Those they subjugated refused to completely knuckle under, so they waged a vicious reign of terror against them. However they also needed these same subjects to fight their wars for them. (Quite the contradiction, eh? I betcha fragging was not unheard of among their troops.)
Vain, boastful, blind, they thought themselves invincible. Class divisions began forming in their own ranks, turning the lower class against the upper class. They refused to understand what the ramifications of being hated by all meant and trusted no one because they themselves couldn’t be trusted. Their options and power began to ebb as their enemies grew. But they were too convinced of their own imperial glory to see it happening. (Dubya ain’t there yet, but he sure is trying.)
They were the Similars, elite Spartan warriors, and in the end even their own loathed them, as witness a revolt led by the Spartan warrior Cinadon against the elite Spartans.
The hatred of Cinadon and his fellows for the Spartan system was summed up in their expressed willingness to “devour the Similars raw.” Like the boy and the fox, Spartan society was, almost literally, being consumed from the inside.
Corruption was rampant and ignored.
Well-connected Spartans who engaged in foolish, greedy, or opportunistic military operations, often in blatant contravention of treaty obligations and traditional Greek mores, found that their home government was more than willing to turn a blind eye on their peccadillos. After all, they were members of the insider club, and they had harmed only “outsiders.” (Hello, Halliburton.)
Leuctra was their Waterloo
The Spartans failed to rebound after Leuctra [a battle against Thebes for military and political dominance in Greece] because they could not find a way to deviate from entrenched habits of rigid hierarchy, state terrorism, and social conformity. Leuctra was Sparta’s fate because those habits led the Spartans to surround themselves by enemies abroad, while simultaneously feeding the angry hunger of those restive internal subjects who would happily have eaten the few remaining Similars raw.
Sparta, the greatest military power in ancient Greece, was in the end its own worst enemy.