What comes to your mind when you think of Spartans? War, perhaps? Battle? Terrible movies? Epic leaders? Short sentences?
Few would deny that Spartans exude toughness and badassery, but one must keep in mind that these people had to... erm... reproduce at some point. This means that Spartan ladies and gents had to engage in at least some rudimentary form of guy-girl relations.
It gives me immense pleasure to report that Spartan courtship is not only beyond rudimentary, but exciting, surprisingly feminist-friendly, and utterly fascinating.
What follows is a basic overview of Spartan courtship and marriage. Soon you will agree that, when it comes to romance, these war-loving citizens do not disappoint.
Basic Background on a Spartan Soldier's Life
Before we can explore the delicious details of Spartan dating protocol, one must have a basic understanding of a Spartan soldier's life.
Until age seven, Spartan boys and girls played and trained together. Compulsory training included racing, riding, swimming, and various sports, and was apparently enjoyed in the nude (just imagine their tasteful absence of tan lines!).
From ages seven to 21, Spartan boys left home to train in an agoge (essentially, a compulsory military school) and live with a syssition (pronounced sis-sis-tee-on, often defined as a "dining club" or a Spartan soldier's cohort) with fellow Spartan younglings (not an ancient Greek term). Girls continued to live at home, but were still expected to live rigorous, disciplined lives (supposedly directed by their rigorous, disciplined, and rather empowered mothers).
From ages 21 to 30, young Spartan men transitioned from the agoge to formal military barracks. At age 30, Spartan soldiers who survived training and war were given a kleros (land alotted to all Spartan soldiers who had survived thus far without leaving military training) and allowed to live on it. Though allowed to live at home, Spartan soliders over 30 were still expected to train and eat with their peers.
Clearly Spartan men spent very little time hanging out at home. You might be wondering where quality time with the gals factored into all of this, right? Don't worry. They had a solution, and I think it's quite elegant.
While Spartan soliders were required to live in military barracks throughout their twenties, they weren't discouraged from marrying or even having children! It was considered absolutely fine for a twenty-something Spartan man to have a wife and kids- just so long as it didn't keep them from being badass killing machines.
Ensuring such conditions was easy given Spartan courtship guidelines:
- Spartan 20-something husbands could not live at home with their wives
- Spartan couples in their 20s were only allowed to meet in secret
Don't believe me? That's fine. But here's what Plutarch himself says in his Life of Lycurgus:
"The Spartan husband took care to visit his wife in secret, ashamed and anxious, in case he was seen by someone in his house. His wife came up with all sorts of intrigues and schemes about how they could meet up with each other and no one would see them."
You may be asking yourself, "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE??"
Ninja dating is going on, my friend. That's right, Spartans dated in secret. Like ninja. Because they are magnificent.
What do you think?
If you can't fathom how Spartan courtship could get any better, consider the Spartan marriage ritual:
- Girl shaves head
- Girl dons men's clothing
- Girl waits alone in the dark
- Boy sneaks out after curfew
- Couple GETS IT AWN!
There were no dowries, so marriage resembled elopement more than any traditional ceremony. Now, ladies. Before you get in a huff about the whole head-shaving-and-cross-dressing-thing, remember that Spartan gals did all of this by choice. Both parties had to put a lot of effort in all this sneakiness and secrecy. Girls were not arbitrarily foisted off on random men. Considering how marriage worked in other Greek city states during this time period, I'd argue that this arrangement is quite progressive.
The Married Life of a Spartan Twenty Something
After marrying, a young Spartan couple was expected to continue to see each other in secret.
Romantic Spartan assignations were required to be:
- Only at night
- Only in secret
- Only on nights when there is no moon
Theoretically speaking, a Spartan father might not spend quality time with his children by the light of day until they were ten years old- though if they were boys, they would have left for the agoge by then!
So far as the Spartans were concerned, this was a small sacrifice to make. This system had several theoretical benefits. Some suggest the marriage ritual was designed to ward off the evil eye, but the subsequent sneaking around had much more to it than simple superstition.
The secrecy required that they sharpen their skills as cunning warriors. Spartan soldiers were also encouraged to steal on military training exercises. If they were caught, they would be whipped. Not for stealing, mind you, but for being caught! Stealth was considered very important.
What's more, it was thought that the less one had sex, the the more likely one would be to bear strong children, and that was the entire point of marrying in the first place! It should also be noted that Spartan soldiers did not drink very much, as there was a general concern that being tipsy would contribute to impotency (and generally make one sluggish, which is a big no-no in Spartan life).
One might also argue that these sorts of limits would guarantee that the couple was very passionate and not lazy and overindulgent in the way they went about their courtship. So hey- Spartan love was true love! Spartan love was ardent love! Spartans were serious about this stuff!
Life After Age 30
We've established that it was considered respectable to be married in one's 20s, but one should also keep in mind that, by age 30, Spartan men were required to marry. The benefit of getting started early was that a man would receive his kleros with kids already growing up! It makes for a nice head start.
That said, Spartan men weren't exactly boring homebodies. Because Spartan soldiers were expected to spend so much time with their syssitia (every weekend, plus dinner every day), Spartan women were really the heads of family households. Spartan women had rights not only to control their own property, but those of male relatives who were away on military service. It was at one point estimated that Spartan women owned over a third of the land in Sparta!
We've established that Spartan couples were splendidly secretive, extremely disciplined, and surprisingly feminist-friendly (what with women having so much influence in running the household and proactively choosing their hubbies), but did you know that Spartans were also surprisingly creative when it came to fidelity?
In ancient Sparta, a big emphasis was put on bearing strong children. If a woman was considered to be particularly fertile or good at bearing strong children, she might take on additional sexual partners. In fact, bearing children of other men was encouraged. What was important was that strong spartan soldiers, or women who would bear lots of strong soldiers, were produced.
So in Sparta one might also find a rare instance of perfectly respectable and happily married women being encouraged to sleep around!
That's not to say that Spartan women had it easy. Spartan women were intense. Mothers were only allowed to keep their children if they were healthy. Babies not deemed fit (e.g. unhealthy or deformed) would be left out on a hillside to die. And of course boys left home at the age of seven to go through extremely intense military training.
- Sparta Reconsidered - Spartan and Athenian Marriage
Historic information about Athenian and Spartan views and practices of marriage.
Spartan Dating: Yay or Nay?
Whether you find it alluring or not, guy-gal relations in Sparta, what with their:
- Secretive, moonless-night assignations,
- Cross-dressing marriage ceremonies,
- Odd young couple arrangements,
- Lack of boring domestic bliss,
- Emphasis on producing strong citizens- regardless of monogamy, and
- Refreshing female empowerment- and impressive toughness from both genders
were highly interesting.
What do you think of it all? Do you see value in secret courtship and sneaky weddings? Do you like the idea of being married but working (and for the most part, living) separately? Do you like the idea of boys being shipped off at age seven and enduring rigorous military training? Do our modern dating and marriage norms make us soft and pathetic? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Yves on February 17, 2018:
Well, that's one way to get the husband out of the house. ;)
I'd have to say that becoming a baby producing machine wouldn't work for me. In any event, this article is fabulous! It really keeps the reader's attention from beginning to end. Learning about ancient cultures is fascinating when the article is well written, and you have certainly done that here.
Rakshith MG from Greetings From India! on May 25, 2013:
LOVE THE MOVIE REFERENCE!!(THIS IS SPARTA!)Great hub as always simone!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 13, 2012:
I voted that I would like to keep my hair. Haha! That...and a few other things come to mind. Guess I would not have been a good wife for a Spartan soldier. Good thing that I do not have to concern myself with that. :) Voted up and certainly interesting.
Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on June 11, 2012:
Fascinating. A lot of matrilineal societies in the world are built around men who are fishermen or soldiers, and thus rarely home.
shea duane from new jersey on May 13, 2012:
Interesting hub. You are so funny.
Sooner28 on May 13, 2012:
This was great. A ninja relationship actually sounds fun and exciting!
Just think how challenging it would be to not get caught with everyone having a phone. I thought I saw you outside the movies last night? No...I was at home reading a book, like I told you when I hung up the phone!
Natasha from Hawaii on May 13, 2012:
This is really cool and interesting. I have a history degree, but had no idea about these customs. Thanks!
kelleyward on May 13, 2012:
Very interesting Simone! I learned so much about dating and the Spartan Soldier's life I will have to re-read just to let it all sink in. Fab job! Voted up and shared! Take care, Kelley
Mike Pugh from New York City on May 12, 2012:
I think Spartan ideals of marriage life was much more fun, then many of our modern traditional marriages for happy couples.
The Sparta ways seemed to appeal not only to the man on the move, but also the woman who couldn't or didn't want to wait for his return all the time back at home to get her pleasure, and or to have children while he was gone for who knows how long. (Nice research)
Great hub here the whole time I'm wondering "Is Simone from a differing time period, like has she warped back in time to the ancient Greek times when spartan men went around kicking on another's butt to prove themselves, LOL"
This was a cool hub and somewhat funny as well, i like your video, and you have so much style and class in presenting is all, awesome job! Voted out of here in every way I can. You go Girl!!!!!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on May 11, 2012:
I'm jealous of the class you're taking, CarltheCritic1291! That Romani tradition is fascinating!!! I remember seeing a reference to it in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, so it's interesting to know that some semblance of the tradition continues on to modern times.
Thanks so much for the video feedback, too! Gah- there's so much to learn!
Carl on May 10, 2012:
It's your favorite film/video critic... Somewhere... Oh well I guess I have to do.
First off, about your question. I actually am taking a class on cultural anthropology, and was literally just taking about sex, sexuality, gender, and marriage. The Spartan way of courtship might sound strange to people of the outside, but there are even stranger rituals of courtship that happen even to this day. The strangest I know of yet is what is known as "kidnapping the bride". The Romani, also known as Gypsies, for centuries have had this tradition, that if you manage to forcefully kidnap a girl and keep her by your side for 2-3 days, and then she officially becomes your wife. The thing is when looking at this from an Etic perspective (outside looking in), anyone's cultural rituals can be seen as weird, however if we were observing this from an Emic persective (within the culture) it's more acceptable.
Let's see here, this is by far the best video you have ever produce for Hubpages. Great framing, less visual artifacts, you bring lots of energy/charisma in this video making the subject is engaging (and not just the parts about sex either, the entire subject of spartan dating rituals was presented), very rich colors, and the jumpy editing was perfectly timed.
Keep up the great work, hope to see more of your awesome videos. Voted Up, and Everything Else :)
John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 08, 2012:
Great video and hub Simone!...
"Short Sentences?" Yes, the laconic, which is a form of aphorism that originated in Sparta.
Sparta was also pivotal in the eventual demise of the Persian Empire.
Have a nice evening!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on May 04, 2012:
Yes kittythedreamer!! FOR SPARTA!!!
Thanks millersmith3 ;)
millersmith3 from USA on May 02, 2012:
Kitty Fields from Summerland on May 02, 2012:
I like it. I think we should be live & love like the Spartans for sure. FOR SPARTA!
Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on May 02, 2012:
BAHAHAHAAA. Yeah. Dem Spartan ladies.
You really should give the video thing a go, Wesman Todd Shaw. And we'll work on that social sharing button! We're still refining all this redesign stuff.
Thanks Nils Visser! History should be anything but boring. If I can find more historical dating dirt, you KNOW I'll share it!!
Aren't they GREAT, Outbound Dan??? And seriously- the Spartan way of lurve was SO COST EFFECTIVE and LOGICAL!!! I'm all for bringing it back.
Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on May 02, 2012:
Ahh, the intricacies of mating habits amongst warrior societies does have its perks after all. Just imagine all the money I could have saved on a limo, flowers, a DJ - just on the wedding alone. Plus, I'd have no choice but to hang out with my buds on the weekend.
Another great video!
Nils Visser from Brighton UK on May 01, 2012:
When writing about history finding an interesting approach or point of view is essential to avoid the "...and then...and then...and then...and then..." narrative which is quite dull. You've succeeded admirably, this was fantastic reading. I hope we can expect more historical dating articles?
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on May 01, 2012:
I'm told that Spartan Women ran around all nekky...and ..well, post pics Simone!!!!!!!!! You've got my email address!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In all seriousness...and I was being serious, you are very cute, well spoken, and obviously really smart.
I ...so want to do this video stuff...gotta make some cash to do so.
I wish I had the book I had about Sparta...I swear, I owned the single most dry and pathetically boring - hideously arrogant, and obscenely pedantic book about ancient Sparta in the lexicon of the English language.
....next time I saw the dude I'd borrowed it from - I threw it at him.
Hey, there is some sort of glitch going on with the share thingos on the left...well, I guess the "like" went to my wall, but the deal eee oh where you click the thingo to make it "official" ...that was sorta hidden off behind something or another else.
I'm a master of ...*cough* describing software issues, obviously.