The life of a Spartan male was a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. The Spartans viewed themselves as the true inheritors of the Greek tradition. They did not surround themselves with luxuries, expensive foods, or opportunities for leisure. And this, I think, is the key to understanding the Spartans. While the Athenians and many others thought the Spartans were insane, the life of the Spartans seemed to hark back to a more basic way of life. Discipline, simplicity, and self-denial always remained ideals in the Greek and Roman worlds; civilization was often seen as bringing disorder, ennervation, weakness, and a decline in moral values. The Spartan, however, could point to Spartan society and argue that moral values and human courage and strength was as great as it was before civilization. Spartan society, then, exercised a profound pull on the surrounding city-states who admired the simplicity, discipline, and order of Spartan life.
The ideology of Sparta was oriented around the state. The individual lived (and died) for the state. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty. The combination of this ideology, the education of Spartan males, and the disciplined maintenance of a standing army gave the Spartans the stability that had been threatened so dramatically in the Messenean revolt.
Paradoxically, this soldier-centered state was the most liberal state in regards to the status of women. While women did not go through military training, they were required to be educated along similar lines. The Spartans were the only Greeks not only to take seriously the education of women, they instituted it as state policy. This was not, however, an academic education (just as the education of males was not an academic education); it was a physical education which could be grueling. Infant girls were also exposed to die if they were judged to be weak; they were later subject to physical and gymnastics training. This education also involved teaching women that their lives should be dedicated to the state. In most Greek states, women were required to stay indoors at all times (though only the upper classes could afford to observe this custom); Spartan women, however, were free to move about, and had an unusual amount of domestic freedom for their husbands, after all, didn't live at home.