The Spartoi (Σπαρτοι, or Sparti (Σπαρτος)), were a mythological race of fighters, born from the earth out of the teeth of a Drakon who was sacred to Ares. They were grown twice; first by Kadmos, then by Iásōn. While there are more stories of earth-born people in Hellenic mythology, the Spartoi are quite unique, and that is why we discuss them today.

The name 'Spartoi' literally means 'the sown men'. Starting with the myth of Kadmos, the Spartoi were involved in the founding of the city of Thebes. In short, Kadmos was the brother of Europe, who got taken by Zeus. During his quest to recover her, he was ordered, by the oracle in Delphi, to follow a cow with a half moon on her flank and to built a town on the spot where the cow laid down. The animal led him to Boeotia, where he founded the city of Thebes. Hygenus has written a nice summary of the myth in his Fabulae:

"Cadmus in his wanderings came to Delphi. There the oracle told him to buy from farmers an ox which had a moon-shaped mark on its side, and to drive it before him. Where it lay down it was fated that he found a town and rule. When Cadmus heard the oracle, he did as he was told. While seeking water he came to the fountain of Castalia [N.B. Hyginus' error, it was actually the Ismenian spring], which a Dracon, the offspring of Mars [Ares], was guarding. It killed the comrades of Cadmus, but was killed by Cadmus with a stone. Under Minerva's [Athena's] instructions he sowed the teeth and ploughed them under. From them sprang the Sparti. These fought themselves, but from them five survived, namely, Chthonius, Udaeus, Hyperenor, Pelorus, and Echion. Moreover, Boeotia was named from the ox Cadmus followed." [179]

Apollonius Rhodius, in his 'Argonautica', however, says that Kadmos only got half of the teeth from Athena:

"But the teeth the Tritonian goddess tore away from the dragon's jaws and bestowed as a gift upon Aeetes and the slayer. And Agenor's son, Cadmus, sowed them on the Aonian plains and founded an earthborn people of all who were left from the spear when Ares did the reaping; and the teeth Aeetes then readily gave to be borne to the ship, for he deemed not that Jason [Iásōn] would bring the contest to an end, even though he should cast the yoke upon the oxen." [1188 - 1190]

The second portion of the teeth came into the posession of Iásōn in his quest for the Golden Fleece, which I have described before. As so many kings in ancient Hellas, Pelias unrightfully laid claim to his half-brother's throne. He became the king of Iolkos in Thessaly, and fell in disfavor of the Theoi because of his actions. It was prophesied that a member of the rightfully royal bloodline would one day punish him, and he was likewise warned to watch out for a man with only one sandal.

Pelias didn't believe in half measures and murdered every prominent descendant of Aeolus he could, but spared his mother Tyro's youngest son, Aeson. Instead, he imprisoned him and forced him to renounce his claim to the throne. Aeson complied, and eventually was set free. He married  Alcimede, who bore him a son named Diomedes. Alcimede successfully saved her son from certain death by having her nursemaids keen as if the boy had been stillborn. She secretly packed him off to Mount Pelion, where he was raised by the kéntauros Kheiron, who changed the boy's name to Iásōn.

From Kheiron, Iásōn learned the arts of combat, sports, medicine and music. When he reached adulthood, he was send back to Iolkos with proof of his royal birth. On the way there, he had to cross a river and found an old woman on the bank of it, who begged everyone who passed by to carry her through the water. All but Iásōn ignored her. He took her onto his back and he helped her across, although he found the journey tougher than he had ever thought possible. He also lost one of his sandals in the mud. As he put down the old woman, she turned into the magnificent Hera, of whom he would continue to receive support now he had passed her test.

As soon as Pelias laid eyes on the youth with one sandal, he knew what would happen now. And thus, he devised a plot to get rid of Iásōn. As Iásōn presented him with an offer to keep some farms and cattle, while Iásōn claimed his rightful place on the throne, Pelias happily accepted, but gave Iásōn a tasks to complete first, of which one was the retrieval of the Golden Fleece, which Iásōn set out to do with the Argonautai.

The journey to the lands where the Fleece was kept--Kolchis--was long and hard, and once the Argonautai reached Kolchis, their struggle wasn't over. King Aeetes was unwilling to part with the Fleece, as it had brought great prosperity to his lands. He devised three tasks for Iásōn: to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen, to sow the teeth of a dragon into the field, and to overcome the sleepless dragon guarding the Fleece.

Iásōn managed the first of the quests, and yoked the oxen. From Apollonius Rhodius' 'Argonautica' comes the following account of the planting and rising of the Spartoi:

"The bulls meantime raged exceedingly, breathing forth furious flame of fire; and their breath rose up like the roar of blustering winds, in fear of which above all seafaring men furl their large sail. But not long after that they moved on at the bidding of the spear; and behind them the rugged fallow was broken up, cloven by the might of the bulls and the sturdy ploughman. Then terribly groaned the clods withal along the furrows of the plough as they were rent, each a man's burden; and Jason followed, pressing down the cornfield with firm foot; and far from him he ever sowed the teeth along the clods as each was ploughed, turning his head back for fear lest the deadly crop of earthborn men should rise against him first; and the bulls toiled onwards treading with their hoofs of bronze.

But when the third part of the day was still left as it wanes from dawn, and wearied labourers call for the sweet hour of unyoking to come to them straightway, then the fallow was ploughed by the tireless ploughman, four plough-gates though it was; and he loosed the plough from the oxen. Them he scared in flight towards the plain; but he went back again to the ship, while he still saw the furrows free of the earthborn men. And all round his comrades heartened him with their shouts. And in the helmet he drew from the river's stream and quenched his thirst with the water. Then he bent his knees till they grew supple, and filled his mighty heart with courage, raging like a boar, when it sharpens its teeth against the hunters, while from its wrathful mouth plenteous foam drips to the ground. By now the earthborn men were springing up over all the field; and the plot of Ares, the death-dealer, bristled with sturdy shields and double-pointed spears and shining helmets; and the gleam reached Olympus from beneath, flashing through the air. And as when abundant snow has fallen on the earth and the storm blasts have dispersed the wintry clouds under the murky night, and all the hosts of the stars appear shining through the gloom; so did those warriors shine springing up above the earth.

But Jason bethought him of the counsels of Medea full of craft, and seized from the plain a huge round boulder, a terrible quoit of Ares Enyalius; four stalwart youths could not have raised it from the ground even a little. Taking it in his hands he threw it with a rush far away into their midst; and himself crouched unseen behind his shield, with full confidence. And the Colchians gave a loud cry, like the roar of the sea when it beats upon sharp crags; and speechless amazement seized Aeetes at the rush of the sturdy quoit. And the Earthborn, like fleet-footed hounds, leaped upon one another and slew with loud yells; and on earth their mother they fell beneath their own spears, likes pines or oaks, which storms of wind beat down.

And even as a fiery star leaps from heaven, trailing a furrow of light, a portent to men, whoever see it darting with a gleam through the dusky sky; in such wise did Aeson's son rush upon the earthborn men, and he drew from the sheath his bare sword, and smote here and there, mowing them down, many on the belly and side, half risen to the air -- and some that had risen as far as the shoulders -- and some just standing upright, and others even now rushing to battle. And as when a fight is stirred up concerning boundaries, and a husbandman, in fear lest they should ravage his fields, seizes in his hand a curved sickle, newly sharpened, and hastily cuts the unripe crop, and waits not for it to be parched in due season by the beams of the sun; so at that time did Jason cut down the crop of the Earthborn; and the furrows were filled with blood, as the channels of a spring with water. And they fell, some on their faces biting the rough clod of earth with their teeth, some on their backs, and others on their hands and sides, like to sea- monsters to behold.

And many, smitten before raising their feet from the earth, bowed down as far to the ground as they had risen to the air, and rested there with the damp of death on their brows. Even so, I ween, when Zeus has sent a measureless rain, new planted orchard-shoots droop to the ground, cut off by the root the toil of gardening men; but heaviness of heart and deadly anguish come to the owner of the farm, who planted them; so at that time did bitter grief come upon the heart of King Aeetes. And he went back to the city among the Colchians, pondering how he might most quickly oppose the heroes. And the day died, and Jason's contest was ended." [1326 - 1404]

The Spartoi who remained for Kadmos assisted him in founding Thebes, and one of them--Ekhiôn--even married Kadmos' daughter Agave. I suspect the Spartoi--especially in the case of Kadmos--were a form of the 'God-born King' line of thinking which Athens was also famous for. This way, the five most powerful and most ancient family lines in Thebes could trace their line back to extraordinary men. Through the myth of the Spartoi, not only Apollon (through the oracle at Delphi), but also Athena was tied to the wellbeing of the city of Thebes and the powerful family lines. Kadmos ended up paying a hefty prize for sowing slaying the Drakon, but that is a tale for another time. For now, I leave you to ponder the Spartoi who were the offspring of Ares, and helped found one of the most powerful cities in ancient Hellas, and made life miserable for Iásōn.