According to the legend, the Spartan law was written by the great lawmaker Lycurgus. Plutarch mentions that Lycurgus wrote the laws in order to make the city state of Sparta invincible, and the Spartans fearless and law-abiding. It was a law-package with politico-military, economic and social reforms. Although many historians dispute that Lycurgus ever existed as a human being, in Sparta he was worshipped as a demigod.
When a boy was born, the city-state of Sparta gave him a piece of land, thus making him a full citizen of Sparta. The father had the right to raise him and teach him the basics until the age of 7. The boy would then be educated communally, centrally under state-controlled supervision. The boy would call a military training camp his home until he turned 30, and could after that sleep at his own house, with his wife and children.
The boys were trained hard, learning to speak wisely using only a few words, learning to eat just enough to survive, and training hard in order to become a useful member of the phalanx. For the Spartan, fellow soldiers at the phalanx were his family. The phalanx unit stayed together until death. He would occasionally be a part of Spartan festivities, and chose his wife and had children, but his real family was his phalanx.
The Spartan boy, learned the basics, according to Plutarch, such as music and mathematics. Their principal training is a military one, often even crossing moral boundaries, such as learning how to steal without getting caught. The philosophy was that, in case of a war, a soldier might have to steal food in order to survive. The main key point here is that, when a boy was caught, he was not punished for his act of stealing, but for being caught! The Spartan youth had their favorite ”game” of stealing food or other possessions from servants (Greek: είλωτες, helotes).
A well-known story that proves the Spartan training and loyalty is this: Once, a 13 year old Spartan boy stole a fox from a village near his camp. Alas, a trainer, found him and asked him what he was doing off campus. The boy had seen the trainer and had hidden the fox beneath his cloth. As the boy said nothing, the trainer insisted. The fox, still alive, beneath the boy’s cloth, started scratching him, in order to escape. While doing that, the boy continued to deny the stealing until the wounds suffered by the fox killed him.
Spartan women were the alpha women of the ancient Greek world, they wielded the most power, and in many ways had the most equality afforded to them by the state of Sparta. They were trained just as hard as the boys in both battle and many of the arts, to be strong and intelligent enough to produce powerful offspring. The Spartan woman was free, valued and respected by her society in contrast to the Greek woman.
Everything the spartans did had one objective: to raise the worlds greatest army. This philosophy was apparent in the way they executed everything; their politics, raising children, the stories they told, the idols they worshipped, what they ate and even how they had sex. And they were successful. Other greek states were in awe and copied everything Sparta did but with much less success. No one could deny that Spartans were one of the most impressively organized militaristic cultures in history. Their style of warfare, an eight-person-deep unwavering wall of shields and spears, broke nearly anyone who went up against them. Their intense training, starting at eight and officially lasting ten years – and unofficially never stopping – made for an absolute discipline. Their part in the Battle of Thermopylae, 480 BC, is rightly acknowledged as one of the turning points of history.
It is fascinating to read about a community with such a clear and penetrating philosophy, that it is fully encompassed in every aspect of life. I struggle to find an aim like that in today’s world, besides economic growth (says the Economics Major). What if we were inspired by the Spartan dedication to their vision of society, but set the goal of creating a community consisting of strong, happy people instead? What could a society not accomplish in terms prosperity, armed with such people? Now, one man beat me to this idea ca 2396 years ago and that man’s name is Plato. A student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle, he wrote a book called ”The Republic”, in which he discusses this. Now, this might sound idealistic, perhaps even wimpish, but in a world where most people never reach their full potential, and the waste of human capital has become tangible in all forms of depression and suicide, an institution of a philosophy that allows the prioritisation of human fulfilment over all else might be worth a thought.