Comparison of Spartan and Samurai Warriors Comparison of Spartan and Samurai Warriors Both Feudal Japan and Ancient Sparta are renowned for their outstanding soldiery. Each had distinctly different military styles owing to the differences in their lifestyles and beliefs. The Japanese soldier had a balanced view of himself as a whole person, studying both martial and literary techniques, whereas the Spartan soldier was born and raised to become a soldier. Both techniques were extremely successful in developing a fighting force that was the elite of their times. The Core of feudal japans military force was the samurai. The development of the samurai in ninth-century Japan occurred when the centralized aristocratic government lost power to the local landowners who employed their own armed forces.
The heads of these armed forces were known as the “bushi” or “samurai”, and were for the most part descended from the old clans (Sato, 1995). The samurai gave their society moral values and acted as sentinels of peace. During the shogunate of the Tokugawa family the samurai as a class were transformed into military bureaucrats and were required to master leadership skills as well as military arts (Wilson, 1994). This trend became more and more apparent as time went on. The samurai no longer believed that being a good warrior was all that was necessary.
The samurai now believed that the complete man was one with a balance of both martial and literate skills. Training now involved leadership skills, meditation and poetry. By doing this, the shoguns ensured an army of elite soldiers that had the capacity to lead others or think for themselves if necessary. This training eventually had the effect of many warriors reverting to a study of Buddhism. The training of soldiers was perhaps the biggest difference between the two civilizations.
A Spartan male was trained for fighting and nothing else from the day he was born, as opposed to the more all-round training of the samurai. At age six, a Spartan boy would leave the company of women to live in barracks with other boys his age. They were given very slim rations and expected to steal whatever else they needed to eat. The only shame was in getting caught or in not being strong if punished. There were stories of Spartan boys who died under punishment. They also were taught military discipline, obedience, toughness and endurance. Spartans did not consider the arts of reading and writing necessary.
Boys learned the Iliad and songs of war and religion, however, leaping, running, wrestling, and wielding a weapon with grace and accuracy were believed to be much more important. The whole way of life, the constitution of the state, the system of education of ancient Sparta were calculated to one end – the maintenance of an army of experts who were ready and able at any moment to suppress sedition within the state or repel invasion form without (Michell, 1952). The Spartan was a professional soldier and nothing else, and his education was directed entirely to two ends – physical fitness and obedience to authority. Within these two margins the Spartan soldier was superbly capable. From the moment of his birth to the time when he was too old to be of any further active use, the Spartan was subject to discipline.
His individuality was submerged to a degree seldom, if ever, matched by any other country. This method of training developed a finely honed soldier that excelled in combat. However, because of the narrow spectrum of skills studied, a Spartan soldier was simply an excellent soldier and nothing else. This could be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage for the Spartan soldier. In one regard he excelled in the art of combat, on the other, he had little to no skill in any other area.
“The Spartan soldier was exactly that – a soldier. They had no knowledge of how to do anything else.” (Michell, 1952, pg. 183). However, a link does exist between the two civilizations – both were willing to die if necessary to protect their masters. The Japanese samurai followed their own code of ethical behavior known as bushido, which remained orally transmitted for generations (Koya, 1992). Bushido means “Way of the Warrior.” It was at the heart of the beliefs and conduct of the Samurai.
The philosophy of Bushido is “freedom from fear.” It meant that the Samurai transcended his fear of death. This gave him the peace and power to serve his master faithfully and loyally and die well if necessary. Duty is a primary philosophy of the Samurai. The following text was written in the seventeenth century by a samurai who had become a Zen Buddhist monk. “The Way of the Samurai is found in death.
When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim. We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a dangerous thin line.
To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death and fanaticism.” (Wilson, 1994, pg. 253) This sums up very well the thoughts of the samurai. A samurai would rather die in battle than face the shame of failing in his duty. It was this cold disregard for their own lives that made the samurai and awesome figure in battle. With a clear mind, a samurai was more prepared for the rigors of battle than any other soldier he faced. This was very similar to the Spartan soldier’s willingness to fight for his state, or to die in the process.
It is here that a comparison of the two systems can be clearly seen. The ideology of Sparta was oriented around the state. The individual lived and died for the state. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty. “The Spartan soldier was content to live and die in service of the state.” (Michell, 1952, pg. 168). The combination of this ideology, the education of Spartan males, and the disciplined maintenance of a standing army gave the Spartans much needed stability. Although there were great differences in the two methods, the basic premise was the same.
The Japanese samurai obeyed his lord unto death, the Spartan soldier obeyed his state unto death. Another similarity between the two civilizations’ warriors was that of their attitudes towards themselves. Both were content to live without luxuries that other civilizations found necessary. The life of a Spartan male was a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. The Spartans viewed themselves as the true inheritors of the Greek tradition. They did not surround themselves with luxuries, expensive foods, or opportunities for leisure.
This is the key to understanding the Spartans. Discipline, simplicity, and self-denial always remained ideals in the Greek and Roman worlds; civilization was often seen as bringing disorder, enervation, weakness, and a decline in moral values. The Spartan, however, could point to Spartan society and argue that moral values and human courage and strength was as great as it was before civilization (Williams, 1994). As a result of this, the Spartan men became tough, proud, disciplined, and noted for obstinate conservatism and for brevity and directness of speech (Michell, 1952). From childhood, life was one continuous trial of endurance and all gentler feelings were suppressed.
The same was the case for the samurai. Although the shoguns and the emperor found it necessary to surround themselves with riches, a samurai’s life was often very harsh. However, a samurai could, and did during the Tokugawa period, become more influential and gained a title similar to a Baron. Although there was a trend away from the more simplistic life of the earlier samurai, they were still prepared to deal with any situation, no matter the consequences. Their reasons for doing this were very similar to the Spartan soldier, a matter of honour and morals. Clearly, a similarity exists between these two civilizations’ climaxed warriors. Both had a very strong sense of duty and honour towards their masters that ultimately showed itself in the willingness of the soldiers to die if necessary. However, one main contrast between the two civilizations was their attitude towards training. The way of life, training and attitude of the Japanese warrior was aimed towards the complete man as being both martial and literate, whereas the Spartan soldiers’ training was aimed solely at martial skills.
No matter the method, clearly both civilizations produced a fighting elite that was one of the best of their times.