politics & history What Life Was Really Like for the Average Spartan

Aaron Edwards
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Sparta had one of the most respected and fiercest fighting forces of their era. Daily life in ancient Sparta supported the military machine to the point where all other aspects of life revolved around it. From the time a Spartan was born to their death, they served the state and its armed forces. Spartans had to be perfect, both in society and on the battlefield. Their civilization worked as a military unit, preparing both men and women to be their best for whatever challenges they faced.

Boys were flogged, starved, and forged into warriors, while women wrestled, exercised, and made themselves beings of grace and fortitude. Their marriages were filled with love, but they also formed a bedrock for the Spartan state. Even so, marriage came second and Sparta came first among the population’s loyalties. Victory was everything, and defeat would not be tolerated. 

If You Weren’t a Perfect Baby, You Would Be Killed


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Photo:  Giuseppe Diotti/via Wikimedia

Greece may have been the birthplace of democracy, but the Spartans weren’t above killing babies. Every child born in Sparta was brought to a special council where they were inspected. If the inspections showed any defects or weaknesses, the baby was left to die. While there are myths that the discarded babies were thrown into a chasm, they were probably just abandoned in the wilderness or the hills. 

Children Weren’t Treated Very Kindly


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Photo:  Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg/via Wikimedia

Even if a baby was taken in by the Spartan community, that doesn’t mean they had a childhood of sunshine and rainbows. If a child cried, they were ignored or even punished. They were conditioned to fear nothing, including being alone. They were even forbidden from wearing shoes so their feet hardened. In fact, one of the first things they did to babies was bathe them in wine to test their strength. The belief was that weaker children would have convulsions and die. 

If You Were a Man, You Were a Soldier Until You Were 60


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Men didn’t have any choice in joining the military. They were conscripted from the time they were seven and trained for years until about age 21. While other occupations existed, it was uncommon for men to be anything but a soldier. In fact, all men were required to stay in the army reserve until they were 60.

Everyone Ate Together in Military-Style Barracks


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Photo:  Benutzer:Ticinese/via Wikimedia

When a Spartan man came of fighting age, he was elected to a syssitia, which was essentially a public mess hall. There were several you could apply to join, but only one would accept you. When you joined, you had to attend every day unless you had an ironclad excuse. Later in life, fathers would take their children there as a way to bond with the community and learn its culture. 

Getting Drunk Was Only for Slaves


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Photo:  Luigi Mussini/via Wikimedia

The Spartans were all about having perfectly toned bodies and sharp minds. Of course, they still enjoyed wine as much as the next civilization, but drinking to excess was something they could not abide. In fact, they’d get their slaves incredibly drunk to teach them what alcohol could do to you. Sufficed to say, there weren’t many Spartan alcoholics. 

There Was a Ton of Body-Shaming


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Photo: Public Domain/via Wikimedia

Spartan children were only given one garment for the entire year to prevent them from gaining too much weight. If you got fat and your clothes didn’t fit, then the only way to wear clothing was to exercise or eat less. The mess halls also served portions that were slightly less than filling to promote trim figures. If you were fat, then you became a pariah and could even be banished.

Men Couldn’t Live with Their Wives Until They Turned 30


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Photo:  Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier/via Wikimedia

Marriages happened all the time, of course. Married couples even had sex and, subsequently, children. However, because men were devoted to the state and their military service, they were forced to live in barracks. Once you turned 30, you were allowed to live elsewhere. But men who got married earlier were forced to sneak out at night in order to be with their loved ones.

The Education of Women Was State Policy


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Photo:  Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier/via Wikimedia

The Spartans weren’t really keen on philosophy, but they did educate their population. That education mostly centered on tough physical training. Women were not exempted from this kind of training, even if they didn’t have to serve military time the way their male counterparts did. Women were also free to move around instead of being confined to the house, unlike women in many part of the ancient world.