Athens and Sparta

Athens and Sparta

The two most prominent city-states in ancient Greece

Peter von Hess - The Entry of King Othon of Greece in Athens - WGA11387

Athens and Sparta were the two most prominent city-states in ancient Greece. Both made a permanent place in world history and even influenced the modern world.

Athens was known for its art, literature, and philosophy, while Sparta was known for its military prowess. Both states had their own strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately Athens was victorious in the Peloponnesian War.

What is the difference between Athens and Sparta?

If one had the chance to live in ancient Greece and choose one of these two city-states, the decision would be tough to make. For a woman, one would expect this choice would be Sparta, where women had more freedom than Athens. However, there is more to consider than just one fact. These two great city-states had vast differences that made them stand out.

Athens was a trading state near the sea and exported products, including vine, silver, poetry. They had a firm naval power and good relationships with neighboring city-states. Sparta, in contrast, was a military state, and their lifestyle centered around the military. They used the slaves for farming the lands while male citizens joined the compulsory army service(Andrews,2013). While Athenians were enjoying arts and architecture, Spartans trained to become warriors. Democratic government in Athens allowed their men who were 18 and born in Athens to take part in the assembly where they could voice their opinion and take part in the government process. The oligarchic government in Sparta had two kings supported by a council of elders of noble birth(Brand, n.d).

Education

Athenian men received a formal education in academics, arts & music, literature as well as athletics since the age of 6 but not women. However, the mothers taught their daughters to cook, dance, sing, and other crafts involved in maintaining a household(Chrysopoulos, 2018).

The Roman Agora of Athens with the Gate of Athena Arhegetis

On the other hand, Sparta provided education to everyone. Spartan men had to leave their mother and home at the age of 6 to join the military training while girls also received education focused on physical fitness and fighting skills(Andrews,2013). Spartan women enjoyed some freedom compared to Athenian women. Apart from formal education, Spartan women could own property and remarry(Brand, n.d). Since most of the men spend most of their adult life with the army, women ran the household and managed properties, including slaves(Brand, n.d). Athenian slaves were skilled in different occupations, such as teachers, household helpers, and artisans(Chrysopoulos, 2018). There were treated relatively fairly compared to Sparta.

Slaves

Ancient Sparta Ancient Sparta
Nuremberg chronicles - f 28v Medieval depiction of Sparta from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Spartan slaves who were known as helots worked as laborers, helpers, and farmers. They had the opportunity to buy back their freedom. However, the tension between spartan citizens and helots was high due to the potential helot uprising.

Both Athens and Sparta present reliable facts about why their lifestyle could be better than others. Spartan women’s education was focused only on physical strength. However, Athenian women taught life skills, including crafts, cooking suitable to their daughters. Moreover, they treated slaves in Athens as much more civilized and humane. Democratic government system, friendliness towards neighboring city-states as well as family-oriented setting in Athens are apparent differences between Athens and Sparta.

Ancient Sparta Ancient Sparta

Religion

In Athens, the main religion was polytheistic, while in Sparta it was monotheistic. Athens had many temples and shrines dedicated to its various gods and goddesses, while Sparta only had one temple dedicated to its god, Zeus. The Spartans believed that their god would help them in times of need, while the Athenians believed that their gods would help them in all aspects of their lives.

Location

Athens is located on the eastern side of the Peloponnese peninsula, while Sparta is located on the western side. Athens is surrounded by the Aegean Sea, while Sparta is landlocked. Athens has a Mediterranean climate, while Sparta has a more continental climate.

Values

Athens and Sparta have different values. Athens highly values democracy, art, and culture. They believe that all citizens should have a say in government. They also support the arts and believe that culture is important to society. Sparta, on the other hand, values military strength and power. They believe that the strong should rule over the weak. They also think that war is necessary to keep people in line.

Other Characteristics

Athens and Sparta are two Greek city-states with very different cultures. Athens is known for its art, literature, and philosophy, while Sparta is known for its military prowess. Both city-states had different forms of government, with Athens being a democracy and Sparta being an oligarchy. Athens was also much more cosmopolitan than Sparta, which was very insular.

Equal Rights and Gender Freedom

It is interesting to compare the two city-states of Athens and Sparta. They were both powerful in their own ways, but they had different systems. When it comes to gender rights and freedom, Athens and Sparta couldn’t be more different. In Athens, women had almost no rights at all. They were not allowed to leave their homes or participate in public life. Sparta, on the other hand, was much more progressive. Women were allowed to own property, and they even received military training. They could also participate in public life and hold important positions in government.

The fall of Athens and Sparta 

The fall of these two most prominent city-states in ancient Greece was due to a number of factors. First, both cities were constantly at war with each other, which took a toll on their resources. Second, they had different forms of government, which led to internal strife. Third, they were both located in unstable regions, which made them vulnerable to attack. Lastly, their economies were unable to keep up with the demands of their citizens.

References for further reading about Athens and Sparta:

  1. Brand, P. J. (n.d.). Athens & Sparta: Democracy vs. Dictatorship. (source)
  2. Andrews, E. (2013). 8 Reasons It Was not Easy Being Spartan. (source)
  3. Chrysopoulos, P. (2018). Everyday Life in Ancient Athens. (source)

Related: End of the Athenian Golden Age

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