The Spartan society has always fascinated me. To this day, the famous city-state of Ancient Greece is well-known for their crafting some of the greatest warriors we’ve ever known.
The topic has come back to the forefront based on the success of the new video game, Assassins’ Creed: Odyssey, which takes players through an epic journey to become a Spartan Hero.
The game, which was released in October, has now been nominated for Game of the Year. To discover what life lessons we can draw from the Spartan society, we visited Greece to catch up with Stephanie-Anne Ruatta, who is the on-staff historian and specialist of Ancient Greece that helped make the game as accurate as possible.
Not Into Riches
One of the most interesting characteristics of the Spartans is that they weren’t particularly interested in riches. They felt that a rich and flashy lifestyle didn’t necessarily lead to a good life. If the luxury offered some kind of utility, then they would admire and accept it. If not, they often opted for an austere lifestyle.
“According to F. Ruzè and J. Christien (Sparte, Géographie, mythes et histoire, p. 76), in the seventh and sixth centuries B. C., various cities in Sparta adopted some laws designed to limit external manifestations of wealth, as well as the temptation to acquire more and more at the expense of others, even at the risk of sometimes endangering the economic bases of the economy family,” says Ruatta.
While materialism is on the rise, there isn’t always a correlation of buying things and being happy. In fact, that type of happiness tends to be temporary. One recent study has shown exactly that as being less materialistic was associated with being more content in life.
Learn One Thing And Learn It Really Well
Spartans teach us to learn one thing and learn it really well. That’s exactly how they became such great warriors. From the age seven, they would hone their craft until they were fine-tuned warriors. That meant spending their days from sun-up to sun-down engaged in rigorous military training in the agoge military schools, being raised to be an army of professional soldiers.
We somewhat follow that pattern when taking the path of education. We’ll learn something in high school, hone it in university or college, and fine tune it with a master’s degree. But our patience of that path is wearing thinner by the day as attention spans are growing shorter, according to one study. It becomes harder and harder to concentrate on one task. Instead of our minds being filled with all of the details of one task, we have become collections of bits and pieces with a headline from Facebook, something we quickly picked up on YouTube and a few wise words on Twitter. We can learn from the Spartans here to learn, master and excel at one craft opposed to being jacks of all trades.
Live With Honor
For a Spartan, shame was one of the worst punishments one could suffer. In the city, reputation was staked on honor. In the battlefield, surrender was the ultimate disgrace. It’s not the first time we’ve seen something like that as Japanese warriors lived by a similar code of honor. It was so engrained in their DNA that we still see ripple effects in their society today. To dishonor your family name is nothing short of humiliation.
“Spartans have often been perceived as disciplined citizens who apply rules under the penalty of exclusion and Nikolaos is a good example in the Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey game,” says Ruatta. “This concept is based on several texts of ancient authors (Herodotus, 7, 104, 4 – in particular) which evoke that a citizen of Sparta, control his needs, avoid any abuse, use self-control and moderation in order to properly serve the city and showcase its bravery and honor.”
Modern-day society has somewhat stepped away from that. If you dropped your wallet on the street, there’s at least a 50% chance you’ll never see it again. And if you follow along with North American politics, check out the hashtag #NoShame or see some of the things people are doing to “go viral” these days, you’ll notice that living with honor is slowly slipping by the waste side.
Spartans Ate Together
There’s the famous movie quote from 300: “Spartans, tonight, we dine in hell!”
That’s not exactly what we’re going for with this life lesson but one thing we can take away from the Spartans here is that they ate together. In Ancient Greece, there was a tradition known as Syssitia and part of that would emphasize men – both young and old – dining together. The idea was those who trained together, fought together and broke bread together would build the strongest bonds.
Nowadays, we’ve become more and more disconnected at the dinner table. Whether it’s a first date or a night out for a family of four, someone is bound to pull out their phone at some point. We bond less and less face-to-face and spend more time plugged into the internet. A new study has shown how a more connected population is suffering from all sorts of mental health issues – especially due to social media.
What we can learn here it to disconnect from tech and reconnect with each other when we’re dining.
Never Give Up
If there was one rule Spartan soldiers knew, it was to never give up. Yielding in battle was equated to cowardice. If a Spartan did surrender or at any point voluntarily gave up in a fight, they’d be shamed in such extremes that they’d contemplate – and often commit – suicide.
One gruesome, yet telling story one of a young boy who never relented through the point of his own death:
“The boys make such a serious matter of their stealing, that one of them, as the story goes, who was carrying concealed under his cloak a young fox which he had stolen, suffered as the animal to tear out his bowels with its teeth and claws, and died rather than have his theft detected,” says Ruatta.
While that’s extreme side, we can learn a lesson here about determination. While many of us set goals, we sometimes get derailed for a variety of reasons. Procrastination is a popular method of delay. Sometimes we get distracted as our attention spans have been tested by technology. And many of us don’t like the pains of failure or rejection, which is one of the most common reason for not seeing things through.
What we can learn from the Spartans is to be a little more determined through to the finish line in pursuit of goals.