Herodotus tells us that when Leonidas selected three hundred Spartans to face the Persian army he chose "all fathers of families, who had left sons at home to succeed them". My understanding is that this is generally interpreted that if men have to die, particularly for their country, it is better that they have families.

I think the reverse is true now. This is shown in the way the threat of violence was made by Senator Brian Boquist when state police were deployed to try to round up Republican lawmakers and he said "Send bachelors and come heavily armed". I interpret this as relying on everyone understanding that if men have to die, particularly for their country, it is better that they do not have families.

Has this apparent reversal in ethics been studied historically? It is something that has changed over time, perhaps related to a more individualistic world view that many people have today? Is it something that varies more with place or culture, in that "warrior societies" are more likely to think it is better that those who are more at risk have families?

  • 2
    I think the "families" part in the Leonidas quote might be less relevant than the "sons" part?
    – Jan
    Feb 8 at 11:26
  • 3
    I think this is drawing conclusions from too few data points. Too much interpretation, too little data. Two points always define a line, but the resulting line isn't meaningful unless there are other points on the line.
    – MCW
    Feb 8 at 11:51
  • 2
    The Spartans were considered weird even by standards of the other Greeks, and I daresay that American Republicans are considered weird even by the standards of their fellow Americans. So their attitude tells us very little about contemporary norms.
    – SPavel
    Feb 8 at 13:14
  • 1
    Also, perhaps this was just a literary device by Herodotus to showcase that it was understood that the Spartans did not expect to come back from battle, which would lead to this one-off measure.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 8 at 13:27
  • 1
    Got a flag, and took the unusual step of deleting half of @Meir's comment, rather than deleting all of it, since the point in the first sentence really needed to be made. Sadly we can't just completely avoid talking about modern US parties here, since its an inherent part of the question. However, I'd appreciate everyone sticking to facts and not posting provocative digs.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


Even today there are societies where having a son is

a) considered culturally important, because only a son can continue the family line, or

b) where having a male in the family is important for a lot of practical things and a female-only family will have a hard time on their own.

If neither of these factors is important, the choice between grieving wife snd children vs. no grieving wife and children becomes more relevant.

OTOH without further context the point of the quote might also be about age or about having leverage against the soldier via family members, or about something else yet.

  • 1
    I think there is a bit more that can be said here, particularly wrt societies that largely center around farm labor and male inheritance of property.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 8 at 16:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.