By Alec Pruchnicki, MD
In 404 BC, after 37 years of almost continuous war, Sparta and its allies completely defeated Athens and the Delian League. Athen’s walls were torn down and its democracy replaced by a Spartan-appointed Thirty Tyrants. Other Greek city-states, which were its allies, also had Spartan governors appointed. Sparta was, in essence, the superpower of Greece with its hegemony extensive and secure.
The Spartans then attempted to impose their austere social structure on the rest of Greece. The military training that raised Spartan males to dedicate their lives to military prowess was introduced to other Greek states. The governments of the Thirty Tyrants and the Spartan governors attempted to undermine, if not destroy, democratic traditions throughout the rest of Greece. Their omnipotence made this appear possible.
Soon, cracks appeared in this hegemony. The cruelty of the Thirty Tyrants caused their overthrow after only a year. Other Greek cities resisted their governors who had abandoned their austere Spartan ways and become corrupt, although they still insisted on imposing Spartan social rules. “Athens wanted our gold, but Sparta wants our sons,” was a common complaint.
Spartan society itself had intrinsic weaknesses. Social and military classes were rigid and downward mobility was easy, while upward mobility was not. Also, the economy depended on masses of land-based slaves, called helots who provided agricultural resources. The upper classes concentrated on warfare, although the threat of a helot revolt was always present.
By overreaching and exploiting its power, and being completely contemptuous of the interests and opinions of the rest of Greece, Sparta had managed to activate its enemies. A new coalition led by the city of Thebes, gathered up Sparta’s enemies, then some of the neutral states, and eventually some of Sparta’s allies, to challenge Sparta on the battlefield. Thebes had fought Sparta over the years and eventually developed tactics that led to the defeat of a larger Spartan army at the decisive Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. Thebes was again victorious at a closer fought Second Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC. Thebes freed many of the helots, including the previously Spartan dominated city of Messene, and took away some of Sparta’s nearby provinces, but never entered and sacked Sparta itself. In any case, Sparta had gone from a complete hegemonic superpower to second-rate status in the course of just 33 to 42 years, depending on which Spartan defeat is cited as the decisive one. This leads to an interesting historical question.
Were the Spartans out of their (CENSORED) minds?! How did they (CENSORED) that up? How could these mother-(CENSORED), (CENSORED) eating, (CENSORED)-holes collapse like this? Didn’t they have any (CENSORED) brains in their heads? Stupid (CENSORED) sons of (CENSORED)!
But, I digress. We are fortunate, since no modern well-functioning democracy would make the same mistake as the Spartans and allow contempt for enemies, insults to friends, and general overbearing obnoxiousness to weaken our international prestige. We have learned well from the mistakes of our predecessors, haven’t we?