The Spartans are known for living a simple, frugal and harsh life.
When you hear the word “Sparta”, you probably think of an ancient Greek warrior who sleeps on the dirt and spends his days pushing his body to the limit.
This notion comes from the movies you’ve watched, the articles and books you’ve read. But what’s the truth?
It’s actually quite different from the mainstream perception of ancient Sparta.
Keep reading to discover how the Spartans really lived, and what you can learn from them…
The Truth About Sparta…
Sparta was an ancient Greek state during the Hellenic era.
At first, it was an insignificant state on the Greek arena… but then a man named Lycurgus stepped forward.
He was a brother to the Spartan king who had just died. The king had left behind his pregnant wife.
The widowed queen approached Lycurgus and offered to abort her baby and make him king — as long as he married her.
Lycurgus could step into the most powerful position of his society... but he turned her down. Lycurgus made sure his nephew got born safely, declared him the king and became his guardian.
Then, he went out to travel and learn from all different forms of government and statesmanship. Crete, Egypt, Spain, and India were some places he visited.
After some time, Lycurgus returned to Sparta and used what he had learned to introduce the best laws he could.
The laws that Lycurgus introduced would turn Sparta into a military powerhouse, create thousands of strong citizens and ensure them a prominent place in the history books.
But here’s what most people get wrong about Sparta:
When people talk about Sparta today, they often talk about the Spartiates.
The Spartiates were full-worthy citizens who were of Spartan blood, had gone through rigorous training since childhood and — if they were men — spent their entire lives in the military.
There were other people who lived in Sparta.
- The peroclei, who were not citizens but were allowed to live freely around Sparta. They were farmers and craftsmen.
- The helots, an enslaved group of people who did all of the dirty work for the Spartiates since they only spent time on military matters.
The peroclei and helots were crucial for Sparta, as the Spartiates could never have lived their unique lifestyle without them.
But it was the Spartiates that shaped Spartan culture. It was their way of life that got documented.
Another mistake people do with Sparta, is that they look at it from our perspective. We live in a world of individualism where everyone are special snowflakes.
The crux is that you can’t look at an individual Spartiate and get a complete understanding of his lifestyle and world.
Because he simply lived in a state which was group-oriented.
You can best understand this by learning how the Spartan army fought in battle. The Spartan soldiers were hoplites.
In battle, they stood in line beside each other. Each Spartan warrior protected his brother next to him. They formed a nearly unbreakable wall of shields.
As long as they stuck together…
The Spartan hoplite formation was only as strong as its weakest link, and if a soldier decided to go rogue and fight on his own… the entire battle could be lost.
Every part of Spartan society reflected this dependency on the group to stick together.
1. The Spartans Had NO Money
The rest of Greece traded with gold and silver.
But Lycurgus declared that gold and silver coinage was invalid in Sparta. The only thing to be used for trade was a special kind of iron which had been made ugly and useless for crafting.
The iron was assigned so low value you had to store it in a house or big wagon if you wanted to keep a substantial sum of value.
Many crimes — like robbery, bribery, and theft — disappeared because of this, as iron didn’t have the same envy-invoking appearance as gold.
2. The Spartans Did NOT Enjoy Luxury
Since the Spartans despised money and only used means of trade that were accepted within the boundaries of Sparta, they also stopped owning luxury goods.
They simply couldn’t buy luxury goods from the states where they got produced. The rest of Greece laughed at Spartans’ iron money — they wanted gold and silver for their produce!
This is what caused the Spartans to live simple, only using what was necessary.
The craftsmen of Sparta only produced essential items.
And they became very good at producing them with high-quality. Beds, chairs, and tables were of durable and did the job.
3. The Spartans Always Ate Together
Spartiates had to eat together every night.
This prevented them from lying on a couch at home, enjoying confectionery and fine dining all day long, becoming fat like cows.
The law was strict. Even when a king of Sparta had just come home from battle, insisting on eating his meal at home with his wife… he got fined for not following the law.
4. The Spartans Did Not Care For Wealth
The Spartans had made money undesirable. And even if someone amassed wealth anyways, he couldn’t do much with it since you could not buy luxury or enjoy finer foods.
This lead to the ultimate form of material equality among Spartiates.
It made it unattractive for citizens to pursue wealth. In turn, that allowed them to spend all of their time on being good citizens.
5. The Spartans Were Fruitful And Multiplied
The Spartans were 100% dependent on being militarily powerful, which meant they always needed more soldiers.
It was considered shameful for a man to not marry and have children. He lost prestige and rights. Anyone could beat an unmarried man beyond a certain age without repercussions, even if he was a high-ranking general.
New children were the lifeblood of Sparta, and the Spartans had a eugenic view on reproduction.
- Spartiate men would loan out their wives to other men who wanted to breed with women of fine genetics.
- Newborns got taken to a council of men who examined it. If a baby looked weak or misfigured it would get thrown off a cliff.
- Spartan women would perform sports almost naked to sexually arouse men who watched.
6. The Spartans Strived For Excellence
If a Spartan baby boy was allowed to live, he would not spend a long time with his family. Every boy had to leave his home at 7 years of age and enrol in a kind of public boarding school.
The Spartan boys lived together, played and learned together as a group.
Elders encouraged them to fight and compete against each other, and with time their education and training ramped up in intensity.
As with every other part of Spartan society, the goal of this education was not to enlighten the boys or mold them into heroes. The leaders wanted obedient citizens who did and thought as they were told. Worker drones.
(Which is still the case today with public education)
When a boy approached 20 years of age, he would almost be a worthy Spartiate. But there would be one challenge left:
He would have to leave the city and enter the wild. With only a dagger in his possession, he hade to live in the wilderness for an entire year. Hiding by day, stealing food at night and killing slaves that broke curfew.
Only if he survived that year, he would have a shot at becoming an honorable Spartiate.
7. The Spartans Lived A Life Of Leisure
Believe it or not, but the Spartiates did enjoy lives of considerable leisure.
The Spartiates (citizens) were forbidden to exercise a craft. They could only be warriors.
That’s why the men spent their days in the sunny gymnasium, watching the younger men and giving them guidance.
The Spartiate women were equally lucky.
They weren’t required to perform household chores or even breastfeed their own babies.
It was Helots that took care of the Spartan households and production of goods.
The real-life Spartans are different from the mainstream perception of them. Rather than just minimalists who happened to fight a lot, the Spartans were a unique kind.
They were devoted to the greater good of society. For example, they did not live simple without luxury just for their own good — they did it to be good citizens, for a society that doesn’t strive for monetary riches but military excellence.
And ironically, it was when the Spartans began neglecting these ideals that they lost their prominence.
Were Spartiates slaves?
Today, we see the Spartan way of life as slavery and the Spartan state as fascism. Which is understandable.
However, the Spartiates saw themselves as free men — even though they lived in slavery, doing what their masters told them for their entire lives.
Guess what? We consider ourselves free today. Even though most of us live in slavery, living our lives doing what our masters tell us. Although our slavery may not be of a military nature… it’s still slavery unless you say no.
And I believe we can learn from the Spartans, the good and bad.
Maybe their intense discipline and self-sacrifice — not only for their own benefit, but for the group — was a winning strategy in some areas and a losing strategy in others?
Until next time,
— Alexander Contrarian