Land of two kings
While Athens was trying democracy as a form of government, its rival Sparta had two kings. One king might stay at home, while the other was away fighting battles. Fighting battles was what the Spartans did best. Greeks said that in a battle one Spartan was worth several other men.
The Spartans spent so much time training for battle that they would have starved without slaves called helots. The helots worked on the Spartans' farms. They grew the food for the Spartan soldiers and their families.
Although every Spartan man had a farm, he spent a lot of his time preparing for war. He became a soldier when he was 20. However, a boy's training began much earlier, when he left his family home at the age of 7, and went to live in an army school. Discipline was tough. He was allowed only one tunic, and had to walk barefoot even in cold weather. He was taught how to live rough and steal food. He was warned it was foolish to get drunk, like some other Greeks did. Men lived in army camps even after they got married.
Growing up in Sparta
It was tough being a Spartan. Sickly babies were killed. Children ran around naked. Boys practised fighting and did athletics. Girls also did physical exercises. Spartan women had more freedom than other Greek women - a wife ran the family farm and gave orders to the helots or slaves. Old people too were shown more respect in Sparta than in other Greek states.
Spartan mothers told their sons before they left for battle, "Come back with your shield, or on it." Dead Spartans were carried home on their shields. Only a coward would drop his shield and run away.
The 300 Spartans
Sparta's most famous battle was Thermopylae. The year was 480 BC. A huge Persian army was trying to invade Greece. Barring the way at the mountain pass of Thermopylae were 300 Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas, along with a few hundred other Greeks.
The Spartans' brave fight lasted three days. One story says that after they broke their swords, the Spartans fought the Persians with their bare hands and teeth! In the end, Leonidas and his Spartans lay dead. The Persians marched on to capture Athens. But soon afterwards the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet at the sea battle of Salamis.