10 intriguing facts you probably didn’t know about the Spartans

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Hollywood always had a love affair with the Spartans – so much so that they even went the fantastical route (read ‘300‘) to endow these ancient warriors with mythical prowess. However, beyond fictional hyperbole and flattering depictions, the Spartans (or more accurately Lakedaimonians) for all intents-and-purposes belonged to a warrior culture – and a quite rigorous one at that. So, without further ado, let us check out ten interesting facts about the Spartans that might pervade (or strengthen) many of the myths surrounding them.

1) Yes, Spartan infants were truly inspected, and even known to be discarded!

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When a Spartan boy was born, he was immediately inspected by the so-called council of elders from the tribe for any physical deformities. And, if the infant did fail the test, there were instances when the baby was left abandoned on hillsides (according to Herodotus’s version – they were shoved off the edges of Mount Taygetus). This merciless action either led to the starvation of the baby or (fortunately) led to its adoption by neighboring people.

Moreover, before the age of five, the child was taught to be content with frugal food, bathed in wine (for ‘adjusting’ his body), and discouraged from crying – an action which often instigated silent treatment from the parents. This ambit of self-sufficiency was further strengthened when the child was encouraged to deal with both loneliness and darkness. Such ‘tough love’ tactics were actually admired by outsider Greeks, and so they regularly employed nannies from the Spartan homeland.

2) Spartan military and ‘dancing’ training started from the age of five –

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The young Spartan male was called a ‘boy’ (paidion) from the age of 5 to 11; and as such his military training (known as agoge) started effectively from this juvenile period of his life. During this time, he was sent from home to reside in communal barracks. And oddly enough, one of the first exercises he needed to learn was the pyrriche – a dance involving the carrying and maneuvering of weapons. Suffice it to say, such dexterous moves allowed the young warrior to be nimble-footed while also giving them experience in carrying actual armaments.

Additionally, the child was coached on reading and writing, and had to learn most of the battle songs that were sang on Spartan military campaigns. He was also encouraged to join groups, who then widely competed against each other in various sports (much like in Hogwarts). Finally, on his tenth year, he was required to give his competitive demonstration in the fields of athletics, dancing and music.

3) The Spartan was taught to ‘survive’ from the age of twelve –

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Sketch by James Carrozza

Till the age of 11, the platform for the Spartan child was set to have a military-inspired lifestyle. And, from the age of 12, when he was known as a ‘youth’ (meirakion), the state administered exercises were tailored to hone his military and survival skills. This rigorous scope entailed – his discarding of any type of footwear, as barefoot marching toughened his legs and feet for actual battles; his renouncing of any type of warm clothing (sometimes being forced to even sleep naked), with just a thin cloak inducing fortitude in both hot summers and cold winters; and his partaking of a minimal, intentionally-frugal (and less than adequate) diet that was believed to make him grow both tall and slim. As a matter of fact, overweight citizens were often looked down upon in Spartan society, with few of them even being officially banished from the city state.

Along with these activities, the physical and fighting exercises were increased with every passing age. These included vicious fights and bouts between the participating teenagers, often instigated by the trainers themselves. And interestingly, even Spartan girls were specifically chosen to incite and ridicule certain Spartan male trainees – so as to rouse their aptitude for better performance in military-exercise demonstrations. Moreover, the Spartan youth was also encouraged to steal food to keep his hunger pangs away; and on being caught, he was severely punished for getting caught, not stealing!

4) Some Spartan trainees were expected to have male ‘lovers’ –

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Most historians generally concur that significant numbers of Sparta’s adult male population were actively homosexuals, and between them the practice of pederasty (homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent male) was not unheard of. However, it should be noted that these relationships went beyond just the physical basis. So the adult male intently acted as the younger trainee’s guardian, and thus was responsible for the teenager’s conduct and courage in the agoge. According to Xenophon, purely physical relationships between males could be officially banned from the state.

Such condemnation from the official level had a practical side to it, since unmarried men (after the age of 30) were looked down upon and even publicly humiliated by the Spartan society during religious festivals. In essence, heterosexual marriage was the only way to sire future Spartans – and such societal bonds were in turn supported by the free citizens. And, if the man proved to be impotent, he was expected to choose a virile substitute who could ‘practically’ impregnate his wife. Moreover, the Spartan man was also not allowed inside the marketplace to converse with other men till the age of 30.

5) Spartans hunted down their slaves to prove their own worthiness –

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The Spartan was considered as a true soldier from the age of 18 when he was called the eiren or ‘adult citizen’. However, the Spartan secret service (known as krypteia) only took members who were generally above a certain age threshold (but below 30 years). This ‘krypteia‘ branch of the military practiced a cruel form of training for its initiates that required them to kill innocent ‘helots’ (the subjugated populace of Sparta which provided the free Lakedaimonians with slaves).

The atrocious process was started off when an ephor (an elected Spartan leader) upon entering his office, often declared war on the helots with the casus belli of fake revolts. This executive decision for all intents-and-purposes made the act of killing a helot completely legal from the perspective of state’s judicial system. And, when the order was passed, young Spartan men armed with just daggers and rations were let loose into the countryside populated by such slaves. These men regularly used bandit-like tactics and ambushed unsuspecting helots to kill them during night times. Sometimes, the strongest helot was targeted first, so as to make their case for Spartan manliness in taking down bigger enemies.

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  • George Thanos

    In fact homosexuality and pederasty were totally forbiden in Sparta:

    Xenophon’s “The constitution of the Spartans” Chap.2 sec 13:

    “The customs instituted by Lycurgus were opposed to all of these. If someone, being himself an honest man, admired a boy’s soul and tried to make of him an ideal friend without reproach and to associate with him, he approved, and believed in the excellence of this kind of training. But if it was clear that the attraction lay in the boy’s outward beauty, he banned the connection as an abomination; and thus he caused lovers to abstain from boys no less than parents abstain from sexual intercourse with their children and brothers and sisters with each other.”

    Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock, tr. Constitution of the Athenians. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1925.

  • ROUGH HANDLING CLOTHING

    WOMAN OF TODAY – MEANING BRAINWASHED TO THE MAXIMUM – IS COMMENTING ON BRAVE MEN.

    • Shadow Bolden

      Erm… I’m just going to point out that people like you, ROUGH HANDLING CLOTHING, are the ones who are truly brainwashed to the point of extremely excessive stupidity and not the “WOMAN OF TODAY” (which, by the way, is incorrect, for she did not comment on the same day you did, though this can be excused as my view of it is born of unneeded nitpicking). Following an approximate definition of “BRAINWASHED” (all intelligence removed by an outside means; made to think in a way different to one’s own or original way; made to be controlled), your pathetic attempt at using dashes to simulate some semblance of intelligence (while simultaneously writing with caps lock on) is an utter failure: Hyphens are not dashes; Those are hyphens. Please refer to the websites provided in the latter portion of this sentence before letting your hands near a keyboard ever again: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/, https://www.mla.org/. Minor points such as that aside, do you actually believe that the Spartans were truly brave? Leaving a newborn child on a hillside to die seems to be a contradiction here — unless you believe that that is brave, I’m sure you would agree. The Spartans were raised to be exactly as their fathers (and their father’s fathers and so on) were and, for lack of a better description, their fathers were “royal assholes.” While many evidences do counter this and show that Spartans were in fact brave, “BRAVE MEN” can be dimwitted and rude, which (assuming I’m correct in believing Alice meant an extremely rude and belligerent person by “royal assholes”) would make them assholes, thus there is no point in drawing upon the fact that Spartans were brave. I would like to also point out that not all Spartans were men. How did you think reproduction worked? All Spartans, regardless of sex, at the time were quite likely to be uncultured swine. As are you, I might add. It is sad to see that there are easily-triggered misogynists now, even with all of the annoying feminist propaganda floating around. Perhaps there never will be an end to this hellish thing that is the never ending “war of the genders,” as it were. well, I’ve had my rant, fare thee well. Actually, please don’t fare well. Please allow yourself to be pushed off a cliff by a kind and brave 60-year-old gentleman.

  • Aidan Mattis

    This is horrifically inaccurate

  • L Kururugi

    They were practicing homosexuals too, just like Samurai. Aw man.

    Well 300 was still cool.

    • Beverley Davis

      Gay men see everyone as gay..I’ve learned to ignore homosexual nonsense.

  • Robert Taylor

    I see nothing, for the most part, to admire.

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