Spartan combat training was very rough and dangerous. What percentage of boys survived their training?

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    The big myth about boot camp is that it is so difficult - yet the pass rate is and always has been high(usmilitary.about.com/od/joiningthemilitary/l/blbasicattrit.htm). It is designed to stress its participants, and instill an attitude of can do and "community*, not actually fail students. I see no reason why this would be any less true in Sparta. Difficulty, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and all professional military training looks incredibly difficult to the eye of a mere militiaman. Oct 17, 2015 at 14:32
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    Only the ones who were not deformed or killed by wolves, mwoo hah hah! Oct 17, 2015 at 14:36
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    -1: OP, you make an assertion "Spartan combat training was very rough and dangerous." Let's say I know nothing about the history of Sparta. Where can I read (please provide your sources) about the fact that Spartan training was worse than anywhere else?
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 17, 2015 at 18:12
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    @CGCampbell The source is "300". Don't you go to the movies? Oct 17, 2015 at 18:56
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    Pass rate always high? Royal Marines 1st time pass rate is 25%, overall pass rate 40-50% out of 0.01% of the population considered acceptable for basic training. Not what I would call a high pass rate, even allowing for those who just decide it's not for them and leave. Don't know how it equates with Spartan military training, but longest and probably toughest infantry training in the modern world.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 17, 2015 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


Our only source both reliable and substantial on Spartan life is Xenophon on the Constitution of the Lacedaimonians. Xenophon reports that the Spartan boys were required to supply themselves with a substantial portion of their own food ration, by foraging and stealing, and

[Lycurgus] made it a point of honour to steal as many cheeses as possible [from the altar of Artemis Orthia], but appointed others to scourge the thieves, meaning to show thereby that by enduring pain for a short time one may win lasting fame and felicity. It is shown herein that where there is need of swiftness, the slothful, as usual, gets little profit and many troubles.

and just prior to this he writes:

But why, if he believed stealing to be a fine thing, did he have the boy who was caught beaten with many stripes? I reply: Because in all cases men punish a learner for not carrying out properly whatever he is taught to do. So the Spartans chastise those who get caught for stealing badly.

and then further down again we read:

The penalty for shirking the duties was exclusion from all future honours. He thus caused not only the public authorities, but their relations also to take pains that the lads did not incur the contempt of their fellow citizens by flinching from their tasks.

Only for cowardice is the ultimate punishment, shunning, called on:

Often when sides are picked for a game of ball [the coward] is the odd man left out: in the chorus he is banished to the ignominious place; in the streets he is bound to make way; when he occupies a seat he must needs give it up, even to a junior; he must support his spinster relatives at home and must explain to them why they are old maids: he must make the best of a fireside without a wife, and yet pay forfeit for that: he may not stroll about with a cheerful countenance, nor behave as though he were a man of unsullied fame, or else he must submit to be beaten by his betters.

Small wonder, I think, that where such a load of dishonour is laid on the coward, death seems preferable to a life so dishonoured, so ignominious.

So our evidence from Xenophon is that the intent was to instill cunning, deceit, and resourcefulness, with pain, disgrace, and exclusion from future honours and privileges as the punishment for inadequacy in achievement.

While far from definitive, this suggests that, having not been abandoned at birth, the intent was not to weed out by attrition. On the contrary, it became the obligation of one's peers, relatives and superiors to assist each other in attaining one's duties. This philosophy of team-building is very similar to the modern boot camp's goal of turning out squads and platoons which leverage each other's strengths in order to make the whole stronger than the sum of its parts.


While not an exact percentage, according to Plutarch it does not seem to have been rare for them to die from dangerous activities performed during training, or from the punishments inflicted for failure during training:

The care with which the boys take over their stealing is illustrated by the story of the one who had stolen a fox cub and had it concealed inside his cloak: in order to escape detection he was prepared to have his insides clawed and bitten out by the animal, and even to die. This tale is certainly not incredible, judging from Spartan ephebes today. I have witnessed many of them dying under the lashes they received at the altar of Artemis Orthia.

(On Sparta Penguin Classic p. 23)

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