All it took was one movie, and now everybody knows the ancient Spartans weren't the kind of guys you'd want to invite to your fancy cheese-tasting party. They'd probably stumble in, mock you for not being a full-time member of the military, then impale all of your guests with spears. Not to mention they'd eat all your fancy cheeses.
And you know what? It wasn't just a movie. That thing at the beginning of 300 where they'd toss all imperfect babies off the cliff, letting them splatter on the rocks below? They really did that. But first they would bathe the newborn in wine, to see if it was strong enough to survive. That's right; being a Spartan meant you had to handle your damned liquor right out of the damned womb.
So, Were They Really So Bad?
Every single Spartan male was a soldier. Every other job was done by slaves; the Spartan men were warriors and that was that. They fought until they could finally retire at the age of 60 (about the equivalent of living to 400 years old today).
Of course if you lived to be that ripe old age, were a good father and scholar and all-around great guy, too bad. You didn't even get a headstone when you died, you didn't deserve it. The only Spartans who got marked headstones were the ones who died in battle, during victory. Think you're a war hero? Well, if you're still alive that meant you still weren't hero enough for Sparta.
Look at how alive they all are. Pathetic.
Oh, and if you lost your shield during battle, you got the death penalty. A true soldier would have gone back to get it, or died trying.
If we (or the movie) make them sound like heroes, well you have to know about those slaves we mentioned earlier. The Spartans beat their slaves... by law. We don't mean the law allowed them to beat the slaves, we mean the law required it.
Things could get a lot worse for slaves, though. As a sort of coming of age holiday, there was an occasion every year upon which the young Spartan men were encouraged to sneak around and murder as many slaves as they could, without having to feel bad about it. If you didn't murder anybody, they probably called you gay.
Here's the thing with the Mongols. See this stadium? That's 100,000 people there.
Now imagine 400 of those stadiums, each full of people. Now imagine every single one of those people with grotesque stab wounds.
That's right; it is estimated that the Mongols--under Genghis Khan and others-- killed 40 million people.
The Mongols ripped through the world like a lawnmower. They were like an army of Batman villains. Only Asian, and on horseback.
Even the horses look pissed.
When the Mongols got in a conquesty mood, if your town happened to be in the way, you were, as they say, "shit out of luck." The Mongols would give you two choices, both of which thoroughly sucked. The first, and most practical, was to surrender and let them take whatever they wanted (which was pretty much everything, likely including your livelihood and all the women-folk). The second choice was to not surrender, and thus promptly watch your town burn to the ground. And your fields salted. Then, just to add another scoop of crap to an already crappy day, you'd be brutally murdered.
So, Were They Really So Bad?
During an invasion of India, a Mongolian general built a pyramid in front of the walls of Delhi out of human heads. Are you picturing it? If so, are you picturing like two dozen heads there? Because this guy used 90,000 of them.
They, like the Celts, had a thing for severed heads. They liked to gather them up and catapult them inside the enemy's compound. They would also fling corpses infected with black death.
"You know, most invading hordes just use arrows."
When they ran across pregnant women, they did... things. Things we won't discuss here.
When you saw them coming, hey, you could shoot at them with your arrows and spears all you wanted. All you'd be doing is slaughtering the huge crowd of refugees the Mongols forced to march ahead of them as human shields.
So, yeah. You want to know why the Spartans have to settle for number two, that's fucking why.
For more from fearsome countries abroad, check out 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear. Or head over to the blog where starting at 11:30 EST, Cracked.com Liveblogs The Inauguration.
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks or we'll get ancient Mongolian on your ass.