The agoge (Άγωγή) was a rigorous education and training regime for all
Spartancitizens, except the sons in the ruling houses. The training involved learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to one's group, military training, hunting, dancing and social preparationCitation | last = Hodkinson | first = Stephen | author-link = | contribution = Agoge | editor-last = Hornblower | editor-first = Simon | title = Oxford Classical Dictionary| volume = | pages = | publisher = Oxford University Press| place = Oxford | year = 1996 | contribution-url = ] The word "agoge" had in ancient Greekmany meanings, among them seizure or abduction, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance or training.cite book | last = Liddell | first = Henry | authorlink = Henry Liddell | coauthors = Robert Scott | title = A Greek-English Lexicon| publisher = Oxford University Press| date = 1996 | location = Oxford | pages = 18 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0-19-864226-1]
According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus, but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and
6th century BC, [Paul Cartledge, "Spartan Reflections." London: Duckworth, 2001] [Thomas Scanlon, "Eros and Greek Athletics," Oxford, 2002] when the regime trained male citizens from the ages of seven through twenty-nine.
The aim of the system was to produce physically and morally strong males to serve in the Spartan army. It encouraged conformity and the importance of the Spartan state over one's personal interest, but also generated the future elites of Sparta. The men would become the "walls of Sparta" because Sparta was the only Greek city with no defensive walls – they had been demolished at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the males were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group.
When a boy reached his seventh birthday, he was enrolled in the agoge under the authority of the "paidonómos" (polytonic|παιδονόμος), or "boy-herder", a
magistratecharged with supervising education. This began the first of the three stages of the "agoge": the "paides" (roughly speaking, ages 7-17), the "paidiskoi" (ages 18-19), and the "hebontes" (20-29); some classical sources indicate that there were further subdivisions by year within these classes.
The boys lived in groups ("agelai", "herds") under an older boy leader. They were encouraged to give their loyalty to their communal mess hall rather than their families. Boys would be given one item of clothing per year, and they created beds out of reeds from the
Eurotas River. Boys were intentionally underfed to master the skills necessary to become successful at stealing their food. They would be severely punished, however, if they were caught. Only the heirs apparent of Spartan royal households (the Agiads and Eurypontids) were exempt from the process.
At around age 12, the boys would enter into an institutionalized sexual relationship with a young adult male Spartan.
Plutarchdescribed this form of Spartan pederasty, wherein somewhat older warriors would engage promising youths in a long-lasting relationship with a purportedly pedagogic motive. The boy was expected to request the relationship, and it was seen as a method to pass on knowledge and maintain loyalty on the battlefield. Some classical writers, including Xenophonin his "Polity of the Lacedaemonians", wrote that Spartans did not engage in sexual relations with adolescents, believing it akin to indulging in their own children. These are generally thought by modern scholars to have been in error, however.
At the stage of "paidiskoi", around the age of 18, the students became reserve members of the Spartan army. They also (or probably just a small group of very promising ones) were taken to the
Crypteia, a sort of festival testing their skills by declaring war on the helotslave population, encouraging the students to murder those who were out at night and take their food.
At the stage of "hebontes", roughly age 20, the students became full part of the "
syssitia" and Spartan army, and were finally permitted to marry, although they continued to live in barracks, and continued to compete for a place among the Spartan " hippeis", the royal guard of honor.
Education of girls
Girls also had a form of state education involving
dance, gymnasticsand other sports; together with other subjects such as reading, writing and war education. Traits such as grace and culture were frowned upon, in favor of physical tempering and moral rectitude.
Spartan women wore the old-fashioned
peplos(polytonic|πέπλος), open at the side, leading to banter at their expense among the other Greeks, who dubbed them "phainomerides," (polytonic|φαινομηρίδες), "thigh-showers." At religious ceremonies, on holidays and during physical exercise girls and women were nude.
Rise and fall
Any male who did not successfully pass through the agoge would be denied Spartan citizenship. At various times this selection process came to be seen as detrimental to Spartan society, particularly when the number of free, male Spartan citizens dwindled. The practice waned in the
3rd century BC, but was successfully reinvigorated some time in the 220s BCby Cleomenes III. It was abolished, however, less than forty years later, by Philopoemen, in 188 BC. The "agoge" was reinstated in 146 BC.
The Roman "agoge" was limited to males between the ages of 14 and 19, and was essentially ephebic in nature, and organized by "
phyles", or citizen tribes. The instruction consisted of athletics, singing, dancing, military and probably some academic training. The students were supervised by officials called "bideioi" ("overseers") and a " patronomos" ("guardian of law"). Some time during the Flavian dynasty, a team-based structure was introduced to the Roman "agoge" which put groups of students under the command of a team leader, or "boagos". Sponsorship was available to some poor students who could not afford the training.
History of Sparta
Paul Cartledge, "The Spartans;" Pan Books, (2002)
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