The Spartan Diet: What They Ate and How They Prepared It

Spartan soup and their food culture
Further ReadingThe True Average Height Of The Spartan Warrior

Even during the height of the classical period in Greece Sparta was considered a weird place by other Greek city-states. This was because Sparta would not allow its citizens to handle money, buy property or start businesses, or even allow men to live with their wives. However, one thing made Sparta stand out more than anything else across the Greek world; its food.

Ancient Sparta was known for serving a special soup to its citizens during peacetime. This soup is known as Black Soup and to this day historians have no idea how the Spartans made it. However, we do know what it was made of and its cultural importance to the Spartans.

This black soup was so potent that older Spartan soldiers would drink the broth and leave the bits of meat and vegetables for the younger Spartans attending the dining feast! This was because the soup was known to taste very good and was an acquired taste that only older Spartans would have.

This article goes into depth on the Spartan diet at home and on a military campaign. Here at TheHistoryAce, I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If in the end, you enjoyed the article then consider sharing it around the web and subscribing to the free newsletter.

Without further ado, here is everything you will ever need to know about the food of the Spartans.

Black Soup Made With Blood, Meat, and Salt

Spartan relaxing about to drink some black soup

The main dish for the Spartans was a soup that today historians call black soup.

Nobody really knows how this soup was prepared but we know that the Spartan cooks would use the entirety of an animal to prepare it. The ingredients used in this soup were essentially meat and animal blood that was slowly cooked.

Historians theorize that this soup was served whenever the Spartan soldiers were home from a military campaign. This is because of several mentions that we have by Plutarch and other ancient sources that appears to detail that this soup was made in Sparta.

This black soup was created from 4 ingredients; blood, pig meat, salt, and vinegar. The vinegar would be slowly added overtime to prevent the blood from coagulating while the soup was heated up. After this, just enough salt was added in to help season the pork meat.

As you might imagine this black soup mixture was extremely potent and perhaps even dangerous to consume. Historians are unsure if this soup was another myth built up around the Spartan culture to make it seem more extreme than it actually was.

Regardless, this black soup was the staple of the Spartan diet. If you attended a Spartan dinner party you would have been given this soup as your main entree along with some bread, fruit, and wine.

The Spartan Dinner Party: How They Ate Together in the Syssitia

Female flute player entertaining drinking guestsBy Nikias Painter - Marie-Lan Nguyen (User:Jastrow), 2008-05-02, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4051642
Photo by Nikias Painter

Spartans did not eat by themselves. Sparta was known for its large communal eating rituals called a Syssitia where Spartans would eat together regardless of rank.

The Syssitia was a communal eating fraternity where a potential Spartan would have to be welcomed by all members of the group. Around 15 Spartan soldiers would each weigh judgment and vote on a potential newcomer into their Syssitia. This was done through an elaborate ritual involving bread.

In order for a newcomer to be admitted into a Spartan Syssitia each existing member of the Syssitia would either flatten a piece of bread or ball it up. After this, they would then place it into an empty pot carried around by a servent. If there were no flat pieces of bread then the newcomer was welcomed into the Syssitia.

Think of this Syssitia as a private eating club. There were probably hundreds of these eating clubs around ancient Sparta.

Once you got into one of these Syssitia then you would be able to eat from the communal food bank provided by your fellow Syssitia members. Each month you would have to pay into this food bank by helping to buy barley, wine, cheese, figs, and meat.

So on top of your black soup, you would be given rations of barley, wine, cheese, and figs. As a Spartan, this is what your diet would consist of when you were home. You would eat all of this in one giant eating club group of around 15 people. This club was called a Syssitia and you had to be invited to join. Don’t worry if you didn’t get invited immediately, there would have been hundreds of these clubs around Sparta.

What the Spartan Soldiers Ate While on Military Campaign

Spartans on military campaign eating bread, wine, and cheese

So while the Spartans ate black soup, fruit, bread, and wine while at home what did they eat while they were out on a military campaign or at war?

Well fortunately we have a passage from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides that outlines what the Spartan field ration was during the 425 BC siege of the port city of Pylos.

When the Spartan army was at war they would bring with them bread, cheese, wine, and meat. This was because these foods would last a long time when stored properly and could be carried by an individual Spartan warrior.

Spartans would get these foods from two sources; first was their helot slave population and the second was by pillaging the nearby towns and villages on their way to battle.

We know that Sparta would offer freedom during wartime for helots who managed to bring enough supplies to the Spartan army to sustain the soldiers fighting. Historians are not sure if this was propaganda on Sparta’s part or if helot slaves actually earned their freedom by providing food to the Spartan soldiers.

The other place that Spartans would get their supplies was by pillaging villages and towns while out in the field. This worked out in Sparta’s favor because they would ‘protect’ the villages that paid them tribute. If a village got pillaged by a Spartan unit then chances are it was not paying the necessary tribute. This was the second place where Sparta got its food while out on campaign.

Simply put, while a Spartan army was out on campaign they ate pretty much what everyone else did. Bread, meats, wine, and cheese were the primary staples of a Spartan soldiers’ diet while they were at war.

Can You Get The Spartan Black Soup Today?

Spartan black soup made in GermanyBy Schwarzsauer.JPG: Overbergderivative work: An-d (talk) - This file was derived from: Schwarzsauer.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18532091

While it is impossible to get the exact black soup that the Spartans had it is possible to get close.

During the 18th century, Germany saw a revival in Greek classical literature. During this time several ‘Spartan’ traditions made their way to the northern section of Germany. One of these traditions was black sour soup or Schwarzsaur in German.

Today if you travel to northeast Germany and go into a small town you might be able to find some black soup made in a similar manner to the Spartan black soup that existed almost 2,400 years ago!

This is probably the closest we will get to having a soup that is similar to the Spartan black soup. Unfortenly no record of the recipe from ancient Greece survives so historians are left to theorize exactly how Sparta made this signature soup.

Conclusion

There you have it; everything you will ever need to know about the Spartan diet.

While a Spartan citizen was at home they ate a black soup that was made using blood, meat, vinegar, and salt. While out on a military campaign these Spartan warriors would eat like the rest of ancient Greece.

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