The setting of my work in progress is ancient Sparta, whose people left an indelible mark on Western history. Even their Greek contemporaries thought the Spartans singular in their ways, and thousands of years later, we’re still naming school mascots after them.
For most Americans, the word “Spartan” conjures up images of King Leonidas and his 300 warriors fighting to the bitter death. While this is an iconic moment for Sparta, what makes this ancient city-state unique goes beyond that one battle, which is why learning about it is so fun.
So here’s today’s Spartan fun-fact:
The Spartans had two kings. Not one king. Two.
Technically, Sparta wasn’t a monarchy, which implies a sole ruler. It was a dyarchy. I’d never even heard of this term until I started researching Sparta, but it is an actual word (found it in my Webster’s). Details about her dual kingship can be found in Book 6 of Herodotus’ Histories as well as the all-knowing Wikipedius. And Sparta’s wasn’t the only dyarchy in the world, though it’s one of the better-known ones. For more about dyarchies in general, again Wikipedius has a page on them.
“But wait!” you might protest. “I saw the movie 300, and there was only one king!” All I can say is that, although 300 was based on actual events, it did slather it on in terms of artistic license. And one of the less flashy changes they made was to omit Leonidas’ co-king (whose name by the way was Leotychidas).
So why edit him out? I’ll venture to guess it was because including the other king would dilute the story. And I say that because that’s the case for my work in progress, which depicts Sparta as a monarchy, not a dyarchy.
It didn’t start that way though. As my Keeping It in Canon blog title suggests, I like sticking to the facts so my first draft included both Spartan Royal houses. Unfortunately, historical accuracy didn’t translate into a better narrative. Because most readers aren’t familiar with dyarchies, I needed several paragraphs to explain the concept, paragraphs that didn’t further the plot. In addition, my story deals with on only one of the royal families, and the other royal house didn’t really have a role (other than to keep the story historically accurate).
So my beta readers, who even with the explanations kept getting confused with the dual kingship thing, recommended I drop the second king. I was reluctant to do so, but they proved to be right. The manuscript flows a lot better with that detail edited out.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Sparta’s kings came in twos, not ones, and that made for some interesting political dynamics. More about them and their lives next time.