One of the particularities of Spartan society was the fact that Spartan men lived in barracks until they turned 30. And even when they were already married the Spartan men still had to live in the barracks until they turned 30.
But why did Spartan men have to live in barracks? What were the reasons behind that?
Sparta always feared Helot rebellions. So by forcing large parts of the Spartiate population (basically every Spartiate between the age of 18 and 30) to live in barracks in the city of Sparta, Sparta ensured that it always had a strong army of young and well-trained Hoplites ready to immediately march against any emerging Helot rebellion before it could spread. It also allowed the Spartiates to focus on their training.
Let`s take a closer look.
The Education of Spartan Boys & Girls
Well, we all know that Sparta was a pretty militaristic society.
Spartan boys (but also girls) remained with their parents until the age of 7 or 8. Between the age of 7 or 8 and 14, the young Spartans lived in groups of peers under the supervision of a teacher. There, the children learned to read and write, but the most emphasis was put on the physical education that prepared the boys for their role as warriors and the girls for their role as mothers of future Spartiates. The Spartan boys would then receive their military training between the age of 14 and 18. But they didn`t only train and prepare for war, they also learned to debate.
The Spartan style of giving a speech, the so-called Laconic speech, was short and to the point. One example of such a Laconic speech as it was valued in Sparta can be found in the Peloponnesian war. After the Spartan fleet had been lost the Spartan survivors sent a message to Sparta.
The message was: „Wood destroyed. Generals dead. Men hungry. What to do next?“ I would say that is about as short and to the point as it gets.
But make no mistake, there was also a time in Sparta when arts and poetry were held just as high as combat. Here you can find out more about that time and why it came to an end.
The basic military training was finished at the age of 18. But between the age of 18 and 30 every Spartiate, married or not, had to live in barracks together with the other men before he would then receive the full citizen rights.
By the way.
The fact that all Spartan men between the age of 18 and 30 lived together in barracks also enabled Pederasty (which was widely common in Ancient Greece and definitely not exclusive to Sparta). The erastes-eromenos relationship was widely accepted in Ancient Greece and was seen as a mentorship between a younger and an older man. Some sources prove similar relationships between older and younger Spartan women.
Ok, but what were the reasons why Spartan men had to live away from their wives in barracks with other men until they were 30?
The 2 Reasons Why Spartan Males Lived in Barracks
Well, the first reason is the military training.
Yes, Spartiates finished their military training when they turned 18. But that didn`t mean that they were perfect soldiers. Since they had to live in barracks together with other Spartans (aside whom they would also fight in battle) until they were 30, they could train intensely for war.
So having the opportunity to train almost nonstop for 12 years without having to take care of a farm or a family was one reason why Spartiates were forced to live in barracks between the age of 18 and 30.
But there was one other, less obvious reason.
The number of Spartiates had never been huge (9,000 at maximum) and that number had always gone down (actually one of the three reasons for the downfall of Sparta). But the number of Helots, the enslaved native population of Sparta and Messenia, has always been much higher than the number of Spartiates.
And that was a risk.
Like any other slaveholder society, the Spartans also lived in constant fear of a slave (or in the case of Sparta: Helot-) rebellion. Having a sizable number of warriors ready for war and already gathered at a central place was insurance against a possible Helot rebellion. So Spartiates were living in barracks until the age of 30 so that they could train without any distractions and were immediately ready to go to war in case a Helot rebellion endangered Sparta.
After all, Sparta (the city itself and the surrounding land where the farms of the Spartiates were) had a size of roughly 3243 square miles (8400 km2).
So let`s now assume that Sparta did not have a good portion of its male population that was eligible for military service in barracks within the city of Sparta. When a Helot rebellion happened in that scenario, then Sparta would not only have to send out messengers to rally the Spartiates and call them to war (which would have taken time, time that the Helot rebellion could have used to spread), but the fact that most Spartiates would have lived outside the city of Sparta would have also put them at risk.
Just imagine, the Spartiates who would have lived on their farms in the area where the Helot rebellion would have erupted would have basically been on their own. One lonely Spartiate no matter how well trained, against a huge number of rebelling Helots would have been a problem.
By forcing large parts of the Spartiate population (basically every Spartiate between the age of 18 and 30) to live in barracks in the city of Sparta, Sparta ensured that it always had a strong army of young and well-trained Hoplites ready to immediately march towards any emerging Helot rebellion before it could spread.
So the fact that the Spartiates had to live in barracks until the age of 30 was a precautionary measure taken by a frightened society of slaveowners.
Speaking of slaves. Have you ever wondered how much a slave cost in ancient Greece? Then I would like to recommend you my article on the price of slaves in ancient Greece.
Now one might ask how likely a Helot rebellion was after all and whether or not that risk really justified the measure of forcing the Sparttiates to live in barracks. Well, one major Helot rebellion right after a massive earthquake in 464 BC drastically speeded up the population decline of Spartiates even though the Spartiates could immediately react.
So yes, the measure was effective.
But it didn`t save Sparta from its decline into insignificance. But Sparta’s downfall into insignificance is a story for another time.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Karl-Wilhelm Welweit: Sparta. Aufstieg und Niedergang einer antiken Großmacht (Stuttgart 2004).*
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