Education in Ancient Sparta

With Ancient Greece there was a small city-state called Sparta. MAny today know of Sparta because of the movies that have been made of this war-like people. Spartan education was primarily a one about military training.

The reason for this emphasis on developing soldiers was due in part to the context in which the Spartans lived. In their own country, they were a minority with a large population of neighboring freeman and an even larger population of slaves. The only way in the Spartans minds to maintain power was through the use of strength. As such this was the focus of their education.


The founder of the government of what makes up classical Sparta was Lycurgus. After spending time in Egypt Lycurgus came to Sparta and developed their constitution. Some of the practices he made lawe included the making all money out of iron to discourage greed and to require men to live in barracks together to encourage unity towards the military and state over the family.

By discouraging greed and familial affections Spartan men were focused on developing strength and military prowess almost to the exclusion of anything else. What else is there for a man to do when he cannot acquire wealth or enjoy his family?

One last point to mention is that children were seen as the property of the state. In a rather cruel way, weak children were eliminated at birth and only the strong were allowed to live. This further strengthens the idea of the state over family.

What They Learned

The training was primarily physical in nature. Young boys were taken from their homes at the age of 7 to live in the state barracks. Once there, they were given a minimum amount of clothes and food. The cold and hunger often compelled the boys to steal. Stealing was actually encourage as it taught stealth. However, being caught was punished severely because it indicated carelessness, which could prove deadly on the battlefield.

Gymnastics, wrestling, and the use of weapons were also emphasized. Despite the contradiction in encouraging stealing the Spartan education also strongly inculcated moral training as well. Boys were to control their appetites, respect the aged as well as their parents, and to be indifferent to suffering. It was considered shameful to lose control of one’s behavior in any way. This naturally discourages such behaviors as drunkness.

Unlike other ancient cultures, the Spartans loved music and spent a large of amount of free time developing this skill. Songs were frequently about war and brave acts.

Women also received an education and the focus was on the development of the physical nature.

How Were They Taught

Spartan boys were taught primarily by the senior citizens or the aged of the society. The old would spend time with the young boys. The common forms of instruction involved a question and answer format. This instilled a great deal of practical wisdom in the youth.

Another primary method of learning was imitation. Young people would learn simply through copying the actions and behaviors of the aged. This imitation of the aged rather than of other young people help Spartans to mature and develop a seriousness to them that would be hard to find in young people today.


The Spartans were a military culture with a strong state apparatus. Their educational system was developed to suppress the people around them in an attempt to maintain their own safety. This desire to survive contributed to a highly oppressive system from the viewpoint of an outsider but perhaps a saving grace for the Spartan.

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