Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why Would Anyone Want to Win a Whipping Contest? - An Excerpt from "A Boy of the Agoge"

 One feature of the agoge that has received inordinate attention since at least Roman times was the fact that Spartan boys were expected to endure floggings. In fact, by Roman times one of Sparta's most sacred festivals had degenerated into a whipping contest. But why would anyone want to win a whipping contest? There were almost certainly quite a few Spartan youth who asked themselves that very question: Why would anyone want to win a whipping contest?

An Excerpt from "A Boy of the Agoge"

Sixteen was the age at which the boys of the agoge underwent another ritual, the floggings at the Feast of Artemis Orthia.  This ancient sanctuary on the banks of the Eurotas had, according to legend, once been the site of an uneven battle between the early Dorians and the native peoples.  The sons of Herakles were worshiping at the shrine and had brought offerings to the goddess when they were attacked by the barbarians.  Unarmed as they were, they had only been able to defend themselves with the reeds that they tore up from the riverbank. Armed with these canes alone, they had beaten off the attack.

To commemorate this distant victory, it had become tradition for a ritualized battle to take place between the 16-year-olds and the 17-year-olds. The 17-year-olds represented Sparta's ancestors by "defending" the temple with canes against an assault by the 16-year-olds. The assault of the 16-year-olds had been transformed at some unknown date in the past into an act of theft, symbolizing the sacrilege of the ancient attackers. The matrons of Sparta made hundreds of small, round cheeses that they laid on the altar of Artemis as an offering. The 16-year-olds, representing the impious barbarians, tried to steal as many of these cheeses from the goddess as possible in the face of the defenders.

The 16-year-olds were allowed no weapons and no armor. Naked, they had to run a gauntlet of 17-year-olds armed with the vicious canes used for all Spartan floggings. The youths were safe from blows only while inside the temple or outside the perimeter at the tables where they delivered their cheeses. The eirenes kept count of how many cheeses each member of their particular unit retrieved from the temple, and the honor of the day went to the 16-year-old who managed to bring out the largest number of cheeses. The honor was considered great, and for the rest of his life the winner was referred to as a Victor of Artemis Orthia. Between Olympiads, the Spartans kept track of the years by the names of the victors at Artemis Orthia.

Dorieus, of course, had been the victor in his class eleven years ago. He was inordinately proud of the fact, and frequently referred to it when trying to drum up support for his latest adventure: a colony on Sicily. Leonidas knew that many people would expect him or Brotus to follow their brother's example, so it did not surprise him when, on the eve of the festival, Brotus sought Leonidas out.

The twins' paths crossed regularly. They were on the drill fields at the same time, and often worked out in the palaestra or visited the baths simultaneously. They sang together in chorus. They even competed against one another in some sports, particularly in ball games or broad-jumping, discus, and archery. For the most part they treated each other as they would any other member of the age-cohort. Only rarely did they talk as brothers -- usually when there was news about Dorieus or Cleomenes.

Now, on the eve of Artemis Orthia, Brotus turned up at Leonidas' barracks and insisted the he come outside. Once they were alone in the dark alley, Brotus announced, "Leo, I intend to win the honors tomorrow."

"Fine," Leonidas agreed readily. Prokles, Alkander, and he had long ago agreed that three to four cheeses -- which meant running the gauntlet in and out a corresponding number of times -- was enough to satisfy honor. Prokles felt that anyone who would want to get himself "beaten bloody" for the sake of being able to boast about such a ridiculous achievement for the rest of his life was "an idiot." Prokles claimed that his grandfather said the rest of the Greek world laughed at Spartan youth for being so "stupid." Throughout the rest of the world, the whole ritual was seen as an example of the "blind obedience" of Spartan youths.  Foreigners snickered at the stupidity of youths willing to endure such a ridiculous amount of abuse just for the entertainment of the whole city, and they made even more unkind comments about what sort of city would find amusement in watching their sons get thrashed by canes -- although the number of foreigners who came to watch the ritual was increasing every year.

Leonidas had to admit to himself that he had rather enjoyed watching the spectacle in other years, and he presumed he'd find it entertaining in the future. It wasn't really about watching boys get beaten -- it was a fast-paced, exciting, rough-and-tumble contest where the winner was always one of the underdogs -- one of the naked boys taking the punishment. But Prokles had been so adamant about how stupid the whole thing was that Leonidas had not dared voice his own opinion. In Prokles words, "Oxen are more intelligent than to want to win a whipping contest!"

The phrase ran in his ears as Brotus made his announcement, and Leonidas decided that Prokles was right after all. Brotus was a bonehead.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Removing the Roman Mask

In my last entry, I explained that with the sole exception of Xenophon, all surviving ancient sources describing the Spartan educational system or agoge depict the Roman -- not the Spartan -- institution.  This Roman-age school used Archaic nomenclature and paraded itself as "authentic" archaic Spartan tradition, but it was actually the creation of a society which no longer had a unique constitution or culture.  Furthermore, to the extent that it was based on something older, it was the reconstruction of an institution created (consciously) by an Athenian stoic philosopher.

When searching for the Spartan agoge, the educational system that produced Chilon the Wise, Leonidas, Brasidas and the other great Spartan leaders of the Archaic and Classical periods, we must first remove the Roman mask and consider only those features that were recorded in classical sources such as Xenophon, Thucydides, and Herodotus, or can be deduced based on common sense and human nature.

Today, I focus on those familiar features of "the agoge" for which we have no evidence from the Classical and Archaic periods, in short the aspects that were NOT part of the agoge.


The most authoritative source we have for the Spartan (as opposed to the Roman) agoge is a work known as The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, widely attributed to the Athenian general, historian and philosopher Xenophon. Xenophon was born in Athens in the 420s BC, and he was a follower of Socrates -- something that got him banned from Athens as a young man. He served as mercenary in the service of the Persian prince Cyrus and became friends with the Spartan King Agesilias. Eventually, he was given an estate in Lacedaemon and his two sons attended the Spartan agoge. He wrote a number of books including an account of his campaign in Persia (the Anabasis), a book on education for Prince Cyrus, a biography of Agesilias as well as his study of the Spartan constitution, a book on horsemanship and, in his old age his memoirs, titled A History of My Times

In his tract on the Spartan constitution, Xenophon does not provide us a comprehensive picture of the agoge, but what he does say is the closest thing to facts that we have.  Furthermore, if he says something that is at odds with reports by ANY other source, particularly later sources, then we can assume that Xenophon is describing the Spartan agoge and the other sources are describing the Roman agoge. In short, Xenophon is our most important "litmus" test for any feature of the agoge.

Xenophon is extremely explicit on a three points that continue to be widely misrepresented in the popular -- and sadly even many academic -- portrayals of the agoge.

First, Xenophon states categorically that institutionalized pederasty was prohibited in the agoge. Xenophon writes: "It strikes me that a word should also be said about men's love for boys, since this too has some connection with their education. Now what happens elsewhere in Greece may be be illustrated from Boeotia, where man and boy form a union and live together, or Elis where beautiful youths are won by favours;...[Lycurgus on contrast] laid it down that at Sparta lovers should refrain from molesting boys just as parents avoid having intercourse with their children or brothers with their sisters. It does not surprise me, however, that some people do not believe this, since in many cities the laws do not oppose lusting after boys."(1)

Xenophon could hardly have been more explicit, and the evidence of pederasty in  Hellenistic and Roman Sparta does nothing to weaken or undermine his statement. The fact that homosexual relationships became common in Sparta after it had lost its constitution, independence and unique way of life, only demonstrates the degree to which Spartan society had become corrupted. Widespread pederasty in later Sparta is testimony to the fact that Sparta had become like other Greek states. It had lost its unique character -- not least with regard to its previously exceptional and uncompromising attitude to pederasty. (For more on the evidence that Archaic Sparta was characterized by a near complete absence of homosexuality see: 

Second, Xenophon's description of the deprivations of the agoge fall far short of the extremes found in later descriptions. Xenophon notes that Spartan boys had only one himation, but not that they had no other clothes. His point is not that they were naked and freezing most of the time, but rather that they were not spoiled like their Athenian counterparts with new and different garments the year through.  

Regarding diet, Xenophon puts it like this: "[Lycurgus] instructed the Eiren to furnish for the common meal just the right amount for them never to become sluggish through being too full, while also giving them a taste of what it is not to have enough. His view was that the boys under this regime would be better able, when required, to work hard without eating, as well as to make the same rations last longer, when so ordered; they would be satisfied with a plain diet, would adapt better to accepting any type of food, and would be in a healthier condition. He also considered that a diet that produced sim bodies would do more to make them grow tall than one in which the food filled them out."(3) Note, the emphasis is avoiding too much food that leads to "sluggishness" and fat -- not a diet that is deficient in any way!

This leads us to Xenophon's paragraph on theft, the third point, albeit one of the most confusing in his entire essay.  At first he appears to say that Spartan youth was encouraged to steal in order to ward off starvation. Yet this is a clear contradiction of the paragraph before in which he said they received sufficient rations. It is only two thirds of the way through the paragraph that becomes clear he is talking only about a specific period in a youth's education that ends with the ritual of stealing cheeses from the alter of Artemis Orthia. Kennel, drawing on other sources as well, concludes: "on a specific occasion (kairos), it was the custom (nenomisto) for ephebes to steal whatever they could without getting caught...Spartan boys only stole at particular times established by custom."(5)

Kennel goes on to point out that had all the boys from seven to twenty been stealing all the time "either the city would have degenerated into anarchy or the act of stealing would have become a counterfeit, with food set aside especially for the boys to filch."(6)
(For more on this see:

Another common feature of popular depictions of the agoge for which we find no evidence in Xenophon is the notion that the boys grew up cut off from their families in the wild and so more like beasts than children. Xenophon, on the contrary, notes that Lycurgus ensured that the boys were never without someone "in charge" of them. This was done by 1) the creation of a magistrate with complete authority over the boys, 2) by providing the magistrate (head-master) with whip-wielding assistants, 3) by authorizing any citizen to give the boys instructions or punish them, and 4) "to ensure that someone was in control of the boys even when no adult happened to be on the spot, he deputed the smartest of the Eirenes to take command of every squadron." (7)

In short, far from running wild, the boys of the agoge were under constant supervision: first by the eirene (20-year-old) assigned to their unit, next by any adult Spartiate who happened to be present, and third by the agoge authorities themselves, including head-master, his assistants, teachers and coaches and chorus masters, etc. etc. etc.

Likewise, the myth that Spartan children were separated from their families at the age of seven and never had anything to do with them ever again is completely unsustainable based on the available archaic and classical evidence. There is, in fact, no evidence that they lived in barracks before they were roughly fourteen years old, and, even if they did, these were located in the heart of Sparta, where they would have encountered their siblings and parents on an almost daily basis -- and gone home for the frequent religious holidays.

Last but not least, the evidence is overwhelming that Spartans obtained in the public agoge a standard of literacy and numeracy equivalent or better to that enjoyed by citizens of other Greek city-states. The Spartans conducted diplomacy; they sent written instructions and orders to distant commanders; they wrote dispatches; they made countless dedications to the Gods (even as school-children!); they built monuments with inscriptions. Paul Cartledge concludes that: "Between the ages of seven and twelve a Spartan boy 'studied' pretty much the same subjects as his Athenian counterpart: read and writing, music and dancing, and physical exercise."(8)

What we don't know is how they learned these "class-room" skills, but the logical explanation is that they learned them exactly as children have in every other society known to man: by someone teaching them. The very fact that Xenophon says nothing about how they learned to read suggests that the method of learning was so similar to the methods used elsewhere that it was completely unworthy of comment.

(1) Xenophon, 2.4, Richard J.A. Talbert (trans), Plutarch on Sparta. Penguine Classics, 1988, p.170.
(2) Xenophon, 2.2, p. 168
(3) Ibid, p.168-169.
(5) Kennel, Nigel. Gymnasium of Virtue:Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995, p. 122.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Xenophon, 2.3, p. 169.
(8) Cartledge, Paul. Spartan Reflections. Duckworth, 2001, p. 85

Next month I look at what made the Spartan agoge unique. Meanwhile, Spartans and their unique culture are depicted as realistically as possible in all my Spartan novels:


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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

In Search of the Spartan Agoge

It has been argued by leading classical scholars that the importance of the "agoge" -- Sparta's educational system - "in determining the character of the Spartan state cannot be over-estimated." (1)  
Yet the sad truth is we do not have a single authentic Spartan source that describes this vital institution. Everything that we know about the "agoge" comes from foreigners -- many of whom never visited Sparta -- and most of whom wrote 200 to 800 years after the period of Sparta's glory -- the Archaic and Classical Ages.
In a seven-part series starting today, I intend to re-examine the evidence we have about the agoge, to identify the elements common in the popular picture of the agoge for which there is NO evidence, and then reconstruct a plausible theory of what the Spartan agoge might have looked like based on evidence, common sense and an understanding of human nature.


When attempting to understand the Spartan educational system commonly referred to as the "agoge," it is important to understand that this unique word -- about which Professor Cartledge makes a great fuss because it is also used for raising cattle -- is in fact an invention of the 3rd Century BC. It is not used in any earlier source about Sparta -- an alarm signal that ought to warn scholars that the entire "agoge" itself is largely a fiction, an artificial creation of a post-classical Sparta. 

Nigel Kennel is his comprehensive and seminal work The Gymnasium of Virtue notes: "The story of the Spartan education system is far more complex than has hitherto been appreciated. Its single constant was change, as the system adapted to meet different historical situations."(2)

What we think we know is based on a large number of works by foreign writers purporting to describe the Spartan state and its institutions, most of which were written as much as 800 years after Thermopylae and Sparta's days of glory. Only one source, Xenophon, actually wrote in the classical era, lived in Sparta and sent his sons to the agoge. Yet even Xenophon's account, as Kennel notes,  already "has a palpably nostalgic, utopian air about it."(3) By the time he was writing in the 4th century, Sparta was already in decline, and its institutions were no longer what they had been in the Early Classical and Archaic periods.

All other surviving sources were written by authors with no direct experience of Sparta and living at a much later date. The bulk of these were theoretical tracts attempting to compare and contrast systems of government. They were tools for political debate, not records of observed facts. The most famous of the later writers, because his writings are particularly detailed and vivid, is Plutarch, who lived between 46 and 120 AD. Please note: that is roughly 600 years after the death of Leonidas at Thermopylae. In other words, he was as far removed from Classical and Archaic Sparta as we are from the 13th and 14th centuries. Pausanias, another "ancient" source full of colorful details, lived even later, between 110 and 180 AD.

But the situation is made even more complex and deceptive by the fact that these later commentators thought they knew Sparta and its agoge very well. Indeed, they had personally visited and studied in a place called Sparta, a city on the same location of the ancient city of Sparta, yet arguably only marginally related to the Sparta of Leonidas because by this time Sparta had been governed by different laws for generations. Fatefully for us and our understanding of Sparta, they saw a "Spartan agoge" in practice, but it was not the same "agoge" that had operated in the Archaic and Classical periods.

At the very latest, that ancient agoge had ceased to exist by 244 BC, but it had been in decline long before that. Already in the fourth century BC, Sparta's famed military was humiliated, and the loss of Messenia had destroyed the Spartan economy. In short, Sparta had already become moribund, and it is inconceivable that the agoge was not impacted by these changes. 

Certainly, the public system of education had collapsed by the time King Cleomenes III came to power in 235 BC with a powerful "reform agenda" that included "restoration" of the agoge. However, as Kennel puts it,  "under the guise of revival," he invited an Athenian stoic philosopher to develop a system of education for Sparta.(4) This man, Sphaerus, consciously introduced his own ideas of what made a good education into Cleomenes' new school-system. While Sphaerus pretended that his innovations were nothing but a "restoration" of the ancient agoge, in fact his philosophy of education was not based Sparta's past or the intentions of Sparta's archaic lawgivers.

Thus, while the outward dressing or facade was "Archaic and Laconian," the content was Athenian stoicism. This was consistent with Cleomenes other reforms that he styled as a "return to the ways of Lucurgus," while butchering the Lycurgian constitution.  Thus, for example, he blithely abolished both the dual kingship and the ephorate, and radically altered the the nature of the Gerousia by reducing the term of members to a single year. 

Nor did the distortions end with Cleomenes and his Athenian stoic philosopher. Cleomenes agoge was suppressed after just 39 years. Sparta (after a series of poor alliances, rebellions and much intrigue) was eventually defeated by and submitted to the Achaean League, losing its very independence. It was forced in this period to give up its constitution altogether and adopt Achaean laws and customs. That included eliminating the agoge.

Thus the agoge that Plutarch and Pausanias visited and described was yet another "revival."  This agoge had been created under Roman hegemony in or about 146 BC -- or more than 200 years since the Battle of Leuctra had shaken Sparta to its foundations and more than 340 years since Thermopylae. The "agoge" that was now established, however, could not function -- even if it had wanted to -- as the agoge of the classical period because it no longer had a Spartan society, or a Spartan army, to support it. The Spartan culture and laws that had created and fostered the agoge in the age of Chilon and Leonidas had been obliterated. In their place was a Roman provincial city without any unique laws or ethos. The agoge created in this state, Kennel argues, was nothing more that "a sort of tableau vivant of Spartan culture in the midst of a society little different from those of its neighbors."(5)  

The Roman agoge included the infamous spectacle of youth lining up at the altar of Artemis Orthia to be whipped until they collapsed -- or died. Although we have no documented cases of youths actually dying under the lashes, most ancient commentators claimed to have "heard" that youths "sometimes" died. One can see that for a society that thought it was fun watching men kill each other or get devoured by beasts and saw burning humans alive as suitable entertainment for an imperial party, watching youths passively submit to flogging until they collapsed was a huge tourist attraction. The city dignitaries of Sparta apparently did very well in the department of tourist revenues. The connection to ancient Sparta, the Sparta of Leonidas, Chilon and Lycurgus, however, is exactly ZERO -- NOTHING. 

The same is true of almost everything Plutarch and other Roman and Byzantine sources tell us about "the agoge." They are describing an Roman invention, a Roman theater dressed up in Laconian costumes, or, perhaps we should call it, one of Rome's famous and elaborate spectacles. In the next six entries, I will remove the Roman mask in search of the real Spartan agoge.

(1) Chrimes, K.M.T. Ancient Sparta: A Re-Examination of the Evidence. Manchester University Press, 1952, p. 117.
(2) Kennel, Nigel, The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta. University of North Carolina Press, 1995, p. 143.
(3) Ibid, 135. 
(4) Ibid, 147.
(5) Ibid, 116

Meanwhile, Spartans and their unique culture are depicted as realistically as possible in all my Spartan novels:


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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Spartan in Athens

In the excerpts below, Leonidas is in Athens for the first time and finds himself trying to explain Sparta. In the first he is attending a symposium at the home of a wealthy Athenian and is approached by a hetaera.

Leonidas laughed but retorted, “It is a long story. Do your master’s bidding with someone else.” 

Several others at once started clamoring for her to come to them, and Therapne shrugged and turned to smile at them; but Kallixenos said for all to hear, “You are a fool or a coward, Leonidas. You could have enjoyed her first and then told her she was barking up the wrong tree. What true man turns away pleasure like that when it comes crawling to him!” 

“What is the pleasure in being another man’s pawn?” 

“Don’t be so puritanical! What pleasure is more basic or universal than sexual satisfaction?” Kallixenos challenged him. 

“Satisfaction of the loins is animal, while the joys of love cannot be purchased.” 

Kallixenos looked at him, uncomprehending; but Therapne spun around and, clapping her hands slowly, declared: “And the lion has claws! Well said, Leonidas!” She went toward him again, her hips swaying provocatively and her eyes fixed on him. “But tell me, if you scorn the pleasure I offer you, where do you take your pleasure? Have you a mistress to whom you have sworn fidelity? Or is there some boy who has turned your head?” Her lips curled in a sneer and her eyes fell contemptuously on the little boy, who sat naked on his lover’s couch, blushing bright red with natural shame. 

“Mine is the pleasure of the sun breaking over Taygetos after a long, chilly night on watch; the pleasure of diving into the cool waters of the Eurotas after a morning in the dust and sweat of the drill fields; the taste of my helot’s apple tarts; or the sight of my dog, bursting with pride, when she brings me a stolen duck.” 

Kallixenos broke out laughing. “You are going to give your countrymen a reputation for garrulousness with answers like that.” 

Leonidas looked down, embarrassed and ashamed of himself. He had indeed said too much. Therapne reached out and stroked his thigh, smiling at him. “Are you sure?” 

“You can see for yourself you have aroused me, but I still prefer Beggar with her stolen duck,” Leonidas retorted stubbornly, lifting his chin and staring her in the eye. His loins were full to bursting, and he was acutely aware of wasting his youth as a bachelor, but his obstinate streak had taken over. He was full of sexual energy and resented the fact that he had no place to expend it in his current lifestyle, but he hated even more the feeling of being manipulated. These Athenians wanted to see him turned into a mere animal, panting and gasping in his desperation to satisfy the hunger of his loins. 

The Athenians protested that he had no right to insult such a magnificent example of womanhood, while the hetaera stared down at Leonidas with narrowed eyes, now full of hatred because she felt insulted. “I came here to make a friend, but you have made an enemy. Are you so certain that was in your city’s interests?” 

“I am certain that my city cannot be bought any more than I can. If Sparta fights the Persians, it will be in her own interests and not those of Athens or your master.” 

In this second excerpt, Leonidas speaks with a Corinthian youth, whose life he saved from a wild boar a few years earlier. They are together in Athens and becoming friends.

"You see what a favor you did me that day by Acrocorinth?” Lychos pressed Leonidas. The latter shook his head. “I was on my way to becoming just like Kallixenos. Indeed, I admired him and tried to imitate him. I looked up to him so much that I allowed him to be my lover, when I was younger—a sporadic affair that lasted almost until I was sixteen. I was still under his spell when the boar got me.” Leonidas stirred uneasily, and Lychos looked over at him. “Did you never have a lover? A man you let use your body any way he pleased because you thought he was the most wonderful thing in the world?” 

Leonidas sensed it was almost rude to tell the truth, but he was poor at lying. “No. Sparta is different.” 

“So everyone says,” Lychos agreed, staring at the stars. “One day maybe I will be able to visit there.” 

“You are welcome any time. You can stay at my kleros, and although our cooking is not so sophisticated as here, my housekeeper is an excellent cook.” 

“I love simple food. When sailing, we usually catch fish during the day and grill it at night over an open fire. It is better that way than in any sauce or fancy crust.” They both reflected on this for a moment, and then Lychos continued, “You aren’t married yet, are you?” 

That was a sore subject, particularly since Brotus had married for a second time before heading for Olympia. Leonidas shrugged and answered, “No more than you.” 

“My father has arranged it,” Lychos admitted, not looking at Leonidas. “Most Corinthians don’t marry until they are in their thirties, but he is afraid I won’t live that long and is desperate for an heir. The wedding was to take place after the Games, but we postponed it when you accepted our invitation.” 

Leonidas at once felt guilty. “I’m sorry to have disrupted your plans. Why didn’t you say something? We could—” 

“I don’t mind the postponement,” Lychos assured him. “I wouldn’t mind waiting for years. I’d rather not marry at all.” 

Leonidas didn’t understand. “Why?”

Lychos shrugged, clutched his knees, and looked at the stars. “Don’t you like your bride?” Leonidas ventured. 

Lychos shrugged again. “I’ve only met her once. At the betrothal. She seems nice … It must have been terrible for her when she learned her father was giving her to a cripple.” 

Leonidas thought about that a moment, impressed that Lychos could see things from the girl’s perspective, but he still couldn’t understand Lychos’ reluctance to marry. “But?” 

“It seems like a lot of responsibility,” Lychos admitted. “I’ll be responsible not just for her well-being but for her reputation and her happiness.” 

“I don’t think Kallixenos sees marriage that way,” Leonidas remarked dryly, his disapproval obvious. 

“No,” Lychos agreed. “But I don’t want to be like him. Why aren’t you married?” Lychos asked. 

“I’m still on active service and have to live in barracks,” Leonidas answered, hoping Lychos had not heard that many Spartiates married anyway. 

“That sounds horrible,” Lychos admitted candidly. 

Leonidas thought about it. “You’ll laugh, but in a way it makes me enjoy the rest of life more.” 

Lychos laughed, but remarked, “Now, perhaps, you understand about my pain! It is horrible, but it reminds me that I am alive. And without it, if I were dead, I would not be sitting on this warm deck with a cooling breeze and my first real friend beside me.”

... they were comfortably silent together until Lychos remarked, “When Kallixenos was my lover, he often hurt me. He knew he was doing it, yet he did it intentionally—just to see how far he could go, to test just how great my love for him was.” 

“Then Kallixenos is more than an ass, he is a bastard.” 

“He will be a very powerful bastard,” Lychos reflected. “He is the kind of man who would be a tyrant if he could be.” 

“You know that the sexual misuse of a child, male or female, is against our laws, don’t you?” Leonidas asked. 

“And do all Spartans live by your laws?” 

“Of course not. There are as many cruel and selfish men in Sparta as anywhere; but at least they have to do it in secret and fear the scorn of their neighbors and officers if they are discovered. If a child’s parents find out, for example, they can demand terrible punishment.” 

Lychos thought about that and nodded. “You know, it sometimes seems as if you Spartans live your whole lives in fear of your neighbors and officers. You have so little chance to be yourselves, for better or for worse. You must all wear the same clothes. You even have to wear your hair and beards the same way! And you must behave in set ways and follow the same profession.” 

Leonidas thought about this carefully, because there had been times when he had resented all these things; but he asked back, “Is it really all that different in Corinth and Athens? Don’t potters’ sons become potters and tickers’ sons tinkers? And it seems to me the dictates of fashion are as stringent as our traditions.

“On the whole, yes, but there is no compulsion about it. I think what horrifies outsiders about Sparta is that it is all enforced by law and custom and is so, well, brutal.” 

But it was Kallixenos who hurt you,” Leonidas pointed out. “And Spartans aren’t really all the same. In fact, the reasoning behind us all having a kleros of the same size and all dressing in the same manner is that then the real differences—those of character rather than mere wealth or station—are more evident. On the surface, Kallixenos is a well-educated, well-mannered young man. I imagine that his good clothes and good looks deceive many about his true nature.”

“Yes,” Lychos admitted; “but so do your clothes and looks deceive, Leonidas. When we see you, muscular and tanned and standing straight as a spear, we see only a stupid Spartan hoplite, but you are far more subtle and complex than you appear to be.” 

“I suppose we all are,” Leonidas concluded. They left it at that and drifted off to sleep

The Spartans and their unique culture are depicted as realistically as possible in all my Spartan novels:


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