Herodotus has all sorts of background material on Sparta.  See the index for specific page numbers.
See also Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus (

Sparta Reconsidered ( suggests a more positive take on Spartan life.

Generalization:  The Spartan political and social system contains many unusual elements, but the Spartan way of life was well suited for securing the stability of the Spartan state.

I.  Development of the Polis
    A.  Acropolis
    B.  Agora
II.  Sparta during the Mycenaean period
III.  Dorian Sparta
    A.  Conquest of Messenia
    B.  Helots and perioikoi
    C.  Lycurgus and the Spartan political system
        1.  dual kingship
        2.  gerousia (28 old men from aristocratic families plus the two kings)
        3.  apella (all arms-bearing men over 30)
        4.  ephors ("overseers," a check on royal power
    D.  The Spartan social system
        1.  graining to be a hoplite
        2.  exposure of unfit
        3.  barracks training for 7 year olds and up
        4.  discipline of Spartan boys
        5.  sacrifices made by men
        6.  women in Sparta
    E.  Spartan contributions

From Tyrtaeus of Sparta. As reproduced in Early Greek Lyric Poetry, trans. David Mulroy (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 48-49.
It is a beautiful thing when a good man falls and dies fighting for his country.
The worst pain is leaving one's city and fertile fields for the life of a beggar,
wandering with mother, old father, little children, and wedded wife.
The man beaten by need and odious poverty is detested everywhere he goes,
a disgrace to his family and noble appearance, trailed by dishonor and evil.
If no one takes care of the wanderer or gives him honor, respect, or pity,
we must fight to the death for our land and children, giving no thought to lengthening life.
Fight in a stubborn, close array, my boys! Never waver or retreat!
Feel your anger swell. There is no place in combat for love of life.
Older soldiers, whose knees are not so light, need you to stand and protect them.
An aging warrior cut down in the vanguard of battle disgraces the young. His head
is white, his beard is grey, and now he is spilling his powerful spirit in dust,
naked, clutching his bloody groin: a sight for shame and anger. But youthful
warriors always look good, until the blossom withers. Men gape
at them and women sigh, and dying in combat they are handsome still.
Now is the time for a man to stand, planting his feet and biting his lip.