The Spartan Economy - University of Florida

The Spartan Economy - University of Florida


MESSENIA, IONIAN SEA COASTLINE THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE THE TRADING ROUTES ATHENS SPARTA Capitalist Economy The State does not interfere with economic activity, except to secure free trade or vital products (e.g. wheat).

Inequalities of wealth are accepted as normal Economy is large, diversified, with developed financial structures (e.g. a banking system, which allows through lending and borrowing the flow of capital, and funding for businesses) Market worth and citizenship are not related. Even the poorest Athenians can retain full citizenship rights, which means full participation in the democracy. Property is privately owned and at the complete disposal of the owner.

Essentially Communist Economy The State Controls every aspect of economic life, from the property that citizens are allowed to have, to every form of economic activity and how much each person must earn. Inequalities of wealth, although they exist, are treated as an aberration. Economy is rather primitive with an antiquated currency system (iron spits), extensive use of barter, and largely oriented towards basic needs.

Citizenship is tied to the ability to pay ones way in the messes, and Spartans who cannot pay their way become Inferiors (hypomeiones). Property is privately owned, but with restrictions. Until the 5th c. one cannot dispose of it as they wish, and the helots are the property of the state. THE ECONOMY OF SPARTA UNTIL THE 5TH C. Even before the conquest of Messenia, the land of Laconia had been divided to 9000 lots, roughly equal in productivity.

A similar kind of division had been adopted in the other Doric states of Messenia and Argos, but was later abandoned. A lot had the potential to produce approximately 100 medimnoi (= 3 metric tons) of wheat The average field yields 50 bushels per acker (1 bushel = 27.2 kg) namely 1360 kg. Thus the average lot should be approximately 22 ackers. To maintain full citizenship a Spartan needed to provide the following to the mess every month: 1 medimnos of barley (1 medimnos = c. 30 kg) 96 cups of wine (e.g. 3 cups a day) 5 minae (= 2 kg) of cheese 2 minae (= 1.25 kg) of figs a very small amount of money for other purchases

PROPERTY LAWS The lots could not be bought, sold or divided If a man had more than one sons, lots could be provided through adoptions, or marriage to a woman whose father had no sons, thus the son in law inherited the lot of his father in law. The system certainly inhibited a higher birth rate, because a father who had several sons might see some of them reduced to the rank of the Inferiors, if they could not secure a lot through marriage or adoption. It would be wise for someone who already had a couple of sons to be careful.

The conquest of Messenia must have alleviated problems of this kind to some degree, because it added much to the ancient lots (achaios klaros), and the Messenian lots could be bought and sold (although selling ones parental property was not seen as a good thing). However, even the Messenian lots did not resolve all potential problems because buying land needed resources which a large family might not have. The system decidedly (but unintentionally) favored smaller families. THE ADVANTAGES OF THE SYSTEM For a long time, in the years of growth of Spartan power, the system served the Spartans well. It provided Economic stability and predictability Time to pursue military excellence

Social cohesion That precious feeling of equality and virtue which the Spartans desired and honored. The so characteristically Spartan lifestyle of having ones needs satisfied without excess or luxury. THE RHETRA OF EPITADEUS (5TH CENTURY BC) However there were disadvantages too: Gradually more and more Spartans found it harder to find lots

(mothakes) Gradually more and more Spartans fell into the ranks of the Inferiors The system was too inflexible to address the needs of a changing world, where powers like rival Athens were building economic empires, and where wealth meant strength. Thus in the 5th century there was a significant reform introduced by the ephor Epitadeus The rhetra (constitutional amendment) of Epitadeus allowed each Spartan to make a will and leave his property to whoever he wished. We are told that the motives of Epitadeus were personal, but the Spartans accepted the law as a solution to mounting economic and social problems. THE RESULT

The result was CATASTROPHIC, as it combined the worst features of an inflexible economic system with the worst features of greed. The sale of lots until then prohibited became a reality (probably in the form of bequests). Some people accumulated a large amount of property, while most others lost their citizenship and were reduced to the state of Inferiors. By the 3 rd century only 700 full Spartan citizens remained. Aristotle attests with disdain that 2/5 of Spartas property was owned by women, which added much to the problems, as more property in the hands of women meant fewer men with full citizenship. While Kyniska was flaunting her wealth by winning Olympic victories, Spartan men were disfranchised for lack of resources. Precious metals hoarded away are a clear sign that by the time of the Spartan hegemony (c. 400 370 BC), the Spartan economic system was in disarray This rendered Spartan officials and ambassadors especially prone to bribery, corruption and fascination with alien ways of life and the soft lifestyle of luxury, thus further corroding the Spartan psyche. PLUTARCH LIFE OF AGIS But when a certain powerful man came to be ephor who was headstrong and of a violent temper, Epitadeus by name, he had a quarrel with his son, and introduced a law permitting a man during his lifetime to give his

estate and allotment to any one he wished, or in his will and testament so to leave it. 3 This man, then, satisfied a private grudge of his own in introducing the law; but his fellow citizens welcomed the law out of greed, made it valid, and so destroyed the most excellent of institutions. For the men of power and influence at once began to acquire estates without scruple, ejecting the rightful heirs from their inheritances; and speedily the wealth of the state streamed into the hands of a few men, and poverty became the general rule, bringing in its train lack of leisure for noble pursuits and occupations unworthy of freemen, along with envy andhatred towards the men of property. 4 Thus there were left of the old Spartan families not more than seven hundred, 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. CITIZENSHIP AND LANDOWNERSHIP In Athens the link between citizenship and landownership led to serious social problems and the dictatorship (tyranny) of Peisistratos. He severed that link to gain personal popularity, and consolidate his power with a crowd of new citizens loyal to him personally.

In Sparta the link between citizenship and landownership was never severed, and this was the undoing of Sparta. By the 370s it was painfully obvious that this link was reducing the number of Spartan citizens, swelling the numbers of dissatisfied inferiors and creating inequalities and difficulties which the Spartan system was not equipped to accommodate. Still, the much needed reform did not come until it was too little too late to restore the fortunes of Sparta, its economic powerbase, its social cohesion and the prestige and power that the city once commanded.

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