Being asked by a woman from Attica, “Why is it that you Spartan women are the only women that lord over your men?” Gorgo, the Queen of Sparta and wife of Leonidas replied, “Because we are the only women who are the mothers of men”. This quote from Gorgo shows the great prowess not only of Spartan men but of Spartan women as well. Spartan women, along with Spartan men were bred to be the pinnacle of human performance and perfection. The armies and soldiers of Sparta are still revered as the best there ever has been. Often overlooked are the women of Sparta who were just as important in crafting the Spartan society as the men. Spartan women had rights and privileges unmatched by any other Greek City-State. Spartan women gained prominence from the absence of men in everyday affairs, exploitation of the Helots, education, and land ownership. Spartan women were the first to be on the same level as their male counterparts.
Spartans social institutions and its famous discipline were designed for a single purpose: to protect the state by maintaining the best fighting force in the world. Women were as much a part of this goal as men were. Women were trained to be fitting wives and mothers of these soldiers. Their education included rigorous athletic training in which competition was encouraged.
The process of making the perfect Spartan citizen, either male or female, began at birth. The Spartans were frequent practitioners of eugenics and examined all children at birth to determine their probability of becoming functioning members of a Spartan society . This can best be illustrated through Plutarch writings, particularly those regarding the great lawgiver Lycurgus: The father did not decide whether to raise a baby; rather he took it and carried it to some place called Lesche where the elders of the tribes sat and examined. the infant, and if it was well built and sturdy, they ordered the father to rear it, and assigned it one of the nine thousand lots of land; but if it was ill born and misshapen, they sent it to the so-called “Apothetae,” a chasm-like place at the foot of Mount Taygetus, thinking that any baby which was not naturally created at the very beginning to be healthy and strong was of no good either to itself or the state . Most interestingly to note was that while boys were subject to male infanticide most girls were left untouched, except those with obvious and debilitating physical abnormalities. From Plutarch writing it can be deduced that at births females were simply handed over to the women of Sparta. Once handed over to the wives, the women would than perform their own tests on the infant girls to check for epilepsy, sickness and overall viability .. One such test was tossing the infant into a bath of undiluted wine. If the infant went into convulsions that it was not fit to be a Spartan . Female Spartan babies were thought to have been more significantly nourished than other female Greek children and in some cases than Spartan male babies . Diet reflected ethic difference. The height of Spartan women probably resulted not only from heredity and eugenics, but also from their generous food rations. Spartans were the only Greek women who were well fed and drank wine . Many believe this preference is shown to female babies because it is especially important to the Spartans to have physically fit women to bear children.
If the child was strong enough to make it past the initial inspection and tests than they were on the path to becoming a true Spartan. Spartan formal training and education for both males and females began around the age of seven. At this time the boys were taken from the home and sent to the agoge, which would act as the main agent of socialization and education for boys. In the agoge a boy would enter and after a lifetime of training a Spartan soldier would emerge. For females in Sparta although they did not go to the agoge that does not mean that they were not educated. The goal of the...
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