Surviving literature discussing ancient Spartan warriors depicts them as being physically fit, ferocious warriors. The movie 300 also portrays the Spartans in a similar light. However, did the Spartans have abs, or is that just an idealized way of picturing them?
The Spartans very likely had abs. If not, they at least had the lean, muscular, powerful bodies of athletes. Physical fitness was crucial to the Spartans. They were trained to be fierce warriors from a very young age, and physical training was a significant part of that.
This article will detail how important physical fitness was to the Spartans and whether or not modern-day depictions of the famous warriors are accurate. Finally, it will answer whether ancient people really did value six-pack abs or not.
Was Physical Fitness Important to the Spartans?
Physical fitness wasn’t just important to the Spartans; it was practically mandatory. Boys began harsh, demanding training at the age of seven that would shape their bodies into warriors’ lean, fit physiques. Some didn’t survive this rigorous training. Female Spartans were healthy, as well.
Training for Boys and Men
When they turned seven, Spartan boys were taken from their homes and put into the agoge. In essence, it was like a government-mandated boarding school. They even learned to read and write there. However, the primary focus wasn’t academic; it was militaristic.
Boys were stripped and given nothing more than the barest covering. They participated in military drills, athletic competitions, and endurance training. The agoge taught them to steal food or find it in other ways. However, though they were encouraged to steal, they were still punished severely if someone caught them.
As they grew older, the training became more demanding. They continued to train in the military arts. However, they also toned their bodies with various physical workouts, including:
- Weapons drills and training
- Throwing javelins and discus
- A primitive form of weight training
The Spartans even learned to dance, as dancing requires skill, ease of movement, and strength. Learning to dance helped improve their overall agility.
The boys became mandatory and full-time soldiers when they turned 20.  They weren’t allowed to “retire” until they reached 60 years old.
Training for Girls and Women
Spartan girls didn’t go to the agoge. Instead, their mothers and the community trained them. However, even they were expected to be fit and undergo physical fitness training. They, too, ran, swam, danced, threw the discus, and learned basic fighting techniques.
They learned to fight because they had to protect Sparta if invaders came while the men were fighting elsewhere. Furthermore, the Spartans believed that strong women produced strong babies.
They honed their bodies to make pregnancy and childbirth easier for them. As a result, women often participated in endurance trials, as well. Some of the things they did to train included:
- Racing (on foot)
- Racing (on horseback)
Both Men and Women Lived a “Spartan” Lifestyle
Today, “Spartan” is synonymous with simple, luxury-free, and self-denial.  Soldiers in boot camps must live a “Spartan existence” to know how to survive with little amenities.
The Spartans embodied that lifestyle; it’s why people use that specific word today. Both men and women lived in simple homes and had few luxuries. Their lives were hard, and that made them strong. That was truer for the boys and men than the women, but the women didn’t have much either.
This lack of amenities wasn’t because Sparta was poor. They chose to live with little to make themselves stronger and more able to withstand harsh conditions, which often came hand-in-hand with war.
Are Modern Depictions of Spartans in Movies Accurate?
Modern depictions of Spartans in movies aren’t entirely accurate, but there is some truth to them. The Spartans were very physically fit, as the movie 300 portrays them. The harsh, physically demanding training in the film is also accurate. However, there are some inconsistencies, too.
One of the most significant discrepancies between ancient Sparta and its portrayal in the movies concerns the treatment of babies. In the opening scene of 300, for example, the narrator says:
“When the boy was born, like all Spartans, he was inspected. If he’d been small or puny or sickly or misshapen, he would have been discarded.”
The scene then shifts to a pit of skulls, insinuating that Spartans threw their less-than-perfect babies over a cliff to let them die. There is some historical evidence to back this up, as well.
The Roman historian Plutarch also claimed the Spartans threw their weak babies into a vast chasm at the bottom of Mount Taygetus. However, historians have disproved this claim.  Some babies were probably discarded, but not in the deadly manner shown in the movies.
Instead, their parents probably left them somewhere outside the city, hoping a poorer family would adopt them. Additionally, some “damaged” babies remained in their households.
Another error in modern depictions of Spartans, specifically in 300, is how the Spartans dressed and styled their hair. History indicates that Spartans likely had long hair that they pulled into a top knot when going into battle.
Furthermore, they probably wore more armor than 300 showed them wearing. Spartans didn’t go into battle in a full suit of armor like an Arthurian knight, but they did cover more skin than 300 would have most people believe.
Furthermore, they never actually fought the ogre-looking creatures that appeared in the film.  They did, however, fight the Persians and often fought against armies with much larger numbers.
Did Ancient People Groups Value Six-Pack Abs?
The ancient people groups, such as the Greeks, Spartans, Romans, etc., didn’t value six-pack abs in the way people today do. They did, however, put a premium on physical fitness. They believed men should be strong and well-kept. That’s one of the reasons the Olympics were so important to the Greeks.
The Greeks started the Olympics to honor their gods, and only the best, fastest, and most physically fit Greeks were allowed to participate. Sending overweight or underweight athletes who couldn’t perform as well would have been insulting to their gods.
Eventually, perceptions would change in other parts of the world – especially France and Great Britain. People in those areas would come to value overweight people as they associated them with having an affluent lifestyle (i.e., plenty to eat and lots of time to lounge around doing nothing).
However, that would be much later. Most ancient people valued physical fitness very much when the Spartans were alive, though abs wouldn’t necessarily have been a part of that. They were more concerned with overall fitness and wellness.
The Spartans probably had abs or were at least lean and muscular like runners. Their militaristic way of life required a high level of fitness.