From the moment it was born, a Spartan was bred to service the state. If a baby passed inspection with a clean bill of health, he or she would be spared until age seven--agoge season. If a baby showed a visible physical deformity, then that baby would be vulture fodder.

At the age of seven, the child who survived started school. Years of intense training for military strategies, pain tolerances, to name a few resulted in an upstanding Spartan soldier, the envy of all the other Greek military academies.

But agoges were Social Darwinist schools. Many began training, but few survived for long enough to reach graduation.

Despite this detriment, the agoge system worked for a city-state as militaristic as Sparta. But Sparta was just a city.

The military ensured the success of empires. The Romans, the Mongols, the Persians, the Qin, the Franks, the Ottomans, the Russians under command of Ivan Grozny (the Terrible)--they made names for themselves through the might of the armies. They could have easily worked the way the Spartans did, so let's say that in an AH scenario, any one of these empires used infant inspections and agoge disciplines. In the grand scale of empire-building, would these sort of disciplines only augment the issues of population detriments?

  • $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=G1DCAg1baxQ $\endgroup$ – Count Iblis Jan 9 '17 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ @CountIblis This video is not available in your country... :/ $\endgroup$ – Shaamaan Jan 9 '17 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ A cynical person would postulate we have this NOW, almost globally, with a 1% economic elite population that writes the rules to ensure they stay on top and the rest of us are wage slaves to credit cards and bank loans....the checkbook is mightier than the sword! $\endgroup$ – Jason K Jan 9 '17 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JasonK Sorry, I think that farming the pleebs to be pacifist consumers is perhaps the polar opposite of the idea. $\endgroup$ – JasonS Jan 9 '17 at 20:17

Spartan citizens could afford spending years and years on full time military training only because they had a large base of workers/slaves gained with the Messenian wars, who replaced them in all but military/reproduction tasks, which is not easily scalable to an empire size without creating issues with the conquered populations.

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    $\begingroup$ In fact some views are not that "they could afford years of training" due to slavery but that they were forced to have that training due to slavery. Because that training was what allowed them to have their 20+ slaves per citizen under control. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jan 9 '17 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. In fact there were major issues with the conquered population even at this scale and that was ultimately what led to the downfall of Sparta. Trying to do it on a larger scale would be unworkable. Plus of course you'd have to acquire the slaves in the first place, For Sparta that was just a case of winning on major victory early in their history, but a larger empire would need multiple and repeated victories to gain sufficient slaves; by the time you got to the point of being able to try the Spartan system, you wouldn't need it as you'd already have well established military credentials $\endgroup$ – Simba Jan 9 '17 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ The only other way to get a productive society and aver a large military force is the Swiss Citizen Miltia model, where everyone is conscripted, and remains "on call" after their period of service is over. The IDF demonstrates the weakness of this model, during large scale call ups like the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the economy of Israel was on hold as the majority of the working population went to war. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jan 9 '17 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ What if the slaves are robots? $\endgroup$ – intrepidhero Jan 9 '17 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @intrepidhero. If robots were good enough to be slaves, they'd also make excellent soldiers, I think. $\endgroup$ – Nolonar Jan 9 '17 at 22:18

As @L.Dutch pointed out, there are reasons why a large nation probably can't maintain this.

... but what about a military caste of a large nation?

Instead of the entire nation going through a Darwinistic process, segregate a section of the population as a dedicated military and have them go through it. The rest of your citizens keep your country going while the military caste keeps your borders strong (and expanding?). You could also more easily indoctrinate (er... "educate") this caste with a profound sense of patriotism: a willingness (or eagerness) to fight and die in the service of the empire.

In some ways, this would be similar to what the Ottoman Turks did with the Janissaries: an elite military caste separate from the rest of the nation. (Spartan Janissaries just sounds frightening.)

Add in some future genetic "manipulation" or even modern "better living through chemistry" and you could get some truly frightening results. Draka, anyone?

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    $\begingroup$ You've described exactly what Sparta actually did. Those born within the city were a "warrior caste" of soldier-slaves, those in the rural area ruled by the city were essentially artisan-slaves. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner Jan 9 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @GrimmTheOpiner That makes sense... I never claimed to be an expert on the Spartans. My degree is in Physics - history (mostly as it relates to role-playing games) is merely a hobby. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Jan 9 '17 at 16:29

Maybe but why would they? Killing off you citizens seems counterproductive. There are a few situations where this makes sense.

Despite what you see in the movies 5 okay soldiers are often better than 1 really good one. So keeping the mediocre soldiers would normally increase the strength of your army.

Killing off weak looking babies and boys that have trouble in training, makes you miss out on all the good they would have done either as mediocre solders or workers in some other field.

There are three versions of this that would work,

  • there are limited resources food land or something else so that the empire has a strictly limited population, in this case the extra people would have starved so might as well kill them early
  • Instead of killing the drop outs point them into a different field (they all become farmers or something) so we don't lose their effort
  • Finally the weeding process might be fairly lenient only killing those who would be of no use anywhere

"Service to the state" needs to be defined differently in the case of an empire rather than a city state. Most of the work will be administrative. Your model here should be the last of the great empires, the British. The British Empire was built with a relatively small army and a massive administrative system.

That is the service you're going to have to send people into. It'll take educated intelligent people with a desire to travel.

Build yourself a nice class system, induct the lower classes into the armed forces and encourage the upper classes to be officers and overseas administrators.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you think big socialist empires, such as the Soviet Union, could also fit in this description? USSR was hugely based on bureaucracy, too. $\endgroup$ – FraEnrico Jan 9 '17 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @FraEnrico, technically, but it's more suitable to actual Socialism (doing things that are best for the masses) than Soviet Stalinism (doing things because you're told to). $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 9 '17 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like the Romans to me. They might use a large army to subdue a state, but then the would send a single governor with a small staff to administer it. $\endgroup$ – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jan 10 '17 at 8:58

The Spartan System itself is ultimately suicidal. The mortality rate makes it unsustainable for anything more than 20 generations or so. It also doesn't scale well. Somebody has to worry about how all those big, bad, soldiers get fed.

If you look at history, wars are won on logistics as much (or more) as on any sort of brilliant tactics.

The best military forces have always had their soldiers come from the citizenry (those with the sovereign franchise, property, etc.) That way there is a connection on a gut level as to why we fight. Volunteer servicemen and women will always be more effective.

  • $\begingroup$ The Roman Republic illustrates your chances with citizienry-based army pretty good. They were powerful, but as the empire grew too big, constant war in far countries made impossible for the peasants to serve in the army and simultaneously produce food. They have lost their property to large estates, and vanished slowly. This led to serious imbalance in the society, and caused civil war era leaders (like Caesar and Marius) to rely on the poor, and promise them land as reward. Which eventually resulted in the professional army in the age of the principate.(early emperors) $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jan 10 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Volunteers would have little use in the modern era, since the tactics, weapons, and other complicated equipment require professional training to be used very effectively. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jan 10 '17 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ Hardcore History podcast from Dan Carlin talks about this kind of thing in pretty good detail @b.Lorenz that show is great $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jan 10 '17 at 19:26

Lots of nations have mandatory military service (conscription). I could see this as close to a modern equivalent, though obviously not quite as rigorous. However those failing to complete their service are denied rights as a full citizen, which is a bit analogous.

  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". The book, not the horrible movie. Voluntary military service in order to get full citizenship. Not conscripts though. He mentions that conscripts get a case of conscripts syndrome and screw things up. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Jan 10 '17 at 13:39

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