Few civilizations have made a more significant impact on history than Sparta, a militaristic unified city-state of Laconia. Known as warriors, the Spartans employed a unique political system that encouraged male citizens to undergo extensive military training and become professional state soldiers.
Sparta’s political system and state-provided military training for all boys eligible to become citizens made the Spartans so powerful. Spartan citizens and officials were professional soldiers and had no responsibilities besides supporting the Spartan military and political system.
With all their strength and military clout, the Spartans defended their state with incredible resoluteness for over 1,000 years. However, like any civilization, they had strengths and weaknesses that eventually led to their downfall.
What Was Sparta’s Main Strength?
Sparta’s main strength was its unique political system, which emphasized the suppression of the individual for the benefit of the state. This political system and Sparta’s control over other city-states allowed Spartan citizens to focus only on military training and political stability.
Spartans were a powerful militaristic people, but they sacrificed many things that other city-states emphasized to make more time for military training and education. Spartans saw little value in art, literature, and fine dining, and citizens were fined for possessing precious items such as gold or silver.
Instead, the entire political system reinforced the importance of military training, endurance, and political strength to ensure that Sparta would thrive despite its constantly expanding, increasingly powerful neighbors.
How Did Sparta’s Government Make the City-State Stronger?
Sparta’s government made the city-state stronger by focusing on military achievement, strategy, and strength. Those eligible to run for office were the most successful soldiers and military leaders in the state, and they governed martial and civil law.
The Spartan government was and continues to be unlike any other political system.  Under this system, two kings had absolute military power.
However, five elected magistrates called ephors served under these kings, and they had the authority to veto the decisions of the kings and other political bodies.
In addition, Sparta had a gerousia (council of elders) which held the most political sway for the majority of Sparta’s existence. These men were experienced soldiers from renowned Spartan families.
The homoi, or Spartan assembly, consisted of citizens.  All Spartan citizens were male native Spartans at least 20 years old who had completed military training. These men were forbidden to trade and solely spent their time on military training, equestrian sports, and government activities.
Citizens had to work their way up through the political system, so only the most commended military leaders could hold office. Thus, for the Spartans, political strength was synonymous with military power.
Were All Spartan Citizens Required To Serve in the Military?
All Spartan citizens were required to serve in the military. Boys eligible to become citizens began military education at age seven and finished training at age 20 when they would move into a guildhall and live with other soldiers.
According to Xenophon, an Athenian historian from the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., “it would not be easy to find healthier or handier men than the Spartans” due to the rigorous and harsh military training that citizens had to undergo. 
At age seven, young boys moved into military barracks and began military training with their age group. By age 20, these boys would move into a syssition, where they would live with the military bands that they would later fight with on the field of battle.  Under this system, men had no other profession than becoming a warrior.
However, Spartan political officials and citizens could afford to spend their time training and taking an active role in politics because of the helots of Messenia and the people who lived in the perioikoi (the city-states surrounding Sparta).
In the 8th century B.C., Sparta conquered Messenia and enslaved all its people, calling them helots. For hundreds of years, these people had no social mobility and served Spartans as state-owned enslaved people.
Half of the products from Messenia became the property of Sparta, including food, textiles, tools, weapons, and other trade items, which is where Sparta sources almost all of the food and income for its citizens.
Likewise, the perioikoi lived under Spartan puppet governments, and they could not become citizens or vote. However, they could perform trade, and they were obligated to serve in the Spartan military. Artisans from the perioikoi produced most tools, weapons, and building materials for Spartan citizens.
Because Spartans no longer had to farm, weave, raise animals, trade, or produce any goods, they could spend their time developing an advanced political system and powerful citizen militia. Still, these freedoms came at the cost of the helots and perioikoi.
Did Sparta Ever Lose a War?
Sparta lost two wars and many battles. Sparta was defeated during the war with Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 337 B.C., after which it never regained its military strength. Alexander crushed Sparta in 331 B.C., and Rome conquered Sparta in the 2nd century B.C.
We currently know of at least 22 times that the Spartans lost in pitched and naval battles while they were still an independent city-state. 
These battles weakened Sparta over time, especially considering the time it took for Sparta to train and raise new soldiers. As more men fell in battle, there were fewer boys left to replace them, leading to weaker state defenses. 
What Was Sparta’s Weakness?
Sparta’s weakness was its inability to adapt. Despite increasing defeats, a declining population, and internal conflict as the enslaved population of helots rebelled, Sparta was unwavering in its legal, social, and political practices, which led to the polis’ downfall.
Sparta was once a resilient, stern, powerful city-state that produced some of the most renowned military forces in the Ancient Mediterranean. However, after many defeats in the conflict with Thebes and Persia in the 4th century B.C., the population was slim, and there were not enough people to replenish the front lines.
Amid this population decrease, Sparta did not change the requirements for citizenship, and with increasing threats from the helots who demanded their freedom, internal conflict further weakened the city-state.
Eventually, Sparta lost its renown and became an easy target for Thebes and other powers such as Macedonia and Rome to overtake.
Spartans were one of the most powerful militaristic civilizations due to their focus on developing a stable political structure backed by a professional army.