There is a Greek village in Mani, on the Peloponnesian peninsula, called Neochori where residents boast that they are true descendants of the Spartans.
While Maniots claim their ancestors were natives to the southeastern part of Peloponnese even before Sparta became a famed city-state, the ties between Sparta and Mani have been continuous since historical antiquity.
Ancient Maniots were both slaves and landowners who paid fifty percent of their agricultural products as a tithe, or tax, to Sparta. In the wealthier areas of outer and lower Mani, the landowners had helots (slaves), as well.
The close ties of ancient Maniots and Spartans are also demonstrated by the common worship of certain deities. The Spartans not only respected the traditional religious ceremonies of the Maniots but also adopted them.
Sparta descendants of Neochori
In a recent BBC report in the Neochori village of Mani, former coffee shop owner Giorgos Oikonomeas—who never left his birthplace—claimed that the villagers were true descendants of the brave Spartans.
“If you want to get a taste of what life would have been like in Ancient Sparta, look no further,” he told the reporter. “We are as Spartan as can be.”
To further drive the point home, the 86-year-old Maniot, whose physique still suggests that he could jump onto the battlefield at any moment, served the reporter a lalangi, a crispy strip of dough deep-fried in olive oil.
Oikonomeas explained that the lalangi is named after Lelegas, the first king of Sparta, who asked that lalangi be made for his army; it then became a staple for all Spartans.
“Maniots are descendants of the ancient Spartans,” Oikonomeas said flatly, recalling his mother feeding him boiled eggs to make him strong to continue the family tradition.
Spartans and Maniots
During the Hellenistic period, the Mani peninsula remained under the control of the Spartans. The Macedonians under the command of King Philip V tried to invade Mani and the rest of Laconia during 219 BC to 218 BC but failed.
When Nabis took over the Spartan throne in 207 BC, he implemented some democratic reforms. In 195 BC, during the Roman-Spartan War, the Romans—allied with the Achaean League—captured the important port of Gythium after a lengthy siege.
The allies then went on to besiege Sparta and tried to force Nabis to surrender. As part of the terms of the peace treaty, the coastal cities of Mani were forced to become autonomous.
The cities formed the “Koinon of Free Laconians” with Gythium as the capital under the Achaean League’s protection. Nabis built a fleet and strengthened his army and advanced upon Gythium in 192 BC.
The Nabis forces defeated the Achaean League’s army and navy under Philopoemen off Gythium, forcing the Achaean League army to retreat to Tegea.
After that, a Roman fleet under Atilius managed to re-capture Gythium a few months later. Nabis was murdered later that year, and Sparta was then made part of the Achaean League.