The Spartans were unlike any other ancient Greeks. Rather than produce philosophers, artists or theatre players, all Spartan men were born to be warriors. What is the history of Sparta, how did they rise to power and what was their way of life like?
Sparta was located in a valley on the banks of the river Eurotas in south-east Greece. The city rose to power around 650 BC. Between 492-449 BC the Spartans led the Greek armies in battle against Persian invaders. At the battle of Thermopylae three hundred Spartans held off hundreds of thousands of Persians, allowing the rest of the Greeks to escape. After the Persian Wars, civil war broke out and Sparta conquered Athens in the Peloponnesian War which lasted between 431-404 BC making Sparta the dominant power in Greece.
From birth all Spartan infants were examined by a council of inspectors and examined for physical defects. If a Spartan baby was judged unfit, it was left on a nearby hillside where they either died of exposure or were adopted by strangers. Babies were bathed in wine and Spartan women frequently ignored crying to toughen them up. Whilst this may seem harsh, Spartan women were actually sought out for their skills as nurses and nannies. Spartan boys left their parents at 7 to be molded into skilled warriors and moral citizens, being housed in communal barracks. They were schooled in warfare, stealth, hunting and athletics. At age 12, they were stripped of clothing except a red cloak, forced to sleep outdoors and make their own beds from reeds. When they finished training at 21, they were invited to a military style mess where they ate small rations of bland food. Although wine was a staple part of their diet, they would never drink to excess.
Spartan men married at 30 and lived with their wives, who married at 20. Husbands who were unable to have children sought out virile men to impregnate their wives since marriage was seen as a means for conceiving new soldiers. Spartans were soldiers for life and expected to be on reserve duty until the age of 60. Although life was hard, the Spartans produced some of the fittest, able warriors in the ancient world. They believed they were direct descendants of Hercules.
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