According to Ancient Sources, How Far Can We Asses the Aims of the Spartan Education System?

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Every male Spartan had to pass through the Spartan education system - the agoge. This began at the age of seven and was completed at by the age of thirty when the Spartan would become a full Spartiate and receive the right to vote. The fact that a Spartan spent so much of his life in the agoge meant that there was a long time for the state imposed system to force him to have the same views.

Plutarch tells us that the particularly intelligent young men in the agoge were chosen to be part of the Krypteia, a group of young Spartans who acted as a sort of secret police. He says that they were sent into the countryside and “murdered any helot whom they caught.” This may have been to desensitize the boys from violence and killing, implying that the agoge taught the boys that killing was a brave and good thing when it helped the state.

Xenophon, an Athenian who lived in Sparta and whose son’s went through the agoge, tells us that young boys would have to steal as many cheeses as possible from the shrine of Artemis Orthia. Whilst the boys were stealing the cheeses other, older boys were told to prevent the thieves from getting the cheese. He claims that this was because Lycurgus wanted “to demonstrate that a brief moment’s pain can bring the joy of enduring fame.” This shows that the agoge aimed to make the boys realise that, even if it causes pain, fighting for the state - and the rules it imposes - is important and even compulsory.

Xenophon also claims that Lycurgus decreed that, from a young age, the boys had to abide by a set of rules because he “wanted modesty to be firmly implanted in them.” This suggests that the agoge was a way to ensure that the young boys conformed to the ideals of the state.

Tyrtaeus, a Spartan war poet, also supports this view as he claims that it was “fine to die on the front line, a brave man fighting for his fatherland.” This suggests that the agoge was a means of raising the boys as the perfect warrior without a fear of dying...
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