Sep 5, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: Spartan Culture, Warriors from Birth

I opened with the look inside the movie of 300 because it mentions things about the culture of Sparta that is believed to be true by many historians. That includes throwing imperfect newborns into the sea. Everything about the way the Spartans were raised was about warfare. These people really believed they were the direct descendants of Hercules.

While we’re on the topic of culture, one of the areas of training the Spartans focused on was hand to hand combat. The Aspis, Dory and Kopis were just the first weapons in their arsenal. Included along with these dangerous objects was the Spartan himself. As strong as blacksmiths, and as agile as hunters, there wasn’t a tougher, meaner and better trained warrior in the ancient world.

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
It wasn’t just the men who trained from the age of two. It was also the women. The Spartans were one of the earliest cultures to adopt a gender equality concept. In most Greek nations at that time, women were considered inferior, and were not allowed to participate in military training or get involve in political discussions. They were not even allowed to use money. In Sparta, a woman without the scars of her training and discipline was considered a coward, and was ridiculed by the other women and shunned by the men. The more scars the woman bore from her discipline and training, the more influence she gained. It’s unclear if the Spartan women were influenced by the Amazon women, but there are many similarities in that they were very strong minded and physically capable of fighting equal to the men.

Have you ever heard of Helen of Troy, the Spartan woman that sparked the Trojan War? She wasn’t a dainty helpless princess like the movies depict. She was strong mentally and physically, and well sought after in Sparta. After many men came to gain her hand in marriage, her father asked Odysseus to help him choose a  husband for her. She probably wasn’t abducted by Paris of Troy, but more  likely persuaded him to take her away. Paris was not a hero, or a warrior and by all means was a coward by the standards of Sparta. A few historians speculate that Helen even grew to despise Paris as a weak man when he hid behind his walls and let his brother Hector fight for him. Those same historians also believe that Helen began a relationship with Hector before he was killed in the war. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hector is the real reason she ran away, he was as great a fighter as any Spartan and was a hero of Troy.

Spartans encouraged their youth to be headstrong and vigilant. When a youth was out of line or broke a rule, no matter if it was a boy or girl, they were lashed for their crime. This was as much as an encouragement as it was punishment. It was a way to prove your resilience, to be headstrong and then to accept the punishment and the scars from it and wear them like trophies the rest of your life.

 The culture of the Spartans raised them to be tough and hard. Tomorrow, I’ll be discussing the ultimate weapon of the Spartans. The one thing that all this training was for, the Phalanx...

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.