The Ancient Spartan Economy: The 3 Sectors Of Ancient Sparta

Ancient Sparta
Further ReadingWas Ancient Greece Ever United?

Sparta is known as one of the great cities of Greece. During its height in antiquity Sparta would field some of the world’s most legendary warriors. However, the real reasons for Sparta’s success was its economy and trade with neighboring cities which allowed for a ‘standing’ professional military. Out of this came the classical Spartan economy which focused upon 3 sectors.

There are 3 sectors of the ancient Spartan economy. First, ancient Sparta would begin to grow a massive agricultural sector sometime around the 7th century BC. Second, around the 6th century BC Sparta would develop a series of trade networks around Greece. Third, in the 4th and 3rd century BC Sparta would begin to enact a series of large tributes on other city states across Greece.

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Without further ado, here is an entire article going over the 3 sectors of the ancient Spartan economy.

Sector 1: Farming Run By Helots

Map of ancient Sparta

The main economic sector of the Spartan economy was agriculture.

Sparta itself is located in a valley with three entrances; two in the north and one in the south. From the mountains two rivers run through Sparta. The land was rich in nutrients and had plenty of nearby water.

As such sometime around the 9th or 8th century BC people began to settle here. This was the start of Sparta. However, during this time many people would manage animals such as goats and pigs for a living.

Something happened around the 7th century BC. Historians don’t know what but at this point the population of Sparta began to expand at a faster rate. On top of this the Spartan people began to build farmland outside the city.

Around this time the Spartans also adopted a professional military composed of hoplites who fought in a phalanx formation. At this point Sparta began to invade nearby city states to subjugate their population to work on these new farms.

This subjugated population would come to be known as the helots. Ancient historians position the helot’s as having civil rights somewhere between slaves and freedmen.

Historians have uncovered evidence demonstrating that these helots were given land and homes of their own. In return a helot would be forced to provide a certain amount of farmed product to the Spartans every year as a form of tax. In return the Spartans would provide ‘protection’ for their captured Helot labor force.

This system of government worked extremely well for Sparta. Quickly Sparta came to become one of the largest agricultural economies in ancient Greece. As such one of the 3 economic sectors of Ancient Sparta was agriculture.

Sector 2: Using The Perioeci Sparta Would Grow A Thriving Trade Sector Around The 6th Century BC

Spartan vase depicting traveling merchant

The second sector of the ancient Spartan economy was trade and business.

What is unique about the Spartan economy is that Spartan citizens were not allowed to participate in it. Spartan citizens were not allowed to own a business, conduct trade, or sell goods to earn a living. For the Spartan citizens the city of Sparta would provide everything. Further, Spartan citizens were not allowed to leave the territory of Sparta without written consent from the king.

In spite of this however Sparta would develop a thriving trade sector in their economy. This was done by using the freed people of Sparta whose social status was somewhere between helot and citizen. These people were called perioeci and they held a complete monopoly over the trade and production of the economy of Sparta.

Because the perioeci held complete power over the Spartan economy they were loyal to Sparta and would provide for its defense numerous times.

The perioeci would develop industry and trade which eventually would make Sparta one of the most wealthy states in ancient Greece. We know of the mass wealth of Sparta’s trade sector because of hoards of silver coins found in Ancient Sparta.

The hoards of silver coins are important because there were no silver mines ever in the territory held by Sparta. This means that Sparta would have to trade to acquire their massive wealth. This was done through the perioeci traders who held a monopoly over the Spartan trade and manufacturing economy.

As such the second economic sector of ancient Sparta was trade.

Sector 3: Sometime Around The 3rd and 4th Century BC Sparta Would Begin To Enact Tribute From Other City States

Spartan general forcing Athens to demolish their walls

The third economic sector of ancient Sparta is tribute gained from subjugated city states around Greece.

From 478-431 BC the Greek city-state of Athens controlled nearly all political power in ancient Greece. However, in 431 BC this would begin to change drastically.

In 431 BC Sparta and her allies would attempt to overthrow the superiority of Athens and her allies. This war is known today as the Peloponnesian war. From 431-404 BC Sparta and Athens would fight against each other on both land and sea.

In the end Sparta would triumph and begin to enact tributes from the other city-states around Greece. This created the third sector of the Spartan economy and also started what historians call today as the hegemony of Sparta.

Using the permanently standing military of Sparta’s citizens the Spartan hegemony would last from 404-371 BC. At its height Sparta would attempt to invade modern Turkey to retake several lost Greek settlements.

As such the third sector of the economy of ancient Sparta was the tributary system which it imposed upon the other Greek city-states at the end of the 4th century BC.


There you have it; an entire article dedicated to the 3 sectors of the ancient Spartan economy.

The study of ancient Sparta is a fascinating subject. Several historians have recently attempted to uncover more facts about ancient Sparta but there is so much left to research. Any potential students of history who can read ancient Greek will find substantial paid research opportunities surrounding ancient Sparta.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

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