Spartan Childhood

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The Spartan family was quite different from that of other Ancient Greek city-states. The word "spartan" has come down to us to describe self-denial and simplicity. This is what Spartan life was all about. Children were children of the state more than of their parents. They were raised to be soldiers, loyal to the state, strong and self-disciplined.

It began in infancy. When a Spartan baby was born, soldiers came to the house and examined it carefully to determine its strength.The baby was bathed in wine rather than water, to see its reaction. If a baby was weak, the Spartans exposed it on the hillside or took it away to become a slave (helot). Infanticide was common in ancient cultures, but the Spartans were particularly picky about their children. It was not just a matter of the family, the city-state decided the fate of the child. Nurses had the primary care of the baby and did not coddle it.

Soldiers took the boys from their mothers at age 7, housed them in a dormitory with other boys and trained them as soldiers. The mother's softening influence was considered detrimental to a boy's education. The boys endured harsh physical discipline and deprivation to make them strong. The marched without shoes and went without food. They learned to fight, endure pain and survive through their wits. The older boys willingly participated in beating the younger boys to toughen them. Self-denial, simplicity, the warrior code, and loyalty to the city-state governed their lives.

Spartan children were taught stories of courage and fortitude. One favorite story was about a boy who followed the Spartan code. He captured a live fox and intended to eat it. Although boys were encouraged to scrounge for food, they were punished if caught. The boy noticed some Spartan soldiers coming, and hid the fox beneath his shirt. When the soldiers confronted him, he allowed the fox to chew into his stomach rather than confess, and showed no sign of pain in his body or face. This was the...
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