Ancient Greece: Education--Sparta


Figure 1.--This painting by the Italian painter Luigi Mussini (1831-88) was 'Spartan education'. Mussini did it in 1850. We do not know if the man was meant to be the quasi-legendary Lycurgus. Lycurgus was Spartan leader who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. This included rugged education system. The man is showing the boy the affect of alcohol on men. Paintings like this seem more helpful as to how the painter's contempraries viewed the ancients than in providing any accuate details on the ancients, but we know of no contemprary images of Spartan education. There are some of Athenian education.

The most important outlyer in ancient Greece was Sparta which developed a very different education system. The goal of education in Sparta was to produce superbly conditioned and trained soldier-citizens. The emphasize on philosophy and the arts which was a major part of education in other Greek city states were not a major part of Spartan education. The education system for boys abd girls was very different. The focus was on the boys and the system was more one of traiuning than educating. Interestingly, the Sparans gave more attention to educating girls than any other Greek state. Children were trained to be members of a well-drilled, strictly-disciplined army capable of long, rapid forced marches. Girls were educated separately with a completely different program. Spartan boys left home at an early age. The lived and studied in severely disciplined groups and closely supervised by officers. Their education and training continued until age 18. The program was designed for boys at each age level and made increasingly strenuous physical demands. The boys of Sparta were obliged to leave home at the age of 7 to join sternly disciplined groups under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers. From age 7 to 18, they underwent an increasingly severe course of training. Sparta also had a very distinctive training program for girls. In fact, sharp contrast to other city states, Sparta provided training for girls and not just training in domestic skills a home. The girls at age 6-7 also began school. As for the boys, it was not an academic program. They received strenuous physical training, including running, jumping, throwing the javelin and discus, and wrestling as well as gymnastics. Much less is known about how the girls were trained. Apparently they lived, slept and trained in their sisterhood's barracks. No one knows for sure if the girls were subjected to as harsh a program as the boys.

Purpose

The goal of education in Sparta was to produce superbly conditioned and trained soldier-citizens. The emphasize on philosophy and the arts which was a major part of education in other Greek city states were not a major part of Spartan education. Children were trained to be members of a well-drilled, strictly-disciplined society.

Basic System

The education system for boys abd girls was very different. The focus was on the boys and the system was more one of traiuning than educating. Interestingly, the Sparans gave more attention to educating girls than any other Greek state.

Boys

Spartan boys left home at an early age. The lived and studied in severely disciplined groups and closely supervised by officers. Their education and training continued until age 18. The program was designed for boys at each age level and made increasingly strenuous physical demands. The boys of Sparta were obliged to leave home at the age of 7 to join sternly disciplined groups under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers. From age 7 to 18, they underwent an increasingly severe course of training. Spartan boys left their mothers were sent to military school at age 6 or 7 years. They lived, trained and slept in the barracks of the brotherhood that they were assigned to a birth. The boys began a program of physical conditioning. They were taught skills that would be helpful when they began actual military training like survival skills. Strenuous physical training was a major part of the program which was hard and demanding. It could also be painful. Boys were were taught to read and write, but these skills as well as the arts and critical thought were not an important part of Spartan education. The training was very demanding, even brutal. They boys trained barefoot to harden them. They slept on hard beds and trained at gymnastics and other physical activities such as running, jumping, javelin and discus throwing, swimming, and hunting. The discipline was very strict and punishment both frequent and harsh. The boys were taught to take pride in leaning to endure physical pain. Spartan boys were intentionally not well fed. They in effect had to learn how to steal food. This required stealth, cunning, and physical stamina. The boys were beaten if caught, not for stealing, but for being caught. A Spartan legend describes a Spartan boy who stole a live fox which he intended to kill and eat. Spartan soldiers came across him and he quickly hid the fox under his tunic to avoid the punishment and the shame of being caught. The fox chew into his stomach, but he refused to flinch or show pain. did notallow his face or body to express his pain. The schools had a program sharply different from schools in the other Greek city states. Boys were taught to read, but this was not emphasized and many boys did not master the skill. Not only was reading considered unimportant, reading, writing, literature, and the arts were considered basically inappropriate for the soldier-citizen. Some music and dancing were included in the curriculum, but not out of any appreciation of the arts. The Spartans saw military value to both.

Girls

Sparta also had a very distinctive training program for girls. In fact, sharp contrast to other city states, Sparta provided training for girls and not just training in domestic skills a home. The girls at age 6-7 also began school. As for the boys, it was not an academic program. They received strenuous physical training, including running, jumping, throwing the javelin and discus, and wrestling as well as gymnastics. Much less is known about how the girls were trained. Apparently they lived, slept and trained in their sisterhood's barracks. No one knows for sure if the girls were subjected to as harsh a program as the boys. Whether or not this is the case, it i known that the girls' program was very demanding to help develop healthy vigorous girls. The Spartans were convinced that healthy women in good condition could produce the the fittest babies--very important to the Spartans. Girls also faced a test at age 18. Girls who passed the skills and fitness test, she would be assigned a husband and allowed to return home. In most of the other Greek city-states, women were required to stay inside their homes most of their lives. In contrast, Spartan citizen women could move around, and enjoyed a great deal of freedom, in part because their husbands did not live at home. Girls who failed lost their rights as citizens and became perioikos--members of the middle class.

Plutarch

Plutarch, the eminent Greek historian and esayist who became a Roman citizen has left us an account of the part legendary Spartan law giver--Lycurgus (9th century BC). Plutarch was nearlyva milenium removed, si\o his account has to be taken with some reservation. It seems, however, one of the better accounts from antiquity. He tells us, "Lycurgus would not put the sons of Spartans in charge of purchased or hired tutors, nor was it lawful for every father to rear or train his son as he pleased, but as soon as they were seven years old, Lycurgus ordered them all to be taken by the state and enrolled in companies, where they were put under the same discipline and nurture, and so became accustomed to share one another's sports and studies. The boy who excelled in judgment and was most courageous in fighting, was made captain of his company; on him the rest all kept their eyes, obeying his orders, and submitting to his punishments, so that their boyish training was a practice of obedience... Of reading and writing, they learned only enough to serve their turn; all the rest of their training was calculated to make them obey commands well, endure hardships, and conquer in battle. Therefore, as they grew in age, their bodily exercise was increased; their heads were close-clipped, and they were accustomed to going bare-foot, and to playing for the most part without clothes. When they were twelve years old, they no longer had tunics to wear, received one cloak a year, had hard, dry flesh, and knew little of baths and ointments; only on certain days of the year, and few at that, did they indulge in such amenities. They slept together, in troops and companies, on pallet-beds which they collected for themselves, breaking off with their hands no knives allowed the tops of the rushes which grew along the river Eurotas. In the winter-time, they added to the stuff of these pallets the so-called lycophon, or thistle-down, which was thought to have warmth in it." [Plutarch]

Sources

Plutarch Life of Lycurgus. Plutarch wrote this study about 75 AD.






HBC






Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main ancient Greek education page]
[Return to the Main ancient Sparta page]
[Return to the Main ancient Greek page]
[Return to the Main Greek chronology page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Art chronologies] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Countries] [Photography] [Style Index]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Navigate the HBC School Section:
[About Us]
[Activities] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Debate] [Economics] [Garment] [Gender] [Hair] [History] [Home trends] [Literary characters]
[School types] [Significance] [Transport and travel [Uniform regulations] [Year level] [Other topics]
[Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Historic Boys' School Home]





Created: 1:54 AM 3/18/2011
Last updated: 1:54 AM 3/18/2011