Research Ramblings: Sparta and Her Two Kings, Part 4

The setting of my work in progress is ancient Sparta, whose people left an indelible mark on Western history. Even their Greek contemporaries thought the Spartans singular in their ways, and thousands of years later, we’re still naming school mascots after them.

For most Americans, the word “Spartan” conjures up images of King Leonidas and his 300 warriors fighting to the bitter death. While this is an iconic moment for Sparta, what makes this ancient city-state unique goes beyond that one battle, which is why learning about it is so fun.

So to wrap this series on Spartan royalty is a list of kingly perks. It might sound kind of odd considering Sparta preached equality among citizens and  frowned upon shows of outward wealth. In fact, the state banned most luxury items such as perfume and jewelry because of that philosophy. Still, there were some benefits that came from being ruler of this austere state. They included:

  • Being the first to sit and the first to get served at public sacrifices. Kings also got the hides of the sacrificial animals.
  • Front seats at all contests.
  • The right to appoint whichever Spartan citizen they wanted to be proxenoi (a kind of representative who looked out for the interests of a non-Spartan city).
  • The right to appoint two sacred delegates to Delphi.
  • Double portions when dining at the royal mess hall. The extra portion, by the way, was not so much for the kings to gorge themselves, but to be given to an invited guest or favored individual.
  • Respect as a sacred person. This was shown in various ways. For instance, no one could touch a king in public. Also, people could not sit in a king’s presence.
  • Exemption from the Agoge (Sparta’s notoriously harsh paramilitary school) for Crown Princes.

The last perk wasn’t so much for the king as it was for his heir apparent. It also might seem kind of strange considering the Agoge was the institution that taught boys how to fight, to survive, to be true Spartan warriors.

Yet it was probably because of its cutthroat curriculum that the Crown Princes got a free pass. Agoge training was no respecter of persons. Meaning a stronger, more skilled commoner’s son could definitely beat the snot out of a nobleman’s boy and get praised for it. And for someone destined to be at the top of the Spartan food chain, it would definitely look bad to get thrashed by your classmates, especially when you’re claiming descent from none other than Heracles (Hercules).

To be sure, there was the occasional king who did undergo Agoge training, and historians are usually quick to mention it if that was the case. One was King Agesilaus, who happens to be the older brother of my manuscript’s main character. Another was King Leonidas, who was half-brother to the preceding king, and considering the way he went down with his men at Thermopylae, his Agoge training really showed.

Well, that’s it for the Spartan kings (at least for now). Hope you enjoyed it!

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