ART, ARCHITECTURE, MUSIC, POETRY, AND DANCE
The common assumption that Sparta
lacked artistic achievements is incorrect.
Pausanias, traveling through Sparta in
the second century AD, recorded hundreds of significant buildings
– temples, monuments, tombs, and public buildings –
that were part and parcel of Spartan art and culture.
contemporary sources, Sparta was particularly renowned for its music
Spartan sculptors were active in
pan-European sites such as Delphi and Olympia.
Spartan bronze works were coveted
as gifts and imports.
Spartan poets were admired
throughout the ancient world – and it was one of these who
wrote the first recorded heterosexual love poems known today.
first at architecture, Sparta was distinguished by its early democracy
and prosperity, and by the fact that it was unconquered and unplundered
until relatively late in ancient times. In short, its
monuments were built early and there was no compulsion to replace them.
(We should not forget that the splendor of the Athenian Acropolis is
largely a function of the fact that the Persians destroyed all the
older temples on the site. As a result, Pericles was able to
carry out a comprehensive modernization of the entire Acropolis at the
very pinnacle of Athenian power, wealth, and artistic prominence.)
Sparta did have
buildings and temples, however, that were greatly admired in their own
time. The most significant of these were the Menelaion and the
Amyklaion. The Menelaion, which dates from roughly 700 BC,
was erected as a monument or temple to Menelaos and Helen. It
is located near the remains of a Mycenaean palace – allegedly
the palace of Menelaos – dating roughly from the 15th
century BC. The Amyklaion was admired by ancient historians
as the most significant temple in all Lacedaemon. It was
built in Sparta's Golden Age – the 6th century BC.
This temple contained a massive bronze statue of Apollo
surrounded by colonnades and stoa. Particularly worthy of
mention is also the Spartan Assembly Hall, a monumental stoa built in
the mid-6th century and greatly admired by visitors to Sparta.
The Persian Stoa, built after the victory over the Persians
in the 5th century, was later added as a counterpart on the agora and
was also significant. In short, the city of Sparta had a rich, varied,
and yet urban character – despite the disparaging remarks
made by Thucydides.
Crafts in Bronze, Ivory, and Terra Cotta
is now significant archaeological as well as historical evidence that
Sparta enjoyed an artistic Golden Age from roughly 650 to 550
BC. In this period, its artistic achievements were renowned
throughout the known world. At this time, Spartan sculptors
were active not only at home but also in cultural centers such as
Olympia and Delphi; at least nine sculptors are known by name.
Spartan bronze products were of such high quality that they
were viewed as valuable diplomatic gifts and found their way to the far
corners of the earth. Laconian pottery was, for a period of
roughly 100 years, sufficiently valued to be a significant
export commodity. Beautiful examples of Laconian pottery still exist,
providing sufficient evidence of the very high quality of both the
pottery and the painting – even if classical Corinthian and
Athenian vases and painting demonstrate a yet higher quality a century
later. Laconian ivory work was another export product,
reflecting the high quality of the craftsmen.
Sparta was most renowned in its own time for its poetry, music, and
dance. We know of four Spartan poets and lyricists whose
works were admired throughout the ancient world, although only
fragments of their work have survived the centuries. We know
that people traveled great distances to witness the choral and dance
contests of the Spartans at their various festivals, particularly the
Gymnopaedia and the Hyakinthia. It is also recorded that the
Spartans advanced into battle singing. Yet, as with all
ancient Greek music and dance, nothing remains for the modern observer
to grasp. It is left to our imagination.
One of the best
sources on Spartan art that I have found is Conrad M.
Andere Sparta (Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz/Rhein,
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