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Удк 808. 51«652»: 130. 2 И. А. Пантелеева

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И. А. Пантелеева

Донецкий национальный

университет экономики и торговли

имени Михаила Туган-Барановского,

Донецк (Украина)

Ancient Sparta: cultural ‘totalitarianism’ or

conservatism of traditions

Many today’s concepts are so natural and clear to us that there is no doubt about correctness of their meaning, about their true etymology, and, of course, about relevance of their use (creativity, tolerance, totalitarianism, etc.). But when we speak about certain historical periods, the choice of definitions becomes a choice’s problem, problem of finding out the true sense of the corresponding terminology. And while we are moving back, away from our "comfortable" time, the problem of justification becomes more sharply. Par example, it isn't absolutely correct to tell about a tolerance problem in Ancient Greece as such definition was used in no work of ancient authors. That’s why this forces many scientists to claim that in antiquity there was no art creative work, or to tell in a modern way, no creativity, they support the point of view about the lack of its obvious mention in ancient texts. The same thing can be told and about concept ‘totalitarianism’. No word in old texts, no existing phenomenon. We are trying to draw parallel between today’s and ancient understanding totalitarianism or that can be regarded so.

We know that totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life whenever necessary. The term totalitarianism was coined to describe the regime of Benito Mussolini but the philosophy has used it actually for hundreds years. The centralization of political power and control of citizens by an authoritarian state are political trends that date back to the dawn of history. In the ancient world, in both the East and the West, totalitarianism evolved into highly elaborate systems of philosophy, from Plato's views in the Republic, to the ideas of Lord Shang in ancient China, to the very detailed plans for totalitarian rule described by Kautilya in ancient India.

As the aim of me report I would like to keep aside understanding totalitarianism applied only to the political sphere, thereby, I want to show origin of cultural conservatism of Ancient Sparta, to determine the sources of totalitarianism of ancient socio and cultural reality.

To begin with we should say that during a classical era Sparta and Athens were two leading poleis of the Balkan Greece. Sparta, conservative, extensive and oligarchic, was an antipode of Athens with their developed democracy, with magnificently blossomed culture, technē and trade. They represent two opposite concepts of relationship of the individual and the state, and their irreconcilable rivalry was expressed not only in political, but ideological and cultural opposition of two various in essence statehood types, either.

The Pre - Lycurgus era predetermined cultural hegemony of Sparta among other poleis, military hegemony of the Dorians among other Greek tribes that subsequently gave the chance, for long time, even during self-isolation, to keep ancient traditions and to support the leadership. Archaic Sparta wasn't that stronghold of conservatism it became subsequently, and it didn't avoid culture innovations.

Regularity in social life of Spartan society demanded political regularity. In early Sparta it was far to the civil peace. At that time Spartan society was quite groundless, and political "preferences" were shown by the polar forms of government: changing the power of the καῖσαρ turning into despotism of the people’s power in the form of democracy (Plutarch). Only reforms gave to society an order and stability. The own understanding culture begins by Lycurgus' coming with his private judgments on strictly regulated Spartan lifestyle.

Isolation of Sparta was predetermined by a number of different factors which were related to all activity of the Spartans. First, rather political intentions, than economic ones defined closeness of Sparta to the outside world. Secondly, it is possible to consider as attempt to isolate Sparta from the outside world the "voluntary" refusal of the Dorians from existing system of writing. Thirdly, an excellent balanced legislation predetermined in higher degree further foreign and domestic policy of Sparta. The person who reformed it (Lycurgus or someone else) was the ingenious creator of laws. Not without reason the Spartan society attracted attention of all great philosophers of Greece reflecting on an ideal state system (Diogenes of Sinope, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and Cicero).

The legislation, in higher degree, caused the vector of development of Spartan public culture. The most ancient legislation in Sparta consisted of a number of so-called Rhetras accepted or confirmed in Delphi and entered into use by Lycurgus. He didn't consider usefully writing down the laws thinking that hand-written laws, in some private occasions, weren’t necessary that’s why "Rhetra" was the law document, "oral — spoken" or "stipulated". But for maintenance of the legislative order the Spartans had to use the material which would fix them for future generations. That’s why the public performance’s tradition appeared apropos. It was, in essence, the keeper of laws and foundations. It was directed on maintenance of religion, laws and singing heroes in order to arouse to citizens feelings of love to them, admiration of them and competition in following them.

Economic conditions, namely introduction of iron money, affected as it doesn’t appear strange, on preservation of the Spartan traditions of public perfarmance. Sparta wasn't object to cultural strangers’ influence as ‘neither speakers, nor holders of hetaerae, the master of gold or silver affairs didn’t come to Sparta — there wasn't money’, states Plutarch [3, p. 54].

Any public activity becomes ritual in Sparta. Rituals help unite intentions, to direct actions, to harmonize soul and to achieve general balance both physical and spiritual forces. The right of achievement of collective harmonization was attributed to ritual activity. As well as in ancient China, modification of ritual as in traditional bases meant a crime and was cruelly punished. One of such "rituals" was public performance where regulating musical activity was directed on a regulation of social "chattering". Eloquence was allowed only when it fitted the social performance regulated by ruling elite. Thus, "chattering" was separated from the art eloquence maintained by ancient laws. Being "voluntary" in isolation, Sparta, nevertheless, keeps cultural traditions and, in a certain degree, it is the innovator of many art issues.

In summary we will note that after Lycurgus fourteen princes ruled, and only with Agiad's reign ‘money first got into Sparta and with money the self-interest, thirst of wealth returned to the state’ [3, p. 69]. The way of life, morals of Spartan society were changed, and break from cultural performance traditions is observed.

Claiming the totalitarianism or conservatism of Ancient Sparta and admiring the democracy of Ancient Athens we often forget to tell the truth, or to be more precise, we attribute to Pericles the role of the first reformer, the creator of first democracy. But reality shows the black side of Athens’ progress and cultural innovations.

It is not widely taught in the Western world that after Pericles and his foreign policies led Athens into national catastrophe, the notion of democracy was largely discredited throughout the ancient Greek world. After Pericles none of the great minds of Greece, those of Socrates, Aristotle, Thucydides, Xenophon and Plato, saw him as any kind of hero. Socrates ridiculed Pericles as a "pastry cook" and his student Plato turned completely against democracy. The "cult of Pericles" and the praise of Athenian democracy is an invention of the modern Western world over 2000 years after he led Athens into ruin and disaster. Far more common among Greek intellectuals was the belief that authoritarian government and the rule of the strong were what made a city-state or empire viable.

As the history shows conservatism of Sparta, or if it is possible to call cultural totalitarianism, was one of the main conditions of preservation of the identity. Negative attitude to all strangers, "barbarians", guaranteed inviolability of the Greek originality, severity of laws — preservation of customs and morals of society.


In the given work the features of culture of one of the leading policy of Ancient Greece – Sparta are analyzed. Having laid aside the analysis of totalitarianism as one of existing form of political government, sources of totalitarianism in antique socio and cultural reality are determined; origin of cultural conservatism of Ancient Sparta is shown. It is proved that any public social activity of the inhabitant of Sparta was regulated by a traditionalism of ancient laws. It is visually shown that the political system defining character of social life of the Spartan makes the basis of Spartan public performance.

Key words: Sparta, conservatism, totalitarianism, Lycurgus’ laws, public performance.


В данной работе проанализированы особенности культуры одного из ведущего полиса Древней Греции – Спарта. Оставив в стороне анализ тоталитаризма как одной из существующих форм политического правления, определены истоки тоталитаризма относительно античной социокультурной действительности, показано происхождение культурного консерватизма Древней Спарты. Доказано, что любая публичная социальная деятельность жителя Спарты регламентировалась традиционализмом древних законов. Наглядно показано, что политический строй, определяющий характер социальной жизни спартанца, задает основу спартанскому публичному перфомансу.

Ключевые слова: Спарта, консерватизм, тоталитаризм, Ликурговы законы, публичный перфоманс.


  1. Андреев Ю. В. Архаическая Спарта. Искусство и политика / Ю. В. Андреев. — СПб.: Нестор-История, 2008. — 342 с.

  2. Курилов М. Э. Социально-политическое устройство, внешняя политика и дипломатия классической Спарты: монография / М. Э. Курилов. — Саратов: Науч. кн., 2005. — 96 с.

  3. Плутарх. Сравнительные жизнеописания. Полное издание в одном томе / Плутарх. — М.: Изд-во АЛЬФА-КНИГА, 2008. — 1263 с.

  4. Фукидид. История / Фукидид [пер. Г. А. Стратановского]. — М.: Ладомир; ООО «Фирма «Издательство АСТ», 1999. — 736 с.

  5. Isocrates. Isocrates: [in 3 v.] [E-sourse]. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1980. — Access: .

  6. Roberts, Jennifer Athens on Trial. Publisher: Princeton University Press, 1997). 426p.

  7. Thorson, T.L. Plato: Totalitarian or Democrat? Publisher: Prentice - Hall, Inc.; 1st Thus edition, 1963. 184 p.


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