T Nation

Reads for Spartan Warfare

With the new Movie “300” coming out, I wanted to get a better understanding of the Spartan’s and this particular battle. Read Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire”, which is a more accurate historical depiction of the battle than I think the movie will be.

Couldn’t put the book down. Read it in less than a week (which for me is impressive). Those guys possessed a mental and physical toughness that doesn’t exist today, anywhere.

Anyway, the book has sparked my interest in Spartan warfare and lifestyle. Any suggestions of further reading on the topic? I’d really like to find something on how the small Greek army eventually defeated the million-man Persain army.

Thucydides is probably a good source.

After reading Gates of Fire, I too looked for such a book. I had no luck finding one. Hopefully, this thread turns up some suggestions. If not, there is a great opportunity for a historian to write a book on Spartan warrior training and lifestyle.

The only books I know that really are accurate and scholarly on the matter are in Greek.

What exactly do you want info on- how they trained, or the technical formation and fighting of the phalanx?

Let me know, and I’ll upload some stuff.

http://www.4literature.net/Plutarch/Lycurgus/

This is a biography of Lycurgus, the founder of Sparta, written by the Greek historian Plutarch. It tells the story of how Lycurgus turned Sparta into a society that valued equality and the good of the community over the individual. It’s a good read to learn about Spartan culture in general.

What an intelligent question you ask. Good to see that the upcoming movie is prompting you to deeper inquiry.

The movie, which I gather from the clips that I have seen, is about the battle of Thermopylae.

Sparta is an example of what a society, a peoples, can be if they devote themselves to one thing. Exclusively (note, however, that while this extremity and single-mindedness made for great warriors, it ultimately led to the downfall of Sparta).

Spartan society is interesting insofar as it was deliberately reshaped (and its growth in areas of art, culture etc. was deliberately atrophied) so that it could devote itself to nothing but martial training and war. Literally.

Only healthy infants in Sparta were kept (sickly ones were left to die). Spartans engaged in no agriculture (their slaves the helots were made to do this for them). Spartan land ownership was redistributed (pissing off the rich very much) so that all spartans had the same amount of land. The purpose of this initiative was to foster equality and unity and to kill the desire to strive after wealth and ostentation so that the spartans might better devote themselves to war. Money (gold and silver coinage) was forbidden and Sparta’s “currency” became spits of iron (the amount of iron that it took to amount to any meaningful value was so huge that there was no point in stealing or hording up wealth anymore - and the iron used for currency was not useful for other purposes b/c it had been deliberately weakened by adding vinegar to it in the process of its manufacture).

The training of children was severe and began from an early age. They trained and fought naked to harden their bodies and were. Spartan youth, were given very little to eat and were expected to steal what they did not have- if they were caught stealing, they were beaten, not for stealing,but for being caught. This taught them stealth (and endurance for beatings!). They ate simply (meat in blood broth) and in common messes to foster a strong sense of unity and community.

This was Spartan training. This was the Spartan way of life.

Historical writings on Sparta will attribute the complete and intentional restructuring of Spartan society, essentially into a war machine, to their lawgiver, Lycurgus. However, whether any one man by the name of “Lycurgus” was, in fact, responsible for the reshaping of Spartan society is questionable.

For an interesting “backgrounder” on how Spartan society was reshaped and the influence of the lawgiver Lycurgus, I recommend “Plutarch on Sparta”. See also, Plutarch’s Lives (Volume I & II) for Plutarch’s account of the lives of some Spartan kings (they had dual kingship) - king Agis and Leonidas come to mind.

As an interesting side note, the historian Herodotus pegs the number of Spartans vs. Persians at anywhere from 300 vs. 1.5 million to 300 vs. 5 million (which seems a bit high - good ole Herodotus - always did have a flair for the dramatic).

Search. Learn. Enjoy.

Thanks for making this topic. I probably should have made one myself, as I pretty much asked this same exact question in one of the “300” threads, but it was either ignored or lost in the shuffle of discussion about the movie.

Looking forward to hearing any and all suggestions.

[quote]Quest wrote:
What an intelligent question you ask. Good to see that the upcoming movie is prompting you to deeper inquiry.

The movie, which I gather from the clips that I have seen, is about the battle of Thermopylae.

Sparta is an example of what a society, a peoples, can be if they devote themselves to one thing. Exclusively (note, however, that while this extremity and single-mindedness made for great warriors, it ultimately led to the downfall of Sparta).

Spartan society is interesting insofar as it was deliberately reshaped (and its growth in areas of art, culture etc. was deliberately atrophied) so that it could devote itself to nothing but martial training and war. Literally.

Only healthy infants in Sparta were kept (sickly ones were left to die). Spartans engaged in no agriculture (their slaves the helots were made to do this for them). Spartan land ownership was redistributed (pissing off the rich very much) so that all spartans had the same amount of land. The purpose of this initiative was to foster equality and unity and to kill the desire to strive after wealth and ostentation so that the spartans might better devote themselves to war. Money (gold and silver coinage) was forbidden and Sparta’s “currency” became spits of iron (the amount of iron that it took to amount to any meaningful value was so huge that there was no point in stealing or hording up wealth anymore - and the iron used for currency was not useful for other purposes b/c it had been deliberately weakened by adding vinegar to it in the process of its manufacture).

The training of children was severe and began from an early age. They trained and fought naked to harden their bodies and were. Spartan youth, were given very little to eat and were expected to steal what they did not have- if they were caught stealing, they were beaten, not for stealing,but for being caught. This taught them stealth (and endurance for beatings!). They ate simply (meat in blood broth) and in common messes to foster a strong sense of unity and community.

This was Spartan training. This was the Spartan way of life.

Historical writings on Sparta will attribute the complete and intentional restructuring of Spartan society, essentially into a war machine, to their lawgiver, Lycurgus. However, whether any one man by the name of “Lycurgus” was, in fact, responsible for the reshaping of Spartan society is questionable.

For an interesting “backgrounder” on how Spartan society was reshaped and the influence of the lawgiver Lycurgus, I recommend “Plutarch on Sparta”. See also, Plutarch’s Lives (Volume I & II) for Plutarch’s account of the lives of some Spartan kings (they had dual kingship) - king Agis and Leonidas come to mind.

As an interesting side note, the historian Herodotus pegs the number of Spartans vs. Persians at anywhere from 300 vs. 1.5 million to 300 vs. 5 million (which seems a bit high - good ole Herodotus - always did have a flair for the dramatic).

Search. Learn. Enjoy.[/quote]

Great stuff. Saw Plutarch at the book store and thought about getting it. I think I’ll go back. I’d really like to read about how the Greeks defeated the numerically superior Persians. Thermopolae was just the beginning, and they put a MAJOR whooping on the 2-4 million Persians with just a few thousand Greeks, led by the 300 Spartans. Ancient warfare is fascinating.

BTW, I did find this rather interesting article in my search for information on the Spartan diet:

http://www.laconia.org/sparti_h_1.htm

There’s not much on the diet, but a lot about Spartan history. It’s quite lengthy. This is what I was able to find about the cuisine:

At the age of twenty came the most critical time in s [sic] Spartan man’s life. He now tried to get election to one of the dining clubs, rather like an army ‘mess’ , to which the men belonged. There were about fifteen members of each syssition of this kind. In the ballot each member of the mess dropped a pellet of bread into an urn,and if a single man squeezed his pellet flat, the candidate was rejected, To fail to win election to any mess at all meant becoming a social outcast. Members of the mess ate all their meals communally, and each man had to provide monthly a fixed quota of barley, wine, cheese and figs. The diet was plain, including usually a type of broth or porridge,which was well-known outside Sparta for its nastiness.It was apparently dark gray in color.

Thanks a million for these, Im going to pick up a copy this week.

Come home with your shield or on it

http://youtube.com/watch?v=R6BDHGa4CEY

Film from the history channel divided into 3 parts (you can find the rest of the links under the “related videos” tab)

History Channel uses computer animation to detail the strategies used by the different factions in the battle of Thermopolyae.

The user who uploaded those videos has the same for the Battle of Marathon and a few others.

Which is a very cool unlike a movie such as “300” where, as badass as the movie will be, (i’m seeing it on the IMAX screen) it is not historically accurate in the least (as far as battle tactics).

So if you want to learn the spartan phallanx… check out the vid I posted.

Spartans never held a real fascination for me, maybe because of the whole NAMBLA thing, or maybe because they were the autocrats of the Greek world, as opposed to the Athenians who gave Western civilization. I’d agree with nephorm though, go to the source and read Thucydides.

If you’re getting into ancient military history in general, I’d highly recommend reading up on Hannibal and Alexander the Great. I find Hannibal fascinating, Cannae alone is worth a book. Battlefield maps aren’t ideal, but otherwise this is great, really interesting description of what hand-to-hand combat with edged weapons was really like (it ain’t Hollywood):

http://www.amazon.com/Cannae-Adrian-Goldsworthy/dp/0304357146/sr=8-2/qid=1172530463/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/105-2236375-3881259?ie=UTF8&s=books

Haven’t read this, but heard great things, if you like Pressfield you oughta love it. Relevant too:

http://www.amazon.com/Afghan-Campaign-novel-Steven-Pressfield/dp/038551641X/sr=8-1/qid=1172530659/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-2236375-3881259?ie=UTF8&s=books

Pressfield isn’t as accurate as everyone likes to pretend he is, most of his stuff is speculation. Read The Spartans by Paul Cartledge(an actual historian). Thucydides is excellent of course. The Persian army was nowhere near a million men in reality, and really numbers mean nothing against superior tactics, weaponry and cohesion.

[quote]GDollars37 wrote:
Spartans never held a real fascination for me, maybe because of the whole NAMBLA thing, or maybe because they were the autocrats of the Greek world, as opposed to the Athenians who gave Western civilization. [/quote]

Huh? You know the Athenians had that whole NAMBLA thing going on too? Plus the Spartans may have been autocrats but there was far more equality there than in Athens, look at the treatment of women in Athens deplorable. Democracy really is a shitty system anyways though. I would argue that the Romans are right on the same level as the Athenians for western civilization.

“Spartans do not inquire how many the enemy are but where they are.”

GATES OF FIRES kicks ass. It would be particularly awesome if someone would make it into a film that would do justice to it (Gladiator, King of Heaven style). The Spartans have been an inspiration since I first read about them. I used to keep the quote by Dienekes (Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade.) in my wallet as a teenager.

The junior/senior homosexual warrior apprenticeship was a part of all of Greek culture at the time and I manage to keep that part of it separate in my mind from their worthy attributes.

info and links here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparta

[quote]mharmar wrote:
Pressfield isn’t as accurate as everyone likes to pretend he is, most of his stuff is speculation. Read The Spartans by Paul Cartledge(an actual historian). Thucydides is excellent of course. The Persian army was nowhere near a million men in reality, and really numbers mean nothing against superior tactics, weaponry and cohesion.[/quote]

I’ve read in reviews that Cartledge (in Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World) makes a case for the Spartan actions at Thermopylae being synonymous with those of the 9/11 hijackers. Thoughts on this?

Victor Davis Hanson has some good stuff on ancient Greek military history:

The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Wars of the Ancient Greeks

Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience

Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece

[quote]mharmar wrote:
GDollars37 wrote:
Spartans never held a real fascination for me, maybe because of the whole NAMBLA thing, or maybe because they were the autocrats of the Greek world, as opposed to the Athenians who gave Western civilization.

Huh? You know the Athenians had that whole NAMBLA thing going on too? Plus the Spartans may have been autocrats but there was far more equality there than in Athens, look at the treatment of women in Athens deplorable. Democracy really is a shitty system anyways though. I would argue that the Romans are right on the same level as the Athenians for western civilization.[/quote]

Another battle that fascinates me and is sort of a funhouse mirror image of Thermopylae is the Roman’s defeat/massacre in the Teutoburger Wald. The tribes stopped an empire, just like the Spartans, and as a result kept their own culture and (for better or worse)from being swamped as quickly and completely as the rest of Europe at the time.