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Young Spartans Exercising

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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The painting illustrates a passage from the Life of Lycurgus by the Roman historian Plutarch, which describes how Spartan girls were ordered to engage in exercise – including running, wrestling and throwing the discus and javelin – and to challenge boys. However, this may be a scene of courtship rather than competition, as aspects of the girls' hairstyles and poses correspond with accounts of such rituals in Plutarch’s writing. In the middle distance a group of women, mothers of the children, surround the elderly Lycurgus, who drew up the rules of Sparta. Beyond them is the city of Sparta, overlooked on the left by Mount Taygetus, from which unwanted Spartan infants were thrown.

The National Gallery, London



about 1860


Oil on canvas


H 109.5 x W 155 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1924

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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