The Spartan army stood at the centre of the Spartan state, whose citizens' primary obligation was to be good soldiers. Subject to military drill from infancy, the Spartans were one of the most feared military forces in world history. At the height of Sparta's power – between the 6th and 4th centuries BC – it was commonly accepted that "one Spartan was worth several men of any other state."
The iconic army was first coined by the philosopher Lycurgus. In his famous quote of Sparta having a "wall of men, instead of bricks", he proposed to create a military-focused lifestyle reformation in the Spartan society in accordance to proper virtues such as equality, austerity, strength, and fitness. A Spartan man's involvement with the army began in infancy when he was inspected by the Gerousia. If the baby was found to be weak, he was left at Mount Taygetus to die. Those deemed strong were then put in the agoge at the age of seven. Under the agoge the young boys or Spartiates were kept under intense and rigorous military training. Their education focused primarily on sports and war tactics, but also included poetry, music, academics, and sometimes politics. Those who passed the agoge by the age of 30 were given full Spartan citizenship.
The term "spartan" became synonymous with multiple meanings such as: fearlessness, harsh and cruel life, bland and lacking creativity, or simplicity by design. It is mostly used to describe a professional soldier or army.
The first reference to the Spartans at war is in the Iliad, where they participate among the other Greek contingents. Like the rest of the Mycenaean armies, it was composed largely of infantry, equipped with short swords, spears, Dyplon (or Dipylon, an 8-shaped shield) and a simple rounded bronze shield. This was an age of heroic warfare with simple tactics, often little more than a general charge and a great deal of killing—it was common for entire armies to be chased down and killed after a rout. The basic tactic of battle was "free for all".
War chariots were used by the elite, but unlike their counterparts in the Middle East, they appear to have been used mostly for transport, with the warrior dismounting to fight on foot and then remounting it to withdraw from combat, although some accounts show warriors throwing their spear from the chariot before dismounting.