I’m sure you’ve heard the quote, “Diamonds are formed under pressure, but never forget, they are not formed overnight.” The same concept applies to the soldiers who had to undergo the toughest of military training to become the elite fighters that they were. Their endurance, dedication, strength, and willpower were tested, and they were taught how to be effective in all sorts of combats. Think your military training was tough? Then check out these training exercises in history that you would not, for sure, want to go through.

Spartans, Raised to be Warriors from Birth

We could never leave behind the Spartans whenever it comes to intense military training. Their widely feared reputation and martial prowess were a result of long and extensive training. To them, the key to producing the toughest of warriors was to start them young, and so according to the Roman historian Plutarch, the selection would begin as soon as the Spartans were born. If the infant looked unhealthy or was deformed, they were killed. By the time the healthy ones turned seven, the children would be taken away from their parents and grouped into packs. Before anything, their heads would be shaved, they would be given little clothing, little food to eat, and they would walk barefoot. All these stern and seemingly extreme rules were so that “they may take into their own hands the fight against hunger, and so be forced into boldness and cunning.”

Young Spartans Exercising. (Edgar Degas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

These children would sleep, eat, and train together until the age of 12, when they were given the Spartan cloaks, and they mastered the act of obeying commands, enduring hardships, and conquering in battles. They do so by engaging in a series of mock combats that would solidify their camaraderie and turn them into the elite and fearsome fighters we know.

Prussians, Running the Gauntlet

It was once said, “Most countries have an army, in Prussia the army has a country.” Prussia is a small nation located in Eastern Europe. Their location with very few natural boundaries and resources meant they had to spend most of their time fighting off different enemies from different directions, sometimes all at the same time. As a result, the Prussians developed an army of incredible military discipline, even by the standards of their time. Their army had a reputation for marching and shooting faster than any army in Europe. In battle, they adopted a fighting style that proved terrifying and demoralizing to their enemies. While soldiers in other armies were happy to blast away at each other with muskets from a distance, Prussian infantry would fire a few volleys and then charge you with fixed bayonets.


1525 engraving “running the gauntlet” (Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

To ensure that their army would perform as efficiently as possible, the Prussians had Draconian punishment for those who would attempt to disobey the orders. For instance, those soldiers who deserted were hanged, while those with minor offenses like breaking military rules were ordered to run between a double row of comrades called the gauntlet. These lines of soldiers would beat the offender as he ran between them. Officers lose their commission for misbehaving. Things only changed after Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806 when “a new system of officer selection and promotions was introduced. The Military Schools of Artillery and Engineers were founded. Traditional punishments such as flogging and running the gauntlet were abolished.”