I just finished reading The Spartans by Paul Carthage. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. For one thing, Carthage makes them approachable. He reminds me of my high school teacher, Mr. Sullivan, who wisely thought the best way to get his group of sometimes very rowdy teenagers to engage with medieval history was to have them watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s still one of my favorite movies and made the history behind it intriguing. At any rate, Carthage takes the reader through the Spartans’ rise and fall and introduces his audience to all the major players. Who knew how political they were!
What I find intriguing is that many hold the Spartans to be ideal patriots and warriors. People to emulate and hold as upright citizens. That they were, but they also ritually abused their children, engaged in state-sanctioned pederasty, and routinely hunted their Helot slaves as a rite of passage. They also weren’t above assassinating political dissidents.
While the glory of the 300 at Thermopylae with King Leonidas fighting to the death is admirable, it doesn’t offset the dysfunctional nature of the very closed society of elitism. Know the history before you glorify it.