Speaking of ancient education, many do not mean at all the humane Athenian model, but the Spartan one. And this is understandable: for sure, many of us in school history lessons heard about the harsh Spartan discipline, which is really impressive. How true is this and how were children actually brought up in Sparta? Let’s find out!
General features of the Spartan model of education
It turns out that school ideas about the Spartan education system are not myths or speculation. It was hard for children born in Sparta from the first day of birth. However, it never occurred to them to complain, since the educational system was perceived by the entire Spartan society as the most correct and rigorous — no one had a choice.
Why did it happen? Sparta was a large ancient Greek policy, a conservative and warlike territory, which determined its views on the upbringing of children.
The main feature of Spartan «pedagogy» was the issue of recognizing the child’s right to life: it was resolved literally from the first second of his birth. However, it was not the father or mother who decided whether the child would live or not.
Immediately after the birth, the baby was taken to a place called «leskha». The elders and heads of the Spartan communities met here, who examined the newborn and issued their verdict: strong and well-built babies (regardless of gender) were allowed to stay in Sparta. Weak, sickly, injured, physically handicapped and ugly according to Spartan canons were thrown into the crevice of Apotheta. It was believed that since nature itself did not endow the newborn with strength and health, then Sparta did not need him either.
By the way, according to custom, women washed newborn Spartan babies not with water, but with strong wine. Children with poor health immediately died, and healthy ones, as it was believed, were tempered more strongly.
Spartan education was based on the principle that mercy and compassion are unnecessary and even harmful things. Even for their own children, the Spartans did not experience kindred tenderness. This happened because in Sparta compassion was perceived as a weakness, but ruthlessness towards oneself and others was perceived as the norm.
According to Spartan laws, only one girl could be brought up in a family. «Extra» daughters were left in the forest or in the mountains, relying on chance.
Was there a plus for such a Spartan «selection»? Minimal, but still there. It turns out that there were no abandoned children in Sparta (both boys and girls). The little ones, whose life was literally approved by the leaders of the communities, were surrounded by the care of the policy. Sparta made sure that parents carefully fulfilled their duties — and woe to those who did not devote enough time and effort to raising their descendants!
Immediately after the «approval» of the elders, the child returned to his family. Here he grew up to the age of seven. Up to this point, the nurses were first involved in the upbringing of the little Spartan, and then the parents. Unlike the Athenian education system, where children under the age of 7 were monitored by slaves (teachers), in Sparta this was forbidden. It was believed that a bonded slave could not raise a free Spartan, and it is at a young age that the foundations of a future character are laid.
Without exception, all Spartan kids were raised unpretentious. Babies were not swaddled (the child had to give freedom of movement), they were not protected from darkness and various fears, they were not spoiled, they were not indulged in children’s crying. Toddlers in Sparta were not picky eaters and were not afraid to be alone, but slept in hard wooden cribs.
Regardless of the season, Spartan children bathed in cold water. According to local traditions of upbringing, a child, even in cold weather, should do without shoes and preferably without clothes. Unfortunately, as a result, many children simply did not survive the winter because of bronchitis, pneumonia and other diseases.
As such, Spartan children did not have games. Since Sparta, in fact, was a military city-state, the children entertained themselves only with weapons, sports and competitive or military games.
Until the age of seven, Spartan boys were considered sexless creatures, so they grew up with girls. Upon reaching this age, they were removed from the family and sent to special paramilitary barracks schools, agels. Here boys, and then young men, lived and were brought up until they were 18-20 years old.
From the moment of entering the agela, the real education of the Spartans began. Over each group of boys there was an overseer-controller (pedon), who had the right to punish children with whips for any offense.
The life of such a military «boarding school» had a strict schedule. Each of the boys was already a little soldier, and the goal of the agela was to make a merciless fighter out of the child.
The basis of Spartan education was physical culture and military training. The boys ran all day, jumped, competed in throwing spears and discs, owning a bow, swords and other weapons. Education in Sparta was aimed at developing the following qualities in children: the ability to obey, the ability to endure pain and suffering, the ability to win by any means.
How did the educators “turn it around”? In fact, they had their own pretty tough tactics. Boys of different ages were regularly pitted, trying to start a quarrel and fight. In the process of confrontation, the educators noted who has leadership qualities, who is strong, who is smart, and who is cunning and brave. Such boys were appointed chief in their group and even had the right to punish «subordinates».
And what about literacy? Turns out it wasn’t all that bad. Little Spartans were literate exactly as much as they needed for everyday life. But other sciences, which had nothing to do with military life, were simply expelled from Sparta, moreover, along with teachers.
The educational model of Sparta included the encouragement of physical impact, the lack of empathy and the condemnation of weakness. The boys were not to complain, they were not to writhe in pain, cold, and hunger. They went around shaved, naked and dirty. And yet, surprisingly, it was shameful not to steal, but to get caught stealing! And this was very important, since the boys themselves earned their livelihood in all possible ways, and slept on home-made bedding (sometimes with nettle or reed bedding).
The first results of such upbringing appeared around the age of 14-15. The Spartan boy acquired the required fortitude, became cold-blooded and laconic. The ability to be restrained, stingy with words and the ability not to show emotions were also the principles of the Spartan educational model.
Of the only cultural moments of education in the life of little Spartans, only music and patriotic-ideological poetry remained. The boys regularly played the cithara and flute, marched to military music, and sang military songs.
When did the education of boys end? At the age of 18-20, young people received civil rights and left the agela. Those who ended up in a special corps of Spartan horsemen were recognized as the most successful — it was from it that people were then selected for the highest ranks of the policy.
Little is known about the upbringing of girls in Sparta. One thing is for sure: women were influenced by the male Spartan worldview. Therefore, literally from birth, they had to educate girls according to the male type.
The life of Spartan girls, like boys, had strict regulations. If in the Athenian model of upbringing girls were taught singing and music, then girls from Sparta were engaged in gymnastics and sports from an early age. True, there is an assumption that they were also taught to read and write, so they were much more literate than the Spartan boys.
However, the Spartans still considered motherhood to be the main purpose of a woman, because it is Spartan women who are able to give birth to healthy and strong offspring — future warriors. Little girls have been convinced of this since childhood. Given the specifics of society, they were brought up strictly — without any «falling in love», effeminacy and weakness.
Just like boys, Spartan girls were tempered from an early age. In cold weather, they had to perform at holidays and ceremonies with a minimum of clothing. It was believed that hardening and good physical shape would strengthen the female spirit and save the girl from unnecessary sensitivity.
Along with the boys, the girls ran and jumped, engaged in wrestling, spear throwing, and learned how to handle weapons. They were also forced to engage in primary military training. Such an educational model meant that if the Spartans went to war, women would have to protect Sparta on their own and hold captives.
Fortunately, the Spartan boys treated the girls, if not on an equal footing, then with great respect, because they were strong, «chosen» (newborn girls were also selected by the elders), and also shared their patriotic views.