, Research Paper
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
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.