In the history of the world, few societies have inspired the interest and admiration that are commanded by the legacy of the Greek city-state of Sparta. A great power in its own time, the martial achievements of Sparta have given it a nearly legendary status in the popular historical perception of the modern era. This state, founded on complete devotion to the society and the exaltation of militaristic virtues, would become one of the dominant forces of ancient Greece, often rivaling the city of Athens in accomplishment and power and participating in some of the greatest military actions of the ancient world.
The history of Sparta is the history of a society not quite like any other the world has ever seen. It is a strange balance of a state that completely dominated the life of the individual, and yet at the same time offered egalitarian freedoms that, in many instances, surpassed those of the more typical Greek states. Sparta is a nearly unique occurrence in the history of the ancient world, in that there is no other society that operated in quite the same manner with which to compare it. It was, at the same time, very much a product of the ancient Greek civilization that had spawned it and greatly different from any of the other states that surrounded it.
By far Sparta's most lasting legacy has come in the form of its military achievements. Even among warrior civilizations, Sparta is unique in having geared nearly the entire efforts of the people within its society toward the support of the military life that was required of each and every Spartan man. Military considerations permeated nearly every aspect of life in ancient Sparta, and the very course of the life of a Spartan citizen was carefully regimented in order to maximize militaristic contributions. This remarkable single-mindedness has resulted in the Spartans coming down to history as perhaps the most famous group of non-legendary warriors that the world has ever known. Even more than 2,000 years after the decline of Sparta, few military traditions have produced soldiers as highly-trained as those of the ancient Spartan military.
Establishing the history of Sparta with any objective certainty is difficult, to say the least. This is largely because the Spartans themselves kept few written historical records. What source material we may turn to, then, is often greatly removed from any kind of primary historical source. Most material that survives regarding Sparta is usually in the form of written documentations of oral traditions (in the manner of Herodotus) or comments on non-surviving historical works by historians of the later Roman era. This work will endeavor to summarize the most likely and agreed-upon elements of the history, society and culture of the ancient city-state of Sparta in a manner that is at the same time informative and accessible to the reader without a large degree of knowledge of ancient Greece. It will address both specific events that occurred within this history, as well as the general characteristics of Spartan civilization that helped to cause these events. It will also attempt to give the reader a solid framework from which to expand into future learning about this most remarkable city-state.