In the over-the-top drama of the movie “300,” we see a legion of muscular warriors (doused in copious amounts of baby oil for effect) preparing for battle. And then their leader, King Leonidas, utters one of the more (in)famous movie quotes of recent decades: “Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty, for tonight, we dine in hell!” Although his words might’ve been a little overdramatic, they speak directly to the legacy of the Spartans, a warrior breed of ancient times. Ready your spears and swords — how much do you really know about the Spartans?
There's a reason why living quarters that are bare of decoration and somewhat plain and uncomfortable are called "Spartan." This culture eschewed niceties and creature comforts in favor of physical fitness and battle readiness.
If you think modern-day America is a militarized culture, compare the U.S. with the age of Spartans. At an incredibly young age, young boys were taken from their families and indoctrinated into the Spartan way. They weren’t individuals, they were exquisitely-trained cogs in the machinery of war. Do you know how Spartans trained for combat?
Enemy armies quivered in fear of the Spartans, who were known as fanatical and ferocious. Take up arms in this Spartan quiz now!
Between the 6th and 4th centuries in Greece, Sparta was a society know for its fierce warriors. These men were highly trained and fought with incredible tenacity.
Who needs walls when you have muscular warriors armed with swords? Lycurgus helped promote the mentality that Sparta should train its men to an extreme extent to protect the country.
Sparta was serious about its warriors. All babies were inspected to ensure that they’d make suitable warriors.
Was your baby maybe a little cross-eyed or pigeon-toed? If Sparta’s leaders felt your child wasn’t really suited for warrior life, he was abandoned on a mountaintop.
The agoge was the military regimen that taught boys to fight. Young boys also learned to hunt, fend for themselves and work together as part of a team.
At agoge, boys were indoctrinated from the very beginning. They were taught that the defense of the state was more important than anything else.
At age 7, boys were taken from their families and placed in agoge. From then on, they became tools of the Spartan military.
Sparta literally demolished its own walls. It was a show of boldness meant to reinforce their beliefs in the the power of their military to defend their homes.
Spartan families viewed agoge as a great honor. They were more than happy to send their young sons off to train as warriors.
Infants were bathed in wine. This practice was performed in hopes of making the babies as strong as possible.
These days, we’d regard it as the ulitmate cruelty — leaving infants untended outdoors. Many Spartan babies simply died of exposure.
In 480 BC, the Spartans engaged in their most iconic fight ... the Battle of Thermopylae. There, they clashed with the Persians, who were led by Xerxes I.
At the Battle of Thermopylae, the Persians had a vast army ... and the Spartans had only a few thousand. But they knew the terrain and put it to their advantage.
The Hot Gates referred to narrow passageway at the Battle of Thermopylae. The Spartans funneled their Persian enemies into The Hot Gates, where Persian numercial superiority didn’t matter.
Xerxes I was infuriated by the defeat of his army at the Battle of Marathon. In response, he created an enormous military and set out to occupy all of Greece.
The syssitia was a critical part of Spartan culture. There, the men shared a common meal instead of eating with their wives, yet another way that the society emphasized military over personal family life.
Spartan leaders didn’t give boys in agoge enough food. The idea, of course, was to prepare the boys for the hardships of battle, when food was often scarce.
Women knew their purpose in Sparta — to make more warriors. And to that end, they were physically fit and active, all the better to make stronger, healthier babies.
Their youth was dedicated to the military. Spartan warriors were not even allowed to take wives until they turned 30.
Men who couldn’t pass agoge were deemed as lesser people. They were never granted full Spartan citizenship.
Truly, it was a honor for men to complete their agoge training. They not only became full citizens, but they got land, too.
Boys in agoge were given the bare minimum to survive and encouraged to steal whatever else they needed. They weren’t scolded for stealing ... but they were punished harshly for getting caught.
Spartan military training was relentlessly difficult. Men were often relieved to go off to actual battle, as it meant a break from the hardships of constant drills.
For three days, the outnumbered Spartans beat back a Persian army that incredible power. Time and again, then Spartans stood tall, even though things would probably not end well for them.
Today, his name is synonymous with backstabbing. Epihaltes, a Greek traitor, gave the Persians information about secret path that bypassed the Spartans, and the result was a Spartan defeat.
The Perioeci were tradesmen in Spartan society. They had a number of important functions, including weapons creation.
They were hoplites — Spartan soldiers. With their bronze helmets and large shields, hoplites intimidated enemies from all over the region.
The Helots were the lowest people in Spartan society. They were the slaves. And they helped the country function by performing all essential tasks that made the machinery of civilization work.
In 425, at the island of Sphacteria, the virtually unthinkable happened. The Spartans surrendered. It was the end of an iconic age.
It was a nearly lifelong service. Spartan men started their training at 7 and served to age 60.