Xenephon, The Customs of Spartans, ca. 375 B.C.

(From Xenophon. Constitution of the Lacedaemonians. As reproduced in Xenophon: Scripta Minora, trans. E.C. Marchant, ed. E. Capps, T.E. Page, and W.H.D. Rouse (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1925), 137-157)


According to Xenophon, Sparta, though among the most thinly populated of states, was the most powerful city in Greece. Why?  Xenophon says that Lycurgus’ laws devised a system unlike any other:


What was the central objective of ALL Lycurgus' laws?


1.  Marriage: the begetting of children exists for the sole purpose of creating warriors

    1. physical training for all females would help them give birth to better warriors
    2. marriage must take place in the prime of manhood
    3. elderly husband must introduce into his house some man whose physical and moral qualities he admires in order to impregnate his wife
    4. rich man can choose a woman who is already the mother of a fine family
    5. sanctioning of other “interesting” relationships

2. Education: Primary Age Students:

    1. In other Greek city-states, a tutor runs a school where children are taught letters, music and wrestling. In Sparta, a “Warden” runs a staff of youths provided with whips who drill the youngest in modesty and obedience.
    2. Instead of providing sandals and changes of clothes, the Warden and his prefects harden children by making them go without shoes and through the winter with only a thin shrift.
    3. Children are deliberately not given enough to eat to teach them to continue working on an empty stomach.
    4. Children are permitted to alleviate their hunger by stealing from their fellow students, so the boys become more resourceful and better fighters.
    5. Children who are caught stealing are beaten for stealing badly.
    6. Any adult is permitted to punish any child for any misconduct so that the boys will respect all elders.
    7. No intimacy with other boys is allowed: that is ‘an abomination.

3. Education: Middle and/High School Students:

    1. In other Greek city states, teenagers are allowed to go their own way, but in Sparta a ceaseless round of work is imposed to control self-will, crush insolence and inhibit the appetite for pleasure.
    2. To teach modesty, all teens are required to keep their hands under their cloaks, to walk in silence, not to look about them, and to fix their eyes on the ground.  

4. Young Adulthood:

    1. In the prime of life the boys are divided into teams to engage in war games: "strife of valour"
    2. All citizens take meals in public messes to encourage camaraderie between officers and soldiers and thereby reduce the disregard of orders to a minimum.
    3. Mixed companies are encouraged so that the experience of the elders might contribute to the education of youths.  
    4. Compulsory drinking is forbidden, the undoing alike of body and mind.