The Helots: Slave Warriors of Ancient Sparta | Ancient Origins
Though there was a very sharp distinction between Spartans and helots, Spartan society itself did not have a complex social hierarchy, at least in theory. Instead. known history of all Greek states except Athens), but that of the helots .. 15 Links between the Mycenaean palace organization on the one hand and later. relationship which existed between Spartiates and helots in the fifth century .. post-Mycenaean migrations, the Spartan state emerged in the eighth century in.
The first explicit reference to this practice in regards to the helots occurs in Thucydides IV, 26, 5. This is on the occasion of the events at Sphacteriawhen Sparta had to relieve their hoplites, who were besieged on the island by the Athenians: He does not mention whether or not the Spartans kept their word; it is possible that some of the helots later executed were part of the Sphacterian volunteers but later said they kept their word.
Xenophon in Hellenica VI, 5, 28 states that the authorities agreed to emancipate all the helots who volunteered. He then reports that more than 6, heeded the call, leading to some embarrassment for the Spartans, who were initially overwhelmed by the number. Xenophon states that the Spartans' fears were assuaged when they received aid from their allies and Boeotian mercenary forces. All the same, in BC, the helots who served Brasidas in Chalcidice were emancipated, and they were henceforth known as the "Brasidians".
It was also possible to purchase freedom, or achieve it by undergoing the traditional Spartan education. Moses Finley underscores that the fact helots could serve as hoplites constituted a grave flaw in the system. In effect, the hoplite system was a strict method of training to ensure that discipline was maintained in the phalanx. The Spartans gained considerable reputation as hoplites, due to tactical capabilities developed through constant training.
In addition to this military aspect, to be a hoplite was a key characteristic of Greek citizenship. To introduce helots to this system thus led to inevitable social conflict. Nevertheless, this category poses a number of problems, firstly that of vocabulary. The classical authors used a number of terms which appear to evoke similar concepts: Philologists resolve this quandary in two ways: In any case, the conclusion needs to be treated carefully: It was captured by the Dorian Spartans in the middle of the eighth century adding a fifth village to the four villages of Sparta.
The land of Helos at the mouth of the Eurotas River was also subjugated . In this early Spartan period of settlement and occupation social conditions developed that were the result of a relationship between the conquerors and the conquered .
Being a warrior community of small numbers, the Dorian-Spartans needed others to work the land for them. The land was divided into lots and tilled by the conquered, that filled the role of serfs, or Helots [captives  ], and provided the livelihood for their masters.
These early Helots were made up of a pre-Dorian agricultural community . The Spartans, being a dominant force and increasing in number, acquired land in the west, north and south but in particular the land of Messenia in the west of the Peloponnese.
The Archaic Period
This led to the First Messenian War around the latter part of the seventh century . This burden was great, in that Helots had to deliver half of their crop to their Spartan masters . Yet there were many of them and consequently they became a threat to the Spartan state. Unlike slaves elsewhere in Greece who were bought and sold by individual masters at will, Helots were not of disparate origin but born only in Laconia or Messenia and not sold beyond these lands .
Forrest also asserts that through their numbers, their race and their identity, being of Messenian or Dorian-Greek origin, these Helots were a constant threat to Spartan society .
The Helots: Slave Warriors of Ancient Sparta
This suggests that Helots lived together on estates and under some surveillance, not spread out in small family groups on cultivated land . Xenophon saw the Helots as being integral to the Spartan state, much like slaves elsewhere . Kennell thinks that Helots may have been owned individually . Helots did have a form of property and marriage rights and some form of social life.
Talbert argues that, for some Helots, life must have been good through having some influence and power in administrating property while the owners were away fighting or in the city. This meant that they might profit from their work and their loyal military services and might suggest an acceptance of their position .
It is the task of the rest of this paper to illustrate some of these difficulties. They are replicated without regard to such things as truth, accuracy or usefulness. However, old traditions, while indicating memetic success, do not indicate the veracity of the transmitted tradition. While we may use the idea of memes as a useful heuristic to think about the influence of myth in LBA archaeology, it is important to remember that practices, beliefs and cultural features have been replicated by people at each stage.
This is especially so when considering the corpus of myths written down by later Greeks.
- World History/Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great
- Eras Journal
The purpose of this section is to illustrate the insidiousness of the penetration of myth, as evidence, into the archaeology and history of LBA Greece. The reader may be forgiven for wondering at the choice of such an old text, but it is justified in that, unlike many, Nilsson explicitly set out what he was attempting to do, and how he was attempting to do it.
Criticism of the position he took and the mode of thought it represents is thus made easier than with an author whose methodology, assumptions or reasoning remains implicit. But myths undoubtedly have many origins and influences, the more so the longer they are living traditions. What we regard as Greek myths should be seen in a dynamic sense as being constructed over time from many points of inspiration, not simply descending in linear fashion from a single point of origin.
Nilsson sought to demonstrate properly with an explicit methodology the Mycenaean origins of later Greek myths. If the correlation is constant; i. The matter of prominence is itself problematic. How do we ascribe a level of importance within a culture to individual sites?
Thucydides, in discussing the relative power and influence of Sparta and Athens towards the end of the fifth century, counsels his readers not to mix up the appearance of a city with how powerful it actually is, and we do well to bear his advice in mind. They do not show that Pylos was subject in any political or economic way to Mycenae or any other site, as most surely they would if that was the case. That few names of the towns of the Pylos polity occur in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships has always been a difficulty for those linking the epics to the LBA.
Kalydon and Ithaka, although important in myth, were not, from the remaining evidence, important in the LBA. Finley, studying the reliability of epic oral tradition as historical fact, concluded that they are in all ways unreliable, as to the events, characters and locations. And we may only speculate at the visual impression the LBA Greeks had on the psyches of their successors through the possible transmission of heirlooms, textile designs, as well as monumental relics and stories.
We can compare, though, the sense of awe and pathos felt by the early English poet who composed theRuin, an evocation of a ruined Roman city in Britain possibly Bath: The English poet, on the other hand, perceived a significant break between the earlier, finer culture of another people and his own time.
Besides the Homeric corpus and the Trojan War, other myths have remained prominent in the scholarship of the Greek LBA, namely those of the Dorian migration and the Return of the Herakleidae the sons of Herakles. As we have already seen, the heroic age of the Homeric heroes has often been assumed to relate in some way to the LBA.
The two myths just mentioned have often seemed to fit neatly into the pattern suggested by the archaeology of the end of the Greek LBA: Seeking to use myths in this way is highly dubious, though. Accounts seeking to show that the archaeological record reflects a Dorian invasion really need to demonstrate in the first place that such myths do have a historical value which can be sensibly drawn out of them.
The problem of the myth of the Dorian migration also highlights the subject of identity and ethnicity in archaeology. In applying the myths to the archaeology, or assuming the myths to be true in some sense, archaeologists have often sought to identify the migration — implicitly expecting a group such as the Dorians to be archaeologically visible. It has generally been assumed that such an event would be archaeologically visible, and the fact that it is not found except tendentiously has been taken to discredit the theory.
Invasions of Greece such as those by Celtic tribes in the Hellenistic period are only known about through texts; though they remain archaeologically invisible, we do not doubt they occurred. However we cannot assume myths to be true if the explanation they offer seems to be a good one.
In doing so we do not examine the myth in its own terms, as a tool in the construction of identity in which truth as we understand it is irrelevant. Though the mythology of the Greeks led Schliemann to the discovery of the Aegean LBA, it has not always been thought that the inhabitants of prehistoric Greece were, in any sense, Greek. The script of the Linear B tablets found at Knossos, which had not yet been deciphered, seemed to derive from the older Linear A tablets.
When Linear B tablets were discovered on the mainland it was assumed that the language used would be the same as that spoken at Knossos.
The Greek polis
The Minoans had obviously colonised or taken control of the mainland, as the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur suggests. Subsequent to the revelation that the language written in the Linear B script was in fact an early form of Greek, the conclusion that the inhabitants were non-Greek could no longer be maintained.
The non-Greekness of the Mycenaeans has not disappeared, however, despite their Greek language. Chester Starr gave his reasoning thus: