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)
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:
was the central objective of ALL Lycurgus' laws?
1. Marriage: the begetting of children exists for the sole purpose of
- physical training for
all females would help them give birth to better warriors
- marriage must take
place in the prime of manhood
- elderly husband must
introduce into his house some man whose physical and moral qualities he
admires in order to impregnate his wife
- rich man can choose a
woman who is already the mother of a fine family
- sanctioning of other
2. Education: Primary Age Students:
- 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
- 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
- Children are
deliberately not given enough to eat to teach them to continue working
on an empty stomach
- Children are
permitted to alleviate their hunger by stealing from their fellow
students, so the boys become more resourceful and better fighters.
- Children who are
caught stealing are beaten for stealing badly.
- Any adult is
permitted to punish any child for any misconduct so that the boys will
respect all elders
- No intimacy with
other boys is allowed: that is ‘an abomination
3. Education: Middle and/High School Students:
- 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
- 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:
- In the prime of life
the boys are divided into teams to engage in war games: "strife of
- All citizens take
meals in public messes to encourage camaraderie between officers and
soldiers and thereby reduce the disregard of orders to a minimum.
- Mixed companies are
encouraged so that the experience of the elders might contribute to the
education of youths.
- Compulsory drinking
is forbidden, the undoing alike of body and mind.