Dbq – Comparing Athens & Sparta Introduction

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DBQ – Comparing Athens & Sparta

One of the reasons we know so much about the ancient Greeks is that they wrote almost everything down. Historians use these documents to hypothesize on ancient times. These documents can also be useful to compare different Greek city-states.


At the end of this assignment is a selection of ancient texts for Athens and Sparta. Read each section and answer the following questions.

The Speech of Apollodorus

  1. Who is Apollodorus and to whom is he speaking?

  2. What is his complaint?

  3. What does Apollodorus provide to the court?

  4. What does this reading tell you about the rights of Athenian citizens?

The Athenian Constitution

  1. What were the three important features of the Athenian constitution?

Thucydides’ History

  1. How was Athens founded and how did it get its name? Hint: Attica was the larger region or countryside all around Athens.

Xenophon on the Spartans

Hint: “Lycurgus” was one of the first rulers of Sparta, and “Lacedaemon” is another name for the city.

  1. What did Lycurgus believe was the purpose of marriage? How do you know?

  2. Why were children educated?

  3. How did Spartans treat their laws?

  4. What personal quality seemed most important to Lycurgus?

  5. Who was a citizen in Sparta?

The Polity of the Spartans

Hint: “want” in this document means lack or hunger.

  1. What can you conclude about what life was like in Sparta?Texts about Athens

The Speech of Apollodorus
This speech was made in an Athenian law court. The record of the case has survived and so we can still read it today. In Athens warships (called 'triremes') were captained by wealthy citizens, who served as captain for a year and had to pay for the crew's wages and supplies. A man called Apollodorus, is angry at having to wait for a man called Polycles to take over from him as captain.t

"To show that I am telling the truth, the clerk will read you out the statements made about these matters by those who collected the military supplies and those who sent the supplies out. There is also a record of the pay which I gave every month to the rowers and fighting men....also there is a list of the sailors I hired and how much money was paid to each of them. From the evidence, you will recognise how generous I was and why the defendant was unwilling to take over the ship from me when my term as trierarch [trireme captain] came to an end.

... There is plenty of evidence from which I can prove that Polycles never intended to take over the ship from me in the first place. Even after you voted that he should and made him join the ship, he was unwilling to take over from me as captain. He came to Thasos when it was already four months after my term of office had finished. I took witnesses with me, as many citizens as I could, fighting men as well as rowers. I went up to him in the market place at Thasos and told him to take over from me as my successor and to repay me for what I had spent since my term of office came to an end."


The Athenian Constitution

By Aristotle – written 350 B.C.E

Translated by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon
Part 9

Such, then, was his legislation concerning the magistracies. There are three points in the constitution of Solon which appear to be its most democratic features: first and most important, the prohibition of loans on the security of the debtor's person; secondly, the right of every person who so willed to claim redress on behalf of any one to whom wrong was being done; thirdly, the institution of the appeal to the jurycourts; and it is to this last, they say, that the masses have owed their strength most of all, since, when the democracy is master of the voting-power, it is master of the constitution. Moreover, since the laws were not drawn up in simple and explicit terms (but like the one concerning inheritances and wards of state), disputes inevitably occurred, and the courts had to decide in every matter, whether public or private. Some persons in fact believe that Solon deliberately made the laws indefinite, in order that the final decision might be in the hands of the people. This, however, is not probable, and the reason no doubt was that it is impossible to attain ideal perfection when framing a law in general terms; for we must judge of his intentions, not from the actual results in the present day, but from the general tenor of the rest of his legislation.

from The History of the Peloponnesian War, c. 404 B.C., II.5

In the days of Kecrops and the first kings, down to the reign of Theseos, Attica was divided into communes, having their own town halls and magistrates. Except in case of alarm, the whole people did not assemble in council under the king, but administered their own affairs, and advised together in their several townships. Some of them at times even went to war with the king, as the Eleusinians under Eumolpos with King Erectheos. But when Theseos came to the throne, he, being a powerful as well as a wise ruler, among other improvements in the administration of the country, dissolved the councils and separate governments, and united all the inhabitants of Attica in the present city, establishing one council and town hall. They continued to live on their own lands, but he compelled them to resort to Athens as their metropolis [i.e., "mother-city"], and henceforward they were all inscribed in the roll of her citizens. A great city thus arose which was handed down by Theseos to his descendants, and from his day to this the Athenians have regularly celebrated the national festival of the Synoikia, or "union of the communes," in honor of the goddess Athena.

Texts about Sparta
Xenophon on the Spartans

 Lycurgus ...  

."....He took from the men the liberty of marrying when each of them pleased, and appointed that they should contract marriages only when they were in full bodily vigor, deeming this injunction also conducive to producing excellent offspring..."

"Lycurgus prohibited free citizens from having anything to do with business.... they should not desire wealth with a view to sensual gratification. At Sparta the citizens pay strictest obedience to the magistrates and the laws. Lycurgus did not attempt to establish such an ‘Excellent Order of Things’ (EUNOMIA) until he had brought the most powerful men in the state to be of the same opinion as he was with regard to the constitution... OBEDIENCE is of the greatest benefit, as well in a State as in an army and a family..."

"An honorable death is preferable to a dishonorable life.... At Lacedaemon everyone would be ashamed to allow a coward into the same tent as himself, or allow him to be his opponent in a match at wrestling...."

"Lycurgus also imposed on his countrymen an obligation, from which there is no exception, of practising every kind of political virtue; for he made the privileges of citizenship EQUALLY available to all those who observed what was commanded by the Laws, without taking any account either of bodily weakness or limited financial means; but if anyone was too lazy to do what the Laws demanded, Lycurgus commanded that he should no longer be counted among the number of ‘equally privileged citizens’ (the HOMOIOI)."

Xenophon (c.428-c.354 BCE):
The Polity of the Spartans, c. 375 BCE

Instead of softening their feet with shoe or sandal, his rule was to make them hardy through going barefoot. This habit, if practiced, would, as he believed, enable them to scale heights more easily and clamber down precipices with less danger. In fact, with his feet so trained the young Spartan would leap and spring and run faster unshod than another in the ordinary way. Instead of making them effeminate with a variety of clothes, his rule was to habituate them to a single garment the whole year through, thinking that so they would be better prepared to withstand the variations of heat and cold. Again, as regards food, according to his regulation, the eiren, or head of the flock, must see that his messmates gather to the club meal with such moderate food as to avoid bloating and yet not remain unacquainted with the pains of starvation. His belief was that by such training in boyhood they would be better able when occasion demanded to continue toiling on an empty stomach....On the other hand, to guard against a too great pinch of starvation, he did give them permission to steal this thing or that in the effort to alleviate their hunger.

When Lycurgos first came to deal with the question, the Spartans, like the rest of the Hellenes, used to mess privately at home. Tracing more than half the current problems to this custom, he was determined to drag his people out of holes and corners into the broad daylight, and so he invented the public mess rooms. As to food, his ordinance allowed them only so much as should guard them from want.....So that from beginning to end, till the mess breaks up, the common board is never stinted for food nor yet extravagantly furnished. So also in the matter of drink. While putting a stop to all unnecessary drink, he left them free to quench thirst when nature dictated.....Thus there is the necessity of walking home when a meal is over, and a consequent anxiety not to be caught tripping under the influence of wine, since they all know of course that the supper table must be presently abandoned and that they must move as freely in the dark as in the day, even with the help of a torch.


From: Fred Fling, ed., A Source Book of Greek History, (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1907), pp. 66-75.

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