The Role of the Spartan Education System, the Agoge

Topics: Sparta, Boy, Battle of Thermopylae Pages: 6 (1858 words) Published: April 2, 2007
The Spartiate was considered a fierce and brutal warrior, excellent in physique, un-yielding in dedication, unmatched in combat, and constantly wiling to die for Sparta. This ideal warrior was created almost forcefully through the "physical, social and moral education" system, the agoge.

Spartan education began soon after birth, where babies were inspected by Ephors and cast onto the slopes of Mt Taygetus if the Spartan health standards were not met. Boys were raised by their mothers until the age of seven, at which point they entered the agoge.

Within the barracks they immediately joined an agelai, or herd of boys. Here they learnt military and basic reading and writing skills. They were taught obedience and how to fend for themselves, share responsibilities and bond with each other. At ten they were taught music, dancing and athletics . These were integral in establishing agility and response and obedience to orders in battle, which were dictated using musical instruments. Spartans would have sung lyrics like "it is fine to die in the front line" . Along with laconic phrases like "Chilly willy!" or "True manly qualities" these formed an almost propaganda-like method of education that forced Spartan ideas like the nobility of death or the masculinity of rejecting delicacies into the subject's mind.

From twelve to eighteen they learnt games of endurance and skill. They were further disciplined by "cutting their hair short . . . walking barefoot and . . . playing naked" . Their tunics were replaced with a single cloak, which they received each year, and their rations limited. This encouraged theft, which was a display of speed, skill, and stealth. Capture, however, was seen as failure, and severe beatings ensued. We recall the famous tale of a young boy who had stolen a fox cub and hidden it under his cloak. Rather than reveal the cub and admit to thievery, he kept it hidden while it clawed at his stomach until death. This would have been seen as perfect example of Spartan dedication and obedience, but also shows the fear and brutality felt during the agoge.

Boys also had to make their own beds from thae "tips of reeds growing along the river Eurotus, broken off by hand without . . . any iron blade" . This taught Spartan boys that pain and hardship must be endured if comfort or leisure were to be enjoyed. They also took part in violent ball games, with the only objective to hold the ball at the game's conclusion; "this could be achieved by any method." Common technique included "kicking, biting and eye-gouging".

Spartan boys also loosened their bonds with their biological parents, and were encouraged to "consider all Spartans of their father's age to be in loco parentis" , (i.e. in the role of a parent. Cartledge speaks of the "institution of ritualised pederasty" in which twelve year olds are given a "young adult . . . lover". He acknowledges however that this relationship was not strictly sexual, and notes the story of a youth who cries out in a "regular brutally physical" contest. The punishment then falls on the boy's lover, "for having failed to educate his beloved properly." This indicates that in addition to drilling, athletics and other exercises, boys received private education by older males, and that this was a rather significant role.

Some rituals and festivals were also linked clearly with Spartan education. A particular ritual took place at the festival of the goddess Artemis Ortheia. Here, older boys had to "snatch as many cheeses as possible" from the steps of the goddess' altar while running a "gauntlet of guards with whips, who were instructed to use them as hard as they could. Some youths died as a result" . Although mostly ritualistic, Plutarch says that this demonstrated that the joys of high status justified short amounts of pain. The agoge was also closely related with The Gymnopaediae and The Karneia, festivals that involved dancing, gymnastics, and athletics.

The agoge was...

Bibliography: HSC Online Ancient History Ancient Sparta Notes: source was effective as it gave a range of information, particularly about life in the agoge and training of girls. It also had many useful references to ancient sources such as Plutarch. The only drawback is that it seems to gain most of its information from Plutarch, meaning that a wider range of sources may have made it more reliable.
•Spartan Society, P.MedcarfThis was very useful as it contains extensive information on the details of the agoge, syssitia, krypteia, and laconic phrases, with strong references to Plutarch and Xenophon. The table "The life and training of Spartan boys" was very useful as it gave a brief overview of the education system in a clear manner.
•Wikipedia: not too reliable due to the editing nature of Wikipedia, I did find a few useful quotes from Plutarch and Herodotus. This is good to read just to get a firmer grip on the topic.
•Unit 6: Creating the Citizens of Sparta, Spartan Society, Kathryn WelchInformation provided here was solid, but didn 't seem as extensive or specific as Medcarf 's analysis. It did give information on the paidonomos and the relation between the boy in training, the surrounding community and his family.
•Chapter One, The Spartans, Paul CartledgeThis offered some new information on the syssitia and "ritualised pederasty". It must be noted however that Cartledge virtually speaks of encouragement towards homosexuality, whereas Xenophon refers to an "affection" for youth and the relationship with and teaching of a boy by man as an "excellent kind of education".
•Sparta, BradleyThis provided some clear information on the syssitia and the central disadvantage of the agoge and helped to back up information on the education of girls, eirenes and competitive games.
•Ancient Greek Civilisations: gave a clear, albeit brief, summary of the education and some information on the krypteia.
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