In the movie 300, the lives of Spartans are glamorized by gorgeous actors and actresses with perfect bodies. The soldiers and their wives revel in nobility and violence, ready to take down any enemy threatening their way of life. In reality, the culture of Sparta shares little with the picture painted by Hollywood. The journey we’re about to take you won’t remove the armor, but it may reveal the rust on the swords. Life as a Spartan was not easy. If you were not considered perfect, the consequences could be deadly. This is the real truth behind the mystery of Sparta and militaristic culture.
You won’t believe how the king once responded to a Greek threat!
Children Began Training For War At Seven-Years-Old
Being a soldier was just about the only profession a male could have in ancient Spartan culture. Young boys were taken away from their families at seven-years-old to begin training for war! The intense training was designed to turn boys into men as soon as possible and help power the Spartan army.
The reputation of the Spartan army is proof of the success of their training as it is widely know today. Spartan soldiers have been written about in history books and put under the bright lights of Hollywood for years.
You Had To Fight, Even If You Had A Disease
The Spartan culture didn’t believe in taking sick days from work. If you couldn’t do your job, aka go to war, then you were branded a coward. The most famous case of his is Aristodemus. He missed the warriors’ famous last stand in Thermopylae because of an eye disease.
After the fight he was labeled a coward, even though he would have likely been useless in battle. To prove he wasn’t a coward, Aristodemus fought in the Battle of Plataea one year later. He died a horrific death. But hey, at least he died with his honor restored.
Up next, we’ll tell you if Spartans really fought bare chested like in the movies.
Spartans Did Not, We Repeat DID NOT, Fight Bare Chested
Sure, it looks good in movies like 300 to have the super fit spartan wars fight bare chested, but they would never win a real war that way. In reality, Spartans wore full body armor because they cared about being able to get back up after they’re knocked down.
The body armor was made of the same material and hoplite equipment that Greek soldiers used. The main difference between the two cultures was the colors of their tunics. The Spartans wore crimson to help strike fear into the hearts of their enemies.
Spartan Spears Had A Secondary "Butt-Spike" In Case Of Emergency
The Spartan weapon of choice was a simple spear. On the attack end, there was a razor sharp tip, ready to take out anyone in the soldiers path. On the other end was what’s known as a "butt-spike." The smaller emergency tip had several purposes.
First, it could be used as a secondary weapon in case their spear broke. Second, it allowed the soldier to stand up the spear when the battle was over. Thirdly, and most dastardly of of, the "butt-spike" could be used to stab enemies who were laid on the ground. Perhaps that is why it was also called the "lizard-killer."
Spartans Didn’t Believe In Surrendering
If you know anything about ancient warrior cultures, than this next fact probably isn’t surprising. Just like in Samurai culture, Spartans were expected to kill themselves before surrendering. To give up on the battlefield would make a Spartan a coward, and you already know how they feel about cowards.
To die in honor meant going to extremes when the battle was lost. Of course, there was that one time the Spartan army was forced to surrender before they could commit mass suicide. That’s a lot of cowards left breathing!
Find out about the Spartans only surrender next!
That One Time The Spartans Surrendered Comes With A Twist
While it was considered honorable to kill yourself instead of surrendering, there was one time the Spartan army was forced to surrender. The Battle of Pylos was a epic failure of a fight for the Spartans. The worst part was that several soldiers were taken hostage by the Athenians.
The result of having Spartan hostages shocked the Greek world. At the time, no army believed the Spartans would ever surrender. It was well known back then that they preferred to die with honor.
Women Were Viewed As Baby Making Machines
Spartans loved going to war. Because of this barbaric passion, they lost lives at incredible rates. To balance out the loss of life, they essentially forced women to be “baby making machines.” While not a nice way to say, it is the most accurate way we could think of.
When a Spartan female had no child, the government would force her to find a new man who could “do the job” her husband couldn’t. They were given no choice in the matter because the government was constantly trying to ensure that new males were being born.
On the next slide, we’ll show you why you should never threaten Sparta!
They Didn’t Take Kindly To Threats
In maybe the most epic non-battle of all-time, the Spartans once responded to a threat by Philip II of Macedon with one of their own. Philip II, who had conquered most of Greece, wrote, "you are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army to your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."
Instead of shaking in their tunics, the Spartan sent a one word message back to Philip II. It read, "If." Phillip II of Macedon took the response seriously and did not attack Sparta.
Spartans Had Their Own Work Force Of Slaves
Because they were entirely focused on fighting wars and conquering other cultures, Spartans didn’t have time for other jobs. Still, they needed someone to do their farming, cooking, and any other duty they refused to do. To make sure it all got done, they had their own slaves that were called "helots."
Helots consisted of those Greek citizens who had been conquered by the Spartans. As the culture conquered more and more lands, their helot numbers grew and grew. Don’t worry though, the Spartans had their way to avoid a helot uprising.
Find out how the Spartans policed their helots on the next slide!
The Spartans Had Secret Helot Police
With such a large population of helots to keep in order, the Spartans knew they couldn’t leave them alone without enforcement. To maintain order among their slaves, Spartans had secret helot police named Krypteia. Their only job was to keep helots in check, no matter the consequences.
If the Krypteia found any helots wandering the countryside at night, they would kill them. If the Krypteia deemed any helot to be too fit, they would kill them. Basically, helots were only safe if they hated exercise and loved sleep.
Spartans Followed The Rule Of Two Kings
The citizens of Sparta were ruled by two kings from two different ruling dynasties. According to Spartan legend, the god Heracles fathered twin sons. Because they were twins, they both had equal right to the throne. The brothers formed the two royal houses; Agiad and Eurypontid.
As king, the brothers were also the chief priests of Sparta. Neither of these brothers was the most famous Spartan king, though. Thanks to 300, Leonidas is the most well know Spartan king today. He led the armies to war in the Battle of Theromoplyae.
Spartans Had Their Own Senate, House, And Supreme Court
To help maintain balance in society as well as the roles of the kings, Spartan society had ephors. Ephors were elected by the males citizens of Sparta, and essentially acted as the equivalent of America’s House, Senate, and Supreme Court.
As far as other Greek cultures during the time period, no one had a bigger government more capable of the checks and balances we are used to seeing today. The biggest difference, obviously, was the complete lack of women allowed to participate in politics and decision making.
Women Didn’t Have Power, But They Were Still Trained To Fight
Sparta, like most other Greek cities, didn’t respect women very much. It still might be true to say they respected their women just a little bit more than everyone else. In fact, unlike other cities, Sparta trained its women to fight at the same time it trained its men.
Unfortunately, the physical training isn’t for what you might think. Women weren’t allowed to actually fight alongside their husbands. Their physical training was designed to help them with childbirth, an entirely different kind of "war." We take back what we said about having more respect than other Greek cities.
In two slides learn exactly how dramatic life as a Spartan youth was!
Burial Headstones Weren’t Given To Everyone
Not everyone in Sparta was given a headstone after they died. There were only two ways be honored with one. You either had to be a soldier who died in battle, or a woman who died during childbirth. No other form of death was considered honorable enough.
We do find it odd that a soldier could survive several battles, live to an old age, die of natural causes, and not be honored by the culture he fought bravely for. He never proved himself to be a coward, just an adept soldier with incredible skills to stay alive!
Life Was One Dramatic Reality TV Show
If you thought The Real Housewives of Atlanta was dramatic then you never lived during Spartan times. Spartan boys were expected to be ruthless, cunning, and most of all, un-trusting. To help boil the blood of their youth, Spartan mentors would revel in making up drama between their students.
And when these boys fought, they weren’t doing it just for show. They were doing it to draw blood and make their name known. Injuries were common and in some cases, the fights were so violent only one boy would come out alive.
Mentors Would Fall In Love With Mentees
Training Spartan boys from young ages often lead to unhealthy relationships being formed with mentors. For the most part, these relationships were ignored and accepted as part of the city’s way of life. If the relationship was purely physical though, then consequences had to be paid.
If the government discovered that a mentor and mentee were engaging each other physically with no training involved they could be banished. Even worse, they could be killed and made an example of. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Spartans, they glorified violence way more than Hollywood ever has.
How much do you think Spartans drank? Find out the answer next!
Drinking Was Not Encouraged
One of the great myths of ancient cultures is how much alcohol they could consume without imploding as a society. Spartans enjoyed wine, but history shows they didn’t over indulge. It was common to drink wine with and after dinner, but the wine was usually watered down.
To help discourage young Spartans from drinking, families would have their helots get aggressively drunk to show how detrimental the love of alcohol was. Along with this, children were constantly told to stay sober, afterall, wine would just go straight to their hips!
Marriages Were Consummated Before The Bride And Groom Saw Each Other
If you’ve ever wondered how Spartan marriages worked, we have the answers! There was no big party or proposal. Instead, the woman would shave her head, dress in men’s clothing and lay down in the middle of the night on a pallet. The male would then come, steal her away, do "the deed" and quietly return her to her parents house.
That’s it; the two were officially married after that, never having so much as looked each other in the eyes. The men would then go off to war, unable to return to their wives until they turned 30!
Newborns Underwent Quality Inspections
When a new child was born in Sparta, they were forced to undergo what can best be described as a "quality inspection." If there were any "faults" found in the child, they were left to die. This terrible practice ensured Spartans grew up to be perfect warriors, devoid of health defects.
Rewatching 300 we now realize the deformed Spartan who turns on his people never would have lived to become as old as he did. As soon as he was born, the Spartan government would have left him alone somewhere to… you know.
Not Everyone Was Punished With Death
As much as Spartans loved to end the lives of their enemies and unfit children, they didn’t always feel the same way about adults. When a male soldier was declared a coward, he wouldn’t always face death, sometimes he would face severe embarrassment.
Tactics used to embarrass cowards included forcing them to shave half of their face and wear clocks with patches of dyed cloth. In modern society, we would just call them hipsters. In Spartan society, there was no worse physical look then being forced to be unkempt. At least they could re-prove their worth during battle.