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Why Were Spartans So Disciplined?

Why Were Spartans So Disciplined?

The powerful city-state of Sparta, with its famous martial tradition, was at the height of its power in 404 BC. The fearlessness and prowess of the Spartan soldiers continue to inspire the Western world, even in the 21st century, through films, games, and books.

They were known for their simplicity and discipline, with their primary goal being to become powerful warriors and uphold the laws of Lycurgus. The military training doctrine the Spartans created was intended to enforce a proud and loyal binding of men together from a very young age.

Right from their education to their training, discipline remained an essential factor.

Why Were Spartans So Disciplined? Infographic.


The ancient Spartan education program, the agoge, trained the young males in the art of war by training the body and mind. This is where discipline and strength of character were instilled into the Spartan youth.

Young Spartans Exercising by Edgar Degas (1834–1917).
Young Spartans Exercising by Edgar Degas (1834–1917)
Edgar Degas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As per British historian Paul Cartledge, the agoge was a system of training, education, and socialization, turning boys into fighting men with an unsurpassed reputation for skill, courage, and discipline. [3]

First instituted by the Spartan philosopher Lycurgus around the 9th century BC, the program was vital to Sparta’s political power and military strength. [1]

While the Spartan males were required to participate in the agoge mandatorily, girls weren’t allowed to join and, instead, had their mothers or trainers educating them at home. The boys entered the agoge when they turned 7 and graduated at 30, following which they could marry and start a family.

The young Spartans were taken to the agoge and provided scant food and clothing, getting them accustomed to hardship. Such conditions encouraged stealing. The child soldiers were taught to steal food; if caught, they would be punished – not for stealing, but for getting caught.

With public education provided by the state to boys and girls, Sparta had a higher literacy rate than other Greek city-states.

The goal of the agoge was to transform the boys into soldiers whose loyalty wasn’t to their families but to the state and their brothers-in-arms. More emphasis was given to sports, survival skills, and military training than literacy.

The Spartan Woman

The Spartan girls were raised at home by their mothers or trusted servants and weren’t taught how to clean the house, weave, or spin, like in other city-states like Athens. [3]

Instead, the young Spartan girls would participate in the same physical fitness routines as the boys. At first, they would train with the boys and then learn to read and write. They also engaged in sports, like foot races, horseback riding, discus and javelin throw, wrestling, and boxing.

The Spartan boys were expected to honor their mothers through displays of skill, courage, and military victory.

The Emphasis on Discipline

The Spartans were raised with military training, unlike other Greek states’ soldiers, who usually received a taste of it. Specific training and discipline were vital to Spartan military power. 

Due to their training, each warrior was aware of what had to be done while standing behind the shield wall. If anything went wrong, they quickly and efficiently regrouped and recovered. [4]

Their discipline and training helped them cope with anything that went wrong and be well-prepared.

Rather than mindless obedience, the intention of Spartan education was self-discipline. Their ethical system was centered on the values of fraternity, equality, and liberty. It was applicable to each member of the Spartan society, including the Spartan citizens, immigrants, merchants, and helots (slaves).

Code of Honor

The Spartan citizen-soldiers strictly followed the laconic code of honor. All soldiers were considered equal. Misbehaviour, rage, and suicidal recklessness were prohibited in the Spartan army. [1]

A Spartan warrior was expected to fight with calm determination, not with raging anger. They were trained to walk without any noise and speak only a few words, going by the laconic way of life.

A dishonor for Spartans included deserting in battles, failing to complete the training, and dropping the shield. The dishonored Spartans would be labeled as outcasts and publicly humiliated by being forced to wear different clothing.

Soldiers in phalanx military formation.
Soldiers in phalanx military formation
Image courtesy:


The hoplite style of fighting – the hallmark of warfare in ancient Greece, was the Spartan’s way of fighting. A wall of shields with long spears thrust over it was the way of disciplined warfare.

Instead of lone heroes involved in one-to-one combat, the push and shove of infantry blocks made the Spartans win battles. Despite this, individual skills were critical in battles.

Since their system of training began at a young age, they were skilled individual combatants. An ex-Spartan king, Demaratus, is known to have said to the Persians that the Spartans were no worse than other men one-on-one. [4]

As for their unit breakdown, the Spartan army was the most organized army in ancient Greece. Unlike the other Greek city-states that organized their armies into vast units of hundreds of men with no further hierarchical organization, the Spartans did things differently.

Around 418 BC, they had seven lochoi – each subdivided into four pentekosytes (with 128 men). Each pentekosytes was further subdivided into four enomotiai (with 32 men). This resulted in the Spartan army having a total of 3,584 men. [1]

The well-organized and well-trained Spartans practiced revolutionary battlefield maneuvers. They also understood and recognized what others would do in a battle.

The Spartan army consisted of more than just hoplites for phalanxes. There were also cavalry, light troops, and servants (to carry away the wounded for swift retreats) on the battlefield.

Throughout their adult lives, the Spartiates were subject to a strict training regime and were probably the only men in the world for whom war brought a respite over the training for war.

The Peloponnesian War

The rise of Athens in Greece, parallel to Sparta, as a significant power, resulted in friction between them, leading to two large-scale conflicts. The first and second Peloponnesian wars devastated Greece. [1]

Despite the several defeats in these wars and the surrender of an entire Spartan unit (for the first time), they emerged victorious with the aid of the Persians. The defeat of the Athenians established Sparta and the Spartan military in a dominant position in Greece.

The Matter of the Helots

From the territories ruled by Sparta came the helots. In the history of slavery, helots were unique. Unlike traditional slaves, they were permitted to keep and gain wealth. [2]

For instance, they could retain half of their agricultural produce and sell them to accumulate wealth. At times, helots earned sufficient money to purchase their freedom from the state.

Image from page 220 of "The story of the greatest nations, from the dawn of history to the twentieth century : a comprehensive history, founded upon the leading authorities, including a complete chronology of the world, and a pronouncing vocabulary.
Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916;Horne, Charles F. (Charles Francis), 1870-1942, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

The number of Spartans was small compared to that of the helots, at least from the classical period. They were paranoid that the helot population might attempt to revolt. Their need to keep their population in check and prevent rebellion was one of their main concerns.

Hence, the Spartan culture mainly enforced discipline and martial strength while also utilizing a form of Spartan secret police to seek out the troublesome helots and execute them.

They would declare war on the helots every autumn to keep their population in check.

While the ancient world admired their military prowess, the true purpose wasn’t defending themselves from outside threats but the ones within its borders.


Quite evidently, there were a few persistent ways of living in ancient Sparta.

  • Wealth wasn’t a priority.
  • They discouraged overindulgence and weakness.
  • They lived a simple life.
  • The speech was to be kept short.
  • Fitness and warfare were worth everything.
  • Character, merit, and discipline were paramount.

Going beyond the phalanxes, the Spartan army was the most disciplined, well-trained, and organized in the Greek world in their times.