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What was the true height of a Spartan warrior? Today Spartan warriors have earned a reputation as some of the most hardened soldiers in history. Much of modern western military training is based around a pipeline that the Spartans implemented almost 2,000 years ago. To even enter the Spartan military you had to be a certain height.
The average height of a Spartan warrior was between 5.7-5.9 feet tall or about 152-185 cm tall. We know of this because of the size of Spartan shields and the circumference of their armor. Due to how the Spartan soldier fought in a phalanx formation there was a height requirement associated in order to join the Spartan army.
The height of Spartan power came during the 4th century BC. Over a span of one century, Sparta would come to dominate the Greek world because of its economic and military might. The Spartan elite would begin training men from an early age to be professional soldiers. This gave rise to advanced infantry tactics which relied upon uniformity in height and strength across the Spartan army.
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Without further ado, here is an entire article about the average height of a Spartan soldier.
Average Height Of Spartan Men From 6th-3rd Centuries BC
The average height of a man from Spartan was between 5.6-5.9. Historians know this because of the average weight and height of the Spartan shield.
The warriors of Sparta were taught from an early age to fight with a nearly 25 lbs. heavy bronze shield that would be carried with their left arm. This shield was so big it would protect the left side of the soldier as well as the soldier to his left.
These shields were handed down from generation to generation. As such it was not uncommon for a son to inherit his father’s shield. While new shields were undoubtedly made most would have been handed down through the generations.
To a Spartan family, the shield was by far the most important part of their family honor. Plutarch writes of several famous sayings of Spartan mothers to their sons upon leaving for the field. One of the most famous is “as she handed her son his shield, exhorted him, saying, “Either this or upon this.”
The Spartans would fight in a phalanx formation where each warrior would work to protect the warrior to the left of him. This means that the shield would have to be large enough to cover the soldier from the neck to the knee.
With this information, we can look at the size of the bronze Spartan shields which are still around and come from the 6th-3rd centuries BC. Unfortunately, not many of these shields survive. The best example comes from the Agora Museum in Athens, Greece.
This shield weighs about 25 lbs. and is about 3.3 ft. in diameter. This means that from the knee to the shoulders of the average Spartan warrior was around 3.3 ft. This would have been the standard just to fight efficiently in the Spartan military phalanx.
Due to the average shield size of a Spartan warrior, we can begin to assume that the average height of the Spartans was between 5.6-5.9 Ft tall. This is because the 3.3 shield diameter would perfectly cover the Spartan warrior and his teammates to the left of him at this height.
Anything taller would have exposed the Spartan warrior while anything smaller would have jeopardized the entire phalanx.
How Much Taller Was The Average Spartan To The Average Greek
The Spartans were tall. Nearly all of the ancient primary sources historians use to detail the average Spartan man and woman as noticeably bigger in height than the average Greek.
The average Greek man was around the size of 5.3 ft. tall while the average woman was around 5 ft. tall. We know of this because of archeological excavations undertaken in the Attika during the early 20th century by Dr. Lawrence Angel that measured the skeletons of Greeks.
While this was on the taller end for people of the 4th century BC worldwide it pales in comparison to the Spartans.
As previously mentioned the average height of a Spartan warrior was around 5.6-5.9 ft tall. If you were an Athenian this would have appeared to be a race of giants who fought in an impenetrable wall of bronze shields and spears.
The ancient Athenian historian and statesman Xenophon who lived during the time of the Spartans said that Sparta was “populated with a race of men remarkable for their size and strength.” This only further demonstrated the outside view of Spartan warriors as being monstrously huge and strong.
The Spartans became so tall through a process of selective breeding. Tall men were ‘encouraged’ to only marry tall women to produce tall offspring. Plutarch writes an amusing story surrounding this phenomenon writing that Sparta would prefer to have “Kings” over “Kinglets.”
Further, the Spartan economy allowed for a large agricultural sector. The Spartan warrior was not given a diet of high protein but rather a balanced diet which encouraged large growth during the early stages of life. This would allow the Spartan soldiers to grow to large heights well above the average Greek of the time.
In essence, the average Spartan was significantly taller than the average Greek, by about a half foot on average. Undoubtedly there would have been extremes in both cases. It might have been common to see Spartans over 6ft tall. This would have made the Spartan warrior a full head taller than their fellow Greek.
How The Spartans Used Their Height To Their Advantage To Scare The Enemy In Battle
What was very interesting about the Spartan warriors is that after they had their first child they were allowed to begin to grow their hair out.
This was done for a couple of reasons. First, the Spartans practiced a society that was based around Helot labor. Having long hair separated the Spartans from the other Greek laborers who had to keep their hair short in order to work in the hot Greek sun. Here the long hair was seen as a sign of status.
Second, the long hair of a Spartan warrior was believed to be more attractive. According to ancient Greek sources it made the face more slender. It would make a beautiful face more beautiful.
However, the main reason why Spartans were allowed to grow their hair out after their first child was because it made them look taller and more terrifying. Xenophon in his Constitution of the Lacedaimonians discusses how the long hair of the Spartans would make them appear “taller, more dignified and more terrifying.”
This only further increased the rumors around the ancient Greek world that the Spartans were a race of giant brutish people. The Spartans would employ this legendary myth to scare the other Greek states into paying tribute. This worked for nearly a whole century until Sparta was defeated in battle by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC.
There you have it; an entire article dedicated to answering the true height of the Spartan Warrior.
Most ancient myths are just that. However, when it came to the legendary physical stature of the ancient Spartan warrior the legends appear to be true. The Spartan people had created a society of citizens who were between .5-1 ft. taller than the rest of the Greek people. Further, the Spartans would use their height to scare other Greek states in both battles and in stories.
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