|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE TRAINING OF THE SPARTANS
 LYCURGUS had seen the severe discipline which soldiers in Egypt were
forced to undergo. He had made up his mind that his own
countrymen should be trained as thoroughly.
The Spartans at this time were poor and their numbers were
small, perhaps about ten thousand were fit to bear arms.
They were surrounded by enemies whose attacks they found
hard to repulse.
But Lycurgus thought that if each citizen became a soldier,
and that if each soldier was trained from his childhood to
fight and to endure hardship, Sparta would soon have an army
that no other power could conquer.
So as soon as a baby boy was born in Sparta he was taken to
the Council of Elders that they might decide if he should
live or die. If the child was strong and healthy he was
given back to his parents, if he was weak and ailing he was
left alone on a hillside to die from cold and hunger.
When he was seven years old, the Spartan boy was taken from
his home to a public training-house. Here the strict
discipline commanded by Lycurgus was begun.
Shoes and stockings were never worn by the little lads of
Sparta, although the hills and countryside were rough for
unshod feet. In winter they were clad in one garment, just
as in summer.
Their beds were made of rushes, which they had themselves
gathered from the banks of the river Eurotas. This was a
hard task, for they were not allowed to cut them with a
knife, but must break them with their hands. In winter
boys used to scatter thistle-down on the rushes to give a
little warmth to their hard couch.
Each child, from the age of seven, cooked his own food,
which was scanty and plain. If after their meals the boys
were still hungry, so much the better, said Lycurgus. It
would teach them to hunt the more keenly, that they might
add to their daily portion of food. It would teach them to
steal from the neighbouring farm-yards or gardens without
being found out.
So a hungry Spartan boy would climb into a garden
undiscovered, or even slip into a stranger's larder in
search of fruit and food.
If the boys were caught, they were punished, not, I am sorry
to tell you, for stealing, but for being so clumsy as to be
Once a Spartan boy stole a young fox and hid it under his
coat. It soon began to scratch with its claws, to bite with
its teeth, until the lad was in terrible pain, yet he would
have died rather than tell what he was suffering. Such was
the endurance taught to the lads of Sparta.
If a boy shirked any hardship or flagged at his gymnastic
exercises he was flogged, perhaps even tortured. One test
of his endurance was a terrible scourging, under which he
would die rather than utter a cry of pain.
In public the boys were trained to be silent, or if they
were spoken to, to answer as shortly as possible. Their
short, abrupt way of talking was called laconic, because the
name of their country was Laconia. We still use the word
laconic when we hear anyone speak in as brief a way as
Hard as the Spartan training was, cruel as it sometimes
became, it yet made boys into strong and hardy soldiers.
Girls, too, were trained, although not so severely as boys.
They ran, they wrestled, they boxed with one another, while boys
and girls marched together in religious processions and
danced on the solemn feast days.
When they were twenty years of age, the girls usually
 married. They had been taught, as had the boys, that they
belonged to the State, and that they must love their country
and serve her with all their strength. So when Spartan
mothers sent their sons forth to war, they handed them their
shields saying, "Return either with your shield or upon it," for they feared death less than disgrace or defeat.
The children were taught to sing in chorus as part of their
drill. At some of the festivals three choirs took part, one
of old men, one of young men, and one of boys.
When the old men sang a song beginning, "We once were young
and brave and strong," the young men answered, "And we're so
now, come on and try," while the boys' voices rang out
bravely when their turn came, "But we'll be strongest
The Spartan lads were twenty years old before they left the
training-house to which they had been sent when they were
seven. They were then fully-trained soldiers and left the
training-house for the barracks.
After they married, the men still had to take their meals in
the barracks with their fellow-soldiers. Not until they
were sixty years of age were the Spartans allowed to live
and take their meals in their own house. In this way almost
the whole of a Spartan's life was given to the State.
When war actually came and the Spartans were on the field,
they were treated with more kindness than in time of peace.
Their food was more plentiful and pleasant, their discipline
less strict. This was done to make the soldiers look
forward to war, and to desire it rather than peace.
The younger soldiers, too, were allowed to curl their hair
before the battle began, to wear gayer clothes, and to carry
more costly arms. It is said the Lycurgus thought that "a
large head of hair added beauty to a good face and terror to
an ugly one."
So famous became the bravery and the endurance of the
Spartans, that even now we call one who suffers hardships
without complaint "a Spartan."
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