What Life Was Really Like For The Average Spartan

Ancient Sparta had one of the most respected and fierce fighting forces of their era. Nearly all aspects of daily life revolved around the military machine. From the time a Spartan was born to their end, they served the state and its armed forces. Spartans were expected 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 shaped themselves into 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 was not tolerated. 

  • If A Baby Didn't Pass Inspection, It Was Left To Perish

    Greece may have been the birthplace of democracy, but the Spartans weren’t above taking the lives of babies. Each child born in Sparta was brought before a special council of inspectors. If the inspection revealed any physical defects or weaknesses that might impede the baby's future as a soldier, the baby was left to perish.

    While there are myths that the discarded babies were thrown into a chasm, they were most likely abandoned in the wilderness or the hills to pass from exposure or to be adopted by strangers. 

  • Children Weren’t Treated Very Kindly

    Even if a baby was accepted by the Spartan community, that doesn’t mean it had a happy childhood. If a child cried, it was ignored or even punished. Children were conditioned to fear nothing, including being alone. They were forbidden from wearing shoes to harden their feet.

    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 perish. 

  • Men Had To Serve In The Military Until They Were 60

    Men Had To Serve In The Military Until They Were 60
    Photo: Ticinese / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Men didn’t have a choice about joining the military. They were removed from their families and conscripted into military training from the time they were seven until about age 21.

    While other occupations existed, it was uncommon for men to be anything but soldiers. All men were required to stay in the army reserve until age 60.

  • Soldiers Ate Together In Military-Style Barracks

    Soldiers Ate Together In Military-Style Barracks
    Photo: The Perseus Project / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When a Spartan man reached fighting age, he was elected to a syssitia, which was essentially a public mess hall. There were several to which a soldier could apply to join, but only one accepted him. Once a member, he had to attend every day unless he had an ironclad excuse.

    Later in life, fathers took their children there as a way to bond with the community and learn its culture. Only men and youths were allowed to attend.

  • Getting Drunk Was Considered Inappropriate

    Spartans were expected to be physically fit and to maintain sharp minds.

    While they enjoyed wine in moderation, drinking in excess was discouraged, as it might compromise their physical and mental ability to serve as effective warriors.

  • Excess Weight Wasn't Tolerated

    Excess Weight Wasn't Tolerated
    Photo: Rider Painter / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Spartan children were given a single garment for the entire year to discourage them from gaining too much weight. If a child gained too much weight and grew out of their clothing, new clothes were not an option. They had to exercise or eat less to continue wearing the single garment given to them.

    The mess halls also served portions that were slightly less than filling to promote trim figures. If a Spartan became overweight, they were ridiculed and even banished.