Rome vs. Sparta

Two of the most famous locations in ancient history have cemented themselves as ancient power-houses that left social marks so strong they persist today in various forms. 

As a polity, Rome comprised significant territorial assets in holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa, Europe, and Western Asia.

On the other hand, Sparta was the prime force of the unified Greek military during the Greco-Persian Wars. It was occupied in rivalry with the rising naval power of Athens.  

So when it comes to Rome vs. Sparta, what are the differences? An ancient Greek city-state, Sparta had a strong focus on military pursuits.

On the contrary, the Greek civilization firmly influenced Rome, which was initially a republic and then an empire. Consequently, Rome conquered Greece in 192 BCE, and Sparta became a famous attraction for ancient Roman tourists.

Is Sparta older than Rome? 

Yes, Sparta, as part of the Greek city-state, precedes Rome. 

What happened to the Romans after Rome fell?

After the Roman empire’s collapse, Roman rulers and kings, ethnic chiefs, Roman governors after retirement, warlords, bandits, generals, and peasant leaders all converted the former Roman provinces into feudal kingdoms. 

History of Rome vs. Sparta 

A map depicting the territory of Ancient Sparta
A map depicting the territory of Ancient Sparta

Traditions say that on the 21st of April, 753 B.C., Remus and his brother Romulus, began founding Rome in the same location where the she-wolf suckled them when they were orphaned infants. The legend of Romulus and Remus originated sometime in the fourth century B.C. The Roman scholar- Marcus Terentius– set the exact date of Rome’s founding in the first century B.C.

Sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa, the twins Romulus and Remus were fathered by the war god- Mars. The mythical city- of Alba Longa was located in the Alban Hills, southeast of what would later become Rome. 

Amulius, brother of Numitor, ordered the infants to be drowned in the river Tiber. However, being demigods, they survived, washing ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill. This is where the she-wolf suckled and nurtured them until the shepherd Faustulus found them. 

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Similarly, when the twins founded Rome, Sparta was already a unique city-state in Greece. Ancient Spartans followed a rigorous military indoctrination program. This diaspora was firmly instilled in Spartan citizens.

Legend, likewise, mentions the founding date of Sparta to the Mycenean times, at around 1000 BC, when the Dorian tribe migrated to the region. During that period, Sparta was under the rule of King Menelaus – the legend who played a vital role in defeating Troy.

In like manner, Lycurgus, who came to power after the neighboring state of Argos defeated Sparta in 650 BC, thoroughly reorganized the military state. Lycurgus converted Sparta into a broader oligarchy from a city-state that was under the rule of aristocratic elites. He also dedicatedly turned Sparta to serve warfare solely.

Consequently, Sparta led military attacks and was able to conquer most of the surrounding territories by 500 BC. Furthermore, even the whole region of the Peloponnese located in Southwest Greece was under the dominance of Sparta. 

Military of Rome vs. Sparta  

An image of ancient weapon Onager
An image of ancient Roman weapon Onager

The military of Imperial Rome had armies of professional soldiers who volunteered for 20 years of active duty. Expanding their militia through the organization of conquered communities in Italy, the Roman army formed into a system that produced vast reservoirs of the workforce. One of Rome’s significant demands of all defeated enemies was to provide men for the military every year. 

Moreover, with the primary objective of protecting the Pax Romana, the Roman military of the early empire had three major divisions. They included- the garrison at Rome, the provincial army, and the navy. 

The Roman garrison included the Praetorians and the vigiles who functioned as police and firefighters. Similarly, the provincial army comprised the Roman legions and auxiliaries from the provinces (the auxilia). On the flip side, the navy in ancient Roman times did not enjoy the same prestige as the land militia. It was, nevertheless, instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean Basin

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Correspondingly, Spartans began their military membership at the age of 20 in one of the syssitia- clubs/dining messes composed of fifteen members each. The then ruler of Sparta required a mandatory membership from every Spartan citizen. 

Within the syssitia, each group learned how to bond and rely on one another, a tactic that would be proven extremely useful in warfare. Moreover, Spartans were not eligible for public office elections until they were 30, and even then, the diaspora recognized only native Spartans as full citizens. Only they were obliged to undergo the law-prescribed training and participate in, and contribute financially to, the syssitia.

Historians regard Sparta as the first city to practice athletic nudity. Scholars also claim that it was also the first city-state to formalize pederasty. 

Religion in Roma vs. Sparta  

A depiction of one of the Roman Gods
A depiction of one of the Roman Gods

While mainly encompassing the practices and beliefs the Romans regarded as their own, the religious dissolution in the Roman Empire also incorporated aspects of the many cults that the empire imported. It also included a myriad of religious customs people practiced throughout the provinces. Since the Romans conquered Greece, the Greek religious environment meshed with Roman practices.  

As such, the Romans, similar to ancient Greeks, had many deities they honored. While extending dominance that spread around the Mediterranean world, the Romans practiced the policy of absorbing the cults and deities of other peoples rather than eradicating them.

This was, in fact, one way that Rome promoted stability among diverse peoples with different religious heritages. Moreover, the Romans also built temples to local deities that represented their theology within the hierarchy of Roman religion.  

By the same token, religious observations also structured the Roman calendar; Romans devoted as many as 135 days of the year to religious festivals and games (ludi) in the imperial era. Furthermore, women, enslaved people, and children participated in various religious festivities. 

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Likewise, Sparta also practiced Greek polytheism. Religious practices in Sparta encompassed a collection of rituals, beliefs, and mythology that originated in ancient Greece, with Spartans worshipping the twelve major Olympian gods and goddesses– Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Artemis, Apollo, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia or Dionysus. In addition to the Olympian Gods, some Spartans also practiced philosophies of stoicism and some forms of platonism.

Roman Sparta

An image depiction the ruins of Sparta
An image depiction the ruins of Sparta

By 200 BCE, Sparta had conformed itself to the likes of other Greek city-states, including adopting money as a currency. However, despite the conformity, Sparta still refused allyship with the other city-states, rarely allying with them against external threats. 

When Rome invaded Greece, the Spartans oriented themselves with the Greeks and war against the other city-states. By the time 192 BCE rolled around, Rome was victorious and annexed Greece and Sparta into the Republic by proxy.

During this time, Roman culture was already primarily Greco-Roman. Thus, subsuming Greece into the Republic was not as complicated as other Roman conquests. Roman citizens admired Greek cities and found common ground with the Hellenic Republic. 

Similarly, as Sparta was home to a well-respected military culture and was known for a strong militia, it became a famous tourist attraction for the Romans. They even built a theatre in Sparta, hosting public spectacles with grand success as the public regularly flogged to witness the displays.

However, as the Roman empire declined, the Greek provinces and cities, including Sparta, Sparta’s population began falling too. By 400 CE, Sparta, alongside Athens, was enveloped in the folds of history. 

Conclusion 

Both Rome and Sparta’s legendary military legacy still stands today. Both the Roman army and the Spartans are considered land-fighting forces to be reckoned with. 

Legendary battles, such as the 480 BCE war against a small group of Spartans and the Thespians and Thebans army, are still sources of modern artistic and creative inspiration. 

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