Spartans also practiced infanticide, but without gender bias – only healthy, well-formed babies were allowed to live. A selection was made by a group of elders – weak males were exposed on a hillside and weak female infants were thrown off a cliff. Since males are more subject to birth defects and are more apt to be sickly infants, the result was a slight excess of females from infancy, a trend that accelerated with age because of male mortality from military life and warfare. Keep in mind that mortality rates in military encampments far surpassed civilian rates until well into the 20th century. At age seven all Spartan boys left home for military boarding schools and all were required to serve in the army until age 30 when they passed into the active reserve where they remained until age 60. A subjugated peasantry known as helots supplied all of the males in the domestic labor force. Although men could marry at age 20, they could not live with their wives until they left the active army at age 30.
Spartan women enjoyed status and power unknown in the rest of the classical world. They not only controlled their own property, they controlled that of their male relatives when they were away with the army. It is estimated that women were the sole owners of a least 40 percent of all land and property in Sparta (Pomeroy 1975). The laws concerning divorce were the same for men and women. Women received as much education as men and Spartan women received a substantial amount of physical education and gymnastic training. Spartan women seldom married before age 20 and, unlike Athenian sisters who wore heavy, concealing gowns and seldom were seen by males outside their household, Spartan women wore short dresses and went where they pleased (Guttentag and Secord 1983; Finley 1982; Pomeroy 1975).
Extract used with kind permission of Rodney Stark.
© Rodney Stark (1996) The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press