Most Hardcore Soldier: Spartan


Modern western civilization can trace its
roots to ancient Greece, with the foundations for its military and government systems drawn
from two of the most legendary city-states to ever exist: Athens and Sparta. Athens would inspire Western civilizations
to rule fairly and espouse democratic ideals, while Sparta would form the backbone of the
military traditions meant to defend that democracy. But what was life really like in ancient Sparta? Hello and welcome to another episode of The
Infographics Show- today we’re asking, what was life like for a Spartan warrior? Spartan society was- well, spartan. It was a civilization that eschewed luxury
and comfort in favor for discipline, precision, and obedience. Its men and women were wholly dedicated to
the Spartan military, with almost the entirety of their effort spent every day in supporting
or strengthening Sparta’s ability to wage war. Spartan citizens weren’t even allowed to engage
in trading, and coins were outlawed. Every free citizen was equal, there was no
gender or wealth gap, as engaging in trade or even making clothing and farming was seen
as work only fit for slaves to do. There was no 1%, as there was no interest
in amassing wealth. Sadly, there was also little interest in the
arts, science, or philosophy- unless it served the military. A Spartan soldier’s life began at birth, with
the child inspected and discarded if found to be physically or mentally handicapped in
any way. When a child reached age 5 they would be inspected
once more, and killed if found to be unhealthy- Sparta had no room for the weak. At age seven male children were taken to a
local agoge- a sort of military academy/boot camp. From that moment on a Spartan child no longer
belonged to his parents, but rather to the state as a whole. At the agoge, Spartan children were purposefully
underfed and encouraged to steal food- only to be severely beaten if they were caught,
but not because stealing was wrong, but because they were in fact caught. This was meant to teach them to be stealthy
and crafty, but also to endure hunger as they may have to in the midst of a long campaign. You didn’t have to be caught doing anything
wrong to earn a beating though, as part of a Spartan child’s training in becoming a soldier
included routine and random beatings meant to ensure they grew up tough. Living in groups under the tutelage of an
older man, boys were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine who was strongest-
although they were strictly taught to never fight each other in anger or hold grudges. This too was purely pragmatic rather than
philosophical, as it ensured that morale stayed good amongst soldiers fighting side-by-side. Spartan children were not given beds to sleep
on, and instead had to make their own from tough reeds pulled from riverbanks by hand-
and forget about sheets or blankets. At age 12 they were given only a single item
of clothing a year- a red cloak- and would not earn shoes until graduating into military
service, going barefoot even in the middle of winter. This would prepare Spartan soldiers for the
reality of life on the campaign trail, as Spartans did not carry sleeping cots, tents,
or even blankets with them as they marched, sleeping on the ground itself wrapped only
in their cloaks. At age 12 a Spartan child was put under the
tutelage of an older soldier in a sort of mentor relationship, although many other Greeks
often made claims about pederasty in Spartan society. This one-on-one relationship was meant to
pass on knowledge and experience, as well as build loyalty between soldiers and from
the young child to the state. At age 18, a Spartan youth would then be initiated
into adulthood through a practice called the Krypetia- a ritual seen as barbaric and brutal
by the rest of the civilized world. During the Krypetia, Spartan teenagers formed
into small groups and were tasked with murdering a number of slaves. Sometimes blades were provided, other times
they were left to fend for themselves and improvise weapons or murder with their bare
hands. The teenagers would then look for the largest
and strongest of slaves, and ambush the slave when unawares. Weak slaves or female slaves were rarely targeted
as they were not seen as a great threat, and thus it was the biggest and strongest who
were at risk of being murdered. Though participants in a Krypteia could be
punished with beatings if caught, the beatings were punishment not for the murder but for
actually being caught- slaves had no rights or protections, and in fact every year the
ruling Spartan body would declare war on their slaves so their murder was not seen as a murder,
but rather as a casualty in an ongoing war. Considering that Spartans relied completely
on their slaves for everything from sewing their clothes to trading with other city-states,
it may seem insane that murder of their own slaves was encouraged and even mandated, but
for all their warrior might Spartans lived in constant fear of their slave population. Outnumbering normal Spartans 7 to 1, Spartans
were all too aware that a revolt could be devastating to the city-state- and in fact,
it very nearly ended Spartan rule around 490 B.C. when slaves revolted and nearly overthrew
the Spartan government. From that day on Spartans kept a very tight
leash on their slaves, and once even put wreaths on the heads of 2,000 of their strongest slaves
and promised them their freedom- only to lead them away to a temple and slaughter all of
them. At age 20, Spartans officially became part
of the army, but they were not allowed to marry and lived together in barracks until
the age of 30. During this time they also competed fiercely
with each other for entry into the Spartan hippeis, the royal guard of honor of which
only 300 of the best warriors would be chosen to accompany the king. Also at age 20 Spartans were voted into one
of several public messes with votes cast by members of those messes- think of it as pledging
to a fraternity the way college students do today, only with far less partying and drinking
as most Spartans did not drink alcohol and were warned against it from childhood. For Spartans, alcohol and any other substance
that incapacitated you was seen as building weakness, and slaves would often be forced
to get drunk on alcohol and then be publicly humiliated so that Spartan children could
see the dangers of drinking. Votes for entry into a mess had to be unanimous,
this would build a strong camaraderie between the members of that mess and ensure cohesiveness
in battle. Spartans had until the age of 30 to gain entry
into a mess, after which if they still had not gained entry they would be denied full
Spartan citizenship which meant they were not allowed to vote or hold office. Upon joining the army at age 20 Spartans drilled
day and night in battle formations. Spartan armies made use of the dreaded phalanx
formation, in which rows of soldiers would be stacked one after the other, with each
soldier’s shield protecting the right flank of the man next to him. This created an impenetrable wall of bronze
bristling with spear points that was nearly impossible to defeat as long as it held its
cohesiveness. Yet as powerful as the phalanx was, if discipline
failed for even a second and the enemy forced an opening, the entire formation would shatter,
leaving soldiers vulnerable and exposed. This in essence was the entire point of Spartan
training: the phalanx must never break, and in fact Spartan phalanxes hardly ever did. With row after row of soldiers, each Spartan
would push his shield into the back of the man in front of him, pushing the entire formation
forward and pressing into the enemy. Those on the first three or four ranks would
stab out with their spears or hurl them at the enemy, and if injured or cut down, the
man behind him would immediately take their place. A living tank of bronze, leather, and human
muscle, the Greek phalanx was a thing to be greatly feared- as the Persians would learn-
and few were more formidable than those made up of Spartan men. Spartan society revolved entirely around their
military might, and their adult life from ages 7 to 60 was devoted entirely to training
and fighting. While not at war, Spartans spent every waking
moment training and drilling, honing themselves for future battles. The ancient Greek historian Plutarch commented
that for Spartans war was seen almost as a holiday, saying “Their bodily exercises
too were less rigorous during their campaigns, and they were allowed a regimen less rigid. They were the only men in the world for whom
war brought a respite in the training for war.” Yet brutally overseeing a population of slaves
that outnumbered them greatly, and routinely rebelled against them, it’s perhaps little
wonder that Spartans dedicated themselves wholly to fighting. In the end though, this myopic focus on fighting
would lead to Spartans influencing the military traditions of the modern Western world, but
it would be their hated rivals- Athens- who would truly be the shining beacon of philosophy,
science, and democracy that built a brighter future for mankind. Would you have liked to live in ancient Sparta? Think you got what it takes to have been a
Spartan warrior? Also check out our other video, Life Of A
Roman Slave! As always, don’t forget to like, share and
subscribe. See you next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *