Sparta is notorious for its ruthless military and strict society, but just how extreme was the life of a soldier in the ancient Greek city-state? At birth, each baby was judged by a council of elders on its strength. If it had an obvious disability or appeared weak, the baby was left outside to die of exposure, as they believed the baby could not have contributed to society. This practice is called infanticide and while it is prominent in Spartan society, many other cultures accepted this as the norm as well.
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At age seven, the boys were taken away to begin their training to be a soldier. This state enforced education program was called the Agoge. They experienced basic education in reading and writing but the bulk of the Agoge system consisted of education in military strategy and combat.
The program taught all of the Spartan values like loyalty to the state over family and courage. Boys lived a very structured life in the program and were expected to follow all the rules or face harsh punishments. When the boys reached twelve, they were given only a red garment to wear and forced to sleep outside and survive in the wilderness. To get food, they were instructed to hunt and even steal but were whipped if caught. Trainees in the system were also encouraged to fight and to taunt each other to raise self-confidence. Another grisly detail of the system is when every year, adolescents would be ceremonially whipped to test their endurance and pain tolerance. At age 20 the fine-tuned Spartan boys were conscripted into the army. Every year, the newly inducted soldiers would declare war on the helot population for both training and to prove their superiority over them. The helots were the slave population of Sparta that consisted of the people of conquered territories. One of the reasons the Spartans needed such a strong military was that the helots could have easily overthrown the Spartans as there was a whopping 7:1 ratio of slaves to Spartan citizens.
In this war between social classes, the soldiers were instructed to kill as many helots as they could, especially targeting the biggest and strongest. From age twenty to thirty, the soldiers were on active duty and still lived in the barracks with their comrades. They were allowed to marry at twenty but had to meet in secret until thirty when they could move in with their wives and start a family. At 60, the men had completed their duty as a Spartan citizen, and were given some farmland and helots to farm it. Men over 60 also made up a governing council that worked in coalition with the kings to pass legislation and serve as judges. Members of this council, the Gerousia, served for life. While men were obligated to stay fit, women were also encouraged to stay healthy and participate in sports and other exercise. The foremost job of a Spartan woman was to conceive strong babies. Being that men were away from home for much of their lives, women also played a larger part in government than elsewhere and were generally more respected, although still not citizens. Ultimately, the life of a Spartan warrior was rigorous and brutal, but the Spartans held good values close to their hearts
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