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The Spartan Way
Jul 27, '21

The Spartan Way

Sparta: ‘We Bow Down Before No Man’

In all cultures and times, a male was not automatically considered a man, but rather had to earn that title by passing through rites of passage and their attendant challenges and tests. Manhood was gained through a step-by-step process, in which a boy progressively gained more knowledge and responsibilities, as well as privileges.

Sparta institutionalized this process in the form of the famous agoge. Meaning “a leading,” this thirteen-year physical, military, religious, and moral education trained a boy in the aptitudes, knowledge, and virtues he would need to become a man and join the Homoioi — the “Equals” or “Peers.” Only these Spartiates could become full citizens of Lacedaemon and join its elite warrior class. Only these could be considered true Spartan men.

Rites of passage all around the world are structured in three phases: the initiate is first separated from his former life in preparation for creating a new identity; he then exists in a liminal, in-between state in which he is no longer part of his old life, but not yet fully inducted into his new one, and is taught the knowledge necessary for one day entering that future state; finally, having studied, practiced, passed the necessary tests, and proven himself worthy, the graduate is re-introduced into his community, which recognizes and honors his new status within the group. The Spartan agoge included these stages both on a macro and micro level; the entirety of the thirteen-year training course was one long rite of passage that transitioned a young Spartan male from childhood to puberty to youth, and finally into manhood, while smaller passages progressed him from one age to the next.

When a Spartan boy was seven, he left his family to be schooled with boys his own age in the agoge. His novice status was marked by his shaved head, single simple cloak, and the fact that the only weapon he could bear was that of the sickle – a tool of the helots (the servile class). These new apprentices were not only instructed in physical education, but also taught reading, writing, dancing, and singing, as well as logic, rhetoric, and philosophy.

When the Spartan boy became an adolescent, his growing status was symbolized in the fact he could now grow his hair out short. His instruction in arts and academics continued, while his physical training became more intense, including participation in team sports, which enjoyed far more prevalence in Sparta than other areas of ancient Greece. Ball games and other athletics were played even in the hottest heat of the summer, in order to further the boys’ capacity for toughness and endurance.

Adolescents were broken into different age classes, which were overseen by older teachers, as well as by a peer leader the same age, and a 20-year-old recent graduate of the agoge. To move from one age class to the next, the young trainee had to pass certain tests and competitions concerning strength, courage, aptitude, endurance, and even refinement.

For young men were not only taught the conduct of men in terms of physical and martial skills, but in manners as well. As Nigel M. Kennell notes in Gymnasium of Virtue, the adolescent was introduced “to the ways of a young Spartan gentleman: to keep his hands inside his robe while in public, to walk without talking, to keep his eyes always on the ground, and never to stare.” During this phase of maturation, a young trainee might be brought in front of a table of banqueting grown men and questioned, in a sort of catechism-like style, on the values and philosophy of the Spartan way of life.

As Kennell explains, further accountability for behavior was found in the fact that veteran members of the Lacedaemonian community paid close attention to the development of its youth:

“Plutarch emphasizes that the old men of Sparta kept watch over the young, attending their workouts in the gymnasium and their games and taking note of their general comportment throughout the day. Simply by their presence, they inspired fear in those likely to transgress and reinforced the shame and the yearning for excellence which guide those inclined to be virtuous.”

Around the ages of 18-20 — the threshold of manhood — the training of the increasingly seasoned apprentice intensified and he took part in more rigorous physical exercise, hunting outings, competitions in sports and gymnastics, and mock battles using the real weapons and equipment of the Spartan warrior.

The separation phase of the agoge’s extended rite of passage intensified as well in an experience called the krupteia or krypteia — a name which derives from the word for “secret” or “hidden.” For one year, the Spartan youth had to seclude himself from the polis, living off the land in the countryside, without being seen by the general population. Unarmed and without servants, shoes, or bedding, the experience was designed to test the youth in stealth, resourcefulness, and self-reliance; it was described by Plato as a “wonderfully severe training in hardihood.” (It should be noted that the krypteia is thought by some to be the name for a select, secret force of Spartans who spied on and policed the helot population by night, or for a kind of special operations wing of the Spartan military. Other scholars however, including Kennell, who conducted one of the most extensive studies of the agoge, argues that the term krypteia only rightly applies to this year-long course in bushcraft and wilderness survival, in which all young Spartan males participated.) A test not only of skill and guerrilla-esque adeptness, but also of the ability to thrive in solitude, the krypteia was a culmination of the lessons in courage, toughness, and discipline a young man had been mastering throughout the agoge — another transition point to crown a thirteen-year series of them.

If the trainee successfully completed this challenge, and those which had come before, at age 20 he graduated from the agoge to become a full-time soldier. At this point, he was to join one of the men’s dining clubs (more on these later), in which his mentoring into manhood continued, as he nightly ate with men of different ages, with many years of wisdom and experience between them. As Paul Rahe notes in The Spartan Regime, these dining clubs “integrat[ed] him into the larger community by means of an all-male social unit of a size perfect for engaging and keeping his loyalties.”

From ages 21-30, a Spartan man served on active duty in the military. After turning 30, he transitioned to the reserves, and was expected to get married, if he hadn’t done so already, and start a family. He could now grow his hair out in the long, Lacedaemonian style, and was considered a full citizen, one of the Equals, the Peers. He had earned his place among Spartan men.

Throughout all of these phases, tests, and challenges, failure was always a possibility — a young man could flunk the agoge, and disqualify himself from joining the ranks of the Homoioi — a humiliating disgrace.

But if he proved worthy, a Spartan male not only moved chronologically and biologically from childhood, to puberty, to youth, but transformed in skill, knowledge, and confidence as he moved from plebe to warrior to citizen. Each stage and rite of passage carried symbology that indicated his current status, while imparting the instruction and mentoring that prepared him for the next, so that, when he reached the subsequent stage in his journey into manhood, he knew what was expected of him, and had no doubt he belonged.

My Father Encouraged me to be a Spartan

My Dad John Charles Baillie (1911-1976) A Motorcycle Policeman (Palestine Police 1938 - 45)

Death of my Grandfather

My Dad was orphaned in 1915 when he was 4. Arthur Baillie died of consumption TB aged only 35. My Grandmother had 5 children, William, Grace, John and another two. William stay with his mother, Grace was sent to Bradford to live with her Grandmother (Cooper), my father John was looked after by his Uncle Harry before being to the National Childrens Home Farnborough.

National Children's Home Farnborough Approved School

To be sent to an NCH Junior Approved School, you did not have to have done anything wrong, you were sent there for your own good.

My father described it as Hell on Earth

My Feral Childhood



UK /ˈfer.əl/ US /ˈfer.əl/

- existing in a wild state, especially describing an animal that was previously kept by people:

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch.

It means that when teaching, (a child for example), don't just try and fill the brain with facts and knowledge. If you can inspire someone to be excited or enthusiastic (create a spark inside them), they will love learning about their new favourite subject.

Because of his own upbringing my father believed that Education was only way out of the poverty trap.

“He orphaned at 4, a soldier at 14, and a Palestine Policeman at 27.”

He spoke Arabic and was known as “munasafatan” - “fifty fifty” by the Palestinian Arabs because he treated both Arabs and Jews equality.

I lost him at 21 but his legacy continued on...

The Railway Bank

I moved to Ramsgate Christmas 1958 aged 4. My sister was born in the February. The summer came and my mother was busy with my new sister so I took advantage of escaping through the hole in the fence at the bottom of the garden and up the mysterious “bank!”

Instead of Narnia I found a children paradise of bushes and trees, prefect playground. Growing more bolder I explored ever further as the summer went on. It was if I had done it all before!

A Journal made by the Free-Booters into the South Sea, in 1684 and in the following Years. By Raveneau de Lussan.

“Scarce was I seven years old, when, through some innate notions, whereof I had not the mastery, I began to steal out of my Father's house: It's true, my first rambles were not far, because my age and strength would not allow them to be so; but they were so much the more frequent; and I have often given my parents the trouble to look after me in the suburbs, and that place we call "la Vilette": However, as I grew up, my excursions were the larger, and by degrees I accustomed myself to lose a sight of Paris.”

Moving rapidly forward, I was very much taken with the power of chemicals, especially gunpowder. Gunpowder was a sort of magical substance and has held an almost hypnotic fascination in the affections of many a small boy for generations. I know that this love affair was triggered off by the traditional celebrations of November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, with the making of a Guy effigy and going out on to the streets to collect a "Penny for the Guy". We used to make our decorated Guys, go out, collect charitable donations from passers by and come back later with usually a small amount of loose change. Sometimes we would do this three or four weeks in advance and then eagerly buy up stocks of fireworks, such as penny bangers and threp'nny cannons, the bright red ones! I always had a penchant for the exploding fireworks as they represent better value, more bang for your buck, so too speak! Rockets were another favourite of mine. But we didn‟t just put rockets up into the sky, being more inventive we made bazooka rocket launchers, with which we would aim and fire the rockets horizontally. Often we would engage in childhood gang fights, small but intensely emotional affairs with some of the local neighbourhood ruffians. We improvised an impressive arsenal of weaponry and being less in number would try to outwit them with our superior technology. It always worked, prepared only as they were for hand to hand combat, our firepower was a surprise and certainly scared them away from pursuing their bullying tactics and intimidation.

In 1968 they bulldozed the much cherished Railway Bank away and built industrial units on the site.

At the present time it houses the aptly Spartan sounding “War Machines Gym!”

So we experimented and technological advances were made. When not using gunpowder from Bonfire Night, I made muskets from tubular door chimes. Rather gratifyingly we found that if we dropped the penny bangers down the barrel after lighting them, they could be fired horizontally. Then in a quantum leap we discovered the joys of Sodium IV Chlorate, which was sold as weed killer in the local garden centres of the time. In those days you could buy a large one pound tin of weed killer from the garden centre and then rushing home, mix it with a one pound bag of white sugar. This gave a proportion of about 50/50 by mass, and then you had yourself a rather splendid pyrotechnic mixture with a myriad of uses.

The mixture could be used for various things. One of my favourite experiments was to use a “Marvel” dried milk tin. Into this was placed a small amount of the pyrotechnic mixture, making first sure there was a small touch hole in which to put a match. The lid was then firmly stamped on, the whole contraption was then carefully placed outside a friend’s door on the doorstep and a lighted red match put in. With the pressure rapidly building along with the excitement, the doorbell would be rung. As your friend came to the door, so the lid would blow off with a bang and shoot up about fifteen to twenty feet in the air, making your friend jump. All this was of course observed from a safe distance. No risk assessment was made in those times, as we weren’t really into risk assessments. We were just having fun. For young boys then it was a totally natural thing to do.

The experiments gathered pace. They moved into loading the door chimes full of Sodium Chlorate and sugar and making a rather effective flame thrower instead of a musket, which ejected a rather large 2 or 3 foot flame, bright yellow, for at least a minute or two. Going further, with this new exciting technology we discovered that we could use this for our own rockets, so gratifyingly we experimented with a rocket shell. The grainy, powdered sugar/weed killer mixture was a bit too dense, so after experimentation we put the dissolved chlorate directly onto newspaper, soaking it in and letting it dry in the sun. Then rolling up the newspaper we packed it carefully into our home-made rockets. With an air of excitement we would then experimental fire them in the local field. Some worked, some didn’t, but on the whole they were always most spectacular.

The trouble with rockets is that they usually do one of three things. They either don’t work, in which case they are extremely boring, and everybody groans. They can explode, or even take off successfully and behave, as rockets really should, which is usually a novel bonus because they are then quite exciting and spectacular, zooming off in various directions, ending up in neighbours’ gardens. At the bottom of our house was an old disused railway embankment, the old Ramsgate/Margate line. We would at any opportunity escape up and onto this cherished playground of mystery and adventure. There we would build our elaborate camps and traps and imagine ourselves as Wild West pioneers fighting against incredible odds.

Blean Woods, Sturry

I had 12 fellow classmates in what was called Randall's Hiking Association at school. Chris Randall and his brother Julien, had set up this club the year previous and made a semi permanent camp as a base in Blean Wood now far from the Punch Tavern. In 1969 persuaded them that it would be a good idea to make my American Civil War film. As they had already built several log cabins and played the equivalent of paintball using dried pea shooting pistols it was but a small step away from donning uniforms and re-enacting my script. Luckily they all agreed to help me.

I was always mysteriously attracted to Blean Woods to the north side of Canterbury, between the city and the sea. It was a marvellous place, it had inspired and invoked as it turned out to be, many past life memories.

Wild Camping

As I grew inevitably older and more independent I went feral camping on Dover Cliffs, Easter 1971. My school friends and I decided to have our own Confederate camp (we named it Coffin Hill),

For two weeks we were up on Dover Cliffs overlooking Langdon Bay, flying the Confederate flag, a popular symbol of youthful rebellion at the time. I had flown the second battle flag that I had made at all of my camps since 1970. The camp was a great success and we decided to go to Chilham Woods the other side of Canterbury the very next year and repeat the experience,

Easter 1972, this time I recorded the events on film for posterity. The guns and uniforms went everywhere. It was part of our essential camping equipment. One took one’s Confederate uniform and one’s flag and with other like-minded friends we just went out camping rough. We would skirmish and re-enact battles and generally have a good old time reliving simpler days

Round Top Camp Chilham

Close up of Charlie Cramp and Larry Hemmings


Jul 27, '21
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