Bettany chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most extreme civilisations the world has ever seen, one founded on discipline, sacrifice and frugality where the onus was on the collective and the goal was to create the perfect state and the perfect warrior.
Hughes reveals the secrets and complexities of everyday Spartan life; homosexuality was compulsory, money was outlawed, equality was enforced, weak boys were put to death and women enjoyed a level of social and sexual freedom that was unheard of in the ancient world.
It was a nation of fearsome fighters where a glorious death was treasured. This is aptly demonstrated by the kamikaze last stand at Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and his warriors fought with swords, hands and teeth to fend off the Persians.
But there was bitter rivalry between Sparta and Athens, two cities with totally opposed views of the 'good life'. When war finally came, it raged for decades and split the Greek world until, in a brutal and bloody climax, Sparta finally emerged victorious as the most powerful city-state in Greece.
But under King Agesilaus, the dreams of the Spartan utopia come crashing down. By setting out to create a perfect society protected by perfect warriors, Sparta made an enemy of change.
A collapsing birth rate, too few warriors, rebellious slaves and outdated attitudes to weaponry and warfare combined to sow the seeds of Sparta's destruction, until eventually the once great warrior state was reduced to being a destination for Roman tourists who came to view bizarre sado-masochistic rituals.
"MOVE OVER SCHAMA, SPARTAN WOMAN IS HERE. The rising star of television history Bettany Hughes tells how she is invading a world dominated by men."
Headline in Sunday Times News Review - Dec 1st
"More of Bettany Hughes please!"
Financial Times - November 2002
"Bettany Hughes, history television’s answer to Nigella Lawson..is a story teller of considerable skill. Her powerfull retelling of the last stand at Thermopylae, complete with several phrases in Ancient Greek, is a neat summary of all that she does best"
Daily Telegraph - November 18th 2002
"Four’s well-respected history teacher brings an erudite enthusiasm to all she surveys. Authoritative even when riding a stallion or floating through ruins in evening wear."
Guardian Weekend Feature – The Best and Brightest in British Television - 8th February 2003
"A Helen of Troy in jeans"
Mail on Sunday - Dec 1st 2002
"…such reflections point the way to the next move for television’s populist educators, whose other achievements this year include splendid evocations of such unlikely subjects as Diocletian and the Spartans."
Guardian Leader - ‘A Great British Television Idea’
"Bettany Hughes is an informative and effective guide to the strange and chilling world of the Spartans."
Daily Mail Weekend - 16th November 2002
"Hughes’ speciality is linking the geography and landscape with historical developments. She knows her stuff, having been obsessed with Sparta for 15 years. But there is no point ignoring the obvious. Hughes…is handsome, and a natural communicator."
The Guardian - 25th November 2002
"Beautiful minds - Academia's new look. The Bright Stuff. Not just a pretty face, meet britain's exceptionally bright young things."
"A new wave of startlingly bright and media friendly academics, thinkers and writers are stalking our airwaves, bookshops and television screens in their attempt to explain big ideas to stupid old... They are on a mission to explain – and there isn’t an elbow patch or a beard in sight..."
Cover and Feature for The Times Magazine - 22 March 2003
"Making history glamorous. Hughes made The Spartans one of last year’s biggest TV hits."
Vogue Magazine Photo-feature - October 2003