The lesson of the Spartan women

Helen of Sparta
I don't remember how I came across this- my opposite number from the old homestead probably sent it to me at some point- but if you want a great argument against universal suffrage from the past, look no further than the example of what happened to the Spartans in the space of just three generations between the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Leuctra:
Again, the license of the Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to the happiness of the state. For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves. The old mythologer would seem to have been right in uniting Ares and Aphrodite, for all warlike races are prone to the love either of men or of women. This was exemplified among the Spartans in the days of their greatness; many things were managed by their women. But what difference does it make whether women rule, or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same. Even in regard to courage, which is of no use in daily life, and is needed only in war, the influence of the Lacedaemonian women has been most mischievous. The evil showed itself in the Theban invasion, when, unlike the women other cities, they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy. This license of the Lacedaemonian women existed from the earliest times, and was only what might be expected. For, during the wars of the Lacedaemonians, first against the Argives, and afterwards against the Arcadians and Messenians, the men were long away from home, and, on the return of peace, they gave themselves into the legislator's hand, already prepared by the discipline of a soldier's life (in which there are many elements of virtue), to receive his enactments. But, when Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the attempt. These then are the causes of what then happened, and this defect in the constitution is clearly to be attributed to them. We are not, however, considering what is or is not to be excused, but what is right or wrong, and the disorder of the women, as I have already said, not only gives an air of indecorum to the constitution considered in itself, but tends in a measure to foster avarice. 

The mention of avarice naturally suggests a criticism on the inequality of property. While some of the Spartan citizen have quite small properties, others have very large ones; hence the land has passed into the hands of a few. And this is due also to faulty laws; for, although the legislator rightly holds up to shame the sale or purchase of an inheritance, he allows anybody who likes to give or bequeath it. Yet both practices lead to the same result. And nearly two-fifths of the whole country are held by women; this is owing to the number of heiresses and to the large dowries which are customary. It would surely have been better to have given no dowries at all, or, if any, but small or moderate ones. As the law now stands, a man may bestow his heiress on any one whom he pleases, and, if he die intestate, the privilege of giving her away descends to his heir. Hence, although the country is able to maintain 1500 cavalry and 30,000 hoplites, the whole number of Spartan citizens fell below 1000. The result proves the faulty nature of their laws respecting property; for the city sank under a single defeat; the want of men was their ruin.
To Laconophiles (like me), the lessons of Sparta tend to be highly instructive. Ancient Sparta's form of government was anything but democratic. It consisted of an Executive branch, two Legislative branches, and a form of Judicial branch that was rather religious in nature but could really hold the others to task. It also actively encouraged a secret police charged with assassinations and spying, and was a slave-backed proto-Communist society in which martial virtues, strength, and masculine prowess were held to be the supreme ideals by which a man could live. (To the point where blokes actually had to get used to the idea of boning women when they got married. It was a weird society in a lot of ways.)

Sparta's form of government lasted longer than almost any of its contemporaries. From the time of the creation of the Great Rhetra to Sparta's eventual forced inclusion in the Achaean League during Roman times, at least 1,200 years passed- during which time the vaunted democracy of the Athenians rose to glory before quickly collapsing into tyranny and imperial overstretch. Its system survived multiple invasions, natural disasters, severe defeats in battle at the hands of the Thebans and Macedonians, and slave uprisings that very nearly shattered the once unbreakable unity of the Spartan polity.

Yet Sparta, ultimately, was undone not by its lack of commitment to its way of life, or its dedication to martial virtues, or its lack of discipline and strength, but by its lack of real men.

And this, despite Queen Gorgo's famous quip that only Spartan women gave birth to real men. (Apparently a real quote, not just a figment of Zack Snyder's imagination.)

The Spartan women were once acknowledged to be the freest in all of Greece- and in the centuries leading up to Sparta's years of glory as the de facto leader of the Peloponnesian League, they recognised and understood the responsibilities that came with those freedoms, producing the strongest sons and most beautiful daughters of all of the Greek nations. Yet, as always, their feminine natures did them in, just as the nature of women always will undermine any system built on martial virtues and a reliance on masculine strength.

The lesson for modern Western democracies is simple. If you insist on giving women the same freedoms as men, if you allow women to indulge in every form of excess without consequence, and if you fail to hold them responsible for the duties that come with those freedoms, do not then be surprised or complain when the civilisation that men built with such arduous and painstaking labour comes crashing down around your ears. 


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