Southern Peloponnese – territory of Laconia and Messenia
The five villages that were known as SPARTA were situated at the head of an inland plain in the Eurotas River Valley, 650 feet above sea level and about 28 miles from Gytheum, her only sea port.
Spartans enjoyed their gardens although they were forbidden to perform labor, slaves known as HELOTS performed all of the menial daily tasks.
Unlike the rest of Greece, Spartans buried their dead inside the various towns, which suggests that overcrowding was not a problem.
There was no Town Center in Sparta.
There is a low-lying Acropolis where a few temples stood. At the foot of the Acropolis was a market, the meeting place for the Spartan Council.
Shrines were not concentrated in one specific area but were spread out over the town (5 villages). The most important temple, that of ARTEMIS ORTHIA (goddess of productivity), was out of sight, situated next to the Eurotas River.
There were shrines to Leonidas – who lead 300 SPARTANS to their heroic death at the battle of THERMOPYLAE against the Persian army lead by XERXES
And a shrine to Pausanias – who lead the largest Greek army ever assembled to defeat the Persians at Platea.
Various shrines to the two royal families – SPARTA employed two kings, one went to war and the other stayed home – Leonidas is an example.
The shrine of Menelaus and Helen (of Troy fame) was outside the town on a bluff overlooking the Eurotas River.
The shrine of Apollo Hyacinthus – the AMYCLAEUM, was out in the country near the village of Amyclae.
SPARTA LOOKED MORE LIKE A CLUSTER OF RURAL VILLAGES THAN A FEARSOME CITY!
To the west of SPARTA is the TAYGETUS mountain range, highest peak is Mt. Illias at 7,874 feet. To the east are the Parnon hills. The fertile valley of SPARTA is 14 miles long and about three miles wide.
Shellfish caught outside of Gytheum were prized for the purple dye that could be extracted. This purple dye was rendered into the scarlet cloaks worn by the SPARTANS in battle and in ceremonies.
The geographical position of SPARTA is important to note because it was different from any other Greek city state of consequence. SPARTA was 36 miles away from her nearest independent threat, the city state of TEGEA and 28 miles away from the sea. There was no clearly defined frontier to the north, only a wilderness of sparsely populated hills.
IT WAS THE DISTANCE OF HER ENEMIES AS WELL AS THE TENACITY OF HER SOLDIERS THAT ALLOWED SPARTA TO REMAIN "UNWALLED" UNTIL THE FOURTH CENTURY B.C.
Although somewhat isolated from the rest of Greece, SPARTA was, from time to time, influenced by other Greeks. According to Fitzhardinge (1980), "Excavations by the British School in the years 1906 to 1910 … revealed a Sparta in the mainstream of Greek culture, where the arts flourished and outside contacts were many and fruitful."
RELIGION AND ATHLETIC FESTIVALS
In most cases, athletic festivals were held in conjunction with worship of a cult-god that took place all over the Greek world.
Sometimes, athletic festivals were held to honor a local divinity or to honor a local hero such as the LEONIDEA held at Sparta to honor Leonidas.
In addition, athletic competitions were instituted by private benefactors and these games were named after the sponsor such as the EURYCLEA at Sparta.
When the Romans conquered Greece, some wealthy Romans patrons renewed or sponsored athletic competitions. G. Julius Agesilaus and T. Flavius Charixenus were Romans who sponsored competitions at Sparta.
Almost all of the major SPARTAN religious festivals honored Apollo rather than the city's goddess ATHENA
SPARTAN ATHLETIC FESTIVALS = Many of the games at Spartan festivals were open to foreigners – non-Spartans.
Sparta held team competitions using a ball – Sparta claims to have invented ball games. The inscriptions note that these particular ball games had their own management and team captains.
The ball games took place in the city's theater. Some sources suggest that the ball game competition signaled a ritual ending to the AGOGE and the beginning of ADULTHOOD.
The contest consisted of several rounds and some teams would have a BYE. If a team won the competition without a bye, it was a great accomplishment.
The game was called "Battle Ball" (Kennell, p. 60) and was a rough and tumble competition where competitors would fall on balls and hit each other.
Another account describes the competition as two teams on either side of a white lime line. In back of each team is another two lines. One side throws the ball as hard as he can to the "enemy" team who must catch it in front of the line. The object is to throw the ball to the enemy team to such a time when they are forced to catch the ball behind the last white line.
Victorious teams received dedications and all of the team members were listed on the inscription.
BATTLE AT THE PLANE TREE GROVE (Platanistas)
Description / account by Pausanias but held in question by Cartledge
On a designated night, outside the city at a shrine called the PHOEBEUM, two teams of EPHEBES who will compete against each other the next day gather to sacrifice a black puppy to the war god ENYALIUS. After this ritual sacrifice is over, the two teams then begin another sacrifice using two boars who fight each other to the death-each team brings their own boar. The victorious boar usually belongs to the team that will win the competition the next day. The morning of the battle, another sacrifice is made to the hero ACHILLES.
The morning of the battle, the two teams cross two separate bridges to an island that is surrounded by water. On one bridge is the statue of LYCURGUS and on the other a statue of HERACLES. Each team draws by lot to determine which bridge they will use to get to the island and in doing so, determine which patron they will fight for.
Once the battle begins, the teams attack each other with a vengeance.
They fight hand to hand, with jump kicks, and bite and gouge out eyes. They attack in masse with the object being to push one team completely in the water.
At the end, there were choral dances and songs, warlike and festive!
The three most famous festivals at Sparta were dedicated to the god APOLLO:
GYMNOPAEDIAE = "Naked Games" or "Festival of Unarmed Dancing" These were actually choral contests among three groups of males; older men, children, and young men
HYACINTHIA = three day festival held at the cult site of APOLLO – HYACINTHUS in Amyclae. Interesting to note the dual worship of APOLLO and HYACINTHUS. In myth, HYACINTHUS was a beautiful young boy who APOLLO loved but accidentally killed when a discus he was throwing struck the young boy. Their joint cult symbolized the real life pederastic relationships between young adult Spartan warriors and the adolescent youths of the AGOGE. The festival included musical choral competitions, equestrian and gymnastic competitions
CARNEA = celebrated for 9 days. Included musical competitions and a GRAPE RUN where young men would chase a man wearing a cloak of grapes. If they caught the man, good fortune was supposed to come to Sparta, if they didn't catch him, bad things could happen.