Agoge – a harsh Spartan upbringing that turned boys into formidable warriors

The upbringing of the children was very harsh. Most often they were killed immediately. This made them courageous and resilient.

(c) Teffi, chapter on Sparta in the “General History, processed by” Satyricon “”.

There are many myths and just tales about raising children in ancient Lacedaemon (the Spartans themselves called their country that way). Here is an authentic quote from one online resource: “Half of all Sparta babies were left to die.” Exactly half, no more and no less. We owe this myth to Plutarch, who wrote in his Biography of Lycurgus: “The upbringing of a child did not depend on the will of the father — he brought it to the lesha, the place where the elder members of the phyla were sitting, who examined the child. If he turned out to be strong and healthy, he was handed over to his father, but weak and ugly children were thrown into the “apophets”, the abyss near Taygetus. ”

The gorge in the Taygetos mountains is well known to modern archaeologists, excavations were carried out there and children’s bones in this place (over the long centuries of Sparta’s existence, a fair amount of them should have accumulated, even if only obvious cripples were thrown into the abyss) were not found. But the remains of adults were found there. The Spartans threw prisoners and criminals from the cliff overhanging this gorge. Exactly as the Romans did it, using the famous Tarpeian rock for the same purpose.

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In addition, there is evidence of the existence in Sparta of a special layer of hypomeyons, which included physically and mentally disabled citizens of Sparta. They were considered incompetent, but at the same time they remained Spartiats, not passing into the lower estate of the Periecs, not to mention the Helots. If the Spartans killed all the weak and ugly children, such a stratum in Spartan society simply could not arise.

There are other legends about the treatment of Spartans with their children. For example, they were allegedly bathed in wine – in order to identify in this way those prone to epilepsy. Most likely, we are talking either about a certain religious custom, or about a hygienic procedure for rubbing babies with an antiseptic, which was used as wine or wine vinegar. But epilepsy in this way, especially in infants, is obviously impossible to detect.

Most of these myths are based on some kind of real facts. For example, it is sometimes written that Spartan children had to sleep on nettles, which developed their fortitude and courage. In fact, in military camps, where children were sent at the age of seven (this practice was called “agoge”, that is, “withdrawal”), children slept on straw mats. But at the same time, the children themselves were allowed to use their own collected grass to soften their bed. This herb was the nettle, which was doused with boiling water so that it did not burn the skin. That is, sleeping on nettles was a relaxation, not a test.

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It is often written that Spartan children were specially fed from hand to mouth so that they would get meat by hunting or by theft, thus developing skills useful for the future warrior. As for hunting, it was indeed permitted for Spartan youth. But they fed the children hearty, because Sparta needed strong warriors, not scum. Another thing is that the food at the military school was monotonous and tasteless, so any additional loot was a rare delicacy.

Another myth is that Spartan children were encouraged to fight among themselves, and during the holidays they were thrown with pieces of cheese so that they would take them away from each other. In reality, the teachers of the future Spartan warriors in all ways encouraged the spirit of rivalry in their students. But fights outside the training grounds were severely punished, since they undermined the discipline necessary for the hoplite, who would stand in the ranks of the phalanx. On holidays, various competitions were organized and the young men who won in them, in fact, received cheeses and other tasty products that they did not receive at normal times.

The preparation of the Spartan children and youth was indeed harsh, but not cruel. They developed initiative, as well as the ability to think quickly and in an original way, for which, at each lesson, any student could be asked the most unexpected question, which required an immediate answer. In addition to purely military disciplines, the youths of Sparta were taught to read, write and count, as well as music – playing the flute, since a warrior had to be a harmoniously developed personality. But the neighbors did not love the Spartans too much, and they themselves did not leave detailed records about their life and customs. Therefore, historians are forced to look for the truth among the various tales that their ill-wishers wrote about the Spartans.

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