Sparta Government

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Facts about Sparta and Athens



  • Up to four or more helots for every citizen.

  • Outnumbered, the Spartans constantly feared that the helots would rebel.

  • To stay prepared to fight against the helots and Sparta’s enemies, they lived a military life.

  • The oligarchy was made up of 30 elders over the age of 60.

  • The assembly approved laws made by the elders and elected the ephors.

  • Although the assembly was important, the elders and the ephors had the real power.

Daily Life

  • Boys lived in training camps and learned gymnastics, wrestling, and military exercises.

  • They learned to accept hardship without complaint and obey orders without question.

  • Men could marry between the ages of 20 and 30, but continued to live in the barracks until becoming citizens at age 30. They served as soldiers until age 60.

  • Girls also trained to be strong, but did not serve in the military.

  • Raising children would be their main role, but they had more freedom than women in other Greek city-states.

  • Because men were often away on military duty, women managed household and family matters.

  • Spartan leaders feared that new ideas would bring unwanted changed to their society.

  • Because of this, citizens were rarely allowed to travel beyond Sparta and trade with outsiders was discouraged.

  • They followed a strict way of life, dressed plainly, and ate simple meals.

  • They also had a strong sense of honor and were trained to never give up in battle.

  • They believed there was no greater act than to die defending their city-state.



  • Draco had formed tough laws, but a crisis emerged in 600 B.C. when the farmers who supplied Athens with food fell into debt, and many had to sell themselves into slavery to survive. (This led to anger and distrust among the poor people of Athens.)

  • Solon made reforms by cancelling all debts and freeing all Athenians who had sold themselves into slavery. He also replaced Draco’s harsher laws with fairer ones.

  • He laid the foundation on which Athenian democracy was built by allowing more people to participate in government.

  • His system was based political rights on wealth, not birth.

  • Male citizens were divided into four classes according to their agricultural wealth. (This included ownership of land, grain, and olive oil.) The greater your wealth, the higher the government position you could hold.

  • Men without property made up the lowest class and could only attend the assembly and serve on juries. However, citizens could rise to a higher class by acquiring more wealth.

  • All male citizens were allowed to attend the assembly in Athens. They passed laws, elected leaders, and helped decide court cases.

  • Decisions were made by majority rule – everyone got 1 vote and the idea that got the most votes passed.

  • A council was established to support the assembly. They decided what topics to discuss.

  • The council was made up of 400 citizens who served one-year terms. Every year, council members were selected in a random drawing.

Daily Life

  • Education was just as important to producing good citizens as it was in Sparta.

  • Young Athenians learned about good behavior from the fables of Aesop.

  • Boys studied arithmetic, reading, writing, physical education, and the arts – paining, poetry, and music.

  • Most began learning their father’s trade – bronze workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, or potters.

  • Girls studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and music at home. They also learned spinning, weaving, sewing, cooking, and childcare.

  • About one third of people were slaves. Many were educated, and some became doctors and teachers. Others cleaned, cooked, farmed, and mined for silver.

  • Neither slaves not women could participate in the Athenian assembly, vote, or serve on juries.

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