Warrior Culture : Spartan

Sparta with its combination of Warrior Ethos, cutting edge technology, and iron discipline turned it into the military powerhouse of the age.

Sparta was unique amongst the other city states however, while its main focus was on martial prowess, it was also rather progressive. Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical world. With the only mandated female education of the time, with women being allowed to own property, and death in childbirth being on par with death in combat.

Spartiates are perhaps most famous for the rigorous public training in the agoge from the age 8 on up. And for the battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartan warriors laid down their lives in a holding action so that the rest of their coalition forces could retreat and regroup. Ending in the inevitable defeat of Persian forces.

Silver Tetradrachm from Byblos, Phonecia, c.  544 BC    

A hippocamp swims below a Phonecian galley with 3 hoplites aboard. On the reverse, a lion attacks a bull, inscription above.

The Phoenician seamen were renowned in Antiquity; Homer mentions them in the Odyssey. Founded more than seven thousand years ago, Byblos is one of the eldest cities in the world that is still inhabited; its influence is due to its trade with the Egypt of the Pharaohs, to whom it supplied Lebanese wood.

The Boeotian League

Boeotia was a region caught between the two dominant forces in Greek politics, Sparta and Athens. To counter this, the Boeotian League was formed between eleven of the city-states in the region, and based in Thebes, the largest of the cities, and found themselves allied with one or the other at different points between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

The two Boeotians on the left carry only helmets and shields, lacking any other armor. The Greeks in general were obsessed with the nude male form, but none more than the Boeotians, some of whom were reported to fight in the nude.

The central power of the Boeotians were the Thebans, and it was they, led by Epaminondas, who finally brought an end to the hegemony that Sparta had enjoyed in the decades following the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, breaking the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE and marching on Sparta itself.

The core of their force was the Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite unit of 300 men chosen from the best soldiers, and made up of 150 pairs of lovers. As with most male sexual relationships it was pederastic, with one older veteran - the erastai (lover) - and a younger man - the eromenos (beloved). The logic of the formation was that that there was nothing which would devote the men more to supporting each other in battle. Although homosexual behavior was common and accepted between soldiers in a number of the ancient Greek militaries, Thebes was one of the few to so integrate it into their military structure.

(Angus McBride)

Ancient Greek states by hoplitesmores-MEGISTIAS on Flickr.

Ancient Greek states-Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC)-Greco-Persian Wars (499-448 BC)


Warrior Culture : Spartan

Sparta with its combination of Warrior Ethos, cutting edge technology, and iron discipline turned it into the military powerhouse of the age. Spartan Warriors are among the greatest warriors to have ever lived. Renowned for their supreme fitness and discipline, because of this they have often been mislabeled as mindless brutes.

Spartan education stressed love of intellect and knowledge as much as physical exercise. Infact self-discipline, (not the mindless obedience the Spartans were often accused of) as the principal goal of Spartan education was the creation of good citizens. And good citizens had to be able to deliberate wisely in the Assembly, to serve as magistrates and judges, and to conduct negotiations with foreign powers.  Thus, despite the harsh discipline, Sparta did not seek to break her youth or make them subservient.  Instead, they were taught not only their laws but also the functioning of democracy in function electing their leaders amongst themselves during their schooling at the Agoge.

Spartans are also (falsely) accused of being drones, as discipline and adherence to orders was of extreme importance in Phalanx Combat. Yet being a good soldier (Spartan) required much more than just strength and discipline.  In fact a Spartan would have also been trained to track, hunt, provide first aid, and other tasks designed to teach them how to survive on their own behind enemy lines, or on an extended campaign. Beyond even that, a good Spartan was trained think and act independently recognizing opportunities and seizeing initiative. For any naysayers this has been corroborated historically by any number of Sparta’s successful independent commanders (for instance Gylippus, Mindarus, and Lysander). 

For those that need further convincing Socrates himself considered the Spartans the greatest philosophers in mainland Greece. And other philosophical greats like Xenophon, and Plato were also hearty admirers of Sparta. It makes little sense that the intellectual powerhouses of the age would so greatly admire a society of illiterate brutes. In fact… Literacy was higher in Sparta than in other Greek city-states, because only in Sparta was there a high degree of literacy among women as well as men because… only in Sparta was public education provided for girls as well as boys.

While the emphasis of Spartan Education was physical fitness, numerous sources testify to the fact that Sparta also placed great emphasis on training the intellect.  Anything less would have put Sparta at a disadvantage, and since Spartans were commonly requested to assume positions of leadership in foreign policy… it just goes to show that the Spartan Warriors were far from the mindless brutes their detractors would have you believe.

One of my favorite stories regarding these legendary warriors is not one of prowess or glory but of good conduct and right action. “An old man wandering around the Olympic Games looking for a seat was jeered at by the crowd until he reached the seats of the Spartans, whereupon every Spartan younger than him, and some that were older, stood up and offered him their seat. The crowd applauded and the old man turned to them with a sigh, saying “All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.”

Much of the above information was pulled from the bellow link, it is a wealth of information on the topic if you wish to learn more


The Spartans and the Tegeans

The Spartans were by far the most renowned of Greek city-states when it came to martial prowess. The youth of Lakedaimonia were removed from their mothers at the age of seven to be raised in military barracks and trained to be warriors, their primary duty to the state, circumstances allowed by the slave/feudal system imposed by the Spartan elites on the helots of the region who farmed and supported this warrior society.

At 20, a boy became a man and joined the ranks of the Spartan Army, serving until the age of 60. Bravery was prized above all else, and a man who turned and fled in battle was considered to have committed treason, and faced summary execution. Marching off to war with spear, sword, and shield, the women of Sparta would remark to their sons “With it, or on it." 

At the height of their power Sparta controlled most of the Peloponnesian peninsula and most of the city-states were subjugated to them and provided additional hoplites to bolster the Spartan battle lines. Tegea was, during the 5th Century BCE their most important ally and their men were afforded the most important place in the battle plans aside from the Spartans themselves.

(Angus McBride)