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SPARTA AND ATHENS
COMPARISON

GENERAL INFORMATION

No marvelous works of art or architecture came out of Sparta, but Spartan military force was regarded as terrifying. Thus, the Spartans achieved their goal.

Nearly all the other city-states, including Athens, had a grudging admiration for the Spartans. They would not want to be Spartans, but in times of war, they wanted Sparta to be on their side. The Spartans were tough, and the ancient Greeks admired strength.

The competing Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta had very opposing cultures and governments, but both managed to grasp power over Greece. Athens, with its free speaking democracy, allied with many smaller city-states to form a powerful rule. Sparta, with its strong military, conquered many lands and forced them into submission. Athens and Sparta flourished during their time as powerful governments, but both eventually fell.

Culture and Beliefs


There was a drastic difference in the cultures of the two cities. Sparta became a military stronghold by emphasizing only on expanding their power and gaining control over other kingdoms, while the Athenians grew in the fields of infrastructure and culture. The Spartan belief of total loyalty to the state was the sole reason for their existence. Athenians and Spartans had different ideologies and goals. Athens always wanted to conquer and rule as much land as possible, while Spartans always kept to themselves unless they were under attack or their army was needed. However there were some things in Athens and Sparta which had striking similarities such as the worship of Greek gods and goddesses and the bravery on the war-front.

Lifestyle and People


The stark lifestyle of Sparta was a contrast to the Athenian focus on thinking and learning. While the Athenian people spent a considerable amount of their time studying literature, art, and music, Spartans were training to be soldiers. Spartans were brilliant at warfare and their warriors were considered to be among the best in the world. The rigorous training that began at birth hardened the Spartan soldiers such that they never lost a battle in the bloody conflicts that raged almost constantly between the small city-states of ancient Greece. The people of Athens and Sparta had different set of values and were unique in their own way. Both men and women enjoyed different privileges in Sparta and Athens.

Economy
While Spartans relied on agriculture for maintaining their economy, Athens became the foremost trading power of the Mediterranean by the 5th century BC and was thus, considerably richer. Spartan citizens were pure warriors and would spend all the time in training. They would rely solely on helots (slaves), who would manage their farm and provide them with food supplies.

GOVERNMENT

In Ancient Greece there were two different major forms of government, Oligarchy and Democracy. The two city-states that best represent each form of government were Sparta (oligarchy) and Athens (democracy). The democratic government in Athens, though decently equal, fair and fairly advanced for its time, did not meet the needs of the Greeks. During a time of many military battles Athens decided to worry more about comfort and culture. It is the oligarchy in Sparta that put a war-like attitude as its first priority and best met the needs of Ancient Greece.


SPARTA

• Two kings ruled Sparta; five elected supervisors ran government

- Council of Elders proposed laws

- assembly of citizens elected officials, voted on Councilʼs laws

• Three social groups: citizens lived in city, trained to be soldiers

- free noncitizens lived in nearby villages, had no political rights

- lowest group—helots—grew food so citizens could be full-time soldiers

Ruled by an oligarchy, the Spartan military state had a stable government, which led to political stagnation. A duel monarchy was at the top of the pecking order, followed by a council of two kings and twenty-eight noblemen. All these men were retired from the military, and thus were over sixty years of age.

Sparta, in sharp contrast to Athens, cared nothing for growth of buildings or wisdom, but only for expansion of power. Sparta was founded as the Dorian capitol of Laconia in 1150 BC. The Dorians were fierce people that had invaded Greece about 1250 BC.

Sparta's government was an oligarchy. It was ruled by two kings, an assembly of elders, and an assembly of citizens over age 30. There was no freedom. Everybody served the state. Money was not used, for they didn't want any one person to be richer than another. Also, Spartan government would not allow trade with other countries for they didn't want the people to be exposed to foreign ideas.


ATHENS

• Athens had two governing bodies

- Council of Four Hundred ran daily life; Assembly voted on policies

• Citizens had to serve in army, on juries when needed

- juries had several hundred people; in courts, all citizens were equal

• Slaves—noncitizens, a third of population, worked in homes, on farms

- some earned money, were able to buy freedom

In contrast, Athens was a democracy, ruled by the people. A Council had both executive and administrative control. Members of this Council were chosen by lot every year. Any male citizen over the age of thirty was eligible to be chosen. An Assembly, made up of all male citizens, had veto power over the Council. In addition, the Assembly was the only branch of the government which could declare war. Thus, while Sparta was ruled by only a few of its men, Athens was ruled by all of its male citizens.

The Athenian institution of democracy emerged in stages, in response to political, social, and economic conditions. As was true elsewhere in the Greek world, the individual city-state (polis) of Athens had once been ruled by kings, but that had given way to an oligarchic government by archons elected from the aristocratic (Eupatrid) families. Nonetheless, Athens considered itself, “The Birthplace of Democracy.”

At about 471 BC, Athens began its Golden Age, which would last for several decades under the leadership of Pericles. The Athenians formed an alliance of many Greek city-states, known as the Delian League. Athens, being the largest city and having the most powerful navy, received tribute from the smaller cities.

During this time, Athens was expanding with new buildings such as the Parthenon, a gigantic temple honoring the goddess Athena. Philosophers, such as Socrates and later Aristotle, kindled the growth of wisdom. Athenians were entertained through plays like those of Aristophanes, who made fun of political people.

EDUCATION



In ancient Sparta, the purpose of education was to produce a well-drilled, well-disciplined marching army. Spartans believed in a life of discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. They were very loyal to the state of Sparta. Every Spartan, male or female, was required to have a perfect body.

When babies were born in ancient Sparta, Spartan soldiers would come by the house and check the baby. If the baby did not appear healthy and strong, the infant was taken away, and left to die on a hillside, or taken away to be trained as a slave (a helot). Babies who passed this examination were assigned membership in a brotherhood or sisterhood, usually the same one to which their father or mother belonged.



Spartan Boys: Spartan boys were sent to military school at age 6 or 7. They lived, trained and slept in the barracks of their brotherhood. They were taught survival skills and other skills necessary to be a great soldier. School courses were very hard and often painful.

Although students were taught to read and write, those skills were not very important to the ancient Spartans. Only warfare mattered. The boys were not fed well, and were told that it was fine to steal food as long as they did not get caught stealing. If they were caught, they were beaten. The boys marched without shoes to make them stronger. It was a brutal training period.

Somewhere between the age of 18-20, Spartan males had to pass a difficult test of fitness, military ability, and leadership skills. Any Spartan male who did not pass these examinations became a perioikos. (The perioikos, or the middle class, were allowed to own property, have business dealings, but had no political rights and were not citizens.)

If they passed, they became a full citizen and a Spartan soldier. Spartan citizens were not allowed to touch money. That was the job of the middle class. Spartan soldiers spent most of their lives with their fellow soldiers. They ate, slept, and continued to train in their brotherhood barracks. Even if they were married, they did not live with their wives and families. They lived in the barracks. Military service did not end until a Spartan male reached the age of 60. At age 60, a Spartan soldier could retire and live in their home with their family.



Spartan Girls: In Sparta, girls also went to school at age 6 or 7. They lived, slept and trained in their sisterhood's barracks. No one knows if their school was as cruel or as rugged as the boys’ school, but the girls were taught wrestling, gymnastics, and combat skills. Some historians believe the two schools were very similar, and that an attempt was made to train the girls as thoroughly as they trained the boys. In any case, the Spartans believed that strong young women would produce strong babies.

At age 18, if a Sparta girl passed her skills and fitness test, she would be assigned a husband and allowed to return home. If she failed, she would lose her rights as a citizen, and became a perioikos, a member of the middle class.

In most of the other Greek city-states, women were required to stay inside their homes most of their lives. They could not go anywhere or do anything without their husband's permission. They could not even visit a woman who lived next door. They had no freedom. But in Sparta, things were very different for women who were citizens. They were free to move around, and visit neighbors without permission.

In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, and to prepare citizens for both peace and war.

Until age 6 or so, boys were taught at home by their mother or by a male slave. From age 6 to 14, boys went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers.

In primary school, they had to learn two important things - the words of Homer, a famous Greek epic poet, and how to play the lyre. Their teacher, who was always a man, could choose what additional subjects he wanted to teach. He might choose to teach drama, public speaking, government, art, reading, writing, math, and how to play another ancient Greek instrument - the flute.

Following that, boys attended a higher school for four more years. When they turned 18, they entered military school for two additional years. At age 20, they graduated.

Girls were not educated at school, but many learned to read and write at home in the comfort of their courtyard.

WOMEN


In both Sparta and Athens, the woman's place was in the home – but, not in the same capacity. In Athens, it was the proper etiquette for a woman to be submissive and obedient. They were to stay at home, bearing and educating children, spinning and weaving, keeping the home tidy and preparing or, at least, overseeing the preparation, of food. Spartan women, on the other hand, were almost the complete opposite to this. They were permitted to own property without the "safekeeping" of a male, which, according to Aristotle, who estimated in the 4th century BCE that two-fifths of Sparta's land was owned by women, was one of the main reasons for the "weak" Spartan society. With most men away from home on a regular basis due to training for, and taking part in, wars, women would become the "default" principal figure during that period, and, when the husbands returned, they had no authority. Sue Blendell, an associate lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University in the UK, refers to Spartan women's dominant role as some that "was accepted and possibly even officially encouraged".

From a young age, Spartan women were taught to protect themselves, and also how to read and write, whereas Athenian women were taught how to do house-duties and such. Education, in the traditional sense that we class it as, was thought of highly in Spartan society and girls were given the same teachings as boys – the girls even had to participate in the same tests of strength that the boys did. Women participating in anything physical was very much frowned upon in Athens, though, and women weren't even allowed to be spectators in most athletic events. Spartan women took pride upon their physique, their bodies, while Athenian women took more pride in their clothes. Spartan women were known to be very capable athletes, taking part in sporting events such as wrestling and running.

The majority of an Athenian male's property is gained through inheritance, and it was an "unwritten rule" that it was passed on to a legitimate, related, heir. This is one of the main reasons why Athenian women weren't to take place in common events such as the entertaining of male guests – that would be left for the man of the house to do, and the women's quarters were away from the dining room. Also, it was quite common for women to be escorted in public.

The marriage process is one of the biggest differences between the two nations; while, in modern western society, people are free to court whomever they please and choose their own suitor, Athenian and Spartan women had it very different. Both nationalities had no courting period, and women had little, if any, say as to who they would marry. In Athens, girls were married off at quite an early age, usually at thirteen or fourteen; their husbands were chosen by their fathers, which gave the family the opportunity to join another family, ideally one that was quite prominent in society. The marriage process was very long. Spartan marriage, on the other hand, is quite different; it was an, almost, non-ceremonial event. The female would be abducted in the middle of the night by her future husband, then her head would be shaved and she had to wear men's attire. She would then, finally, meet her husband, mainly for child conception. Any Spartan man could choose a wife in this manner. Both societies main reason for marriage was for procreation. Athenian women would have to take care of their children themselves, usually, while Spartan women wouldn't have to do much as they would, in most cases, have a nurse take care of the child.

Unlike their husbands, Athenian women were forced to stay indoors at all times. They were controlled by their fathers through childhood and by their husbands after marriage. Mostly uneducated, except for learning how to read, they spent their time managing the household and slaves. They were only allowed to leave the house to attend certain religious festivals.

In contrast with Athenian women, Spartan women led a free life and were allowed to leave their houses. They were required by state policy to have an academic and physical education. This grueling physical training helped prepare them for having healthy children. Like the men, they existed solely for what they could give the state. In this case, the state expected Spartan women to produce strong babies who would grow into robust soldiers. If a woman's husband did not accept her baby because of its weakness or deformity, the child was left to die outside the city.

MILITARY

The forming of Sparta's military state changed the Spartan way of life. At the tender age of seven, all Spartan males entered a military school. During thirteen years of harsh training, the young men learned toughness, discipline, endurance of pain, and survival skills. Finally, at age twenty, men entered the military. At this point, the young Spartan might have become a hoi homoioi, or a "Similar", one of the "warrior elite", if he was accepted into a certain mess unit. If he did not become a "Similar", he and all his descendants were doomed to enter one of the lesser castes, either the "Inferiors" or the "Tremblers". Although living in the barracks, the soldiers were allowed to take a wife. At age thirty, although still in the military, a Spartan man was allowed to live at home, with his wife and family. He did not retire until age sixty.

On the contrary, in the Athenian military, a soldier's rank was decided by his social or economic status before he entered the army. Instituted by Solon in the sixth century B.C., four classes made up the Athenian social ladder. Defined by income, each class had a certain measure of political responsibility. The wealthiest class, called the pentakosiomedimnoi or "five-hundred-bushel men", supplied the army with leaders. Called the hippeis or "horsemen", the second class made up the Athenian cavalry. The third class, called the zeugitai, made up the foot soldier, or hoplite section of the army. Finally, the poorest class, called the thetes, served either as oarsmen for the Athenian fleet, or as archers on land. In addition, while Spartan soldiers trained for thirteen years, Athenian soldiers only trained for two years. Thus, while Spartan military rank was determined by a person's performance after entering the army, Athenian military status was predetermined by the soldier's social class.

Between the years of 500 B.C. and 350 B.C., the nation known today as Greece was merely a collection of unallied city-states. The two most powerful and best-known of those city-states were Athens and Sparta. These two rivals were at the forefront of pretty much everything that happened in Greece and the surrounding regions. Even though both held similar stature, however, the two city-states were extremely different from each other in terms of military tactics, societal goals, and cultural accomplishments. Many people often make the unfounded assumption that just because both city-states were located within Greece, that both peoples were the same—this is far from the truth.

Naval dominance was a trademark of the Athenian military. The Athenian army was no match for the size and effectiveness of the Spartan army, but what they lacked on land, they made up for at sea, with an innovation that completely changed the face of naval warfare and would make Athens the dominant naval power for a century or more.

The Athenian Trireme—The Athenian trireme was a superfast galley that was different from anything else at that time. At the time, naval warfare had primarily consisted of attempting to either board an enemy's ship, or set it on fire. With the introduction of the trireme, however, a new tactic was added to naval combat-ramming opposing ships. The trireme's special shape and construction allowed to to do things that other ships at the time could not do. Its keel ran the length of the ship, as in most ships, but it also stuck out three meters in front, and was armored with bronze plates. This projection was the battering ram that became the ship's primary weapon. Until the trireme, ramming opposing ships was not done because of the extraordinary speed it required. But the trireme was long and narrow, which aided its speed and maneuverability. What aided it even more were the three rows of oars on each side, manned by a total of 170 oarsmen. Using the oars, the trireme could reach a maximum speed of ten knots, or about 12 mph. This was more than fast enough to cause serious damage to any opposing ship. The trireme was also fitted with a huge square sail that it used in combat conditions to give the rowers a break. Essentially, the trireme served as a waterborne spear, deadly to opposing boats.

The Spartan army was known far and wide for their fierceness, brutality, and efficiency in battle. This was partly due to their militarily-oriented society, but it was also due to a remarkable innovation in land warfare that made the Spartans nearly unstoppable on the ground.



The Hoplite Phalanx—The Hoplite Phalanx was a special formation of specially-equipped Spartan soldiers known as Hoplites.It changed the way land engagements were fought. Until then, land battles had primarily come down to individual hand-to-hand combat, with warriors trying to kill the bravest and best fighter on the other side so as to demoralize the opposition. The hoplite phalanx, however, consisted of specially-armed infantry. They all wore bronze body armor, helmets, bronze shin guards, and all carried shields. Their primary weapons were a short sword for close-quarter fighting, and the weapon that became the trademark of the phalanx, an 8-15 foot long spear. The phalanx fought in formation in a highly organized and disciplined manner. Shields were worn on the left shoulder, and were long enough to cover the soldier's knees. As the hoplite soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, the shields overlapped each other, forming a wall of shields and protecting each other. A phalanx could be as many as eight rows deep, and moving in formation, they were nearly unstoppable so long as their rear and flanks were protected. The phalanx was perfect for combat on open ground or level terrain. The concept of the phalanx was evidence of the Spartan concept that battles should be quick, bloody, and decisive. Spartans did not want to spend a long time on a military campaign, as most of the soldiers had to be home in time for harvest. As a result, the Spartans were inexperienced at the concept of siege craft and fortification, which became evident in the Peloponnesian War. Nevertheless, the hoplite phalanx was one of the most successful innovations in military history, the core concepts of which have been copied by armies the world over. For a good depiction of what the hoplite phalanx looked like, the Oliver Stone movie "Alexander" has an excellent portrayal of a phalanx.


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