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Volume 7, Issue 5: Historia

The Renaissance of Spartan Masculinity

Chris Schlect

Spartans were the "real men" of classical antiquity. Infantry was the dominant military arm in ancient Greece, and the Spartan infantry eclipsed all others. A Spartan hoplite (footsoldier) wielded a pike of seven and a half to nine feet in length, which he handled more skillfully than his opponent did his own weapon of lesser stature. He donned a helmet, breastplate, and greaves and carried a short sword at his waist. He held so large a shield that it could be used as a stretcher to carry wounded from the field. This shield protected its bearer's left side and front, and extended far leftward to protect his neighbor's right side. Dependence upon a neighbor's shield encouraged each hoplite to keep rank. These trained hoplites maneuvered in a formation, called a phalanx , of at least eight ranks deep. The Spartan phalanx was the most formidable sight on battlefields in the fifth century B.C .

The Spartan warrior's lifestyle began with the reforms of Lycurgus, the ninth-century lawgiver who turned Sparta into a garrison state. With the blessing of the Delphic Oracle (the prophet of Apollo, god of war), Lycurgus brought all aspects of family life under the care of the State. He produced a regimented society and fearless warriors.
Lycurgus first reformed the economy. He divided the land, with each Spartan having one of thirty-thousand equal plots. "That there might be no odious distinction or inequality among them,"[*] Lycurgus confiscated all gold and silver, and distributed coinage so worthless that nobody would envy another's wealth ("who would rob another of such a coin?"). He also outlawed trades that were deemed "unnecessary," which put sculptors, jewelers, rhetoricians, silversmiths, and the like out of work. This ended all foreign trade, for there was no demand abroad for Spartan wares and currency. Lycurgus followed these reforms with the final death-blow to class distinctions: all were required to eat the same food at common tables.
He then addressed the bearing of children. "Lycurgus was of a persuasion that children were not so much the property of their parents as of the whole commonwealth." Each newborn was presented to the elders, and "if they found it stout and well made, they gave order for its rearing," but if it was "puny and ill shaped" they ordered it to be left to die of exposure. Marriage was regulated to breed the best children. Moreover, a good man could go into another's wife, "that he might raise, as it were, from this plot of good ground, worthy and well-allied children for himself." Lycurgus reasoned that if animals are bred to produce the best stock, how much more should we work to breed the best children!
Educating children was to Lycurgus "the most important and noblest work of a lawgiver." Boys were taken from their homes at age seven and placed in an academy. "Reading and writing they gave them, just enough to serve their turn; their chief care was to make them good subjects, and to teach them to endure pain and conquer in battle." Each of the better boys was personally tutored by an old man who taught him valor and manners. This personal tutelage, and the sexual relationship that came with it, continued until the boy reached adulthood.
Because the women had to manage their affairs while the men were off at war, girls were raised to be rugged, disparaging "overgreat tenderness." They trained in wrestling, running, and throwing to improve their bodies. Thus they would be better equipped for childbearing. Maidens were required to dance naked in public processions. The fittest enjoyed praise, while the less fair-bodied were humiliated by critical jesting. These processions encouraged the maidens' diligence in their training, and also induced marriages.
The boys were barely fed. They were encouraged to steal food, which taught them stealth and cunning. They were severely beaten, often mortally, if caught. "So seriously did [Spartan] children go about their stealing, that a youth, having stolen a young fox and hid it under his coat, suffered it to tear out his very bowels with its teeth and claws and died upon the place, rather than let it be seen." Similarly, young husbands continued to live in barracks, dining and sleeping away from home. Husband and wife came together only in secret, for it was shameful to have their meetings made known. This again required cunning, wit, and deception: good training for warriors.
The Spartan way of life differs in many respects from Western culture today. Things common to them shock us, as they would surely find our ways quite shocking. But at their core, Spartan values are much the same as those of our modern West. Massive government school programs, intrusive adoption regulations, and other social programs betray our conviction (like it or not) that child rearing is a civic concern, not a family matter. We abort unwanted children rather than leaving them to exposure. Reproduction is increasingly divorced from marriage, and we even regulate our offspring by mixing reproductive partners through surrogacy and in vitro fertilization. And through its public display of barely-clothed maidens, our media testify that we share the Spartan vision for the ideal woman.
Back of it all is modern masculinity in the West. Men surrender their property to the state, and even vote for politicians who want more of it. Rather than cherishing their wives, men treat them as side shows. Men leave their daughters to the mercy of scoffing young mencountless "dates" who disrobe them before they find a husband. The modern man is truly a Spartan.

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