There is this amazing anecdote tucked away in Herodotus – I’ve used it before – but I think the moral is worthy enough of a second mention. At the height of their power, Sparta sent soldiers to Teagan to helotize the population – carrying the very chains they intended to enslave them with. Well, Sparta lost. And the soldiers stayed and toiled in the Teagan fields, bound by the fetters they had brought with them.
In many ways, this was Sparta embodied. They’d embark on a course so convinced it was infallible that they’d never consider the consequences. A simple economic accident – that subcitizens labored while men trained for war – dictated every facet of their foreign policy for almost 300 years. Once it was written, it could not be changed. Brasidas, likely the country’s greatest general, was successful almost entirely because he was “un-Spartan.” He was clever and articulate and a rule breaker. Their win in the Peloponnese was ultimately an albatross that they could not bear. The military culture they brought crashing against Athenian walls was the burden that slew Greece. Sparta died in the chains they took against others.
There’s a reason that the conclusion of the 48 Laws looks at formlessness. Sparta had everything else – the power, the brains, the courage, the money – but it meant nothing because they couldn’t think strategically. They could not change courses after they committed.
They lacked the fluidity to survive even in the Ancient world. Today is even faster – you don’t have a century to shift assumptions. It’s really easy to get locked into a path or a mindset. I know I’m more comfortable with certainty or absolutes. But that just isn’t how things work. I don’t want to end up tied to the land I was supposed to conquer. I think that means take nothing for granted, consider the alternatives, and always, always avoid the hubris of thinking there is only ONE way.
References/ Further Reading:
A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C – W.G Forrest (very short)
History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides
The Histories – Herodotus (skim)
The Greco-Persian Wars – Peter Green (easy read that explains Thucydides’)
This reminds me of Sun Tzu’s concept of “shih” (which I first learned about in the 33 Strategies of War). Drive and determination are great things, but the smart play is to always keep your options open.
I always try to be flexible in my own thinking; however, this is not always easy because my own dogmatic viewpoints surface from time to time, which I do try to catch. I have found that being flexible has made it difficult for me to get angry towards people, since I realize everyone sees the world through their own specific lense, no matter how warped and biased it may be.
I think you might mean Tegea.