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Spartan Art

Ancient Spartan art and culture were defined by their unique values and beliefs, which were shaped by their history and geography. The Spartans were a Greek city-state that emerged in the 8th century BCE and was known for its military prowess and strict social structure. Spartan art and culture were characterized by simplicity, austerity, and a focus on physical fitness and military training.

In terms of art, Spartan culture was not known for producing elaborate or decorative works of art. Instead, Spartan art was functional and utilitarian, serving a specific purpose within the context of Spartan society. For example, Spartan pottery was primarily used for cooking and storage and was made from local materials such as clay and olive oil. Spartan architecture was also simple and functional, with buildings designed to meet the specific needs of Spartan society, such as military barracks and training grounds.

In terms of culture, the Spartans were known for their strict social hierarchy and emphasis on military training. Spartan society was divided into three classes: citizens, non-citizens, and slaves. Citizens were those who were born to Spartan parents and were eligible for military training and political participation. Non-citizens were resident aliens who were not eligible for citizenship but were allowed to work and live in Sparta. Slaves were primarily prisoners of war and were owned by citizens.

Spartan culture placed a strong emphasis on physical fitness and military training, with boys being trained in combat from a young age. Education was focused on military training, physical fitness, and obedience to authority. Women in Spartan society also received physical training and were encouraged to produce healthy and strong offspring to serve the Spartan state.

Overall, Spartan art and culture were defined by their focus on simplicity, austerity, and military training. Spartan art was functional and utilitarian, serving a specific purpose within the context of Spartan society. Spartan culture placed a strong emphasis on physical fitness and military training, with education and social structure designed to produce strong, obedient soldiers. Let's discuss their unique culture, way of life and look at some artworks that worked to depict them over the centuries...

The Spartan Way Of Life

A culture centered on loyalty to the state and military service with a just social system and constitution attributed to mythical figures, one of them being Licurgo,  a solar god, venerated in Sparta in an ancient temple where sacrifices were dedicated to him. The constitution attributed to him was not a system created by him but rather was the result of a long evolution. This form of oligarchic and monarchic government remained in place for a long time, until the arrival of the Romans, it was a conservative society that did not use gold or silver coinage but only iron so that no one could buy or pay for anything outside the territories of the city , external trade was not allowed either. The Spartan constitution was very strict and laid down precise rules for the population. The society was divided into groups according to land ownership, and the lowest one, the "Iliotes" were the serfs of the land, the slaves, generally rowers but in the early days they were allowed to fight as a type of infantry or cannon fodder as they were far more numerous than the Spartans, so they died in battle as a form of population control.

Of course on the battlefield even their rations were smaller, the basic diet was bread, meat and wine.  But how did you become a real soldier? And what was the role of women?  The mythical King Agesilaus II argued that their city did not need walls, because they were numerous enough to defend their  children's breasts. Newborn children were examined by the elders of the city, and if they were weak or malformed they were abandoned on Mount Taigeto to be taken in  by someone or left to die. At the age of 7 the children left the family, divided into teams and handed over to public educators, their task was to strengthen the body with physical exercises, with privations and suffering: the children had the same dress both in summer and winter, they did not have shoes and their heads were always uncovered, they were fed with the famous "black broth" an unpalatable concoction of boiled meat and pork blood seasoned with salt and vinegar and if the children were still hungry they could steal food (but if they were discovered they were punished not for stealing but because they had been discovered!), according to Licurgo a limited diet favoured growth in height. They slept on reed mats and once a year for the feast of the goddess Artemis were whipped until they bled. This period of preparation, "agoghé" aimed in particular to develop discipline and a sense of belonging to the group. Boys school education was therefore utilitarian.

It is believed that the "pyrrhic" is of Spartan origin, a war dance that was intended to synchronize the movements to be performed in battle.  From 18 to 20 years of age they trained with weapons and their body weight was checked every 10 days; from the age of 20 to 30 they were part of the active army "Spartiati" , at 30 they had political rights and they were obliged to get married and up to 60 years of age they were obliged to eat in groups of 15 with the troops. This meant that they were active soldiers. The warriors kept themselves in continuous training, aware of the importance of regular exercise for health and morale, factors indispensable to success on the battlefield.

When we imagine spartan warriors we must think of men with a defined physique of about 1.55-1.65m in height and around 55kg in weight. The most developed muscles were especially those of the neck, arms and legs. Training was performed in most cases free-body, focusing on full body control, coordination, and endurance. At the base was running, bending, traction and abs.  

What about the girls? They were raised in the family but were forced to attend training exercises and received the same cultural education as the boys. Spartan women enjoyed greater freedom and were generally in better health than the average Greek woman. The Spartans, famous for their beauty, had the decisive and important task of producing healthy and robust children, only the women of Sparta were able to produce real men. Girls could compete publicly alongside males in different sports practices, including wrestling. In addition, Spartan female athletes were the only women who were allowed to participate in the ancient Olympic Games.

Speaking of Sparta, reality and myth are indistinguishable, but the story of its warriors is a continuous inspiration in life where trust in one's own means can allow the achievement of goals considered impossible. A security at times irrational and insane, however concrete, summed up in Leonidas' contemptuous words at thermopylae in 480 bc.C. to a man, who informed him of how thousands of Persians were now close to the few infantry in defence of the pass, the Spartan king, in front of his three hundred spartan soldiers, replied "We are also on top of them".

And on the tombstone that recalls their death we read: "Dead in the fulfilment of their duty".


The Spartan Way Of Life

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