Rome and Sparta are two of the most famous locations in ancient history. What is the difference between Spartans and Romans?
Sparta was an ancient Greek city-state with a strong focus on military pursuits. Rome, at first a republic and then an empire, was strongly influenced by the Greek civilization. In 192 BCE, Rome conquered Greece, and Sparta became a popular attraction for Roman tourists.
For more on Sparta, Rome, and Roman Sparta, read on.
Sparta was an ancient Greek city-state, which focused on warfare at the expense of other pursuits. Spartan men were trained from childhood to become warriors, with mandatory military service for all males.
This commitment to military training and warfare meant that Spartans were among the most elite warriors of the ancient world. They utilized the phalanx formation, interlocking shields to create an almost impenetrable wall while stabbing at the enemy with spears.
Sparta was ruled by two kings who shared equal power, but those kings were also members of a council of 30 elders. The council of elders determined matters of law.
Women occupied a higher status in Spartan society compared to the majority of Greek city-states; it was important that they were healthy and treated with respect because it was their duty to give birth to the next generation of Spartan warriors.
The peak of the Spartan civilization occurred at roughly the same time as the birth of the Roman Republic in approximately 500 BCE. A series of military defeats by the city-state of Thebes around 370 BCE marked the end of Sparta as a significant power but it remained independent for a further two centuries.
Rome was part of a kingdom for many years until its people rebelled against their rulers in approximately 509 BCE. They decided that the people should rule themselves and created a complex system of law, forming the Roman Republic.
Rome was heavily influenced by ancient Greece, in terms of its architecture, culture, and military tactics. It took inspiration from Greece and the other innovative civilizations of the period and developed them further, with the greatest engineers of the age.
In the Republic, Roman citizens were able to elect senators to act on their behalf, using a system of representation to enact the will of the people. This was the case until Julius Caesar became dictator of Rome and was assassinated, sparking events that resulted in a return to hereditary monarchy and the birth of the Roman Empire.
At its height, the Roman Empire was one of the largest and most influential civilizations in history. Constant political intrigue and external threats led to a decline and, in 410 CE, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, with the Empire losing its capital. In 476 CE, the Western Roman Empire collapsed completely.
By about 200 BCE, Sparta had become more similar to the other Greek city-states, including adopting money as a currency. Still, Sparta refused to cooperate with the other city-states and rarely allied with them against external threats.
When Rome invaded Greece, the Spartans aligned with them and went to war against the other city-states. In 192 BCE, Rome was victorious and incorporated Greece into the Republic.
Roman culture was essentially already Greco-Roman, so incorporating Greece into the Republic was less complicated than many other Roman conquests. It was easy for Roman citizens to look at Greek cities with admiration and find common ground.
Sparta was home to a respected and unique military culture and it soon became a popular tourist attraction for Romans. A theatre was built, where boys were regularly flogged in a public spectacle. This had been a common punishment for Spartans who failed to meet expectations but these theatrical displays were partly for show.
The Greek cities thrived as part of the Roman Empire but as the empire declined, so too did its provinces. By 400 CE, Sparta’s population was in the process of abandoning the city. One of ancient Greece’s two most famous cities alongside Athens was quickly consigned to history.
A new fortified town, Mystras, was founded nearby during the Middle Ages. When Greece was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, tourists frequently mistook Mystras as being ancient Sparta.
When Greek gained its independence in 1830, King Otto decided that a new city should be built on the site of ancient Sparta. The new Sparta preserved as much of the ancient city as possible with the ruins lying to the north of the modern city.