THIS IS NOT SPARTA.
The pop-culture dramatization of the Battle of Thermopylae in Zack Snyder’s film ‘300’ has ingrained in impressionable young minds that Spartans are all rosy-white-skinned, Anglo-Saxon-faced and excessively muscular, but that is not entirely true. Despite actual losing that iconic battle, people still idealize Spartans as the perfect warrior, perhaps due to their undying tenacity to stand against a larger army. People also often forget that there were almost 7000 other non-Spartan Greek soldiers taking part in the battle.
‘Leonidas at Thermopylae’ by Jacques-Louis David is a more conservative depiction of Spartans compared to the film ‘300’, but there is still plenty of stylization involved. It currently hangs in the Louvre in Paris.
So exactly what is a true Spartan?
Sparta was the main settlement of a larger area known as Lacedaemon in Greece, and was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution which maximizes military proficiency at all cost. The people were olive- or bronze-skinned and the males and females average about ~170cm and 165cm tall respectively. They also had dark brown to black hair, although due to population movement also had red-haired and blonde individuals. They were ruled in an oligarchy with two kings, a tradition continued since the twins of the Spartan king Aristodemus succeeded their father.
The Leonidas Moument in Thermopylae was erected in 1955 and sculpted by Vasos Falireas (left). Lladró pays homage to the legendary Leonidas with their 2023 addition, Spartan Sculpture (right).
Their social system is divided into several classes:
carrying the meaning ‘captives’, are essentially slaves of the Spartans and primarily do all labour considered as unfitting to Spartiates especially agriculture, cleaning and cooking. They are often mistreated and abused to prevent any uprising. They are also often used as light infantry, which in battles is almost always a death sentence.
are second-tier citizens who lived in a separate area controlled by the Spartan state. They have no land or serf rights but were otherwise free and became a central part of Spartan commerce including craftsmanship and manufacturing. Unlike Spartiates who are required to gain permission to leave Sparta temporarily, Perioikoi enjoy the luxury of freedom of travel at any time. They can also own Helots are sometimes conscripted in the army.
Ernest Massuet, of Lladró’s horse sculpting fame, meticulously developing the Spartan Sculpture in wet clay (top right).
The horse motive on the Spartan Sculpture’s shield actually sits in-line with the lambda symbol (λ), iconic to the Spartan army.
are male full-citizens who train from age 7 to 30 (adulthood) in the agoge (military school) and gymnasium, after which they become full-time soldiers until they become too old to serve. They are barred by law from work and enjoy full privileges including an assigned plot of land with the Helots that worked it. Profits from the worked land is the Spartiates only source of income.
Spartiate women, in contrast to other parts of ancient Greece, enjoy similar privileges to their male counterparts but do not need to serve in the military. They are highly educated and athletic; the first woman to win an Olympic event was the Spartan Princess Cynisca proficient in chariot racing.
Exactly what makes the Spartan army so formidable? Compared to other Greek armies who usually play a game of numbers, the smaller Spartan compensate through unbreakable discipline and obedience. They became extremely proficient with the hoplite phalanx – an army formation where units march closely, lock shield on the front row and project spears over that. Their years of military training even in peace times also gave them the leadership advantage, where single officers could command several hundred men – a feat other Greek armies cannot achieve.
LLADRÓ’S SPARTAN SCULPTURE
Lladró’s Spartan Sculpture pays tribute to the Spartiate soldier - strong, proud, disciplined.
Made from black matt porcelain highlighting the athletic prowess of the Spartiate physique, he is adorned with a spectacular aged silver-lustre helmet with blue-enamelled plumes, a strapped pauldron, an armoured fustanella (skirt), vambraces, and greaves. His arsenal is completed with a spear and marbled and black-enamelled shield branded with a horse head. Metallic copper lustre highlights the intricate detailing of the Spartan’s outfit. The front of the helmet is removable thanks to a magnet system in place, showcasing the stoic face of a warrior.
The Spartan Sculpture joins the ranks of Lladró’s other warriors including the Gladiator Figurine and Samurai Warrior Figurine.
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