Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

- Syllabus Content - Map - Past Questions -

Educational system: agoge

See text: pp.48-51

Past HSC question - 2009:
(a) What was the agoge? (3 marks)

Past HSC question - 2006:
(c) Describe the role of the agoge in the education of Spartan boys. (5 marks)

Examiners' comment:
(c) Most responses described the agoge but many failed to describe its role in the education of Spartan boys. Many responses were far too long, giving lengthy narratives rather than addressing the question asked. Candidates needed to emphasise the purpose of the agoge.

Source for agoge: Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 16-22


What was the role of the agoge?
  • Education, socialisation and learning of values for Spartan boys
  • Learnt to serve society, not develop talents
  • Prepared men as soldier-citizens
  • Taught courage, endurance, obedience, loyalty

  • Babies inspected after birth at Lesche. Allowed to survive if appeared healthy. Exposed to the elements near Mt Taygetos if sickly.
  • Stayed at home with mother and nurse until age of seven.
  • Education began at seven. Family ties broken.
  • Boys grouped into agelai supervised by a proteirai, twenty-year-old youth. Agelai divided into bouai (packs of six) led by bouagos (cattle leader).
  • Simonides: Sparta was the “tamer of men”.
  • Education lasted 13 years, through three stages
  • “Master of the boys” – paidonomos

  • Boys took an older male lover from the age of twelve. The boy would try to impress the older man by excelling in physical activities. The older man would model the values of a Spartan citizen for the boy.

  • 7-12: wore chiton (tunic); short hair; no luxuries or baths
  • 12-16: wore himation (cloak); strict rules of behaviour (Xenophon)
  • 16-20 eiren
  • adult: grew hair long; graduated from agoge in a ritual ball game

  • Narrow – mathematics, geometry, rhetoric, philosophy ignored
  • Literacy only to ‘serve their needs’ (Plutarch)
  • Music developed manliness and courage; singing, chanting poetry, playing flute and lyre

Physical education
  • Dancing – martial and athletic; running; boxing and wrestling; discus; javelin

Social education
  • Main aim of education; learnt Spartan values. Plutarch: “ ... calculated to make them obey commands well, endure hardships and be victorious in battle.” Thucydides: produce “state-induced courage”. Pausanius: description of fighting
  • Encourage to steal, but flogged if caught.

Some Extra Information...<3 Dez
Educational System: Agoge
· through education, the young boys of Sparta were socialized and inculcated with the values of their society – this social aspect of education dominated all else
· not about developing an individual’s interests or talents, but was concerned only with serving society’s needs
· needed to prepare men to serve as citizen-soldiers and women to bring forth strong and healthy babies
· agoge = bringing up, training or leading
· overall aim: to train boys in courage and endurance and to instill obedience and loyalty
· only those children that were healthy and hardy looking were allowed to survive – those that appeared sick or had an immediately apparent physical deformity were exposed to the sun and elements at a chasm below Mt Tatgetos and allowed to die
· male children, approved as fit, were then presented to the goddess Artemis and were socialised at home until the age of 7 – during these years they were reared by their mothers and nurses, and possibly helot women
· when a male child reached the age of 7 he was brought under the control of the Spartan state through the agoge – ties to the family were weakened and broken and replaced by a life focused on the state (authority figures took the place of figures)
· young Spartans were organized into agelai (units) which were supervised by 20-year old youths called proteirai
· the agele unit was subdivided into bouai (‘packs’ of 6) and each one was led by the most capable boy as its bouagos or ‘cattle leader’
· Plutarch quotes: “It broke in boys, like horses are broken in while colts”
· Shouldn’t think of an agoge like a school – it was not confined to certain hours or buildings
· Spartan education was all-encompassing
· Included:
§ Formal lessons
§ Sport
§ Musical performances
§ Choral singing
§ Hunting
§ Participation in festivals and social occasions
· Whole process lasted 13 years and was divided into 3 stages by age groups through which the boys progressed
· Overall supervision was under the paidonomos or master of the boys whose methods for enforcing regulations appear to have been harsh, for his assistants were men with whips

Pederasty and the adolescents in the agoge
· Educational system encouraged pederasty, homosexual relations between a man and an underage boy
· From the age of 12 the adolescent Spartan male took an older male lover, erastis, chosen from the young men aged 20-30 years
· This kind of relationship between the young eronomoi (‘loved ones’) and their older erastes (‘lovers’) was endorsed by reference to Lykourgos’ approval
· Intense emotional relationships between an adolescent and his lover were a part of growing up in Sparta – they were accepted and approved by society
· The adolescent would try to win and maintain the attention of his lover by excelling at sport, or displays of his courage and endurance during the testing trials that formed part of the Spartan training system
· The older man, who was the lover, would seek to be a role model of the perfect Spartan – he would show an interest and pride in the virtues of his beloved and associate publicly with him on social occasions, just like a member of his family

Academic education
· Usually involved the teaching of a variety of different subjects in a circle of learning that would produce a well-rounded education
· Spartan education was narrow ad many children, in comparison to other Greek children, could not read or write – they considered that these things were not valued – however this is an exaggeration as there are many indications of literacy
· Plutarch says that of reading and writing, Spartans “learned only enough to serve their needs”
· Didn’t include:
§ Mathematics and geometry
§ Rhetorical training – produced speeches of quality
§ Philosophy – posed questions about mankind and the universe
· However music, both vocal and instrumental (not musical theory as it was a branch of mathematics) was an important part of Spartan education – believed it to be character-forming as it had a good affect on the soul and good music made a man good
· The chanting of poetry and the singing of choruses required considerable training and practice, such as poems by Tyrtaios

Physical Education
· Included:
§ Dancing – the Pyrrhic dance was extremely athletic and included footwork useful to a fighter
§ Running – at the dromos (racetrack)
§ Boxing and wrestling
§ Throwing discus
§ Javelin – military application
§ Hunting (on occasion) – develop stamina and self-reliance
· Plutarch states that on the completion of the agoge a young man of 20 would be enrolled in a team of sphaireis (ball players) – sign of adulthood

Social Education
· Main concern: teaching of social values
· Plutarch commented that all of their education “was calculated to make them obey commands well, endure hardships and be victorious in battle”
· They were schooled in suffering and encouraged to be aggressive
· Thucydides spoke of the Spartan system as producing ‘state-induced courage’
· There was a struggle for dominance within and between groups
· Many of the activities were designed as an agon (contest) which would develop character as much as promote physical fitness
· They were given very little to eat, making them desperate for food and encourage to steal food – if they were caught, they were flogged, but not for the act of stealing, but for getting caught = promoted cunning and daring, and encouraged them to fend for themselves