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300px|thumbnail|left|Map Showing Sparta’s Location in the Peloponnesian Peninsula]]__NOTOC__
The idea of ancient Spartan heroism has been depicted so often in modern fiction that scholars have coined the term “Spartan Mirage” to refer to what they see as an exaggerated idealization of ancient Spartan culture that borders on mythologization. Films such as 300 routinely show the Spartans as the best trained, bravest, and most capable of all the Greeks, and for the most part, until the Spartans lost in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, that idea was not far from reality. Despite being outnumbered, the Spartans usually won the day and were vital to the Hellenic League’s victory in the Persian Wars (499-479 BC). The secret behind the Spartans’ martial success was their unique form of education known as the <i>agoge</i>.
===A Utilitarian Society===
300px|thumbnail|left|Bust of Lycurgus the Law Giver]]
To understand what the agoge was and its importance to ancient Spartan society, one must first understand the nature of a society that would create such an institution. Ancient historians believed that Sparta evolved from a standard Greek city-state into the militaristic state for which it became known took place under the direction of the legendary lawgiver, Lycurgus, sometime in the ninth or eighth century BC.
300px|thumbnail|left|1869 “Education in Sparta” by Italian Artist Luigi Mussini (1813-1888). The Picture Depicts a Spartan Boy Being Show the Follies of Drunkenness by Observing a Helot Who Was Forcibly Intoxicated]]
When Spartan boys reached seven, they were taken from their families and forced to live communally with other boys their age while they were educated in the agoge. Although the agoge included traditional classes on writing and rhetoric, its emphasis was clearly on combat, physical fitness, and violence in general. For the first few years of their training, the boys were given older mentors and introduced to a life of austerity, but when they reached the age of twelve, the training really began.