Throughout the course of history the Roman and Spartan armies have been glorified, dissected and analyzed. Both institutions, however, are quite worthy of the attention, as the Roman Empire, one of the most revered civilizations of all time, would not have been so significant without their military. Sparta, although not as essential to the course of world history as far as the dissemination of their system for centuries, was important enough to produce a word coined for its military system that is still widely employed today and are revered for their army’s exploits in ancient battles. This paper will examine the similarities and differences between the Roman and Spartan military institutions.

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The Spartan system was considered to be odd by the other Greek city-states, but because of their dedication to all things military, the Spartans did rise to power for a brief time. Especially after their defeat of the vaunted Persian army. This battle certainly altered the course of history, as Western civilization is founded on Greek values and concepts. If the Spartans would have lost, Persian culture may very well have been the cornerstone of our modern society. Therefore, the recognition and reverence of the Spartans’ military prowess is well-deserved.

The Spartans were completely absorbed in their army, but it was not always that way. In roughly 700 BC, both boys and girls were educated similarly in the arts, but by 6 BC, boys were exclusively trained for the military only and were raised by the women of the city. The Spartans married not for love, wealth or convenience, but based solely on what matches would produce the most physically gifted children. These children if they were boys, were trained exclusively in the art of the war and their athletic skills were honed. As warriors, they were not allowed to marry until later in life when their physical prowess was on the wane, if they survived battle and were considered a member of the aristocracy.

The Spartan warrior was characterized by the use of heavy armor, the invention of the phalanx and the employment of a spear as their weapon of choice. The phalanx had a tremendous impact on the course of Western military history as it remained in use until the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and was even employed on many occasions thereafter. The entire Spartan civilization was centered upon the glorification of their military. This was understandable considering it was necessary for their very survival in a time when there was a tremendous amount of warfare. Ultimately, however, it proved to be their undoing and was the reason they faded from the scene of history as a dominant power.

The Romans were staunch admirers of the Spartan system and this was one of the reasons they allowed the Spartans to technically rule themselves with little interference when the conquered the Greeks. They were enthusiastic about the Spartans’ dedication to become great warriors and the process they endured in training. The Romans also followed or incorporated the model of the phalanx in their early military history and some of the Spartan techniques for developing their physical peak condition. When Rome was rising to power, they followed many parts of the Spartan model but after this point in time, there were not many similarities between the two institutions.

Roman warriors were revered in the same fashion Spartan warriors were, but the Empire’s success was based upon what the Spartans were unable to do: adapt. Sparta ceased to be a strong force in the ancient world because of their dedication to all things military. Due to the rule of men marrying late and the attrition of losing their lives on the battlefield, Sparta had a very low birth rate. They were unable to repopulate their ranks and could not place as many soldiers on the field. Therefore, they were lacking in manpower to buttress their rates. Also, they were stuck in tradition. They refused to institute new technology or attempt different methods to improve their military might. Granted, the phalanx had brought them success on the field on the battle, but what about incorporating new ideas in training, weaponry or strategy? This staid resistance and outdated dogma, doomed the Spartan military system and their empire.

The Roman military commanders and leaders, however, were more than willing to implement and institute change within their system. Known as legionaires, the Roman warriors as the Empire grew, were extracted from all corners of the conquered lands rather than from an elite segment of the population. If a warrior served well for a specific period of time they were granted citizenship, which provided them with a reason to excel. This policy also applied to slaves and warriors that served well also were given a plot of land. Service in the military allowed people to attain a higher station in life, where in Sparta there was no upward mobility. The military was culled from the elite and it remained that way.

The Romans were also willing to employ different battle techniques and were adept at improving upon ideas presented through the cultures they assimilated into their empire. This adaptability and flexibility was not only incorporated within the military, but throughout the entire regime. This is what made Rome a great civilization and naturally, the ability to use this for the military was essential. Without an excellent army, the Romans would not have been able conquer other nations and then keep them within the empire. The military was a means to inculcate these cultures within their own ranks by granting citizenship. Therefore, the Spartan system was used as a model initially and was much admired by the Romans, but that is where the similarities between the systems end. The Romans went on to adapt their military and that ability was what made the difference in the success of their civilization. The lack of innovation in their military was ultimately the downfall of the Spartans.