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Sparta was an ancient Greek city-state whose unique social and political system has fascinated people down the ages. It was a military society, whose warriors are regarded as some of the greatest soldiers of the ancient world. The word Spartan has become synonymous with military prowess and austerity. The battles of Sparta are well-known and have become legendary. However, one aspect of its history may surprise many is the role of women in that society. While the city-state is widely seen as a militaristic and very conservative society it was also a very complex one and women had generally greater freedom than elsewhere in the Greek world. Spartan women will be shown to have played a very important role in society, the economy, culture, and even the state’s politics.
[[File: Spartan helmet 2 British Museum.jpg |200px|thumb|left| Spartan helmet]]
== Spartan History==
Sparta or Lacedaemon was for centuries one of the most important powers in the Hellenic world. It was located in the south-east of the Peloponnese in modern Greece. Little is known about the early history of the Spartans. Sometime in the 8th century, the Spartans began to reform their social and legal system, because of chronic instability. These reforms are attributed to the semi-legendary Lycurgus and this led to a system which was focused on the army and victory on the battlefield <ref>Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 15. 3-4 </ref>. The focus on the army meant that Sparta was the only Greek state with a professional standing army. Sparta was ruled by two kings, whose power was checked by a council of elders and an assembly of citizens. The individual was expected to subordinate their needs to the collective. One of the most distinctive features of this society was the Agoge, a training program for all young males. It involved young boys being taught military and survival skills. Later when they became citizens and warriors they mainly lived in barracks. Sparta was able to develop such a unique system because it was a slave-owning society. Their ancestors had enslaved the indigenous Messenians, who formed a subjugated population known as helots. All the citizens and their families owned estates that were worked by the helots. The labor of the helots allowed Spartan men to concentrate on being soldiers. By the 6th century, it was recognized as the leading military power and they dominated the Peloponnese. They played a leading role in the defeat of the second Persian invasion (492-490 BC). In the years after the defeat of the Persians, Athens established an Empire. This led to a long war, known as the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens (431-404 BC). The Spartans after receiving support from Persia established a hegemony over Greece until they were defeated at Leuctra by the Thebans and their allies (378 BC). This led to a serious political, social and military decline in the city-state but it managed to maintain its independence from successive Hellenistic monarchs. Rome conquered Sparta in the 2nd century BC and this finally extinguished this most singular state <ref>Cartledge, Paul The Spartans: an epic history (London, Pan Books, 2013), p 203</ref>.