Athens vs Sparta Essay

This essay has a total of 1558 words and 7 pages.

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. 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

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.

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