5 ways Marines are like ancient Spartans

Born in a bar, raised on an island, honed on the rifle range, refined in combat, there is no better friend, no worse enemy than a United States Marine. After 242 years of adapting and overcoming, evolved the most elite organization of barrel-chested freedom fighters the world has ever witnessed.

Marines Spartans

It is said that there are only a select few who will ever truly understand the U.S. Marine Corps: the Marines themselves and their enemy. Well, there may be one more group: Spartans. Sparta was a city-state of ancient Greece, best known for producing a warrior class that has become the gold standard of the subject. Notorious for their training styles and battlefield effectiveness, Spartans earned their reputation.

After exploring a little further, one can appreciate why Marines are often referred to as “America’s Spartans.”

1. Beauty Standards/Fat Shaming

Spartan soldiers had strict diets because they were focused on remaining physically fit – as both a point of pride and to avoid beatings. Every ten days, young men had to stand naked in public so their bodies could be inspected. Those who failed to meet standards of physical fitness were censured and/or beaten, and anyone who was overweight was ridiculed in public or banished.

The USMC is renowned for the look of its Marines, showcasing the high fitness standards in posters and commercials, but it doesn’t stop there. Consistent uniform inspections as well as physical fitness tests complete with a height and weight standard keep them that way.

Marines Spartans

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stephen D. Himes)

If a Marine is found to be outside these height and weight standards, his body mass index will be measured shirtless with a tape measurer. If the leatherneck fails this, he will be visually inspected by the commanding officer, who will then determine whether the Marine is within regulations. If not, the Marine will be assigned to a Body Composition Plan controlling his/her diet and exercise routine until fit again.

In basic training, we call these recruits Fat Bodies because “your feelings do not matter.”

2. Fighting Tooth and Nail

During the famous Battle of Thermopylae, the events of which were depicted in the film 300, Spartan soldiers continued to fight despite losing their weapons, resorting to using their nails and teeth in an attempt to bite and scratch their way to victory.

marines spartans

Marines are well-documented warriors with plenty of hand-to-hand combat on the books. Most notable perhaps was in Okinawa during World War II where E-tools were turned 90 degrees and unleashed on the brave Japanese soldiers who soon died for the emperor.

3. Colors

Spartans sported the Crimson tunic; Crimson (red) represents Spartan pride in their women. In 1925 gold and scarlet became the official colors of the Marine Corps. While there is no direct representation for the colors, this Marine likes to think scarlet red represents blood and blood, as every Devil Dog knows, makes the grass grow.

Marines Spartans

Sgt. Tim Hughes Holding the American Flag, and PFC Bobby McPherson holding the Marine Corps Battle Colors in 1972.

4. Low Reg Haircuts

Spartans were famous for having very long hair. The Spartans viewed long hair as the symbol of a free man. Marines have a strong and ferociously enforced standard regarding hair length. Only those with very special permission can even dream to grow their hair to any length that could ever be considered “long.”

marines spartans

Before-and after photos of Nicholas Karnaze, a Marine Corps veteran and the founder and CEO of beard care company stubble & ‘stache, show off his killer haircut and civilian beard. (Task & Purpose)

Any Marine with actual long hair EAS’d years before, therefore long hair represents a free man in the Corps as well.

5. Two Kings

Sparta had two kings from two different ruling dynasties. Their explanation was that during the fifth generation after the demi-god Heracles, from whom legend claimed all Spartan kings descended, twin sons were born which formed the bloodline for the two royal houses, Agiad and Eurypontid. The two rulers would share the duties of king.

The USMC has a Commandant and a Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and while they do not share the same authority, they do both lead in respective ways.

Marines Spartans

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, left, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green, watch recruits go through the crucible at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Oct. 16, 2015. Neller and Green watched the recruits go through one of the toughest parts of their recruit training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia)

The conversations about who the best warrior class is, much like the fights, always end with U.S. Marines and Spartans as the winners, and that is just what they are, winners. When being the best is a lifestyle, victory becomes ancillary. Spartans have secured their legacy but Marines are still writing theirs, and if history is an indicator, those legacies will be similar as well.