Spartan Military

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Spartan Military

From about the time of the Persian invasion until the Battle of Leuctra, Sparta was viewed as the powerhouse of the Greek city-states. There were numerous reasons behind their success, but there are few that stand out as the most prevalent. Spartan boys are born to be warriors, they are sent to the Agoge at the age of seven and forced to abide by the Laws set by Lycurgus the Lawgiver. Spartan men never had to worry about chores or any work that was done in the kleroi, allowing more time and focus to be dedicated towards militaristic training. The Spartan army had the ability to call upon the Perioikoi and Helots if need be as extra warriors, which became a significant advantage at time. These reasons, along with various others, are why the Spartan army was able to succeed and become the dominant force in ancient Greece.

From the moment of birth, Spartan males are judged whether they have the capacity to be a great soldier. The sole purpose of Spartan men is to be a great warrior that can service the Spartan society by contributing to their military powerhouse. According to the ancient Greek historian Plutarch, “as boys reached the age of seven, Lycurgus took charge of them all himself and distributed them into troops”. The education of Spartan boys was almost entirely militaristic and the focus was to prepare them for a majority of their adult life in warfare. During their time in the Agoge as boys, Spartan men lived together in the barracks forming very close bonds and a sense of brotherhood, but they also learnt the tactics of the Spartan army, including how to fight in a phalanx. Spartan boys are exposed to violence at a young age through bizarre traditions and rituals, such as the Theft of cheeses ritual. Ancient Greek historian Plato believed that the Spartans were educated “not by persuasion but by violence”. As young men they are also exposed to much propaganda, including the poetry of Tyrtaios, all of which endorse the belief that the greatest honour for a Spartan man is to die on the battlefield fighting alongside his close friends, all of them willing to do the same for him. If there was a Spartan man who was to act in a cowardly manner or break any of the Laws of Lycurgus, they would have to face the humiliation that follows and he would be stripped of his citizenship. The Greek historian Xenophon claimed that the Paidonomos had to administer severe whippings to the disobedient. The training and education of Spartan boys was a large reason for the success of the Spartan army.

At times of need, the Spartan army had a distinct advantage being able to call upon the Perioikoi and Helots. Although these soldiers would not have been as effective as Spartiate hoplites, they would still have offered a very useful amount of additional troops in larger battles. On top of these two classes within Sparta, the Spartan army also had the ability to call upon various other allies once they had gained control of the Peloponnesian League. The Spartans were an army that were often heavily outnumbered, in some battles by as much as three to one, so these extra soldiers had a significant impact in some of the Spartan battles. Being capable of using all of these additional forces gave Sparta an advantage over their opponents and contributed largely to the success of the Spartan army.

Spartan society was set up in such a manner that allowed for Spartan men to focus entirely on their military duty. The Helots and women handled all tasks regarding the Kleroi, allowing the Spartan men to become full-time warriors. Other city-states relied on soldiers who only dedicated part of their lives towards warfare, while Sparta had an entire army of dedicated and full-time soldiers. This extra time allowed for better preparedness on behalf of the Spartan army and they often able to defeat to their opponents simply because they were better prepared and better trained. It allowed more time for bonding and for...
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