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25/10/2007

The Archaic and Classical period in Laconia:

Prefectural Administration of Lakonia

From ancient Greek mythology, we learn that the first inhabitants of Laconia were the Leleges [of Pelasgian origin], who were later Hellenised. This was followed by the descent of the Greek tribes from the north, resulting in Achaean domination over the region. Immediately after the Trojan War and after much conflict, Laconia was gradually conquered by the Dorians, who founded the city of Sparta [9th c. BC]. From the late 9th century BC the city was gradually organised, expanding its boundaries and control within and without Laconia. The city was initially comprised of four districts, or komes (Pitani, Messoa, Kynosoura and Limnai). Through its organisation (political, religious, military), Sparta was able first to incorporate Amycles – after much fighting – and subsequently expand throughout the whole of Laconia (as far as Elos and Gytheion) and later Messenia. Sparta was ultimately able to play a leading role in developments in the ancient Greek world. During the 6th century BC, Sparta appears as the city with the most complete and effective institutional framework, with no social disturbance or even tyranny. Events in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, however, created a reality that completely overturned its plans and policies. After the defeat of the Persians, Sparta was obliged to participate to compete in a contest to which it was so far unaccustomed. The Peloponnesian War obliged Sparta to ally with new cities and old enemies, and to extend its military campaigns to places that were not in its sphere of influence. The exercise of leadership, after the city’s victory in the Peloponnesian War, necessitated changes that had tremendous repercussions on the behaviour of the citizens and the function of the institutions [mercenary army, influx of gold from Persia, incidences of bribing Spartans, concentration of land and wealth in a few hands]. At the same time, Sparta disappointed many Greek cities, which hoped for better treatment than from the Athenians. After the defeat to the Thebans in at Leuctra in 371 and at Mantineia in 362, Sparta was never again to revive, and remained a standard local power. In addition to Sparta, which grew in the upper valley of the River Eurotas, the terrain of Laconia was such that favoured the creation of many cities (isolated valleys: along the length of the river and within the slopes of the Taygetus and Parnon, and isolated gulfs on the coasts). This is why Lakoniki was called the Hekatompolis. During the acme of the Hekatompolis it was possible to call up an army of 50,000 men outside of the country, without there being any problems in the defence of these cities. After the battle of Sellasia (221 BC), when the Spartans were defeated by the Macedonians, the city began to decline, from when the history of Laconia ceased to be identified with the history of Sparta. In 195 BC, 24 cities of Laconia, of which 18 were coastal cities, seceded from Sparta and formed their own political organ, the Peloponnesian League. This recognised Titus Quintus Flaminius as liberator (from Nabis of Sparta). Laconia was thus divided politically into two sections, the Spartan section, which included inland Lakoniki, where the tyrant Nabis ruled, and that of the Peloponnesian League, which had a similar political system to the Achaean League, and also came under its protection.

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