Thursday, October 18, 2007 10/18/07-Spartans

In today's encore excerpt, the rigors and rituals of Spartans, the fiercest warriors of the ancient world, circa 560 B.C.:

"Even the newest-born baby was subjected to the proddings of old men. Should an infant be judged too sickly or deformed to make a future contribution to the city, then the elders would order its immediate termination. ... A cleft beside the road which wound over the mountains to Messenia, the Apothetae, or 'Dumping Ground,' provided the setting for the infanticide. There, where they might no longer shame the city that had bred them, the weak and deformed would be slung into the depths of the chasm ...

"[I]t was the goal of instructors not merely to crush a boy's individuality, but to push him to startling extremes of endurance, discipline and impassivity, so that he might prove himself, supremely, as a being reforged of iron. ... Denied adequate rations, the young Spartan would be encouraged to forage from the farms of neighboring Lacedaemonians, stalking and stealing like a fox, refining his talent for stealth. Whether in the heat of summer or in the cold of winter, he would wear only one style of tunic, identical to that worn by his fellows, and nothing else, not even shoes. ...

"[A]t the age of twelve, he became legal game for cruising. Pederasty was widely practised elsewhere in Greece, but only in Sparta was it institutionalized-- even, it is said, with fines for boys who refused to take a lover.

"Just as boys were trained for warfare, so girls had to be reared for their future as breeders. The result--to foreign eyes, at any rate--was an inversion of just about every accepted norm. In Sparta, girls were fed at the expense of their brothers. To the bemusement of other Greeks, they were also taught to read, and to express themselves not modestly, as was becoming for women, but in an aggressively sententious manner, so that they might better instruct their own children in what it meant to be a Spartan. They exercised in public: running, throwing the javelin, even wrestling."

Tom Holland, Persian Fire, Abacus, 2005, pp. 81-85.


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