When the Spartan army is discussed images of ordered ranks of hoplites on a plain come to memory. Yet ancient Laconia had a cost line and it had to defend it too. The eastern shores, rocky and ragged were not favoring enemy landings but the southern shores near the towns of Elos and Gytheio need to be protected.
We can only speculate if the Spartans used light vessels of “cutter” class to patrol their southern coastlines and protect their fishermen form enemy marauders, during the Archaic period. These vessels might have an armed troops complement even hoplites. Although an alliance with the Corinthians and support of Aeginitans and Megareans against the Athenians were an indirect way to protect their shores. Things changed after the Messenian Wars.Plutarch and Pausanias mention the honors that the Spartan king Theopompos received from the Pylians and other coastal Messenias. The Spartans wisely gave the coastal Messenians Perioikoi status. In this way they acquired experienced seamen and vessels where they could mount their hoplites as marines.
The Spartan fleet was not significant compared to the Corinthians or Aeginitans or later the Athenians. Herodotus mentions 10 vessels in Salamis. The Spartans were facing the Ionian and Cypriot complements of the Persian fleet. Some of their opponents did not engage, leading to accusations of treason from the Phoenicians but some put up a big fight only to be cut down mercilessly by the Spartans who gave no quarter to those perceived as traitors to the Greek cause. Other Spartan detachments distinguished themselves serving with the fleet of the Delean league at Mycale. Spartan officers served as military instructors to the allied marines at the operations on the Thracic coast with Pausanias where their stern discipline made them unpopular with the crews. After Pausanias was recalled, the fleet and the marine service were neglected. The fact that the naval arm was expensive to maintain and Spartan unwillingness for distant campaigns had certainly something to do with it.
The constant Athenian shore raids during the Peloponnesian War came as a shock to the Spartans who were forced on the defensive lacking the means to effectively defend themselves. Spartan admiral Knimos attempted to raid Salamis with the aid of his Megarean allies but the megarean vessels were so unseaworthy that the operation failed. In retaliation, the Athenians destroyed most the Spartan fleet in the Gytheo anchorage with a daring «commando style» raid. Its loss would be felt at Sfacteria were the failure of the Spartans to coordinate with their allies in order to execute an amphibious operation ended in the destruction of the Pylos mora.
The Spartans, shocked by the events, took drastic measure to redress their shortcomings.They gave refuge to the Aeginitans, who were driven off by the Athenians, settling them in Thyrea hoping perhaps to make use of their seamaship. Their intervention in Sicily brought them the help of the experienced Syracusans and following the advice of Alkibiades they rebuilt their fleet with Persian gold. Using also the same money they hired experienced seamen among their allies or other neutrals. After stubbornly enduring defeats and loosing admiral Mindaros in the process they sent their ablest commander Lyssandros to replace him. Lyssandros in a masterly executed surprise attack wiped out the Athenian fleet in Aegos Potamoi securing victory for Sparta. By a strange twist of fate it was the amphibious warriors not the famous Spartan hoplites who had won such victory for Lakedemon.
Spartan marine hoplites probably recruited in the coastal areas Pylos and Elos, and carried the emblems of the leopard and the bull but hoplites from other units could not be ruled out.The royal solar symbol and the royal bodyguards “Dokana” appeared also when the king was present with the fleet. Other admiral from the Aegidae clan would sport the coiled snake on their shields. At the end of the 4th century B.C. the ubiquitous Lambda had appeared.