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Children are Curious to Know: Who Were the Spartans?

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Statue of Leonidas in Sparta, Greece. Credit: Dmpexr/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Curious Kids, a website that posts inquiries made by the most curious of minds — those of children — recently found themselves answering a question posted by a young reader who wanted an expert to answer his question: “Who were the Spartans?”

It is a loaded question, since the Spartans once ruled one of the most powerful and largest cities in all of Ancient Greece.

With such a rich history, it is no wonder that children are interested in learning more about the famous Spartans!

To examine the wonders of who the Spartans were, you need to first travel back in time to 650 BC, when the city-state of Sparta was home to the most dominant military force of all ancient Greece.

The history of Sparta

The area is believed to have first been inhabited in the Middle Neolithic period due to some pottery discovered in the vicinity of Kouphovouno, around 1.2 miles from Sparta. Excavations at the site in 1906 revealed many structures and a glimpse into the life of the ancient city-state.

The Spartans are remembered for their severe, militaristic lifestyle — separating young children from their families to make them into fighting Spartans, and discarding those in society that they deemed were not up the Spartan ideal.

They began teaching their young boys to fight from a very young age by exposing them to a rigorous training program called “agōgē,” starting at age seven, to make them fit for battle. They had to continue their training until they were 29 years old.

Their obsession with fighting resulted in them becoming experts in battle and gaining the reputation of being fierce, skilled conquerors. They kept strict guard in governing those they had conquered. An example of this is that of the “helots” who lived near Sparta.

Once conquered, the helots were put to work as agricultural slaves on the farms so that the Spartans could focus even more of their attention on — what else — preparing for battle and improving fighting skills.

They recognized their need to be the best in battle as a necessity, especially since any of the groups that they had conquered could revolt against them.

Spartans known for their prowess in battle

Having taken part in many crucial battles, such as fighting alongside the Athenians against the Persian king Xerxes in the Persian Wars some 2,300 years ago in 490-449 BC, the Spartans were considered masters of warmaking.

The now famous movie, “300,” which has been remade several times, and the 1950’s era “The 300 Spartans” are perhaps the perfect modern-day tales showing just how skilled and brave the Spartans were.

At the battle at Thermopylae, a group of 300 Spartans heroically followed their leader, King Leonidas, into certain death in the effort to defend their lands.

Although they all died in battle, including their beloved king, the Spartans who remained elsewhere fought alongside the Athenians and other Greeks to claim victory during subsequent battles.

In a turn of fate, in the Peloponnesian War, which took place from 431-404 BC, the Spartans fought against the Athenians, and — no surprise here — they won.

Today’s Sparta is a typical small Greek city that has an atmosphere similar to its neighboring cities, with shops, schools, villages and so on. No traces from its martial past exist today.

However, the Spartan history that lies below modern-day Sparta tells an intriguing tale that is still interesting to adults and children alike.

Nowadays, one can check out some of the remaining ruins of Ancient Sparta and with a touch of imagination, you can be transported back to a time when the Spartans ruled the land!

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