Ancient Sparta was particularly prized as a paradigm for Prusso-German military elite-education during the 19th and 20th centuries. Using a variety of sources, including previously-untouched archival material, this research project demonstrated that this analogy with Sparta was neither superficial nor accidental, but deep and systematic. Analysis of two case-studies, the Royal Prussian Cadet-Corps (1818-1920), and the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten (National-Political Education-Institutes), or Napolas (1933-1945), showed that generations of future German officers and putative Nazi leaders were often trained to see a ‘Spartan’ way of life as the ultimate goal to which they should aspire.
At the cadet-schools, self-identification with young Spartans became instrumental in helping boys to accept the hardships of military socialisation; this identification was encouraged both by older cadets and by the school authorities. In political debates concerning the cadet-corps, ideas of Sparta then became conceptual weapons in the battle between the forces of reactionary monarchist conservatism and the adherents of Social Democracy and liberalism.
At the Napolas, National-Socialist ideology was frequently used to portray Sparta as an ancient precursor of the Third Reich, and boys were particularly encouraged to embrace Spartan models of courage and self-sacrifice, such as Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who fought at Thermopylae.
Through correspondence and conversation with over sixty octogenarian ex-pupils of these schools, and by using contemporary documentary sources, the impact which such Spartan ideology had on Napola-pupils on a personal level has (at least partially) been reconstructed. The project also investigated the ways in which the politicians who founded the Napolas conceived of Sparta as a model for the schools.
A monograph based on this research project, entitled Sparta’s German Children. The ideal of ancient Sparta in the Royal Prussian Cadet-Corps, 1818-1920, and in National Socialist elite schools (the Napolas), 1933-1945, has now been published by the Classical Press of Wales.
Articles based on this project include:
- ‘”Spartanische Pädagogik deutscher Art“: The influence of Sparta on the Royal Prussian Cadet Schools (1818-1920)’ in Das antike Sparta, ed. Anton Powell, Vassiliki Pothou, Stuttgart 2017, pp. 157-180.
- ‘Wanderer, kommst du nach Sparta oder nach Stalingrad? Ancient ideals of self-sacrifice and German military propaganda’, in Making Sacrifices: Visions of Sacrifice in Contemporary Culture, ed. Nicholas Brooks, Gregor Thuswaldner, Vienna 2016, pp. 66-86.
- ‘”In Sparta fühlte ich mich wie in einer deutschen Stadt” (Goebbels): The leaders of the Third Reich and the Spartan nationalist paradigm’, in English and German Nationalist and Antisemitic Discourse (1871-1945), ed. Felicity Rash, Geraldine Horan, Daniel Wildmann, Oxford 2013, pp. 91-115.
- , New Voices in Classical Reception Studies 7, 2012, pp. 25-39.