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The Spartans: An Army of One

Spartan society reached its zenith between 700 and 338 BCE. At that time, the Spartans were dispatched by Phillip II of Macedonia at the Battle of Chaeronea. Prior to their decline and for much of the time, it was a military powerhouse. Sparta bred its sons, and even daughters to fulfill a largely military style domestic and foreign policy agenda. While Sparta was not democratically inclined, like their antithetical neighbor to the northeast, Athens, it did afford more women the right to have freedom and exercise some political authority in council meetings. As such, women were trained in athletics and educated to be a part of the Spartan state.

This says it all:

  • When told that the Persian army would be able to block out the sun with all of the arrows they’d be shooting at the Spartans during the Battle of Thermopylae, Spartan soldier Dienekes replied, "Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade."

  • When mothers sent their sons off to battle they said: "Come back with your shield - or on it" (Plutarch, Mor.241)

Spartan boys and young men:

  • Spartan males were designed to be “workhorses”

  • Spartans boys were “bred for battle”

  • ALL before the age of SEVEN, and to test the young infants they were first brought to The Garrisea -to inspect them.

  • If young infants were not deemed likely to help the state they were abandoned in the wilderness or in the hills, where they would likely die.

  • Later, boys were bathed in wine. If they were toughened up, so much the better; it would build up the Spartan military state.

  • Young boys were conditioned to NOT fear darkness or solitude.

  • After the age of seven - The boys entered the military camp

Those boys enrolled in the Agoge - Split into THREE military divisions

  • The Paides - made up of boys 7 to 17. They were trained in hand-to-hand combat, war strategizing and hunting. This is where the boys became men.

  • THE Paideskoi - made up of boys 17-19. The transitional phase between child and adult.

  • The Hebotes - aged 20-29, "those who have reached physical adulthood.”

But what about the women:

  • Females were trained in dance, gymnastics and javelin throwing. They had to be prepared to give birth to healthy males, hence their regular fitness regimen.

  • Women had more freedom than other women in the Greek world. They could speak at council meetings. They could inherit property and were well educated.

  • Women - participated in trials of strength to show that they were able to contribute to Spartan society and worth.

Drink ‘em if you got ‘em:

  • Heavy drinking was shunned. Instead they encouraged the Helots to drink to show the Spartans how not to be!

Hard living, hard training, hard lessons:

  • Spartan soldiers were given only ONE garment. If you got out of shape and could not fit into the garment you had to work harder in order to fit into the garment properly.

  • Men could NOT live with their wives until they were thirty. Many snuck out to be with their wives, but were punished if caught doing so. Interestingly, they were not punished (which included whipping) because they tried to see their wives, but because they got caught doing so.

  • Spartan boys were often misfed to encourage them to steal. Again, if they were found out, they’d be punished, but not because they broke the rule, but because they were caught breaking the rule.

  • Boys were also often hazed and beaten to keep them on edge and sharp.

Spartan social classes:

  • Spartiates - on top of society - full citizens of society (usually soldiers). Could participate in the political process.

  • Perioikoi - surrounding people from Lacedonia. NOT full-citizens. Traders and blacksmiths. Also served in the military, but not full soldiers

  • Helots - slaves conquered in battle. Were servants and farmers. Came from Helos - this is south of Sparta. It was legal to kill Helots. And even encouraged at times.

Can you believe? Some other insight into Spartan living!

➵Dedicated to Lily H. who inspired me to write it.

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