4. For the people of the Assyrian Empire, boys had to toughen up from an early age, but needed 15 years of hard training to become a man
At the height of its powers, from the 10th to 7th centuries BC, the Assyrian Empire stretched from Egypt right across to the northern borders of modern-day India. The huge ancient superpower was able to conquer large parts of the known world by building up a large army of skilled, fearless warriors. Under the rigid system, young males were not allowed to enjoy their childhood for long. Indeed, in order to make strong men, boys were ‘toughened up’ from an early age. Indeed, as soon as they were born, boys were taken away from their own fathered and raised solely by their mothers and other female relatives up until the age of five.
After their fifth birthday, a boy would then be expected to begin his military training. For the next 15 years, their lives would be dedicated to learning how to fight. Some would be trained in using a bow, while others would focus on fighting with a sword or spear. All would learn how to ride a horse well, and, according to the ancient historian Herodotus, the young men would also be drilled in the importance of always “speaking the truth”. Only once they emerged from the military academy at the age of 20 would the youths be truly regarded as men, with all the privileges and responsibilities that came with adulthood.