The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education & Culture in Ancient Sparta


From antiquity to the present, the ancient city of Sparta has been seen as a model either of discipline, obedience, and virtue or of totalitarianism, conformity, and tyranny. But virtually all observers, regardless of their image of the city, have agreed that the government-run educational system, or agoge, formed the cornerstone of the distinctive Spartan way of life. The Gymnasium of Virtue is the first book devoted exclusively to the study of education in ancient Sparta, covering the period from the sixth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. In placing the agoge in its proper historical and cultural context, Nigel Kennell refutes the popular notion that classical Spartan education was a conservative amalgam of "primitive" customs not found elsewhere in Greece. He argues instead that later political and cultural movements made the system appear to be more distinctive than it actually had been, as a means of asserting Sparta's claim to be a unique society. Using epigraphical, literary, and archaeological evidence, Kennell describes the development of all aspects of Spartan education, including the age-grade system and the physical contests that were integral to the system, among them the notorious endurance contest, at which naked boys were flogged in public. He shows that Spartan education reached its apogee in the early Roman Empire, when Spartans sought to distinguish themselves from other Greeks. Specifically, Kennell attributes many of the changes instituted in the later period to one person - the philosopher Sphaerus the Borysthenite, who was an adviser to the revolutionary king Cleomenes III in the third century B.C.

Additional information

Includes content by:
  • Herillus
  • P. J. Rhodes
  • Richard J. A. Talbert
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Chapel Hill, NC
Publication year:
  • 1995


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