In addition to the Agoge, Lycurgus brought “The Mess” back from Crete. In Crete the common meal was called andrei; in Sparta phiditia, meaning place of friendship.
Spartiates were required to eat all evening meals together in groups, and were not allowed to dine with their families. They were required to eat specified meat sauces, cereals, and the famous black broth as part of a practice of moderation. This production of non-wealth was a leveling force among rich and poor. A rich man dining with a poor man could not put on an expensive display, nor could he eat first at home and then attend the mess, because others would be watching for anyone trying to defeat a system designed for all. Eating with one’s fellow soldiers prevented the men from spending too much time at home as Plutarch puts it,
“Lying at table on expensive couches, being waited upon by confectioners and chefs, fattened up in the dark like gluttonous animals, and ruining themselves physically as well as morally, and by giving free rein to every craving and excess which demanded lengthy slumbers, warm baths plenty of rest, in a sense, daily nursing.”
Plutarch says the groups at Mess were fifteen, but most likely they were much larger – either Pentecostys (144) or Lochos (288). Each man was required to contribute monthly barley-meal, wine, cheese, figs, and some money for meat. Often the Spartiates would make their contribution by going on hunts and bringing the meat to the Mess.
Once the meal was complete, the group disbanded and each man made his way home in the dark. They were not allowed to carry torches because Spartans were taught to function skillfully at night just as well as day.