Athens VS Sparta

During the late Archaic Greek and Classical periods, two particular city-states were in existence with significant similarities as well as differences. These two city-states, Sparta and Athens have unique formations of government, histories, goals, as well as societies.

After experiencing the effects of a rising population and shortage of arable land, the Spartans moved through their mountainous western frontier in hope of seeking a new spacious land to live upon. Their decision to change their home grounds put the Spartans in great danger as they found themselves entering into the fertile plain of Messenia. Fearing that they may be overthrown by power by the Messenian resistance and the helot status, the Spartans began to seek protection for their city-state and their citizens. In hope of protecting themselves, the Spartans began a new way of life by introducing a dominant military camp that would keep their community alert and aware at all times. This was the foundation of how the Spartans became a military based society.
On the other end of the Greek city-states, the Athens chose a relatively different path as their governmental system, a democracy. Although the Athens did not prosper into a democracy over night, each step taken revealed a transition into the new governmental system they were yet to obtain. In hope of avoiding a civil war, a member of the aristocracy, Solon, was appointed as authority to posses power and provide law. Solon chose to break down his citizens into social classes that would be based primarily upon the annual yield of their farms. Thus, breaking away from the originally known practice of a political mobility they had grown to know. In 546 B.C.E., aristocrat, Pisistratus came into power, soon strengthening his possition in the citizens eyes, while viewing him as the main superior figure. As his power came to a haul, he traditionally passed the torch onto his son, Pericles, who transitioned all power into the government and the Assembly, Council of 500, and Peoples Court. Thus, allowing the men of the city-state to participate and voice their views in governmental issues. In addition to their democratic formation, the Athens too began to become prominent in sales of wealthy painted pottery and vases, which too was their final step in becoming a democracy.

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As we look back upon the two significant differences in the governmental systems of Sparta and Athens, there are also many other characteristics that distinguish the differences and similarities of these two city states. The difference in land as well as population perceives a relative historical comparison. Sparta lacked land area and was forced to seek other land in the fertile plain of Messenia. Although, if we look at the Athens, we see that they had no issues with plentiful land, as they possessed large and populous territory.
Another characteristic that set the differences between Sparta and the Athens were their societies. Although they were similar because both classified their people socially, the both divided their citizens in two uniquely different ways. The Athenian citizens were divided by Solon, the lawgiver and posesser of all power, into four classes based on the annual yield of their farms. The top three would have the opportunity to hold state offices while the lower classes were only allowed to participate in meetings in the Assembly with no office. The main difference between the two city-states was that the Athenian society was broken down into social classes while the Spartans were not. Spartans took a different route, as their government was based on a military foundation. There were no visible social classes, as it was understood the male responsibility as a dominant military man. At the age of seven, it was understood that any male
Spartan began life becoming prepared to be a strong soldier, while being taken from their families and placed in the barracks to live. The soldiers were the only figure placed with high regards in their society.
Though these city-states had their differences, there were also similarities between the two. Both the Spartans and Athenians relied on the male citizens as valuable rolls in the formation of their city-states. We see this as the Spartans demanded their men at a young age to prepare to meet the demands of the their state through the military. On the other end, we see the Athenian men taking a more political stand point, while being selected to hold offices in the state in addition to being paid for their work. In addition to this similarity, we see that women were not primarily in the picture in either government, in the Spartans nor the Athenian city-states. As a whole, both city-states looked to the male citizens as important characteristics in the formation of their city-states.

In close, the Spartans and Athenian city-states were both preeminent city-states of the late Archaic Greek and Classical periods. Though they possessed this similarity, there were many differences between the two.

Athens Vs Sparta

Athens Vs. Sparta During the times of Ancient Greece, two major forms of government existed, democracy and oligarchy. The city-states of Athens and Sparta are the best representatives of democracy and oligarchy, respectively. The focus of the times was directed towards military capabilities, while the Athenians were more interested in comfort and culture. It was the oligarchy in Sparta that put a war-like attitude as its first priority and best met the needs of Ancient Greece.

These factors empowered Sparta and led to the development of an authoritative and potent state. Other contrasting issues included women’s rights, social classes, and value of human life. Four rulers, Draco, Solon, Pisistratus, and Cleithenes, greatly influenced the political development of Athens. However, Athenian democracy cannot really be called a true democracy since there were several flaws in the government and the way in which it functioned. Upper class male citizens over the age of thirty were the only Athenians who held any right to vote.

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The democracy in Athens consisted of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch. Together, nine anchors, a Council of five hundred, an Assembly, and a court chosen by lot governed the city-state with limited power. The Assembly was made up of five hundred men who were chosen from a list of those who were eligible to serve on the council. All branches of the government were capable of vetoing one another. It was also customary to expel from the country any speaker who became too powerful. This rule could easily be abused and often infringed on the freedom of speech that most democracies have.

However, as stated in the Athenian Constitution, male citizens were equal and the government’s focus was on the individual rather than the state as a whole. This form of government could have run smoothly if it had not existed in a time led my military empires. The government in Sparta followed a very different coarse than that of the Athenians. It was controlled by an oligarchy in which the power was held by a group of five men called ephors. Working below the ephors was the Council of Elders and an Assembly.

Male citizens over age sixty could serve on the Council while anyone, male or female, over the age of twenty could be a member of the Assembly. Though the citizens had little say in the decisions made by the government, the system worked effectively. Over the years, the Spartan’s brutal reputation in war grew so great that other nations and city-states were too frightened to attack Sparta even though the Spartan army was no larger then eight thousand men. The Spartan Constitution called for all men to begin their military education at the age of seven, where they were trained to be tough and self-sufficient. Every man in the army fought with a great deal of passion for his country. Life in Sparta may have been rough, but the rest of the Greeks envied the Spartans for their simplicity, straight forwardness, and fanatical dedication.

The beliefs of Sparta were oriented around the state. The individual lived and died for the state. The combination of this philosophy, the education of Spartan males, and the discipline of their army gave the Spartans the stability needed to survive in Ancient Greece. The Athenian economy depended on foreign trade and travel. Because of Athens’ location on the Aegean Sea, sailing increased trade and placed Athenian ships everywhere from the Black Sea to Spain.

While trade was a necessity in Athens, there was a law in Sparta that banned all foreign trade and foreign traveling. This kept out foreign ideas and allowed an element of surprise when it came to attacks. However, this law did not affect their economy, which was already self-sufficient. Social classes in Athens and Sparta were structured in basically the same way, with an upper class, a lower class consisting of slaves, and a buffer class in the middle. In Athens, citizens held the highest rank, and males were privileged with voting rights while women holding citizenship were still regarded as minors. The non-Athenians, or metics, worked as merchants or artisans.

Though they paid the same taxes as citizens, metics could never own land or participate in government. Lastly came the slaves who were a necessity to Athens and dependent on their master. Though owning no property and sharing no privileges with the citizens, the law protected the slaves from being treated brutally. The Spartans of highest stature were the citizens, descending from the Dorian invaders. Secondly were the neighbors who worked in commerce and industry. The helots served as slaves and were sometimes killed when caught defying the government. Quite possibly one of the greatest differences between the Athenian and the Spartans regarded their attitude towards women.

When applied to the nations as a whole, woman defined the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. Both their roles in society and their relationship with the community played a major role in the development and effectiveness of each state’s government and culture. At infancy, girls and boys alike were evaluated by the Spartan government. Spartan girls who survived infancy received a public education. The education was physical, not academic. They were trained in gymnastics and taught patriotism to Sparta.

They were not trained militarily; the emphasis in their upbringing was on preparing them for their important role as wives and mothers of male warriors. At twenty, Spartan women married, and they were encouraged to bear as many children as possible. Aristotle tells us that, “desiring to make the Spartans as numerous as possible”, Lycurgus offered incentives for couples producing children. Unlike the rest of Greek women, Spartan women had the freedom of equality except for voting rights. They did little housework or sewing.

Such tasks were for the slaves, the helots. Aristotle suggested some wives had power beyond household affairs. Since men were in the military, the women had full authority over their households and were not forced into a life of only childbearing and housekeeping like the Athenian woman. Spartan women generally lived an outdoor life, wrestling, boxing, and racing, for example. The state believed athletic women would produce strong, healthy sons for the army. Because the woman of Sparta exemplified a greater political and authoritative influence, the nation thrived and became a world leader.

When Athenian girls came of age, their fathers offered them for marriage. Even as wives, they were required to stay indoor at all times. Their primary life tasks were child rearing, housework, and sewing. The public’s contempt for woman in Athens is well represented in Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in which several references are made to the equality and justice of Athenian life. Knowing that the women in Athens shared no rights with the masculine race, it is clearly seen how they are not even included in reference to the Athenian people as a whole.

The United States’ view of women is much closer to that of the Spartans’ rather than the Athenians’. Though women of Sparta still could not vote, their lives were not as wrongfully restricted as those of Athens. The women of America shape our nation just as the ancient women did, whether it was for better or worse. In Sparta, marriage was not an answer to social needs, but more of the basis for a stronger family foundation. All emphasis was put on raising and educating the children, just as many wish to see in America.

For the most part, families in America are directly associated with children and their significance to our nation. Many aspects of these ancient societies can still be seen in some of today’s present cultures. The United States, for instance, since 1776 has strived to serve the best interest of the nation through a form of government we call Democracy. Though our form of democracy is representative rather than Athens’ direct democracy, the intent remains the same. We boast equality just as the Athenians did, although their image of it was distorted.

American equality is given to all, regardless of social status or gender. However, the Athenians practiced what could be called limited equality since only upper class males actually held rights and absolute freedom. The oligarchy in Sparta somewhat resembled the totalitarian culture of the twentieth century Nazis. Totalitarianism is a form of government in which one ruler dictates the behavior of an entire nation with absolute power. Like the Nazi’s, a central power had authority over the government and the state as a whole. Hitler was the Nazi’s central power, while the Spartans were headed by five ephors. The unlimited power of the ephors allowed them to dictate the thoughts and actions of the entire city-state of Sparta, much like Adolph Hitler ruled over his Nazi nation.

However, the command of the ephors was divided by three, rather than being held by an individual. Athens and Sparta can be compared to each other in many ways. However, in today’s culture, we can never completely achieve the military power of Sparta, nor the sense of individual well being exemplified in Athens. We mimic their beliefs, while at the same time improve their customs. America too is a great nation; however, just like Athens and Sparta, we are often shaped by our mistakes and defined by our flaws.

History.

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