Ancient/Classical History/Ancient Sparta


Dear Maria,

My name is Raymond.  I'm in 5th grade and I'm 11 years old.  This year, I'm studying Sparta and its culture.  I'm betting all the information I can from books and the Internet, but a few of my questions are still unanswered.  My teacher told me to write to an expert and see if you can help me.

I would like to know why Sparta is still important to us, and why were they so brutal?  I would also like to know if Spartan men had a soft side.  Finally,is there anything still enduring from the Spartan culture?

Thank you for your time.  Please write back.


Dear Raymond,

here are my answers:

-1st Question: “why Sparta is still important to us?”
ANSWER:  Sparta is important simply because it has been one the two leading city-states in ancient Greece. These two “poleis” (πόλεις  in Ancient Greek, just meaning “city-states”) were in fact Athens and Sparta.
Sparta was in a state of war with Athens for many years from 431 BC to 404 BC  during the Peloponnesian War which took place between the Athenian empire and Peloponnesian league lead by the Spartans who feared Athens's growing power and prosperity as well as its democracy as opposed to Spartan military regime that was not able to increase culture, arts and civilization, just as Athens had done.
After the war, Sparta became  the ruling state of Greece, but the war had destroyed the economies and brought poverty and sufferings to Greece, also because Athens could never gain its lost prosperity that it was proud of, before the war.
Anyway, in spite of its militarism, the city-state of  Sparta  was always a local power in Peloponnese, i.e. in  the southernmost part of mainland Greece, but not in the rest of Greece, where Athens was the  master of the sea, the leading commercial power, the centre of culture and civilization,  in short the dominant power.
To sum up, Sparta is still important to us because it has been an important part of Greek history and culture from which our own civilization still derives.

-2nd question: “why were the Spartans so brutal?”  
ANSWER:  The Spartans were so brutal because Sparta was  a militaristic  city-state whose militaristic way of life dated back to local community’s resistance when the Spartans, of Dorian origin, conquered as invaders the region named Laconia, in the southeast Peloponnesus, where they founded Sparta in ca. the 9th century BC.
Therefore such warrior tribes of Dorians  needed a strong military government and constitution  which  defended them from the revolts of the local peoples like e.g. the  Messenians, who in fact were engaged in a series of rebellions against expanding Sparta.
This was the reason why military training of the Spartiates, i.e. the elite class of the rigidly hierarchical Spartan society, began  at the age of seven, when the child was removed from his family, moved into barracks, at age 20 could marry, but lived in the barracks for another 10 years.  
In short, from their eighth to  twentieth year the young Spartiates were educated by the state according to a rigorous discipline of a military type so that Spartan boys were excellent warriors as they were trained for battle and put through difficult challenges so that they became fearless warriors and had the reputation of being the best soldiers in Greece.
Instruction consisted in fact for the most part in inculcating habits of obedience, bodily fitness, and courage to conquer in battle.
This is why Spartans were so brutal

-3rd.Question:”I would also like to know if Spartan men had a soft side”
ANSWER: Just because Sparta was  a militaristic  city-state where  the army and militaristic way of life were of the greatest importance to Spartan society, Spartan men  cannot have a “soft side”, as you say, but on the contrary they were obliged to be strong, hard as a rock, courageous and also laconic, for special punishments were imposed if boys failed to answer questions sufficiently 'laconically' (i.e. briefly).

-4th QUESTION:”is there anything still enduring from the Spartan culture?”
ANSWER: Something Spartan can survive in militaristic way of life of some states and metaphorically in a way of disciplining ourselves efficiently just like Spartan men and women too.
For example, we know the Spartan sentence ” ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τὰς ” meaning: “Either bring the shield back or be brought home dead upon the shield“ that  was uttered by  Spartan mothers who wished their sons to return from war either with their shield or on it, since, if a soldier  returned home alive without his shield, it meant that he had lost it, while running for his life and then he had been a coward.

Hope this can be helpful to you.

Have a nice day,


Ancient/Classical History

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My field of expertise is Ancient Greek and Roman History.


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I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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