Photo Courtesy of greekboston.com
During the height of Greek Antiquity, there were hundreds of individual city-states throughout the Greek sphere of influence. The idea of Greece wasn’t the idea of a unified country as it is today, it was a collection of small governments, fiercely independent, that shared a common thread. The city-states hated each other and fought more often than they allied and fought outside forces. During the 5th century B.C., the Greek world came under fire from the Persian Empire in the east. The outside threat from the Persians facilitated alliances between the Greek city-states; with the two most powerful entities in the Greek world being the cities of Athens and Sparta.
Athens and Sparta hated each other more than you hate your older sister who hogs the bathroom globbing on enough makeup to hide the 34803 zits on her head. Athens was the “birthplace” of democracy and thought itself the center of the Greek world, and rightfully so. The city-state of Athens gave rise to such things as theater, art, classical Greek architecture, medical research, historical research, and the list could go on. Sparta, on the other hand, didn’t have time for all that crap, Spartans cared about one thing, destroying their enemies in the most extravagantly brutal ways imaginable. While Athens and Sparta are taught by many, many history teachers throughout the world, there are many of my social studies nerd brethren who are uncomfortable explaining the dark side of Spartan life. Thus, our topic for this chapter, the life, and training of a Spartan male.
In today’s culture, babies are coddled and loved from the moment their leave their mother’s womb, in Ancient Sparta, you were ripped from the arms of your mother and inspected by an old dude from town. If the baby failed the inspection from the world’s worst pediatrician, the baby was left in the woods to die or be taken in by another group of people. For the first few years of a boy’s life, they stayed at home with their mother while their father was usually away crushing skulls in foreign wars. Once the young boy reached the age of seven, they were taken away from their families and put into the Spartan military academy known as the Agoge. So, at the age when many of you were still crying over not getting an extra milk at lunch and watched Sesame Street and slept with a special blankie, Spartan kids were learning how to murder people with their bare hands.
From the onset, the Spartans showed themselves to be psychotic, they underfeed the boys and forced them to steal food if their hunger becomes too much. But, if the boys were caught cheating they were beaten unmercifully for the offense. The boys were forced to build their beds and lodgings by hand and were given only one piece of clothing per year, thus facilitating the evilest and sadistic of the boys to beat the hell out of their classmates and gain more property. When the boys matured a bit, they were teamed with an older boy and forced to enter a homosexual relationship. Most often, the older boys sexually assaulted the younger boys in the relationship and demanded absolute obedience. The training, throughout their teens, amped up the intensity and they were expected to be finely-tuned killing machines.
The Spartans were taught that total compliance on the battlefield and to their state was required. According to Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon, even normal citizens could punish the boys of the Agoge. If a student were found to break any rules away from the watching eyes of the instructors, “Any citizen who was present could give boys whatever instructions seemed necessary and punish any misconduct.”
Arguably the most twisted aspect of the Agoge was how a boy graduated to a man. You see, the Spartans were total jerk-faces and enslaved an entire race of people known as the Helots. Every year, the Spartans declared open war on the Helots and allowed their citizens to murder a Helot to help thin out the population. During this festive time of butchery, the Spartan boys in the Agoge were instructed to slay their first Helot. When the boys killed their first Helot as a member of a secret police force, they were accepted into Spartan manhood. The life of a Spartan man did not get much better, they served in the military for all of their adult days, and most men were lucky to live in their 40’s or 50’s. A short, and brutal existence, it is no wonder that the Spartan system didn’t last. When one visits Greece today, they can still see the splendor of the works of Athens, but all that is left of Sparta is an empty valley.