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


If You Were a Man, You Were a ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Life Was Really Like for the Average Spartan
Photo:  gancheva/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

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.