising stiffness; while, for the Spartans, Athens was a hotbed of decadence and effeminacy that threatened to contaminate all Hellas. In 415 BCE, Spartan emissaries came to the sanctuary of Delphi. The oracle gave them a grim omen: soon the Spartans would see the walls of their worst enemy reduced to rubble, but they themselves would soon succumb to a bitter defeat. This was perhaps the first warning about the coming decline of Sparta.
Lysander, head of the Spartan fleet, effectively defeated the Athenian Alcibiades in 404 BCE, and awarded the victory to his homeland. After long and painful years of siege, hardships, and battles against Athens, when finally Sparta triumphed Lysander simply wrote in his memoirs, in another sign of brevity: “Athens has fallen.” Lysander was a mothax (bastard or mestizo), for his father was a Spartan and his mother a helot. However, during his childhood, he was accepted for some reason in the brutal training system of the Agoge. Lysander was, however, a soldier turned politician and conspirator, and stroked ideas about a new revolution in Spartan laws. The mere fact that an individual like Lysander had reached such a high position implied that something was starting to smell rotten in Sparta.
The war resulted in the ruin of Athens, consolidating the Spartan hegemony. That same year 404 BCE the walls of Athens were demolished to the sound of Spartan fifes, as predicted in Delphi, and the government of Athens was taken by “the thirty tyrants.” But Spartan supremacy would be short because it had been achieved at the sacrifice of the best Spartan blood and, as has been said, dark forebodings hovered over the city. Their numbers dwindled. The hardness of the Spartans increasingly produced hatred by the subjected people, which multiplied devilishly. Sparta was aging.
On the other hand, Sparta was usually very jealous about its citizenship laws (to be the son of a Spartan father and mother, and going through eugenics, instruction and admission to the Army Syssitias), so that with the advent of crossbreeding and bloody wars, in which the best Spartans fell, the number of real Spartiates was reduced from 10,000 during its apogee to just over a thousand, although at least those few Spartans remained just like their ancestors. They’d chosen to be, at all costs, a select few at the top, dominating an inferior majority and remaining loyal to the laws of Lycurgus until the end of their national agony. As a select group, they were obstinate in resisting and refused to make concessions or share privileges, remaining increasingly proud as their numbers were declining more and more. All this demographic policy contrasted, then, with the Athenian: which artificially swelled the numbers of its population (Athens had about five times the population of Sparta) by non-white immigration, uncontrolled reproduction and lack of eugenics.
This resulted in dirty and dingy slums and narrow winding streets, where dark slaves accumulated and infections, rats and pests spread. The defeat of Athens also motivated the circulating of riches as trophies to Sparta. Plutarch wrote, “gold and silver money first flowed into Sparta, and with money, greed and a desire for wealth prevailed through the agency of Lysander, who, though incorruptible himself, filled his country with the love of riches and with luxury, by bringing home gold and silver from the war, and thus subverting the laws of Lycurgus.”
In 398 BCE, King Agesilaus ascended to the twin throne of Sparta. A year later, another evil omen happened. While a priest carried out a sacrifice, horrified, he glimpsed a nefarious, archetypal sign during the ritual and announced with great alarm that Sparta was on the lookout for its enemies. At that moment, according to the old man, Sparta was seriously threatened. In view of the prostration of external enemies, the omen was probably not taken with the seriousness it deserved. Few would suspect that the omen was referring to the internal enemies of Sparta.
Agesilaus discovered a year later, in 397 BCE, a conspiracy hatched by Lysander against the laws of Lycurgus. In this conspiracy an individual named Cinadon played an important role. He was part of the hypomeiones or “inferior” Spartan citizens degraded for cowardice in battle; for failing to provide the stipulated rations of the Syssitia, or for not having being admitted to any Syssitia due to any dishonorable reasons. The point of this conspiracy is that it seemed to involve all those who were not authentic Spartans, i.e., helots, perioeci, and the degraded Spartans—all of which, according to the same Cinadon, wanted to “eat raw” the elite of the real Spartans. Having made their confessions, Cinadon and his clique of conspirators were driven through the city of Sparta to spearhead and under the harassment of the whips. After being carried to Kaiada they were executed and thrown into the pit.
Agesilaus was accused of breaking an old Lycurgus law prohibiting to make war for a long time to the same enemy so that he could not learn how to defend himself, as Agesilaus’ incursions into Boeotia practically taught the Thebans to fight. In 382 BCE Sparta took Thebes, but this victory was cursed as Sparta had decayed and the Thebans were being strengthened. Four years later, the Thebans succeeded in expelling the Spartans in the first political sign that Sparta was decaying. Years later, 7,000 highly motivated Thebans under the charismatic leader Epaminondas rose against Sparta and defeated them at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE. In that battle only 1,200 Spartans fought: all that remained of them. Four hundred of them died. It was said that when the Theban soldiers entered in Sparta during the street fighting that followed, and they were asking, “Where are the Spartans?” and an old man answered, “There are not anymore, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”
After the invasion, the intelligent Thebans stroke another huge blow to the power of Sparta: they freed the helots. The city of Messenia, in a record time of only seventy-four days, was surrounded by a wall and the Ithome Fortress rebuilt and converted in an acropolis, symbolizing its emancipation from the Spartan yoke: an emancipation they sought to preserve at all costs.
The Spartans had fallen, but the Thebans had kept their blood and vitality pure. They had an elite unit called the sacred gang. Throughout Greece, Theban women (described by Dicaearchus as blondes) were already considered, above the Spartan, the most beautiful of Hellas. The Thebans descended from Thessalian invaders: magnificent horsemen that arrived to Greece at the time of the great invasions. After being expelled from the Peloponnese by the Dorians, they established their capital, Thebes, in Boeotia. The Battle of Leuctra finally consummated the Thessalians’ revenge against the Dorians.
Since 640 BCE no army had ever managed to subdue Sparta. The Spartan power was over. Its laws of iron and stone—wisely enacted and recorded in blood and fire—could not eternally restrain racial miscegenation while in disastrous wars died the best biological specimens and the spiritual elite. There was betrayal, disloyalty, memory loss, and a fall. From here, the history of Sparta is shameful, desperate, sad and tragic. One almost feels embarrassed before her in contrast to her previous heroism. It could be said it was humiliating for their heirs, but we must add that many of them were no longer heirs of Dorian Sparta since it no longer ran in their bodies the most important heritage: pure Dorian blood.
The racial miscegenation and the fratricidal war with Athens had greatly weakened many Greek city-states, so that they fell prey to the Indo-European new star: the Macedonians of Philip II (382-336 BCE), a Greek village that had remained on the periphery of Greece living in semi-barbarian state, retaining the hardness of its origins and purity of blood. Using the Thessaly League, the Macedonians began to penetrate gradually in Greece. In 367 BCE the Aetolian League was formed. In 339 BCE the Macedonians had already mastered Hellas, including Sparta. The son of Philip II, the famous Alexander the Great, conquered the greatest empire ever known, from Greece to India, and from the Caucasus to Egypt.
In 330 BCE, King Agis III of Sparta attacked Antipater, Alexander’s lieutenant, but was defeated and killed at the battle of Megalopolis. During the Lamian War, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Sparta was too weak even to participate.
During the fourth century BCE there was a reform by an Epitadeus, an ambitious ephor that, for disagreements with his own son, drafted a law that all citizens could give their inheritance to whom they pleased. This had huge influence on the distribution of land plots. However, the subsequent ruin of Sparta was not the result of this law; the wording of it was the result of a silent decline of mind and body, materially manifested in blood contamination, the disintegration of the noble families and the evils resulting from this.
During this decadent time of miscegenation and corruption, women’s freedom turned against Sparta. Traditionally being owners and managers of the farm and home, they became greedy and selfish. The materialism that invaded Sparta from Athens took root in women with ease. They forgot their athletic naturalness; the physical exertion, and their role as severe mothers; they also forgot the gravity of the sacred wife and to inspire hope and contemplation. Instead they embraced luxury, comfort and embellishments. Foolishly, during the decay Spartan women came to hoard most of the wealth of Sparta.
By the end of the fourth century BCE Sparta was surrounded by defensive walls, breaking her tradition and revealing the world that had lost confidence in herself.
Agis of Sparta (reigned between 244-241 BCE) attempted to reinstate the laws of Lycurgus. He had been educated in patriotism and dreamed in restoring the greatness of his country. By then, lots of land were unevenly distributed and badly exploited, and he wanted to make it more equitable. Agis postponed land redistribution to join the Achaean League Aratus of Sicyon, challenging the growing power of the Macedonians. In 243 BCE, the Achaean League defeated the Macedonian garrison in Corinth, resulting in a brief expansion of the league. But during the king’s absence, resistance to his reforms was implemented by his co-ruler, King Leonidas II. This traitor king, unworthy of his name, was the perfect example of Spartan decline: he married a Persian woman and liked to keep in his court an oriental-style luxury which would have caused his death when Sparta was in its prime. As Agis returned he was arrested by the ephors who, now completely corrupted, condemned him to death. Agis was thus the first king of Sparta to be executed by the government.
In 230 BCE only 700 Spartans were left: divided, confused and aimless. The differentiation of castes and racial barriers had collapsed. The plots of land were in the hands of women who managed them greedily, and of helots who owned their own land. Plutarch wrote:
Thus there were left of the old Spartan families not more than seven hundred, and of these there were perhaps a hundred who possessed land and allotment; while the ordinary throng, without resources and without civic rights, lived in enforced idleness, showing no zeal or energy in warding off foreign wars, but ever watching for some opportunity to subvert and change affairs at home.
Cleomenes III of Sparta (reigned 235-219 BCE) attempted to make another return to the laws of Lycurgus. His goal was to create a group of Spartans that restituted the ancient power of the city. After a series of encouraging alliances with Tegea and the recovery of Manatee from the Arcadians, Sparta seemed to be reborn as opposed to the Achaean League. Spartan austerity was reestablished as well as the team meals, and defeated the Achaean League in 228 BCE, on the banks of the river Lyceum. And in 227 BCE Sparta defeated it again near Leuctra. The victorious Cleomenes returned to Sparta covered with prestige. He executed the corrupt ephors and abolished the institution of the Ephorate. Sparta continued to conquer and triumph: it annexed Manatee and in 226 BCE defeated the Achaean League again in the Battle of Hecatombaeon. This time, supported by Egypt, Sparta was literally re-conquering the Peloponnese.
The leaders of the Achaean League, frightened by the revival of the legendary Spartan power, decided to end its anti-Macedonian policy and cynically requested the Macedonians’ help to deter the new Spartans. So Aratus of Sicyon sought help from his supposed enemy, the king Antigonus III of Macedonia, offering control of Corinth. The Aetolian League and the Macedonian League, united, gathered an army of 30,000 men who beat the 10,000 Spartans and their allies in the Battle of Sellasia of 222 BCE. There definitely Spartan power was extinguished; the new Spartans fell, their walls demolished, and Cleomenes exiled to Alexandria. After trying from there a coup with the help of Egypt, he died in 220 BCE. With him the royal Heracled lineage disappeared.
Both Agis IV and Cleomenes III are tragic figures: men of quality who were born too late, representing the dying voice of the Spartiate archetype during the sinister sunset. However, these kings failed to understand the real cause of Sparta’s collapse: the luxuries of civilization and dissolution of the originating elements of Dorian blood that built Sparta.
In 208 BCE, Nabis, later known as “Tyrant of Sparta,” ascended the throne. Since the double lineage of the Heracletes had disappeared with the king Cleomenes III, he made himself the sole king of Sparta, building again the defensive walls that surrounded Sparta and trying to revitalize the reforms attempted by Agis IV and Cleomenes III. Nabis introduced, with the help of the Aetolian League, a kind of democracy in Sparta. This was his biggest mistake: it gave freedom to many helots, who would soon mix their blood with the Spartans. The mothakes (mestizos) began to influence the very Spartan national body, and neodamodeis or “new citizens” emerged.
In 205 BCE Sparta allied with Rome in the hope of removing the Macedonians. But in 197 BCE Rome turned against Sparta, establishing an alliance with other Greek states. The Achaean League of 192 BCE forced Sparta to join her to monitor its movements, but when Nabis felt that the League had overreached its affairs he seceded. Philopoemen led the Achaean army that burst in Sparta and executed the anti-Achaean leaders, including Nabis, knocking again Sparta’s walls; freeing the slaves, and abolishing the Agoge. Everything that in this period the Achaeans did against Sparta was an expression of the unconscious terror they felt about the possible resurrection of Sparta’s power and it was then, when Sparta was weak, that they wanted to finish it off to prevent any future outbreaks.
In 146 BCE Sparta was conquered by the Roman legions. Under Roman rule, some Spartan customs survived, but stripped from their essence. The festival of Artemis became a grotesque ceremony of simply whipping children in public, sometimes to the death. In the tranquility of the Pax Romana Sparta was devoted to these abhorrent practices, which attracted large numbers of morbid tourists around the Mediterranean.
In 267 CE Sparta was sacked by the Heruli Germanic people—the same people who would depose the last Roman emperor of the West two centuries later. The Germans were the new star of Europe, and they would be for many centuries. Their uncontaminated will to power together with their barbaric mentality drove them to conquer and dominate. During this time they were rushing into a Roman Empire already decadent and beyond recognition, in which Christianity was inevitably undermining the sacred pillars of the pagan, militarist and patriarchal society that the Romans once had.
After the Roman disaster against the Goths at the Battle of Hadrianople (378 CE), the Spartan phalanx defeated a band of marauding Germans in a flash of strength. But in 396 CE Sparta was destroyed by the Visigoths of King Alaric I, who ended up being in charge of administering the coup de grace to an already unrecognizable Roman Empire.
Near the ruins of Sparta it was built the town of Mistras. The Romans, after conquering Southeast Europe, built on Mistras a new city they called Lacedaemonia, as Sparta was called before. According to Byzantine sources, in the 10th century large areas of the territory of Laconia were still pagan.
Today Sparta is a set of simple, rough and not showy ruins. In the words of Thucydides:
Suppose the city of Sparta to be deserted, and nothing left but the temples and the ground-plan. Distant ages would be very unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at all equal to their fame… Whereas, if the same fate befell the Athenians, the ruins of Athens would strike the eye, and we should infer their power to have been twice as great as it really is.