Top 5 Myths About Spartans

Written by Michael Wynands Sure sure… this is Sparta. But what’s Sparta REALLY all about?. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Myths. In today’s instalment we’re counting down the Top 5 Myths About Spartans. Come along as we dive deep beyond their depiction in pop culture to better understand this legendary society. Special thanks to our user MikeMJPMUNCH for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Sure sure… this is Sparta. But what’s Sparta REALLY all about?. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Myths. In today’s instalment we’re counting down the Top 5 Myths About Spartans. Come along as we dive deep beyond their depiction in pop culture to better understand this legendary society.

#5: They Fought with Little Armor


The skimpy outfits worn by the Spartan warriors in “300” certainly added to the eye-catching allure of this highly stylized film. The thing is, brave, skilled, and ripped though they may have been, Spartans still had the common sense to protect themselves. In reality, they wore armor similar to their fellow Greeks - a bronze cuirass, shin coverings, and a helmet. What set them apart however, was the distinct red tunic and cape they paired with it. The whole “nearly-naked Spartan” thing was a stylistic choice by comic book artist Frank Miller, who wanted his warriors to be able to move and look good doing it.

#4: All Spartan Men Were Warriors


Let’s be clear: it would be ill-advised to underestimate the prowess of Spartans in combat, especially for any would-be time traveling MMA fighter looking to test their mettle against some of history’s most celebrated warriors. In their own time, the Spartan army were considered second to none when it came to land combat, and in the age of swords and shields… that really meant something. The thing is, while all young men entered the military training program, only the best were selected to serve and by extension, earn full citizenship. Those deemed unworthy, were relegated to a lower social class, where they toiled as laborers, craftsmen or farmers to keep the city running.

#3: Time Alone in the Wild as a Rite of Passage


In the film “300”, young Leonidas treks off into the cold wilderness to prove himself tough enough to be worthy of the title of “Spartan”. He’s scantily clad – of course – and equipped with nothing but his wits and training. Though it makes for compelling imagery, and is a popular trope in film and television, such a solitary rite of passage at the hands of nature is in direct contradiction with the ideals that Spartan society sought to instil in their young men. Spartans were trained to work as a team with their phalanx, not to operate as lone wolves. Instead, each hopeful was tasked with killing a slave without getting caught in order to prove his ability.

#2: Pederasty Was More Common in Sparta Than Elsewhere in Greece


Here’s one myth about Spartans that Zack Snyder’s film did NOT perpetuate. It’s an uncomfortable reality of Ancient Greek culture that many prefer not to discuss, but for which the Spartans, for some reason, have received much of the blame. Pederasty, which describes sexual or intimate relations between a young boy and an adult male, was widely accepted across Ancient Greece, not just in Sparta. Given the ages and maturity differences, it's deeply disturbing to consider now, even though at the time it was considered consensual, mutually beneficial and a form of mentorship. While this sort of dynamic was well-documented in many Greek cultures, there is comparatively little evidence of it in Sparta. It likely happened… but no more than anywhere else in Greece.

#1: 300 Men Defended the Pass


If your story is a good enough one to become the stuff of legend once you’ve passed on from this world, those who tell your tale are bound to take some creative liberties and exaggerate it for dramatic effect. The Battle of Thermopylae and the sacrifice made by the Spartan army were indeed monumental, but in reality, there were more than just the 300 Spartans facing off against the Persian forces when they met their fate. According to historical accounts, Leonidas did order the majority of the troops to retreat, but in addition to his 300 Spartans, there remained an estimated 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians to fight and die by their side.
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