The Spartans, popular wisdom tells us, were history’s greatest warriors; in fact, they lost battles frequently and decisively. We are told they dominated Greece; they barely managed to scrape a victory in the Peloponnesian Wars with wagonloads of Persian gold, and then squandered their hegemony in a single year. We hear they murdered weak or deformed children, though one of their most famous kings had a club foot. They preferred death to surrender, as the legend of the Battle of Thermopylae is supposed to show—even though 120 of them surrendered to the Athenians at Sphacteria in 425 B.C.E. They purportedly eschewed decadent wealth and luxury, even though rampant inequality contributed to oliganthropia, the manpower shortage that eventually collapsed Spartan military might. They are assumed to have scorned personal glory and lived only for service to the city-state, despite the fact that famous Spartans commissioned poetry, statues, and even festivals in their own honor and deliberately built cults of personality. They all went through the brutal agōgē regimen of warrior training, starting from age seven—but the kings who led their armies almost never endured this trial. They are remembered for keeping Greece free from foreign influence, but in fact they allied with, and took money from, the very Persians they fought at Thermopylae.

Myke Cole on the Spartan myth.

Tl;dr the lionization of “Sparta” has nothing to do with the actual Spartans (who were kinda not very impressive) and everything to do with fascism and ethno-nationalism.

The article also taught me the terms “tacticool”, which describes the fetishisation of military (i.e. tactical) aesthetics by civilians, and “moron label”, a riff on molon labe (“come take it”).