Philosophy of the Spartiates
An insight into the philosophy of the Spartans or Spartiates.
By Triúnn liðþjálfabikkja
Truly the Spartans were an extraordinary and unique culture and people like no others; except for the Norse, none lived like they did. The differences between the Spartans and the Norse were minor, largely due to the Norse dwelling in a northern environment with less access to certain crops and vegetation, unlike Greece; the most interesting aspect of the Spartans derive from how their society was built. Now some believe the man Lycurgus, who made Sparta the way it was before its fall, was a truly historical figure; but in fact it doesn’t matter whether he was a fictional character or a title of sorts for many authors of Spartan laws and traditions. What I wish to discuss is the foundation of Spartan philosophy and how it can be applied to men today, whether they be modern Norðmenn or those who are inspired by the Spartans but have a hard time understanding who they were. To first understand Spartan philosophy, we must first discard much of the Christian, or rather Abrahamic, mindset or cultural influence from our minds as it will only hinder what we could learn.
One of the main reasons I said one should remove any Christian/Abrahamic influences from one's mind is that the culture of Spartans was pagan, and thus very different from Abrahamic culture; so in order to understand it one must realize he will lack key information and ideas to fully understand Spartan culture and philosophy. The importance of brotherhood was so prevalent within Spartan culture and philosophy that it was introduced to Spartan boys from a young age with a sort of tutor, but more specifically acting as a young father/older brother/role model figure, though the two would not be that far off in age. This was to help the youth understand the concepts for him to become a full Spartan citizen and warrior though the two could be argued to be the same in Spartan society. Now besides brotherhood and reliance upon one’s unit, one must see the importance of it within their favored war gods, namely Kastor and Polydeuces, as they exemplified loyalty to one’s military partner, and his peers more generally.
As a Spartan generally relied heavily upon those in his unit, he had also to rely on Spartan citizens or Spartiates in general but they built this trust from boyhood as all Spartan boys were put through the same rigorous training with the intent to create the greatest warriors not just across Greece but across the known world. These warriors, after all, needed not only to protect themselves from their Greek enemies, but also non-Greek enemies like the Persians, who came time and again to make Greece bow to them. The Spartans wished not just to protect themselves from death, but to protect their way of life. Philosophically this was one of the biggest points within Spartan society; to both exemplify and protect the way of life they had always lived. The importance of brotherhood and loyalty to their peers or mates was paramount, as well as loyalty to Sparta and to its welfare. A Spartan warrior’s unit was his primary family; advice for life and war was asked of the elders of the unit, and when men had children, they would bring the babies to be presented to those in his unit. It is therefore obvious how important a man’s brothers-in-arms were to him. Today we can use this point of the Spartan philosophy to better ourselves and our bros by sticking to them and remaining loyal to them through thick and thin, to train and build cohesion with them to make one another not just better men but better fighters in some cases.
Some points that are telling about Spartans was their drive not to suffer or harm themselves without purpose but to train to such an extent that to others it seemed like suffering or willful harm of oneself; but rather this would lead the men to become stronger, faster, and wiser as they went through some of the most rigorous training before they became full soldiers and citizens of Sparta. Much of their training was based upon some premise or situation a warrior would meet on the battlefield or during campaign, so undue suffering was not meant for the Spartans unless it was meant to show their resolve. For example, when a Spartan wished to commit suicide, he had to starve himself as it would show his determination and control as then it wouldn’t be construed as an impulsive reaction instead of a willful action. Much of the Spartan philosophy goes along these lines of determination and self-control; such as when King Cleomenes ordered his men to kill themselves by stabbing but saved one man, who was his younger mate, ordering him to make sure none unduly suffered. This goes to show the extent the Spartans wished not to cause their men or each other undue suffering as it did no good for anyone. Now keeping in mind that the Spartans did not fear death and countless times sacrificed themselves for Sparta and the western world, such as the 300 Spartans’ last stand at Thermopilae, but in those cases it was needed. When King Cleomenes killed himself along with his men, Cleomenes saw there was no way for him to be free if his captors caught him, and he saw no escape; but that is another point for later. In that moment it made no sense to make his men suffer longer than they had to as they did what he asked and fought with him loyally. Today, we must stand by our brothers and not just fight with them but train with them whether that involves camping in harsh conditions or going over hand-to-hand techniques as these will help build some cohesion amongst your brothers but also make each other better for the trials and battles to come.
One last point about the Spartan philosophy that is extremely important is freedom. As the Spartan way of life was meant for that, freedom, or to phrase that better, freedom was what the Spartan way of life reaped; so spoke the Eurypontid king Agesilaus II. As I made the point earlier on the circumstances of King Cleomenes’ death, he along with his men all killed themselves as they did not see freedom in their future, and they could not escape their captors so they would die free men still. The whole point of the Spartan philosophy as well as way of life was meant not just to gain the Spartans freedom but to maintain that freedom in all aspects of life. The Spartans sent the 300 to defend Greece from Persia as they wanted to enslave Sparta and all Greece so it was of the utmost importance that the Spartans stand against the Persians not just philosophically, but physically, with violence. The Spartans’ training from a young age was meant to give them the skills and abilities to be their own men and to give them the tools to be free, not to have to rely on a larger entity for every little thing. To them, such dependence was a sign of weakness to have to rely on, for example, a large federal government for everything spanning from food to housing as much of the U.S. currently does. Today, we must learn those skills to live off the land and to hunt; in fine, to be truly free of the mental shackles many have been brought up with to rely on either a supposed higher power such as the Christian/Abrahamic God to the large federal government and whoever is in charge at that moment as reliance upon either of those will not lead one to the same freedom the Spartans had.
In conclusion, the Spartan philosophy was grounded on determination, self-control, brotherhood, and the concept of freedom. The Spartans did not just exemplify these attributes and qualities but pushed themselves to even greater. Many today can learn these simple points from the Spartans and apply them to their current situation so as to better themselves as men and in the hopes later to be fighters and warriors as, after all, some of the greatest warriors came from this land and held these beliefs close to their heart. Though as time has dragged on and the world has fallen apart more and more we will soon see a time where men need to take charge and retake what was once theirs and become better than what they are. For many, they have already become better and simply are waiting for their chance; but others need to start taking these steps now, or they will never get the chance to, as they will fall before those cowards who have made this world fall apart.