Can you imagine being taken away from your family and your home when you were just seven years old? And then spending the rest of your life learning how to fight and then fighting your country’s enemies?
In the 5th century B.C., this was the life of a Spartan boy. It was Spartan law that boys must become warriors. And not just good warriors, but they had to be the best in the world! What was Sparta and where was it?
Ancient Greece, or Hellas as it is called in the Greek language, was divided into many states and city-states. A city-state, or polis in Greek, was actually just a city with such power that it controlled the entire state in which it was located. For example, Sparta was the city-state in the state of Lakonia, but because Sparta was such a major power in its state, it was common to use the city name to refer to the whole area.
At the time, Sparta had a population of 100,000 citizens and slaves. Because it was located in the center of the Peloponnese peninsula (the southern half of Greece), Spartans knew that any battles would have to be fought on land. Their city-state would need expert warriors on the battlefield. Why did Sparta need such strong warriors?
Sparta was located on mountainous, rocky terrain that was unsuitable for farming. It was also located too far away from the sea to be able to use the water for fishing or trade. To survive, Sparta needed to control other parts of Hellas and use their land and access to water. They needed to be the strongest and most fearless fighters to win battles against their neighbors and become the most powerful force in Hellas.
Some say the reason that Sparta was so focused on having a powerful military was because of a king named Lycurgus in the 9th century. King Lycurgus created a lot of laws designed to help Sparta’s people remain peaceful with each other, but grow to be very strong and powerful outside of the city-state. When Lycurgus decided to take a short trip to Delphi (a city not far from Athens), he made the Spartan people promise to uphold his laws while he was gone. Unfortunately, he died on this trip and never returned causing the Spartan people to feel obligated to forever fulfill his wishes. How did the Spartan people live?
Sparta wanted to be thought of as a courageous, strong, and moral society. They did not want their citizens thinking of fun, comfort or any happiness. They thought this would lead to corruption and the downfall of their country. So Spartans lived simple and disciplined lives, deprived of any luxuries. For example, no house could have anything fancy or showy. Money was made of iron and was so large and heavy that it was too difficult to have much of it. Spartans ate their meals together in community halls so no person had anything to eat that was better than anyone else. A typical meal was just a broth that looked like dark gray oatmeal or porridge. It became known as “black broth” or “Spartan broth”.
Spartans could not travel outside their city-state. Very few people from outside Sparta were allowed to come inside the borders. This was to protect the citizens from immorality or foreign ideas. Education was very important in...