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Author:
Kevin Hendryx
Last Updated:
10/03/02
Title:
Laconically Speaking - A Glossary of Terms

Below are less-than-everyday terms that will be encountered on this site and that relate to aspects of the Spartan experience. Rather than assume prior knowledge or constantly stopping for definitions, we'll explain them here in one place. You know-it-alls and smartypants' can just keep moving along.

Note on spelling: There is no real consensus even among scholars on transliterating Greek names or words into English. For many years Greek words were routinely given Latinized forms, which are still more common in both older sources and common usage. (Lacedaemon rather than Lakedaimon, Aeschylus for Aischylos, Lycurgus for Lykourgos, Alexander for Alexandros, Plato for Platon, and so on.) The current trend is to remove Latinate influences and use forms that are more euphonious and closer to modern Greek. (But this is also deceptive, since modern Greek and classical Greek pronunciations can be very different.) Still, the Latinized forms are encountered frequently and are probably more familiar to the layman, if any of this can be said to be familiar at all. These will therefore be favored here in the interests of ease over academic accuracy. We will not pretend to be 100 percent consistent in this approach, however. Nitpickers may hold our feet to the fire in the Assembly.

Ready? (It's all Greek to us, too.)

agoge - "training"; the education and discipline system enforced on Spartan citizens.

Dioscuri - "Sons of God"; the twin mythic heroes Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces), celebrated as a state cult at Sparta.

Dorians - Greek-speaking tribes originating north of Greece proper who moved south into the Aegean world beginning c.1100 B.C. They are thought to have ended the Mycenaean Greek civilization and instituted the so-called Dark Ages of Archaic Greece. Many Archaic Greek city-states were established or assimilated by the Dorians, including Sparta (c.1000 B.C.).

Ecclesia - the Assembly in Spartan government, comprised of all male citizens over age 30 (or possibly 20). Also sometimes known as the Apella.

enomotia - the smallest tactical unit in the Spartan army, roughly comparable to a platoon, commanded by an enomotarch.

ephor - one of five powerful civil magistrates in Spartan government, elected annually by the Assembly.

Eurotas River - flows south through Laconia between the Taygetus and Parnon mountain ranges. Sparta lies on the west (right) bank.

Gerousia - the Council of Elders in Spartan government, comprised of the two kings plus 28 citizen members aged at least 60 years who were elected by the Assembly to life terms.

harmost - a Spartan military governor.

Hellas - Greek term for Greece. A "Greek" is a Hellene.

helot - subjected peoples under Spartan state control, forming an underclass of serfs.

hippeis - the royal bodyguard of 300 picked soldiers. Often translated as "knights," but the royal guard did not fight as cavalry.

hoplite - a heavily armed footsoldier in Greek armies, typically of the citizen class.

hypomeiones - "inferiors"; a shadowy class thought to be Spartiates who had lost full citizenship status due to poverty or other disenfranchising circumstances.

kleros - an allotment of cultivatable land distributed to a Spartan citizen.

Lacedaemon - the river plain surrounding Sparta itself, often used synonymously for the city or the Spartan state. The initial letter L (lambda), the Greek "L", was the shield blazon of the Spartan soldier.

Laconia - the southeastern section of the Peloponnesus, of which Sparta was the chief city.

lochos - a unit of the Spartan army, roughly comparable to a battalion or regiment, commanded by a lochagos.

Messenia - the southwestern section of the Peloponnesus, conquered by Sparta in two bitter wars between c.735 B.C. and c.620 B.C.

mora - a unit of the Spartan army, roughly comparable to a brigade or corps, commanded by a polemarch.

mothaces - "warriors"?; this term is still far from clear or agreed upon, but seems likely to refer to the sons of certain hypomeiones (not helots) who shared the full agoge training and upbringing as foster-brothers of more privileged Spartiates. Also called mothones by some sources.

neodamodeis - "new citizens"; helots awarded their freedom in exchange for military service or as reward for meritorious actions. They were not, however, considered true Spartiates and did not share in their political rights.

Peloponnesus - the large southern peninsula of mainland Greece, home to Laconia and other regions and connected to central Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth.

perioeci - "dwellers around," or "neighbors"; Laconians who were largely self-governing freemen but not Spartan citizens.

phalanx - a tight formation of hoplites, typically eight ranks or more deep, in a line of battle.

rhetra - literally "a law," the Rhetra is often used to mean the whole of the classical Spartan constitution attributed to the lawgiver Lycurgus.

Sciritis - highland region of the central Peloponnesus between Laconia proper and Arcadia, ruled by Sparta and supplying a corps of specialized infantry to the Spartan army.

Spartiate - a member of the citizen class of Sparta; also known as the homoioi, "equals," or "peers."

syssitia - the communal, military-style dinner messes of adult Spartan males, generally of about sixteen members each. Admission to a syssition was a requirement for full citizenship.

Thermopylae - "Hot Gates"; a pass between the mountains and the sea connecting central with northern Greece. In 480 B.C. a Greek army led by the Spartan King Leonidas fought a desperate battle here against invading Persians, and the Spartans fell to the last man.

Kevin Hendryx

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