The Conspiracy of Cinadon is an attempted coup d'état which took place in Sparta in the 4th century BCE, (during the first years of Agesilaus II's reign). Led by Cinadon, it aimed to break the power of the elite of the oligarchic Spartan system. This event was reported by Xenophon in the third book of his Hellenica : I am going to rely on this text - even if we can for sure question the reliability of the source and the exactitude of the facts but Xenophon's Hellenica remains a highly significant source on Spartan history and one of the only texts reporting that conspiracy (-> Aristotle mentioned Cinadon). In the Hellenica, Xenophon describes it as a real threat towards the Spartan society. Therefore, we'll go through the conspiracy and see how it was triggered and organized. We'll also see that the conspiracy was a failure and we'll try to understand why.
The leaders of Sparta were the five ephors: whereas they officially shared their power with the two Kings of Sparta, they were, according to Plato, real tyrants whereas the kings were little more than generals. Their role was to control and to supervise the respect of the spartan laws and the behavior of the sovereigns. During the wars, they were also in charge of the mobilization of the whole population and of the adoption of the strategies.
[...] The failure of a conspiracy : 1. A careful society : The conspiracy was first announced during a sacrifice presided over by one of the two Kings of Sparta : a « conspiracy of the most fearful character » is announced by the soothsayer. If this warning was taken so seriously, it is not only because of their strong religious beliefs but also because of two other reasons: - Their fear of the non-citizens: the Homoioi are scared by the non- citizens, especially the Helots who suffered from their constant mistreatment. [...]
[...] During the wars, they were also in charge of the mobilization of the whole population and of the adoption of the strategies. - A hierarchized society : ▪ The Homoioi is the name given to the Spartan citizens. The criteria to obtain Spartan citizenship were very selective : their father had to be a Spartan citizen and their mother, to be the daughter of a Spartan citizen. They had to attend the citizens' banquets and to contribute to their preparation by giving money. [...]
[...] Conclusion : The conspiracy of Cinadon highlights the inegalitarian organization of Sparta: it was a hierarchized society governed by the fear of the Homoioi and the hatred of the inferior classes towards them. It also shows that, despite the « inferiority » of those classes, they were a very powerful and dangerous threat whose uprising could have overthrown the governement. The dismantling of the conspiracy of Cinadon allowed Sparta to maintain its hegemony over Greece (since they defeated Athens during the Peloponnesian war), though short because of the Corinthian war and the Beotian war where they lost part of their lands and their power. [...]
[...] ▪ The Perioikoi were the most numerous part of the Spartan population. It was composed of populations coming from Greek cities defeated by Sparta who were then forced to integrate their society. Even though they enjoyed a free status, they were not Spartan citizens and had no political rights. ▪ The Helots were completely deprived of their liberty and were submissive to the Spartan authority (slaves). Most of them worked in agriculture to economically support the Spartan citizens. They were mistreated, humiliated and sometimes killed without any reason. [...]
[...] Therefore, all those factors brought the Spartan citizens to take the conspiracy of Cinadon as a real threat to their society and to choose carefully a way to break the project The dismantling of the conspiracy : The conspiracy was not only announced by the God but also denounced by an unknown informer who gave the Ephors the name of Cinadon as the leader of the conspiracy: in order to counter it, the Ephors decided to set up a response. Therefore, they determined to send Cinadon with other young men (carefully chosen by the Ephors) to Aulon : his mission was to capture certain of its inhabitants, its Helots and a specific woman renowned and blamed for her debauchery. When Cinadon arrived in Aulon, he was immediately captured by the Spartan authorities and asked to make a full confession of the plot and his accomplices. [...]
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