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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 67 - Trousers Down, and Present the S**t (Weddings Week)

Tom's Notes; The Spartans


Tang from Australia, “Top of the morning to you”:

“Yeah, ok, so its not Hardcore History. They typically only use a couple of sources, but they don't let that get in the way of a good story, and it will have you in tears in parts. Not very PC at all, maybe not appropriate if your easily offended (but com'on, live a little, have a bit of perspective ya snowflake) or for little kiddies.”

And that source is The Usborne Illustrated First History of the World. Yep, we are to Dan Carlin what Coronavirus is to Tinder spread super-gonorrhoea; a bit of light relief. I’d also like to point out that between Sam and I, we have 2 more degrees in history than Dan Carlin has ever earned.

I’m referring to Plutarch again this week! Hooray for Plutarch and I’m going to discuss what he tells us about Spartan marriage.

The Spartan’s; a brief synopsis; Sparta was an Ancient Greek city state famous for its role in the Second Persian invasion of Greece. The Persians were trying to take control of what we now know as Greece, the Greek city states, well, actually only a few of the more powerful of them, notably Athens and Sparta, formed a confederacy to fight back against the Persians. We have the famous battle of Thermopylae where a combined Greek force held off an enormous Persian force at a narrow pass for 7 days. This ended when the Persians sneaked around the back of the Greeks. When defeat was inevitable, the majority of the Greek forces retreated and Spartan king Leonidas had his famous last stand with 300 Spartans, but also, hilariously, 700 Thespians. I bet the battle loving, ultra-masculine, super disciplined Spartans loved that:

“A spear, a spear, my kingdom for a spear! How am I looking darling?”

“Oh don’t you look lovely! Glowing, darling, glowing!”

“I’m just going to practice my spear thrust, spray some of that water on my forehead would you”

“Oh here they come, those big horrible Persians, angry face, me me me me me me”

“The weeds in Thebes grow mostly from seeds”

“My mate in Miletus made me mock my measured minotaur”

“Homer liked a stoner with a boner”

No, seriously, the modern word ‘Thespian’ is not derived from the Beoetian city, it comes from a chap called Thespis, who Greek legend has it was the first actor. Although the two words have a similar origin.

I should also note that there was probably a large number of Helots who fought to the end too. Helots lived next door to the Spartans and the Spartans enslaved them. So it’s a bit of a Tensin Norgay moment here.

The Spartans later had it out with the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War; the two wanted to be the big Daddy-o’s in Greece. All of this took place in the 5th Century BC.

Right, Plutarch talks about Spartan marriage in his work, The Life of Lycurgus. So I suppose I’d better introduce Lycurgus aye? Well Lycurgus is a semi-mythical figure who it is claimed, instituted reforms in Sparta that made it the militarily kick-ass but rather boring Sparta that we know and love. We don’t really know if he existed or not to be honest.

Regardless, Plutarch is probably the go-to source on Lycurgus (he even admits that it’s difficult to find out exactly who he was) and so without further a do, let’s see what he has to say about Spartan marriage:

“He made the maidens exercise their bodies in running, wrestling, casting the discus, and hurling the javelin, in order that the fruit of their wombs might have vigorous root in vigorous bodies and come to better maturity.”

“Ze master race requires you to bare strong children for the Reich”

Marriage was very important to Lycurgus’s Sparta, in fact, bachelors weren’t allowed to exercise with other men and women and they had to march around markets singing a song about themselves; presumably something about not being married. I also assume that they didn’t have to do this everyday, maybe just holidays.

“It’s only a game show, better believe…

Get this for a wedding night tradition Sam, the beautiful Spartan bride was taken away by force, dressed in a dull tunic, she had her hair chopped off and then she was made to lie on a pallet in a dark room. Oh yes! Just as I have imagined it to be! The husband would then sneak in when he could, bonk her, or quote “loosen her virgi’s zone” for a short period of time, long enough for many of the women to become pregnant. Quote, this “united husbands and wives when their bodies were full of creative energy and their affections new and fresh, not when they were sated and dulled by unrestricted intercourse”.

The next bit seems very Ancient Greek; if an older man had a lovely young wife who he couldn’t make preggers, he would introduce her to a younger man, let them get it on, presumably watching with a lecherous glow to his face, before adopting the children. Likewise, if a man saw a women who was producing top children, when his wife was producing cretins, he could ask the women’s husband if he could have a go. Apparently these cultural practices were designed to prevent adultery, jealousy and hostility between Spartans, by keeping everything out in the open. It also linked in to the idea that children were the children of all Sparta, not just their mother and father.

Polybius confirms this in his The Histories, quote “it was a hereditary custom and quite usual for three or four men to have one wife or even more if they were brothers, the offspring being the common property of all, and when a man had begotten enough children, it was honourable and quite usual for him to give his wife to one of his friends.” HAHA, two sources, take that Dan Carlin!

Although Herodotus suggests in his Historys that this was unusual for the Spartans when talking about Anaxandrides. Have it!

Spartans weren’t particularly nice to children; they would assess children and those who were disabled or weak, would be thrown into a chasm because they were of no use to the state. Similarly, midwives would bathe newborn children in red wine because apparently it weeded out the strong from the weak. Nobody has studied the prevalence of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism in Sparta but I think it would make an interesting PHD. Dan Carlin, you should give this a go, once you’ve got a degree in history.

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