Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Food and clothing

See text: pp.119-122


Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus

“Each person’s lot was sufficient to provide a rent of 70 medimni of barley for a man, and 12 for his wife, along with proportionate quantities of fresh produce. He thought that just this amount of food would suffice for their proper fitness and health, and they would need nothing more.” (Life of Lycurgus, 8)

“The intention was that they should assemble together and eat the same specified meat-sauces and cereals. This prevented them from spending time at home, lying at table on expensive couches, being waited upon by confectioners and chefs, fattened up in the dark like gluttonous animals, and ruining themselves physically as well as morally...

... it was an even greater (achievement) to have made wealth undesirable and to have produced ‘non-wealth’ by meals taken in common and by the frugality of the diet. When the rich man would go to the same meal as the poor one, he could have no use nor pleasure from lavish table settings, let alone view them or display them... It was not even possible for the rich to dine at home first and then to proceed to their messes on a full stomach. Rather, the rest were on the look out for whoever would not drink and eat along with them, and they would abuse him for having no self-discipline and for being too delicate to consume the common fare...

... Each member of the mess would contribute every month a medimnus of barley-meal, eight choes of wine, five minas of cheese, five half-minas of figs, and in addition just a small sum of money for fish or meat. Besides, anyone who had made an offering of first-fruits or had been hunting sent a share to the mess...

... The food they think most highly of is the black broth. Thus the older men do not even ask for a helping of meat but leave it to the young ones, while they have broth poured out for themselves and make a meal of it. There is a story that one of the kings of Pontus even bought a Laconian cook for the sake of the broth, but after tasting it was not pleased. At this the cook declared: ‘This is broth to be savoured, O king, by those who have bathed in the Eurotas.’

After moderate drinking they depart without a torch. Neither for this journey nor for any other are they allowed to walk with a light, so that they should grow used to the darkness and to travelling cheerfully and fearlessly by night. This, then, is how the messes are organized.” (Life of Lycurgus, 10-12)


Spartiate clothing

Ephraim David (University of Haifa): the ‘language of dress’ at Sparta, a non-verbal form of communication that carried propaganda messages. There was a ‘kind of uniform which consists not only in masking socio-economic differences of wealth and power, but also in joining a social group together around a common consciousness.’: the citizens dressed the same and differently from non-citizens.

Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 16: “From the age of twelve they (boys) never wore a tunic, and were given only one cloak a year.”

Plutarch, Sayings of Spartans
Argesilaus: “To the man who was amazed at how modest his clothes and his meals were, and those of other Spartans as well, he said: ‘Freedom is what we reap from this way of life, my friend.’”

  • Note also the references to clothing from Thucydides and Aristotle.
  • What were the phoinikis, the chiton, and the himation? When were they worn?
  • How did Spartan men wear their hair?
  • Describe the ‘uniform of exclusion’.
  • Describe and explain the ‘bestial uniform’ of the helots.
  • What was a peplos? When was it worn?
  • Name each of the following types of clothing: