By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 7, 2011Chapter 12 How the Spartans Became the Spartans
All warrior cultures start with a great man.
In ancient Sparta, that man was Lycurgus. He took the city from a normal society and made it into a warrior culture.
So that no individual would have grounds to feel superior to another, Lycurgus divided the country into 9000 equal plots of land. To each family he gave one plot. Further, he decreed that the men no longer be called “citizens,” but “peers” or “equals.”Lycurgus outlawed all occupations except warrior. He decreed that no name could be inscribed on a tombstone except that of a woman who died in childbirth or a man killed on the battlefield. A Spartan entered the army at eighteen and remained in service till he was sixty; he regarded all other occupations as unfitting for a man.
So that no man might compete with another or put on airs over wealth, Lycurgus outlawed money. A coin sufficient to purchase a loaf of bread was made of iron, the size of a man’s head and weighing over thirty pounds. So ridiculous was such coinage that men no longer coveted wealth but pursued virtue instead.
Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. His Athenian host threw a banquet in his honor. Wishing to show off for his guest, the Athenian indicated several illustrious personages around the table. “That man there is the greatest sculptor in Greece,” he declared, “and that gentleman yonder is its finest architect.” The Spartan indicated a servant from his own entourage. “Yes,” he said, “and that man there makes a very tasty bowl of soup.”The Athenians, of course, were outstanding warriors in their own right. The great playwright Aeschylus, composing his own epitaph, mentioned nothing of his ninety plays or of any other civilian accomplishment.
Here lies Aeschylus the Athenian. Of his courage at the battle of Marathon, the long- haired Persian could speak much.Lycurgus decreed that no man under thirty could eat dinner at home with his family. Instead, he instituted “common messes” of fourteen or fifteen men who were part of the same platoon or military unit. Above the threshold of each mess was a sign that said:
Out this door, nothing.The point of the common mess was to bind the men together as friends. “Even horses and dogs who are fed together,” observed Xenophon, “form bonds and become attached to one another.”
The payoff came, of course, on the battlefield.