Training Warriors in Ancient Sparta

Under the laws of Lycurgus, the semi-mythical Spartan lawgiver, Spartan males were forbidden any other profession but war. All aspects of the city-state were designed to train and support a large professional army of supreme warriors.

The Spartan male’s service to the state started at birth. When a boy was born to in Sparta, the mother would encourage it to cry loudly to prove that the baby had strong lungs. She washed the newborn in wine, to give it a healthy color. The father would then take his son to the council of elders, or the Gerousia. These hardened veterans, all over 60 years of old, would carefully examine the naked infant for any birth defects or any sign of weakness. If such a flaw was found, the baby would be considered to be worthless. If the baby was judged so he would be taken immediately and thrown into a chasm on Mount Taygetos.

If the baby passed this test then the boy would return to his parent’s home where he was raised for the six years. For these first six years the child was reared by his mother. She dressed the child in only simple robes and made sure not to smother the boy with affection to avoid making him soft.

On his seventh birthday the boy was taken from his home and enrolled in the agoge, or “the learning.” The Agoge was a rigorously disciplined, military style education. All Spartan males except of the eldest sons of the two Spartan royal households were required to go through the Agoge. The goal of the harsh training was to produce perfect soldiers to serve in the Spartan army.

From age 7 to age 12 the boy lived in a communal barracks with others his age in a troop supervised by an older boy. They were educated enough to count soldiers in a formation, read war sagas and sing and recite war poetry. Of course, the Spartan boys were subjected to strength and stamina training. They were trained in wrestling, they also practiced gymnastics, jumping, throwing of the javelin and the discus.

The boys went without shoes, bathed at the cold river waters and were given only one garment a year to wear. They had no blankets and slept on beds of straws and reeds, which they cut themselves, without knives. Discipline was severe, with awful punishments given if caught in even the most minor breach. The boys were expected to fight amongst themselves in order to establish a pecking order.

The Spartan boys were given only a weak broth. It was served just once a day and barely enough to survive on. The young, starving boys were expected to steal food to survive.

At age twelve the boys were sent into the wilderness to live in the mountains with only one garment and without shoes for one year. The twelve year olds were exposed the harsh weather as well as to wild animals. This year long trial trained survival and field craft that the boys would use when fighting.

At thirteen until twenty, the Spartan boys trained in war games. These sometimes resulted in dead or injured boys and would include armed attacks on Messenian helots.

At 19, the best young Spartans were taken into the Crypteia, an organization that enforced the obedience of the helot slave population. The young Spartans were encouraged to seek out and murder Messenian slaves who were known or suspected trouble-makers.

At age twenty the Spartans graduated from the Agoge. The Spartans were now soldiers, part of the military elite called the Spartan “Equals.” They were also presented with a shield and sword by their mothers, supposedly the Spartan mother would say: “On this shield or with it.”

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