In ancient Sparta military training was the rule, not the exception. Sparta was an independent—some say the most independent– city state in ancient Greece. The citizens of Sparta were great believers in their state. Ancient Spartans placed the state above themselves and the state demanded soldiers to protect it. Those too weak to be soldiers were too week to be Spartans. When a young boy was born to Spartan parents the father would take the child to the council of elders. These old calloused and scarred veterans would look at the naked infant carefully for any birth defects or the slightest sign of weakness or sickness. If they judged the crying baby to be unworthy of carrying a Spartan shield it would be taken immediately to a nearby cliff off Mt. Taygetos and thrown over the edge. If it passed this first of many life tests then the young Spartan boy would be allowed to return to his parent’s home where he lived for six years. Then the agoge or military training would start
When the young Spartan boy reached seven he was deemed too old to be coddled by his parents and was taken from them to live a military life for the rest of his existence. He was placed in a communal barracks with others his age, supervised by an older boy referred to as a Eirena who had respectively been the strongest in his class (and was himself undergoing something like officer training). For the next five years these Spartan boys were conditioned physically and mentally. They were educated- but only enough to count soldiers in a formation, read war sagas and sing and recite war poetry. . They were given rigorous strength and endurance training and physical conditioning through endless field and track events. They were taught wrestling and the art of ancient martial combat to make them lethal. They were fed -but it was a weak broth and in quantities only enough to exist. It was expected that the young starving boys would steal or otherwise find enough food to keep them strong. For this they would only be punished if caught and the lesson learned from this was how to look for food when none was available, a skill that would be needed in the future when occupying a village that had been sacked and abandoned. Discipline was the word to live by, with terrific punishments meted out if caught performing the most minor infraction.
At age twelve the lean and hungry boy was taken from the barracks and made to eat, live and sleep in one garment with no shoes under the open sky for one year, exposed to the beasts and the weather. This yearlong exercise taught survival and fieldcraft skills that he would need when deployed fighting abroad. From age thirteen until he reached what was considered manhood at twenty the Spartan child played very very serious war games. These games often left the contestants dead or injured and would include armed invasions on Messenian agricultural slaves called helots and other non Spartans living nearby. These war games taught small unit tactics, raids, reconnaissance and surveillance, and the art of the ambush. When age twenty was reached the Spartan boy was seen as a solder and had thirteen years of the hardest military training yet devised under his belt. For the next ten years he would still live in barracks as part of the standing army and only at age thirty were they allowed to marry and as a full fledged citizen, reproduce and achieve public office. It was only then that they were granted the privilege to live in their own house and not in barracks. This superbly trained Spartan soldier would still remain in the army no matter where he lived until age sixty when they were allowed to retire.
—–That is, if they were still alive.
Author: Christopher Edger
“Agoge – Spartan Military Training”
March 5, 27