The Greek state Sparta, as it existed in the last 5 centuries B.C., was founded on a set of ideas formed by Lykurgos. After fleeing Sparta in 776 B.C., Lykurgos first went to Crete and then to Asia and Egypt and later to Libya, Spain and India. In every country that he visited, he studied their civilization, history and constitutions. With this wealth of knowledge Lykurgos set out in preparing a constitution of his own, which he hoped to apply it to make his people, who claimed to be descendants of Hercules, as great as their ancestry proclaimed them to be.
To demonstrate the core values of the constitution and to persuade the Spartans to accept his laws, which demanded many sacrifices, he bred two small puppies. One bred indoors with a variety of foods and the other he trained for hunting. He then gathered the people and showed them that the untrained pampered dog was utterly useless.
The Spartans began to embrace this ideology of discipline, simplicity, and self-denial as the state expanded to meet the demand posed by their quickly growing population. Over the next 200 years, wars and revolts among the surrounding lands overwhelmed Sparta's stability, nearly crushing the Greek city state on multiple occasions.
This only reinvigorated the Spartans desire to follow Lykurgos's model. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty. The combination of this ideology, the education of Spartan males, and the disciplined maintenance of a standing army gave the Spartans the stability that had been threatened so dramatically in the previous revolts.
A Spartans life was marked with a lack of luxuries, expensive foods, and leisure time. While the Athenians and many others thought the Spartans were insane, the life of the Spartans seemed to hark back to a more basic way of life. Civilization is often seen as bringing disorder, weakness, and a decline in moral values. The Spartan, however, could point to Spartan society and argue that moral values and human courage and strength was as great as ever. Spartan society, then, exercised a profound pull on the surrounding city-states who admired the simplicity, discipline, and order of Spartan life. This established Sparta as the preeminent leader of Greece.
Even above their preeminence as a state in Greece, was their military power, which was highly regarded, as well as feared, the world over. Advanced use of armor and weapons combined with an unheard of emphasis on fighting tactics warranted this reputation. Their military supremacy was not known because of the Spartan soldier as an idividual, but because of their ability to fight together as a single unit, defending and supporting their comrade who fights with them on all sides. Each Spartan has a heightened awareness of his role in the unit, allowing for the full realization of the units potential.
But the power at the heart of Sparta's army is their mental mindset as they step into battle. A Spartan soldier finds joy and excitement in the thought of meeting one's match on the battle field. This provides the opportunity to achieve the greatest glory in life, to lie there life down for what they believe. A belief in freedom from oppression, and specifically in 480 B.C., oppression by a tyrant who fancied himself a god.
...Which will be covered in my next post in the series, "The Battle: Thermopylae"