Although not empire builders as such, the Spartans were the elite warrior culture of ancient Greece between sixth and fourth centuries BC. Having conquered their neighbors the Messenians and Laconians, the Spartans incorporated the stolen lands into the Spartan territories. The Messenians and Laconians were forced to work the land for Sparta as slaves or helots. Spartan males could, therefore, concentrate on the business of being warriors. Indeed, it was the only job available to a Spartan man.
The whole of Spartan society was centered on military excellence and stretched from the cradle to the grave. Parents exposed weak or deformed Spartan babies on Mount Taygetos. Those boys who survived left their families at the age of seven to attend the Agoge, a type of military boarding school. The boys lived in barracks, were taught to read and write and dance so they could move nimbly in battle.
At 12, their training was upped a notch. Deprived of shoes and given only minimal clothes and food, the boys were driven to become self-sufficient and resourceful. Stealing- especially from helots -was encouraged and punishments were only meted out to those who were caught. The boys were also invited to practice their killing skills on helots. In a tradition called the krypteia, boys went on night raids with the sole goal of killing any helot discovered out alone.
At 20, Spartan males moved into adult barracks, where they lived even if married. This was their life until they were 40. Then, the Warriors moved into the reserves until they were 60. Any Spartan man deemed a coward became a social outcast, unable to marry, hold office and publicly branded with a half shaved beard and multicolored cloak. Most Spartan men killed themselves rather than live in such a state. After the battle of Thermopylae, when 300 Spartans held off the 70,000 strong Persian armies for three days, of the two men who did not participate one hung himself, and the other redeemed himself at a later date by successfully dying in battle.
As with all of Greece, the phalanx of hoplites was the basis for the Spartan army. The Spartans adopted and adapted this form after the city of Argos defeated them in battle. The Spartan sword or xiphos was designed for close combat. But the Spartans did not just use swords and spears as weapons: they used their shields too. Spartan shields were covered in bronze and curved so it could be used to bash the enemy. To lose one’s shield was shameful as it was essential to “the common good of the whole line” not just a means to protect an individual.