Sparta was a city state in Greece that rose to power in the 10th century B.C. In 650 B.C. it became the leading military power in Greece, which was reflected in their victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian War.
Their military prowess came from an exceedingly tough discipline in their training of young boys. At the age of seven, boys were taken from their homes to live in the military camps and to be trained as soldiers for thirteen years. A severe lack of food, clothing and comforts taught them to be tough, strong and able to endure hardships. At age of twenty, the men were allowed to marry, but could not live at home until age thirty.
A common saying among mothers who sent their sons to battle was: “Come home with your shield, or on it.” In other words: come home victorious or dead. This was considered honorable, defeat was not.
Spartan government required two Kings that ruled side by side. There was also a Council of Elders, which consisted of thirty men, twenty-eight of which were over age sixty, the last two being the Kings. Five Ephors and the Assembly of Citizens, made up of every man over age of thirty, made up the rest of the governmental system.
The women were also very influential in politics. They were treated as equals by their husbands and had control over at least half of their husband’s property. As young girls they got the same education as the boys and were allowed to exercise and run in races. This equality was allowed so that the girls would be able to bear strong sons later on, which was the main focus in Spartan life.
The most famous military feat in ancient Sparta was led by the King Leonidas I, who reigned from 489 – 480 B.C. This occurred when about 7000 Spartans held off the massive 100,000 – 150,000 men Persian army for two days in a narrow pass, in what is called the Battle of Thermopylae. It was during this battle that their heroic leader, Leonidas, was killed right before the enduring Spartans were finally defeated.