Part 1 - who were they?
It is the 11th Centrury BC. Ancient Greece is divided into several small states, each with their own King, and their own way of doing things. Wars are common between pretty much everyone, but it is a time of discovery and knowledge (although not all of it correct)
Sitting between the banks of the river Evrotas on one side, and mount Taygetus on the other a new Greek culture is emerging. The Spartans have arrived - and they are very different.
To start with the Spartans were useless at recording any aspect of their lives and their culture. The vast majority of what is known about Sparta is from what is documented by other civilisations at the time,and of course by Archaeology. Hollywood blockbusters have been made about some of their achievements and much is written, although like a lot legends they have become somewhat exagerated over time.
Spartans disliked anyone that wasn't a Spartan. They did things their way and didn't care for anyone elses opinion. Secure in the valley that Sparta was built in, they knew it would be difficult for anyone to attack them - in fact their city was never conquered.
Their whole society was massively different to any other civilisation in the ancient world. Based on military values and order, they had what was the first recogisable professional army. Women in Sparta were afforded unparrallelled freedom. Spartan women were educated,wealthy in their own right and free to do largely as they pleased.There was a servant or peasant class in Sparta. The Helots as they were known were there to serve the Spartans,they did the dirty work and were given virtually no rights. This occasionally caused their Spartan masters problems, and several Helot revolts had to be quashed.
From birth only healthy babies were permitted to survive - those born with defects were left in the wild to die, whilst strong healthy baby boys had a life of military service to look forward to. From the age of seven Spartan boys began full time military training, taken away from their mothers and living in the barracks with their peers. They were taught all aspects of warfare and survival, enduring physical hardships and punishment should they not meet the standard. Training lasted until aged twenty, when the young Spartan men officailly became a member of Sparta (they weren't however afforded the full rights of a Spartan until aged 30). They would stay in reserve service of the army until they either died or turned SIXTY. Forced to marry at aged 30 (to produce the future soldiers of Sparta), the men were still required to live with their fellow soldiers and would make visits to their wives ocassionaly. Unlike the macho Hollywood accounts of Sparta, it is commonly believed that homosexuality was encouraged, or even required amongst the Spartan soldiers. Bearing in mind that they lived together in the same group of 15 or so since the age of seven to the age of 30, the boys knew only male company for almost half their entire lives it's not entirely surprising. Their reliance on eachother in battle and in life was the strength of their formidable army.
The next part of the Spartan story will focus on the mighty Spartan army, its battles, it's tactics and some of the myths surrounding them.