Sample History Essay Paper on The Influence of Religion in Societies; Spartan Society


Over the last century, sociology experts have been faced the pressure to give definitive answers to the premise of whether individuals are products of society or society is a product of individuals. According to Berger (2011), the society is a product of human; however, according to Asheim and Gertler (2015), human behavior is influenced by the society. Disapproving any of the above scholars’ school of thought may be considered imprudent considering the various studies that have been conducted to authenticate each of the provided premises. According to Herzfeld (2010), the society is a product of people; however, the traditions, beliefs, as well as customs that bind an individual are socially structured. This is to say that people’s behaviors are a product of the society. The biggest example used by Asheim and Gertler (2015) is the influence of religion on societies yet religion in itself is a phenomenon developed by people. Religion has been part of human civilization since the Stone Age. Traditionally, religion has been comprehended as a phenomenon for the guidance as well as comfort of individuals who do not have a means of evading from the pressures of life Berger (2011), Experts such as Sociologists, anthropologists, and theologians, have offered a variety of ideas that describe, define, as well as offer varied theories that explain religion. However, very little has been presented to explain the relationship between different religious beliefs or cults has on the society or the reverse. In order to give a definite answer, this article will discuss how Classical Spartan religion affected the Spartan society as well as the reverse.


Over the years, society has come to evolve and progressively become more efficient as society’s viewpoints and perspectives on various aspects of life have also changed. However, the one aspect of life that has stayed constant has been religion. The impact of a constant religious opinion on a changing society has detrimental and benign effects on the populace of such a society. According to Herzfeld (2010), religion has always been a product of people’s premise a factor that has challenged theology experts in giving a true definition of religion as well as the identification of one true religious faction. Nevertheless, one aspect that is not with contention is that religion has an effect towards an individual’s behavior. Though this premise is evident, the true extent of the religious influence extent remains an unknown phenomenon. According to Berger (2011), a society is a product of the people consequent of which the individuals credited with developing the structures of the said community determine its profile. This premised is easy to comprehend, as a society is an amalgamation of individuals who have a similar mindset. However, according to Asheim and Gertler (2015), though the society is a human product the prescribed customs, beliefs, as well as traditions tend to shape the behaviors of an individual. For example, Christians are characterized by their society. It therefor can be argued that both nations are true; however, with the use of a case study in terms of Classical Spartan religion offers a clear comprehension of the two aforementioned premises    

Spartan Society

The Spartans were one of the primary states in the Greek nation. This community was structured as a militaristic society, which was feared for its ruthlessness in the battlefield. As indicated by Hodkinson (1997) the Spartan community was overly aggressive despite the fact that they shared most these cultures with other Greek states. The reason for this aggression was placed on the influence of Greek religion on the state. 

Influence of Religion on Spartan Society

Spartans believed in a Polytheism religious culture meaning that they were devoted to many gods and not just one supreme god. It should be taken to account that though Spartans, as well as other Greek states, believed that Zeus was a superior god to the others (Olympians) but he was not the only one who determined their faith. However, as indicated by Figueira and Brulé, (2004) “The power of prophecy, the sanctity of sanctuaries and festivals, and the threat of divine punishment was unique considering their obedience and devotion” (p.156). In Spartan society, all aspects of religion spiritual festivals played a vital part in the day-to-day life for all individuals in the community. As indicated by Hodkinson and Powell (2009), the actual social structure by which the Spartans existed, was defined as “Delphic-oracle-given”. This means that the society depended on the predictions offered by the gods and oracles, in particular, the ‘Great Rhetra’ as delivered by the illustrious Lycurgus. The influence of religion was evident in a variety of factors of the Spartan society.   

Religious influence in military

The Spartans for all their famed military-based society depended on religious divination to determine the right time to engage in a war. The religious connection to the military can be first seen in the Greek Gods: however, the Spartans emphasized on worshipped in particular (Castoriadis, 1993). According to Easterling and Muir (1985), though all Greek states shared the same gods in the religious context the Spartans had an inclination in devoting their lives to Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Discouri, and Zeus (Hodkinson and Powell (2009). Nevertheless, their interpretation of these gods was dissimilar to other Greek states. For instance, Apollo, Artemis, and Athena more unequivocally worshiped by Spartans due to their militaristic nature associated with victory, wisdom, and skill in battle (Figueira and Brulé, 2004). In the case where the religious leaders saw the signs were not favorable engagement in a war would be abandoned or in some cases delayed to the point where the signs would change in their favor (Cartledge, 2003). Additionally, the Spartans would at times miss or partially participate in particular battles in the case there was a sacred festival at the time. The Spartan devotion to a militarizing their gods went to the point where other gods who had no affiliation battle by other Greek societies worshiped to provide winnings in times of battle. For instance, the statue of the Goddess of love (Armed Aphrodite) in Thornax (Hodkinson and Powell (2009).

According to Spartan religious scripts, there is a clear union concerning young Spartan boys who were still in training and adult Spartan warriors due to the mythological perspective of Apollo and the Hyacinthus (Morris and Powell, 2010). After conducting a variety of studied Ducat (2006) states that the primary rites of passage among young Spartans for both girls and boys within the society were conducted at the Artemis Orthia. These rites were associated with a tough military that included the highest form of endurance with significant religious overtones. For example, Young boys endured severe beatings even as tried to grab some cheeses off the shrine to eat during times of hanger (Fitzhardinge, 1995). The individuals who were seen to the ability to withstand the punishment were rewarded in addition to graduating to a higher stage in their military training. As indicated by Hooker (1980) religion was used by the society not only to select the better potential warrior but as a tool that shaped the minds of the next generation society.   

The significance of religion to the state was also evident during war games as presented by Spartan Army. As cited by Figueira and Brulé (2004), Spartans believed that the gods followed them to war and they carried with them sacrificial offerings in order to appease each god. Consultative sacrifices were offered before setting off for war, before engaging the enemy, as well as stepping into enemy territories (Ellam, 2013). According to Larsen (1944), Cleomenes in 494 was decommissioned after he saw ominous signs at river Erasinus. Other than the different Greek gods, Spartans likewise consulted with Oracles at Delphi for prophecies (Easterling and Muir, 1985). For example, the battle of Thermopylae Leonidas the Spartans were told that they had a likely chance to face defeat but through the willingness to fight to the death against the Persian troops they were likely to change the course of history Hooker (1980). Even with the prophecy of death, the king led 300 soldiers to battle armed with the faith that his actions would change his people’s fate in the war against the growing Persian threat. According to Ducat (2006), such devotion and reliance on religion were fully in military organizations a factor that was significant in supporting the Spartan state in waging war strategies in addition to joining battles. As cited by Cartledge (2003) this sort of reliance on religion developed a feeling of reassurance to the warriors in the instance they had been offered favorable prophecies.

Religion was also used in the teaching hoplites. Hoplites were traditionally taught religiously devotional dances as well as songs; however, the same songs served military purposes to soldiers in their barracks. Military commanders in their quest for forming coordinating war movements used the songs that had a rhythm they felt would aid their soldiers to win battles (Scullion, 2007). Spartan festivals also highlighted on how religion was used in endurance tests for instance during the Carneia and Gymnopaedia festivals (Cartledge, 1981). 

Influence of Religion on political structure

Spartans believed that a king had the divine right to perform all public sacrifices on behalf of the state. According to Figueira and Brulé (2004), Spartans believed that their king came from a lineage of the gods and had the purity of a priest. This religious link between the kings and priests gave the authorities substantial political power in terms of interpretation and jurisdiction. Spartans held the premise that the god’s divine message was received by the kings through public sacrifices. They also believed that the kings were significantly pure that they could consult the oracle at will (Hodkinson and Powell (2009). According to Herzfeld (2010), the devotion to the kings meant that as prophecies were provided by the oracles, the kings had the power to bend the will of the people and bow to the god’s will. The affection and power of religion were significantly respected by Spartans that King Cleomenes was allowed to retain his position after he declined to go to battle (Larsen, 1944). In the King Cleomenes’s defense, he stated that he had observed significantly bad omens that could not allow him to lead his troops to battle. From such an example, it can be argued that a Spartan king was allowed to lose a battle or refuse to go to one on the basis of divine right. Such religious connections between the kings and the community were significant in gaining allegiance and obedience within the political arena. According to Hooker (1980), studies on Spartan communities highlighted a trend that affected the kings in that the more the battles fought and on the more a king was considered a divine ruler considering highlighting the highest level of loyalty from his subjects and protection of his children. Conversely, the existence of famine and military disasters highlighted the unworthiness of particular leaders causing reduced loyalty and increased cases of assassination as the society believed in military strength.

As aforementioned the Spartans, unlike other Greek states, had an inclination towards the prophesies as presented by the oracles. It for this reason that the Spartan society had a number of individuals in groups that were in charge of dealing with the Oracles from Delphi in addition to keeping records of the signs sent by the gods and their meanings through different generations. Nevertheless, the power to consult the gods was exclusive to the king just power was. As indicated by Asheim and Gertler (2015), religion was used to demonstrate both power and prestige factor of authority that was vital in the society. Political lines could only be drawn using the elite; for instance, the king always offered the masses with the message from the oracle; however, his will was presented by the elite individuals who interpreted the prophesies as the king’s will demanded.

The influence of religion on social structure

Sociology studies have indicated that the Spartan society traditionally valued conformity, coherence as well as held the premise that a strong social order would allow stay alive through time. The authorities then used these principles to their favor by using religion as a reinforcement. In other words, the Spartans believe their way of life, their connection to each other, as well as the responsibilities presented to each one of them was pre-determined by the gods who were never to be disobeyed. This devotion saw the Spartans thrive in a society that was structured to encourage a sense of community as well as kinship a factor that relinquished the idea of private religion. An example of such social strength and cohesion was witnessed every after sacrificial festivals led by the king. In this case, the Spartans were enquired to share sacrificial meat amongst each other as a sign of spreading divine wealth to all in the community (Scullion, 2007). Religion as used in the premise of ‘blessings from the god’s supported a system of shared masses. Other forms of social cohesions could be seen in other Spartan festivals that included other states. As cited by (Cartledge, 1981) Spartans were a military states that concurred significant lands taking up new communities that under normal circumstances felt the need to be rebellious to the authorities. However, by forcing new members into taking part in religious festivals that encourages cohesion the state became stronger. Religion in this cases was employed to bring different communities together by uniting gods from different groups to social as well as political institutions (Hodkinson and Powell, 2009). During the Hyakinthia festivals, the Spartan citizens entertained their neighbors regardless of their origin as well as their slaves at dinner (Scullion, 2007). The festivals allowed the Spartans bond with both their subordinate subjects and past foes to form a social structure that was more cohesive consequently growing in strength. Additionally during the festivals the all society members would mourn the dead, as well have thanksgiving for the life that they had a factor that was religiously held to endorse the need for a closed society. The festivals of Carneia likewise made emphasis on a communal time of merriment in the honor of the heroism, courage, and success of previous wars (Scullion, 2007). The religious connection within the festivities was significantly respected a factor that was highlighted when the Spartans arrived late to fight the Marathon 490BC. It should be taken to note that during the festive Spartan warriors were not allowed to travel to battles.  

Despite the variety of festivals that encouraged cohesion the religious festival of Gymnopaediae promoted a different form of cohesion as it was only based on social control and hierarchy. During this festival, any individual who did not meet a particular criteria or standard was excluded from joining the rest of the community. According to Wade-Gery (1949), all the individuals who were excluded from the Gymnopaediae were forced to re-enact the festivities in the cold winters where they were obligated to proclaim their punishment and finally humiliated for not following Spartan regulations. Nevertheless, the Spartans themselves were subjected to a differentiation of their own considering that they have represented through social classes a factor that had its own form of humiliation (Herzfeld, 2010). For example, during the festivities, all Spartans were given parts of songs that they would sing and war cowards (Presents), as well as infertile fathers (Agamoi), were given humiliating choruses in the Gymnopaediae (Wade-Gery, 1949). The festivals were traditionally occasions of publicity and were often exploited as an opportunity to shape the society through fear. In some instances, the humiliation was significant and some individuals mostly war cowered were forced to commit suicide in order to proclaim the end of ultimate humiliation from the community in the process saving their families from social punishments. From the onset, it is evident that Gymnopaediae festivals brought a firm of social separation but this is not the case. According to Asheim and Gertler (2015), it was always up to the Spartans to choose their own class through the year. For instance, Spartans believed that the gods had offered them all the blessings and protection form their enemies; consequently, Presents were termed as non-believers. They were not only social outcasts but also religious rebels who did not believe in the Spartan way of life and were not invited to enjoy the bounties of war. In this case, religion was used a negative motivator as no Spartan wanted to be identified as a religious non-believer but a hero and courageous warrior. A study by Hodkinson and Powell (2009), highlighted that of all the festivals in the Spartan calendar none was more anticipated than Gymnopaediae as it was a chance for Spartans to show their gods their devotion as well as pick the weaker members out of the community.  

From the information presented, it is evident that religion despite being shared by a variety of Greek societies the Spartans developed their own culture of militaristic aggression. Therefore it is evident that the society is a product of human behavior such as religion.


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