Sparta and Athens

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Sparta and Athens

Ancient Greek history was dominated by two city states: Sparta and Athens. In one it was important to be athletic, tough, and strong, enduring hardships and following orders. The other city is valued education, science, mathematics. Singing or playing an instrument was admired. Both city states had military strength and they both played important roles in the defense of Ancient Greece.

Background on Sparta: Needing land to feed a growing population, Sparta conquered their neighbor Messenia taking control of a large fertile area to grow crops. Messenia revolted almost defeating Sparta but Sparta was able to hold on. Reviewing their situation, the Spartans realized that they were outnumbered 10 to 1!! It was only a matter of time before the Messenia’s would rise up and conquer Sparta. Solution: the Messenians were turned into slaves called helots. They worked small plots of land owned by Spartans growing food, only keeping a very small amount for their family. The life of the helots were miserable, labor was long and hard with barely enough food to survive.

Sparta Builds a Military Society

Spartan society was dominated by the military to keep revolts from happening again. The Spartans believed that military power was the way to provide security and protection for their city. Daily life in Sparta reflected this belief.

When a child was born, government officials decided whether the boys or girls were healthy and strong. If the baby was not healthy, it was taken outside the city and left to die. At the age of seven, every male Spartan was sent to military and athletic school. As part of the training, they ran, jumped, swam, and threw javelin to increase their strength. They also had to learn to endure hardships that they would face as soldiers. For example, they weren’t given shoes or heavy clothes, even in winter. They weren’t given much food either.

Males became soldiers at the age of 20. Soldiers between the ages of 20 and 30 lived in army barracks and only saw their families occasionally. They stayed in the army until the age of 60. The Spartans believed that the most important qualities of good soldiers were self-discipline and obedience. Soldiers lived tough lives free from comforts. Each soldier was granted a piece of land farmed by the helots.

Spartan Women

Because men spent so much time away from home, Spartan women had more rights than other Greek women. They ran the household while their husbands were away, and some even owned their own land. Although women did not go through military training, they had to be in top physical condition. The Spartans believed that this would help give birth to strong, healthy babies.

Spartan Government

Sparta had 2 kings, a council which proposed new laws, an assembly that approved new laws, and a small group of 5 men known as the Ephors. These men led the council, ran the military, ran the educational system, infant selection system, and had the power to veto everything coming out of the assembly and council. Sparta was basically an oligarchy run by the Ephors.


Like Sparta, Athens had been a leader in the Persian Wars with a powerful military. But life in Athens was very different. The Athenians valued education, thinking, and the arts.

Boys and Men of Athens

Athenian boys from rich families were educated and had physical training. Like Sparta, they ran, jumped, and learned to fight. But it was not as harsh nor did it last as long as Sparta. Unlike Sparta, the men in Athens did not have to devote their whole life to the army. All men had to join the army, but only for two years from the age of 18 to 20. Older men only had to serve during war.


Athenian students learned to read, write, and count, play musical instruments, and studied the Iliad and Odyssey as well as other Greek literature. A few from very rich families had private tutors to continue their education in philosophy, astronomy, geometry and other subjects. They were also trained to be public speakers. This prepared them to participate in the Athenian assembly. Few boys had this opportunity; most got little education and become farmers.

Athenian Women

Girls were not educated and men did not think they needed to be educated. Most girls learned household tasks and had no rights. Women could not participate in government, leave their homes, buy anything or own property, disobey husbands or fathers.

Athenian Government

Athens created a democracy which means rule by the people. All free men living in Athens were members of the assembly and allowed to vote. A council called the Council of 500 was established which would propose laws. Every citizen over the age of 30 was eligible to sit on this council. Each year the members would be chosen by lottery. In 487 BC, ostracism was added to their government. The Assembly could vote on expelling citizens from the state for a period of ten years. This would guarantee that individuals who became too powerful or a threat would be removed.

These two city states could not be more different. Sparta was ruled by 5 Ephors, Athens was a democracy. Sparta’s economy was based on slavery and dominated by military training. Athens relied on trading and exporting products. Also, Athens became a center of arts and literature, and architecture.

Name ________________________________________________________ Date ____________ SS#___

Answer the following questions using complete sentences in the space below. You may attach another sheet if necessary.


  1. What problem did Sparta face that forced it to become a military state?

  2. Who were the helots and what was their life like?

  3. Describe the life of a Spartan boy from birth to age 60. Include major events and ages.

  4. What was valued in Sparta? Why?

  5. What type of training did women get in Sparta? Why?

  6. How and why were Spartan women more free than other Greek women?

  7. Describe the Spartan government? Explain who had the control?


  1. What powers did the Council of 500 have?

  2. Describe how the Athenian Council was chosen.

  3. What was ostracism and how was it important?

  4. What did the Athenians value?

Total: /24
What couldn’t women do?

Name ________________________________________________________ Date ____________ SS#___

Answer the following questions using complete sentences and attach another sheet if necessary.

Background on Sparta:

  1. Who did Sparta conquer?

  2. Sparta was outnumbered ___________ to ____________.

  3. Who were the helots?

Sparta Builds a Military Society:

  1. What happened when a child was born in Sparta?

  2. Age became a soldier: ______________ Age left the military: ________________

Spartan Women:

  1. Why did the Spartans want the women to be strong and healthy?

  2. What were some of the things that the Spartan women did?

Spartan Government:

  1. The Ephors was an __________________ since only 5 people were in charge. (Think flip chart)


  1. What did the Athenians value?

Boys and Men of Athens:

  1. Age became a soldier: _______________ Age left the military: ________________


  1. What did Athenian students learn in school?

Athenian Women:

Total: /24
What couldn’t women do?

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