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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spartans Are Beast!

Spartans are one of the most enduring and celebrated brands from all of ancient history. And nothing exemplifies that brand more than their last stand at Thermopylae, forever carving the Spartan promise into the western mind ... and deservedly so.

In 480 BC, Greek city-states united for the first time in defense against a massive Persian army. A Greek force of only 7000 was led by a mere 300 Spartans—all against an invading army that modern historians number around 200,000 men. Ancient sources cite more dramatic counts of more than one million soldiers from all corners of the Persian Empire. Numerically speaking, 28-to-1 is a helluva lot better than 143-to-1. But from a boots-on-the-ground perspective, it's little like standing on a sandbar relieved the swelling tsunami is only 30 feet tall versus 150.

The film, 300, was based on Frank Miller's graphic novel.
The battle at Thermopylae lasted just a few days with the Greeks holding fast and inflicting horrendous casualties on the eastern invaders. To the soldiers of Sparta, this was a battle worthy of their efforts. No one illustrates this better than the ancient historian, Herodotus. He recorded that one Greek complained of Persian archers being so numerous their arrows would black out the sun. To this the bravest of all Spartans, Dienekes, replied, "Good, then we fight in the shade."

That mindset lends meat to why 6,700 guys were willing to stand along side the Spartans in the face of very, very, very long odds. But those odds ran out on day three when a fellow countryman betrayed the Greeks. Suddenly outflanked by the Persians, and ridiculously outnumbered, the Spartans remained. Joined by about 1000 fellow Greeks, they covered the retreat of more than 3500 comrades.

Here’s how modern historian, Victor Davis Hanson, describes the impact of this event: 
"So almost immediately, contemporary Greeks saw Thermopylae as a critical moral and culture lesson. In universal terms, a small, free people had willingly outfought huge numbers of imperial subjects who advanced under the lash. More specifically, the Western idea that soldiers themselves decide where, how, and against whom they will fight was contrasted against the Eastern notion of despotism and monarchy—freedom proving the stronger idea as the more courageous fighting of the Greeks at Thermopylae, and their later victories at Salamis and Plataea attested." 
Although wildly exaggerated and filled with wholly fictionalized characterizations, Frank Miller's graphic novel, "300,"and the movie it inspired, stylishly capture the root elements that really differentiated Sparta from all other Greek city-states. Indeed, attributes that held Sparta up to all the ancient and modern worlds as the finest soldiers.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Sparta practiced eugenics. That meant all newborns had to measure up to very high brand standards. Elders judged each infant for potential military fitness. If a baby was "puny or deformed", then he was thrown into a chasm, discarded.  
At age seven, Spartan males began military training called the Agoge, which was a very refined system to build discipline and physical toughness, and to reinforce loyalty to the Spartan state. Graduation into the Spartan army came at age eighteen—assuming the student survived—and by then the males were so motivated by "honor and glory", they saw battle as their duty. 
This warrior code was at the heart of Spartan society (see additional commentary on Spartan women below). Honor and glory were core values—essential attributes for Spartans. 
Sparta – Prepared for Glory! 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
The Spartan shield was hugely symbolic. In the Spartan phalanx, the shield not only protected the individual soldier but the also the man to his left. It was part of the every soldier's subordination to his unit, his critical component to its victory, and his solemn responsibility to his fellow Spartans. 
To return from battle without his shield was shameful, and assumed it was flung at the enemy while running away—an act punishable by death or banishment. 
So when a Spartan man went to war, his wife would present him with his shield and say: "With this, or upon this," meaning that true Spartans could only return to Sparta either victorious with their shield in hand or dead, being carried upon it. 
With this shield, or upon it. 
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others
Sparta —it’s about victory or death. 
4. Establish graphic standards.
Here again the Spartan shield comes into play. Yes, we often see images of the hoplite helmet associated with Sparta, but the true symbol of a Spartan soldier was his shield. And typically on the shield was the Greek letter for L. This meant Laconia, the region of Greece where Sparta was founded. 
Any opposing force instantly knew with whom they were about to tangle when they saw the familiar, and feared, Laconic symbol on the shield before them. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
Even mothers enforced the warrior code. Legend has it that a Spartan warrior ran from battle and back to his mother. While he expected protection from her, she reacted to the contrary. She did not protect him from public shame and, along with some of her friends, chased him while beating with sticks. He was then forced to run up and down the hills of Sparta yelling his cowardliness and inferiority. 
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Eventually Sparta emerged as the dominant power over several key Greek states, including Athens and her navy. Not long after Thermopylae, Sparta surpassed the Athenian Empire and had invaded the Persian provinces in what is today Turkey and all around the Black Sea.  
Eventually there were revolts and Sparta’s “empire” began to recede. Still, it continued as a regional power for over two centuries. Consider that neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great ever tried to conquer Sparta itself. 
In terms of living the brand, check this out: Philip II sent Sparta this threat, "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta." The Spartan reply was, "If."

A little something about Spartan women

No discussion about Sparta is complete without at least some mention of Spartan women. Nowhere else in the classical world did women sustain such considerable rights and equality to men than in Sparta. Girls were educated in a fairly extensive formal system somewhat similar to that of the boys, but with less emphasis on military training. This was so unique in classical Greece and most other ancient societies. Women simply did not receive any kind of formal education.

But in Sparta, women had status, power, and respect. They managed their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who might be off with the army. In contrast to Athenian women, should a Spartan woman become the heiress of her father because she had no living brothers, she was not required to divorce her current husband in order to marry her nearest paternal relative.

Also unlike Athenian women, who wore heavy and concealing clothes, Spartan women wore short dresses. They were free to roam about as they pleased whereas Athenian women were rarely seen.

You could say that Spartan women were central to living the Spartan brand, and the source of Sparta’s strong internal branding strategy. The proof is in Plutarch's Moralia, which contains a collection of "Sayings of Spartan Women." Most notable is a quote attributed to Gorgo, wife of King Leonidas I (one of the 300). When asked why Spartan women were the only women in the world who could rule men, Gorgo replied, "Because we are the only women who are mothers of men.”

One additional tidbit
Before concluding, it must be pointed out that there was a substantial naval component to the last stand at Thermopylae, which unfolded to the early fortunes of the Spartans. Read about the architect behind the sea victories over Persia—Themistocles. He is politically comparable to the likes of Nimitz, or even Eisenhower. Pure guts and guile put him in the hood with Halsey.


  1. What woman said, "If you'd fought like men, you wouldn't now die like dogs!"?

  2. May I use one of your pictures for a school project if I include a citation?

  3. Which image were you interested in?

  4. I am interested in the picture of the spartan symbol and also possibly the image of the line of spartan soldiers.

  5. Certainly. Use them both. Good luck on your paper!

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