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#1
Old 01-16-2003, 10:37 AM
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600 yrs of human selective breeding?

Was watching a program on the history of the spartans, and it got me wondering if the 600 or so years that the Spartans were doing their "survival of the fittest" thing (including exposing their newborns to the elements, physical training of both sexes, etc, etc which was designed to kill off all the "weaker" members of their society), if it did anything to the basic genetics of the population currently living in that part of Greece?
Given that (at least according to the program anyway) they started popping out babies at around 16 yrs or so, that could be extended to mean that they went through about 37 or so generations of selective breeding. Would that be enough to affect the gene pool? (I know that you can do some major changes to other mammals in 30 or so generations in terms of breeding).
#2
Old 01-16-2003, 10:58 AM
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IANAEB-I would think that their would be a small change in the gene pool, not a major one. Something to the effect of all of them having similar size, hair, and the like.


I don't know though-good question.
#3
Old 01-16-2003, 12:00 PM
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Wasn't there a sportscaster a few years ago who got into a lot of hot water for suggesting that blacks were superior athletes because their slave ancestors were selectively bred for strength and endurance?
#4
Old 01-16-2003, 12:04 PM
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Interestingly enough, that sportscaster's name was "Jimmy the Greek". I wonder if his ancestors being left out in the elements contributed to that statement?
#5
Old 01-16-2003, 12:35 PM
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Here is the quote -

Quote:
On Jan. 15, 1988, Rather himself aired video shot that afternoon at Duke Zeibert's restaurant in Washington, D.C., featuring Snyder explaining why he thought African-Americans excelled in sports. "The black is the better athlete," The Greek said. "And he practices to be the better athlete, and he's bred to be the better athlete because this goes way back to the slave period. The slave owner would breed this big black with this big black woman so he could have a big black kid. That's where it all started."
#6
Old 01-16-2003, 01:07 PM
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Exposure of infants was not limited to the spartans but was an integral part of both Greek and Roman society for a while. It had nothing to do with whether the infant was feeble or deformed. It may have had a lot to do with whether the father claimed it (lifted it up) - even if biologically his, the father was not compelled to acknowledge it.

An exposed infant could be claimed by anyone who came across it. A peasant could take a baby borne by royalty and royalty might claim a peasant baby left outside the castle gates. There was an interesting system of patronage and adoption that was more important in the society than right of birth.

As for physical training that might cull the physically infirm, every year several high school and college students suddenly drop dead from unrecognized physical infirmaties during sports activities. While culling the infirm may be a collateral "benefit" of the required training, I doubt it was the purpose of it.

When we talk about racial physical differences, it is not so much racial, but simple human phenotypes that cause the differences. There have been many studies involving Africans and Europeans and many surprising results of such studies.

I don't think slave breeding ever involved the discipline required, was widespread enough, or continued for the generations necessary to alter the gene pool.
#7
Old 01-16-2003, 01:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cillasi
Exposure of infants was not limited to the spartans but was an integral part of both Greek and Roman society for a while. It had nothing to do with whether the infant was feeble or deformed. It may have had a lot to do with whether the father claimed it (lifted it up) - even if biologically his, the father was not compelled to acknowledge it.
It is true that in general infant exposure in the ancient world had much more to do with the economic resources of a family and whether or not the father wanted to raise another child, thought it was his, etc. However, in Sparta such exposure was the prerogative of the state (of the Gerousia, to be specific) and was indeed designed to eliminate male infants who seemed to be weak or have a physical deformity. Exposure of female infants at Sparta may have followed more closely the usual pattern.

To address the OP, the eugenic measures of the Spartans applied only to the limited number of "homoioi" and their sons, who by the end of the classical period had dwindled down into the low hundreds. Keep in mind the closed nature of Spartan society and I doubt that small number would have had much of an effect on the population of Greece as a whole.
#8
Old 01-16-2003, 02:13 PM
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Re: 600 yrs of human selective breeding?

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Originally posted by rabbit
Given that (at least according to the program anyway) they started popping out babies at around 16 yrs or so, that could be extended to mean that they went through about 37 or so generations of selective breeding.
Wouldn't this be a big mistake in itself? Surely it would be much better to force people not to have children until much later in life, to weed out the ones who aren't capable of living that long.
#9
Old 01-16-2003, 03:57 PM
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Re: Re: 600 yrs of human selective breeding?

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Originally posted by cart
Wouldn't this be a big mistake in itself? Surely it would be much better to force people not to have children until much later in life, to weed out the ones who aren't capable of living that long.
That would be the way to breed your population for a longer lifespan. If would not be the way to breed an army that could win the war after next. Or put down a rising by the helots in eighteen years.

Regards,


Agback
#10
Old 01-16-2003, 04:00 PM
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Re: Re: 600 yrs of human selective breeding?

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Originally posted by cart
Wouldn't this be a big mistake in itself? Surely it would be much better to force people not to have children until much later in life, to weed out the ones who aren't capable of living that long.
Not if the goal was to produce a bigger, stronger, tougher Spartan who could kick more Athenian b*tt at age 16, even if he did drop dead at age forty.
#11
Old 01-16-2003, 04:08 PM
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HIJACK

While you are thinking about human selective breeding, think about this.

For hundreds of years in Europe, the best way for a bright Christian boy to get ahead, or even to get a comfortable standard of living (unless he was the eldest son of a wealthy family) was to become either a priest or a monk.

Now, celibacy for priests wasn't compulsory throughout the Catholic Church until 1123. And it wasn't perfectly enforced at any time. Besides which some priests and monks although celibate were unchaste. But still, clergymen on the whole must have had significantly reduced reproductive success.

Regards,


Agback
#12
Old 01-17-2003, 11:05 AM
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Just to clear up some things about what the Spartans did (at least according to the program), and why I wonder if there was any subsequent effect on the (now modern) gene pool. Keeping in mind that I'm talking about those who still live in the general area of what was Sparta (and keeping in mind that there are many many people who can trace their families in those areas back for generations. Immigration not being so prevalent in that part of the world as it may be in N. America).
1) The infants would be left outside soon after birth. Those who were of weak health would die of exposure.
2) At age 7 all the males were taken from their mothers and began military training which lasted their whole life.
3) During this training strength guile and oppression of the weaker was encouraged and enforced. The boys were underfed, and were expected to steal extra food. If they were caught they were severely punished (whipping). Therefore the strong and resourceful got more food and became stronger as a result.
(The overall impression I got from the descriptions was a mix of "Lord of the Flies" with "Soldier" - movie with Kurt Russell).
4) The only article of clothing that they were given was a sort of kilt thing, and no footwear. It should be noted that this is mountaneous country, and it got very cold during the winter. (The commentator made a specific mention that given similar attire a modern american would die of exposure in under 5 minutes).
5) The women were ALSO trained in combat and participated in physical training (although separate from men).
6) If a man who was married felt that he knew a man who was somehow superior (I took that to mean stronger physically) he would arrange for his wife to bear the superior mans child.
There were a few other points, and far more details involved in what I have posted here, but you get the gist.
Given the extremes they went to, both in training and their life style, those who were even slightly physically weak would die quite quickly. (In regards to the start of their training as boys, their "drill instructors" were at first older boys. So if you can think of the meanest bully in a high school given power of punishment over a group of grade schoolers, you can see just how harsh the environment was).
It was this sort of selection that got me thinking about the original question.
Again though, keep in mind that I'm refering to the now modern local population.
By the way, they were having kids that young because the average life expectancy back then was less than 50 yrs. So if you didn't have babys soon, you might not have them at all.
#13
Old 01-17-2003, 02:01 PM
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If you want big offspring, do you want to breed your females before they have reached full size?

(It works badly with cattle for one. The heifers have to divide their resources between their own growth and their fetus's, and neither grows as big as they would.)
#14
Old 01-17-2003, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by rabbit

2) At age 7 all the males were taken from their mothers and began military training which lasted their whole life.
3) During this training strength guile and oppression of the weaker was encouraged and enforced. The boys were underfed, and were expected to steal extra food. If they were caught they were severely punished (whipping). Therefore the strong and resourceful got more food and became stronger as a result.
(The overall impression I got from the descriptions was a mix of "Lord of the Flies" with "Soldier" - movie with Kurt Russell).
4) The only article of clothing that they were given was a sort of kilt thing, and no footwear. It should be noted that this is mountaneous country, and it got very cold during the winter. (The commentator made a specific mention that given similar attire a modern american would die of exposure in under 5 minutes)..
Yes, but with all these practices unless we're thinking specifically about this killing off certain "weaker" Spartan boys who were missed by the earlier culling via exposure, this doesn't have any effect on genetics. Keep in mind that the Spartan king Agesilaus went through the agoge, and he was lame in one leg. It seems to have been survivable even with some defects, although we may postulate that as a member of the royal family (one who was never expected to inherit the throne) he was given preferential treatment.
Quote:
5) The women were ALSO trained in combat and participated in physical training (although separate from men).
By making a healthier mother, this helps produce a baby who is more likely to have a higher birth weight, etc, that is, look healthy, and therefore not be exposed by the Gerousia. Other than that, like the practices above it has no genetic ramifications. It is worth noting that although not old by our standards, Spartan girls were usually not married off at menarchy but allowed to mature a while longer so that their children would be healthier. So the Spartans did have an inkling of what some in this thread have suggested, and probably tried to balance that with their shorter lifespan, etc.
Quote:
6) If a man who was married felt that he knew a man who was somehow superior (I took that to mean stronger physically) he would arrange for his wife to bear the superior mans child.
Here's where we run into the problem of the myth of the Spartans (as constructed by them themselves) and the reality of the Spartans. We have no way of knowing how often, if at all, this might have taken place. Like so many Spartan customs, much depends on what the Spartans (and their admirers, like Xenophon) wanted outsiders to think about them. Additionally, Spartan culture in its most hard-core form lasted only a brief time. Even during the classical period of the Peloponnesian War, their customs shifted. For instance, the sole Spartan survivor of Thermopylae (he received an eye wound and was sent home because he was no longer able to see the enemy and thus unable to fight) was basically treated like crap for not dying in battle, and even his fierce fighting later in the Persian War did not redeem him in the eyes of the other Spartans. However, by the time of the capture of the Spartiates at Sphakteria, the Spartans were so much in need of fighting homoioi that those men, who had actually surrendered, were welcomed back with no punishment. so in many ways the Spartan ideal was a mirage, and this little tidbit is one of the most dubious aspects to many modern Classical historians' minds.

The point I made earlier about these measures, of which really only the infant exposure would have had a significant genetic effect, applying only to the homoioi to me is the most important aspect. By the end of the Peloponnesian War, there are only 400 or so full male Spartiates who have been subjected to all these practices around, tops. And with the liberation of the helots, their way of life is no longer possible. Sooner or later, these few Spartiates and their families, the female elements of whom have not experienced these practices directly but will have been indirectly effected, ie all their fathers went through them, will have given up these practices (except as a tourist attraction for Romans) and started inter-breeding with people whose ancestors had not undergone even this non-specific method of genetic selection. So I don't see how there could've been much cumulative effect.

To sum up my overly long post:

1) Many of these measures had no effect on genetics, because physical training is not hereditary.
2) The specifically eugenic measure of exposure was pretty vaguely targeted: if an infant didn't look healthy and strong fairly soon after birth, it was killed. That's not a very scientific measure.
3) These measures applied only to a relatively small number of males compared to the whole population of Lakonia.

IHNDAGSOMDS (I have not done a genetic survey of modern day Sparta) but my suspicion is that all these factors add up to a minimal effect today.
#15
Old 01-17-2003, 10:31 PM
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I have a tangentially related question.

The Spartans, as far as I know, were a people who treasured war and fighting above all else. How, then, did Sparta have trouble subjugating the more artistically-inclined Athens?
#16
Old 01-17-2003, 10:43 PM
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Many factors, plus some luck here and there. First things first:

Sparta=unbeatable hoplite land army
Athens=unbeatable fleet of triremes

The Athenians adopted a very smart strategy early in the war of bringing everyone into the walled city of Athens, including farmers, and importing virtually all of their grain and other necessities (which they could do b/c of their fleet, and because they had huge sources of money in 1. the silver mines at laurium and 2. the tribute paid by their "allies" in the Delian League). The Spartans would come up and loot and pillage and try to get the Athenians to fight a battle, but they wouldn't.

Basically, the Spartans had a supreme land force but virtually no sea force until they allied themselves with the Persians. THey also had basically no money (Sparta had no currency of its own) until they allied with the Persians. They could march around Attica until they were blue in the face but thanks to the Long Walls and the fleet everything the Athenians needed to stay in the game was out of their reach. Also, in many ways Sparta was a lot less eager for war than the Athenians. They were constantly sueing for peace so they could get back to watching the helots. The Athenians passed on many opportunities to make peace with favorable terms over the course of the Peloponnesian War, although there's no way of knowing how permanent those treaties would have been.
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