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Sparta VS. Athens

Directions: Below you will find four primary source documents. Use your knowledge of World History 1, and the documents provided, to answer the following question in essay format.

Compare and Contrast Classical Sparta and Athens. Discuss the similarities and differences between the culture and values of the two city-states.

Steps to writing a DBQ Essay:

Step 1: Read all of the documents provided

Step 2: Read the question you are going to answer

Step 3: Create an outline to organize your argument

Step 4: Use the documents to support your argument


Although there were over 100 city states or poleis (plural of polis) in ancient Greece, the Hellenic world was polarized between the states of Sparta and Athens. Although both states temporarily allied to halt the Persian invasions, their rivalries were too fundamental to make them permanent friends. Tension between Sparta and Athens had been building for years. Many people in both cities thought conflict was unavoidable. Instead of trying to avoid war, leaders on both sides began to press for a war to begin while they thought their own city had the advantage. Finally, in 431 BC, the Spartans marched into Athenian territory.

Document 1:

Below is an excerpt from Herodotus’ work called “Histories”. This excerpt is an exchange between Demaratus, ex-king of Sparta, and Xerxes of Persia, in which Demaratus describing Sparta’s military might. It was written in the 5th century BCE.

The same goes for the Spartans. One-against-one, they are as good as anyone in the world. But when they fight in a body, they are the best of all. For though they are free men, they are not entirely free. They accept Law as their master. And they respect this master more than your subjects respect you. Whatever he commands, they do. And his command never changes: It forbids them to flee in battle, whatever the number of their foes. He requires them to stand firm -- to conquer or die."

Document 2:

Below is an excerpt from Pericles, the Athenian leader during the Peloponnesian War. The excerpt is from his Funeral Oration for the Fallen Athenians, in the 5th century B.C.E. He gave this speech at a ceremony commemorating fallen Athenian soldiers.

We do not copy the laws and ways of other states. Actually, we are the pattern to others. Our administration places power in the hands of the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. If we go to court, our laws provide equal justice to all. Class considerations are not allowed to interfere with merit. Nor does poverty bar the way -- if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.”

Document 3:

Below is an excerpt from an Athenian Pamphlet that was circulated during the 5th century BCE. The pamphlet critiqued the Athenian Constitution under Solon.

I do not approve of the Athenian constitution, but since they have decided to have it, I propose to show that they are going about the right way of preserving it. First it is right that there the poor and the commons have advantages over the nobles and the rich; for it is the commons who row the ships and give the city its power – they and the petty officers and the shipyard workers, rather than the armored troops (aristocrats) and the gentry. Slaves and non-citizens are extremely undisciplined at Athens. You are not allowed to hit them, and a slave will not get out of the way. But I will tell you why. If it were allowed, one might strike an Athenian by mistake for a slave; they are no better dressed and no better in appearance.”

Document 4:

Below is the speech of a Corinthian Diplomat. The speech was given before the Spartan Assembly in 432 BCE. Corinth was a city-state that was a rival of Athens.

“…Your confidence in your own constitution and in your own public life inclines you too be skeptical toward representatives of foreigners. This may fortify your judgment, but it puts you out of touch with foreign affairs…Have you ever thought out what…the Athenians are like, or how vastly and indeed utterly, they differ from yourselves? They are revolutionaries, prompt in conception and execution. You are conservatives who deprecate new ideas and who take even less than an essential minimum of action. They are men of action, while you are never able to make up your minds. They travel to the ends of the earth, while you stay at home…”

Document 5:

Below is an excerpt from the book, The Constitution of Sparta. It was written by Xenophon, an Athenian Soldier in the 5th century BCE>

In Athens, the girls who are destined to become mothers and are brought up in the approved fashion, live on the very plainest fare, with a most meager allowance of delicacies. Wine is either withheld altogether, or, if allowed them, is diluted with water. The rest of the Greeks expect their girls to imitate the sedentary life that is typical of handicraftsmen -- to keep quiet and do wool-work. How, then, is it to be expected that women so brought up will bear fine children?

But Lycurgus (of Sparta) thought the labor of slave women sufficient to supply clothing. He believed motherhood to be the most important function of freeborn woman. Therefore,…he insisted on physical training for the female no less than for the males: moreover, he instituted races and trials of strength for women competitors as for men, believing that if both parents are strong they produce more vigorous offspring.”

Document 6:


Athens Polis, 5th Century BCE

Sparta Polis, 5th Century BCE




Metics (Resident Aliens or foreigners)


Perioci (Residents with no vote)


Slaves (Athens) or Helots (Sparta)



Below is a chart showing the population of Athens and Sparta during the 5th Century BC
Document 7:

Now that the state was emboldened and much money had been collected, Pericles (ruler of Athens) began to advise them to aim at the leadership, and to come down from their farms and live in the city, telling them that there would be food for all, some serving in the army and others as frontier-guards and others conducting the business of the community, and then by this method they would keep the leadership…They also established a plentiful free food-supply for the multitude…; for the combined proceeds of tributes, taxes, and allies served to feed more than 20,000 men. For there were 6,000 jurymen, 1,600 archers and also 1,200 cavalry, 500 members of the Council, 500 guardians of the docks, and also fifty watchmen in the city, as many as seven hundred officials at home and as many as 700 abroad; and in addition to these, when later they settled into the war, 2,500 hoplites, twenty guard-ships and other ships conveying the guards to the number of 200 elected by lot; and furthermore the Athenian ruling committee, two orphans, and warders of prisoners - all of these had their [support] from public funds.
Below is an excerpt from Aristotle’s work Politics, written in the 4th Century BCE. He discusses Pericles, the Athenian ruler of the 5th century BCE.

How to write a good DBQ

Below is an outline you can use to help you write your essay.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

1. Answer the question: How briefly do Athens and Sparta compare?





2. Briefly describe what points you will discuss in your paper (3)





Paragraph 2: What do Athens and Sparta have in common?

What documents will you use? __________________________________________________

Why, what do they show? ______________________________________________________________



Paragraph 3: How do Athens and Sparta differ?

What documents will you use? __________________________________________________

Why, what do they show? ______________________________________________________________



Paragraph 4: Conclusion

What did you just prove in your essay?



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