Ancient Greece Lessons
Sparta was an ancient Greek polis that began preparing their citizens for war at birth. Spartan mothers would present their newborn children to the rulers of the polis. The rulers would examine the child to determine if the children were healthy and strong enough to be of value to the polis. Children who were sickly or malformed were murdered. Spartan warriors were expected to be disciplined and courageous, but they also had to completely conform to strict rules.
Spartan boys would leave their homes at age seven to begin training as warriors. They would live in an all-male military housing called barracks where the boys were rigorously trained and disciplined. Spartan boys would be underfed. If they were caught stealing, the young warriors would be beaten not for stealing, but for being caught. Spartan men could marry when they were twenty years old, but the men were not allowed to live with their families until they reached thirty. Soldiers who had not found a wife by age thirty were required to capture an unmarried woman of their choice. Spartan men would continue to serve in the military until they were sixty years old. Both men and women in Sparta participated in athletic contests to make them strong.
Spartan men were constantly in training for war, so Sparta relied on women to complete many of the duties of running the polis. Spartan girls were raised to be tough so the women could bear strong children for the polis. The people of other poli would tell the story of a Spartan mother who killed her son for running away from his duties. Spartan woman were the sole owners of at least one third of the land of their polis. Spartan women were known for being stoic. A stoic person can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. When Spartan soldiers went to battle, their mothers and wives would present the warriors with their shield and say: "With this, or upon this." The soldier would return to Sparta either victorious, with his shield in hand, or carried dead upon his shield. If a Spartan soldier returned home alive and without his shield, he faced death or banishment.
The Spartans were Dorians who invaded the land they occupied on the Peloponnesus, a peninsula in southern Greece. The Spartans expanded their territory by capturing neighboring lands. The people they captured were known as helots. Helots were forced to farm the land they once owned, but the helots had to provide half of their harvest to Sparta. Helot farms produced enough food to feed the Spartan army, but the Spartans treated their captives with great cruelty. A police force would spy on the helots and murdered anyone suspected of being a threat. Every year, Sparta would declare war on the helots and Spartan warriors would kill helots as part of their training.
Sparta had the strongest army of any poli in ancient Greece, but Spartan laws discouraged anything that would distract the Spartan people from their disciplined military life. Sparta did not welcome visitors from other cities, and Spartans were not allowed to travel. The Spartans were not interested in other ways of life and did not want to bring new ideas to their polis. Today, we use Spartan as an adjective to describe someone who is rigorously disciplined but who enjoys few comforts or luxuries.
Sparta's army would eventually come into conflict with Athens, a trading poli that developed the strongest navy of ancient Greece. In 431BC, Sparta and Athens fought one another for twenty-seven years in the Peloponnesian War. Sparta continued to exist as an independent poli for centuries until it was conquered by Rome in 146BC. Today, the small town of Sparti lives on among the ruins of one of the most powerful cities in history.
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Dowling, Mike. "Sparta at mrdowling.com" www.mrdowling.com. Updated March 28, 2013 . Web. Date of Access. <http://www.mrdowling.com/701-sparta.html>