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Unknown Soldiers Episode 17: The Spartan PR Department - Maps, Images & Sources

Welcome back from the holiday break, and welcome back to my regular episodes! This week the Unknown Soldiers Podcast is finally going to the ancient world. Today's episode is a major reassessment of the Spartan military legend. I find it, well, somewhat lacking.


I'm not the first or last person to point out a lot of the brutality and horror behind the Spartan system, or its deficiencies in a military setting. Sparta achieved a lot of its reputation by...just spinning their stories in a way that made them look good. Its society was unusually cruel even for the day, but also inflexible, rigid and ultimately self-destructive. The broken society produced a broken military. Far from being the unstoppable military machine of popular history, Sparta's soldiers had serious weaknesses derived from their traditions and inability to reform. Today, I examine all of these problems in what I hope is STYLE.


We're moving away from Western Europe and America for a while, everyone. But we'll be back eventually! We have places to go. Over January and February we'll be going to Greece, India, Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea...all sorts of places. Stay tuned for further developments on the Unknown Soldiers Podcast!


Below I have some maps, a handy chart I did to assess Sparta's major battles (something I promised in the course of the episode) and finally my sources! Catch you guys next week!


Greece During the Persian Wars, 480 BC

Close-up map showing territory of Sparta c. 480 BC

Map of the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC, illustrating the tactical maneuver I talked about. Epaminondas's heavy column is on the Theban LEFT, breaking through the Spartan RIGHT.

SPARTAN LAND BATTLES, 480 BC-362 BC

BATTLE

DATE

OUTCOME

NOTES

Thermopylae

480 BC

Defeat

Plataea

479 BC

Victory

As part of large Greek alliance

Tegea

474 BC

Victory

Tanagra

457 BC

Victory

Siege of Plataea

430-427 BC

Victory

like the only successful siege

Olpae

426 BC

Defeat

Pylos & Sphacteria

425 BC

Defeat

Combined land/naval action, but mostly land

Megara

424 BC

Victory

Amphipolis

422 BC

Victory

1st Mantinea

418 BC

Victory

Phyle

404 BC

Defeat

Haliartus

395 BC

Defeat

Sardis

395 BC

Victory

Nemea

394 BC

Victory

Coronea

394 BC

Victory

Lechaeum

391 BC

Defeat

Abydos

390? BC

Defeat

Olynthus

382 BC

Defeat

Thespiae

376 BC

Defeat

Tegyra

375 BC

Defeat

Leuctra

371 BC

Defeat

2nd Mantinea

362 BC

Stalemate

(but basically a defeat)

SPARTAN NAVAL BATTLES, 480 BC-362 BC

BATTLE

DATE

OUTCOME

NOTES

Artemisium

480 BC

Stalemate

Most ships and battle plan contributed by Athens

Salamis

480 BC

Victory

Most ships and battle plan contributed by Athens

Mycale

479 BC

Victory

Most ships and battle plan contributed by Athens, see a trend here?

Rhium & Naupactus

429 BC

Defeat

Syme

411 BC

Victory

Cynossema

411 BC

Defeat

Abydos

411 BC

Defeat

Cyzicus

410 BC

Defeat

Combined land/sea operation, mostly on sea

Notium

407 BC

Victory

Arginusae

406 BC

Defeat

Aegospotami

404 BC

Victory

Naxos

376 BC

Defeat

Note: I will say that Bret Devereaux, cited below, spells out on his blog essentially what I spell out in this episode. Some insights came from him, others are mine.


SOURCES


Cartledge, Paul, The Spartans: the World of the Warrior Heroes of Ancient Greece. New York: Vintage, 2003.


Cole, Myke. The Bronze Lie: Shattering the Myth of Spartan Warrior Supremacy. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021.


Devereaux, Bret. “A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry.” Blog. https://acoup.blog/


Kennell, Nigel M. Spartans: A New History. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.


Pomeroy, Sarah B. Spartan Women. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


Rahe, Paul A. The Spartan Regime: Its Character, Origins, and Grand Strategy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.


Rusch, Scott M. Sparta at War: Strategy, Tactics and Campaigns, 550-362 BC. London: Frontline, 2011.

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