In ancient Sparta, boys at aged
seven years old left their homes and entered the public educational system. The goal of this system of education was
to produce a well-drilled military machine composed of soldiers who were "obedient to the word of command, capable of enduring
hardships and victories in battle."
The Spartan system of education was organized by the state and each boy was assigned to a group known
as the agela.They lived in a communal style and were made to undergo a curriculum of training that was
was rigorous and often painful. Enormous discipline was placed on these children as they passed through the hands of
teachers, gymnastic coaches and military instructors. The goal of this program was to produce men who were not only
physically fit but psychologically disciplined. The Spartan male's education did not end till he reached the age of thirty.
In this educational regime, literacy and the arts were not a priority.
When they reached the age of eleven, Spartan boys were moved up to the next level of their education.
The description left to us by Plutarch demonstrates the rigorous experience of these Spartan students.
According to Plutarch:
they no longer had a tunic, received one cloak a year, had hardened skin, and took very few baths and used practically no
ointments, except on a few prescribed days of the year.They slept together
according to platoon and herd on pallet beds made of rushes which they
plucked with their bare hands from the River Eurotas--no knives were
allowed. In winter they added lycophon or thistle-down to their beds, since
this was thought to provide warmth.
Sparta's position in the ancient Greek world was that of the lead member of the Peloponnesian league. Through
most of it's existence, Sparta was engaged in wars with various states including Persia. By the 6th century BCE
Sparta was engaged in military excursions in Greece and as well as Asia Minor. The militaristic culture of Sparta fostered
values which emphasized the productrion of "strong, violent, disciplined, unquestioning and ruthless young men, and more or less similar
young women" They "prided themselves on brute strength, courage and brevity of speech," and even their religious festivals were characterized by violent
competitions where, though unarmed, young men were known to be flogged to the point of unconsiousness, and gangs of youths went at each other with no holds barred.1
Women in Ancient Sparta
The Education of Girls
The Education of Spartan Mothers
1The Greek World, by Peter Levi, p.91.