This is Sparta – No Baby-Throwing Allowed (ca. 5th C BC)

By: The Scribe on Monday, December 3, 2007

We apologize for the lack of posts recently, I lost my best quill and had to search the markets for a replacement. Thank you for your patience – The Scribe

So it turns out the Spartans didn’t throw deformed babies off of a cliff after all…

So… it turns out that the Classicists were wrong. Or at least, their sources were wrong. The belief that ancient Spartans ‘purged’ their population of weakness was a bit of an exaggeration, to say the least – apparently Spartans didn’t throw their babies off cliffs after all.

Archaeological digs in the area of ancient Sparta turned up plenty of human remains from a spot called ‘the pit’ – also called an ‘apothetes’ – that belonged to teenagers and adults ranging between the ages of 18 and 35, which would have been the prime fighting age range for men in ancient times.

The bones at the bottom of the pit were distinctly lacking in one feature – the inclusion of bones from newborn babies. It seems that even though the ancient Spartans didn’t throw their sickly or deformed babies off of cliffs, other ancient Greek writers made the decision to start the myth in order to demonstrate the intensity of Sparta’s military focus.

Instead, the bones in the pit came from approximately 46 different men who lived during the 6th and 5th centuries BC – confirming a different rumor that Spartans tended to throw criminals, prisoners, or traitors into the pit. It is known that during a war between Sparta and Messene – a city-state near Sparta – the Spartans defeated Messene’s hero Aristomenes and 50 of his warriors, and threw all of them into the pit.

Though it turns out the Spartans didn’t throw their babies off of cliffs, they still chucked their enemies into a pit!

As brutal as the Spartans may have been to their enemies, the discovery sets the record straight about how they treated the more sickly members of their own society – likely just as well as anyone else, probably setting them in service positions if they were too weak to serve in the military. Although for a Spartan that would have been shameful enough, but at least they were allowed to live. The unfounded rumor about baby-chucking was first begun by the historian Plutarch in the 1st century AD.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: More Ancient Standard!


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