The Differences Between Athens and Sparta

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The Differences Between

Athens and Sparta


By Miles core 5/6

Room 3 Mission Hill Middle School

The differences between Athens and Sparta


Core 5/6
Athens and Sparta were both city-states that thrived in ancient Greece. They also both contributed to modern Western culture in terms of military strategy and the development of democracy. But Athens and Sparta were different, in many ways because of their geographies. This difference can be seen in their roles in the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. In fact, the location of the two city-states determined much of the life of the people in them. Some key aspects of both societies influenced by location are education, government, the economy, and especially, the military.

The physical geographies of Athens and Sparta differed immensely. Sparta was located on the island of Peloponnesus. It was land-locked and lay in a deep valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. Sparta’s valley was good for farming because it had a river running down one side of the valley. The river brought fertile soil down from the mountains and could be channeled to irrigate the land. Athens was located on the peninsula of Attica. It was on a high plain, close to and over looking the sea. Athenians had access to the Aegean Sea that allowed them to sail all around the Mediterranean.

Sparta’s valley Drawing by Miles

Athens and Sparta’s different geographies impacted their economies. Athens’s location made it an ideal location for a trading center. Athens not only gained trade from the sea, it also allowed them to have a large navy. The sea was the center of life in Athens: it gave them fish to eat, slaves from far away lands to work in their homes and businesses, and iron from trade to make weapons to more efficiently slaughter their enemies.

A map of ancient Athens
Athens was at a disadvantage because its terrain was exposed, making them vulnerable to attack. The advantage of Athens’s economy was that it brought new ideas and inventions to Athens.

a Athenian trading ship picture by Miles Keys

The disadvantage to having a trade-based economy was that they needed lots of allies to trade with so they had to please lots of people. If they didn’t Athens would starve.

Sparta was supported by its geography because the fertile valley provided food from its farms for the city’s soldiers. Sparta’s economy was advantaged by the fact that they were self-sufficient so they would not be hurt if trade was cut, whether by lack of supplies or by an enemy’s blockade. It’s geography also provided a natural defense because the surrounding mountains prevented easy access to the city. The disadvantage of Sparta’s location was that they would not have received new ideas from other places quickly or easily. Another disadvantage was that the army could not be away for long because the Helots, Spartan slaves, would revolt.

Sparta had four main social classes. Helots were conquered people forced into slavery. They were made to build buildings in the city or to work on Sparta’s extensive farms. On the next level of the social pyramid, non-citizens worked as crafts people making tools, clothes, baskets, weapons and other goods. Thirdly, citizens were a split class: women kept the household and men served in the army. On the highest-level, nobles governed the people of Sparta and led the armies. Athens’s social structure was much like Sparta’s. But they didn’t have farms for the slaves to work on, there weren’t non-citizens, and instead of nobles there were politicians. Athens and Sparta’s economies both prospered, even though they relied on different factors. Sparta’s economy relied on its farms and on slaves to work for them. Athens depended upon trade and its mines to provide business for the city.

The approach to education was very different in the two cities. Athenians valued education highly. Their main education started at age eight and ended at age eighteen. Boys were taught basic letters and numbers by their mothers until the age of eight, then they were taught by a tutor. They had few established schools in Athens and the few schools they had were called academies. Academies often taught children of upper class families. Girls in Athens were taught by their mothers to spin, weave, mend and take care of the household.

Spartan education focused on military training. Children started school at age seven and finished at age twenty when they immediately went into military service. Spartans were taught and trained in large groups.

Spartan youth training
They lived in military style barracks with their classmates. They learned reading and writing, yet the government thought little of these skills. Training was incredibly harsh and grueling. Boys were forced to walk miles barefoot and sleep outside in winter without blankets. They were encouraged to steal but if they were caught they would be beaten cruelly. One story that shows traditional Spartan bravery. Is about a boy who stole a fox cub but the owner managed to corner him. Alerted by the chase two soldiers joined the owner. As the three were questioning the boy, he suddenly dropped down dead. The boy had hidden the fox inside his shirt and instead of confessing he had allowed the fox to chew into his stomach killing him.

Two governments could not be more different than the governments of Athens and Sparta. Athens’s government was originally a monarchy, yet after a few harsh kings, they wanted something better. After a revolution they developed an idea for a new form of government. They wanted a government that represented the people, so they developed democracy. Their democracy was direct democracy, meaning they voted for the actual laws.

Two debaters in Athens picture by Miles
This form of government was not perfect. Very few could actually vote. One could not vote if one were a slave, a woman, a poor person, or under the age of thirty. There is not much information about the Athenian kings because most of the information the world has on them is from only one historian, Eusebius, a bishop who lived in the three hundreds A.D.. In addition, many of the kings are believed to be fictional because of their descriptions. For example, Cecrops, the first king of Athens, was supposedly half man and half serpent.

Two lines of kings, the Agiads and the Eurypontids, who were descended from the twins Procles and Eurythenes, respectively, ruled Sparta. They were supposedly descended from Heracles (the English form of Heracles is Hercules), who had supposedly conquered the area where Sparta was two generations after the Trojan War. The reasoning behind having two kings was that if one king was killed in battle, the other would prevent a coup or a rebellion while the successor to the dead king was old enough come to the throne. One of Sparta’s most famous kings was Leonidas the first.

The Statue of King Leonidas in Sparta

At the battle of Thermopylae, he led a force of three hundred Spartans, nine hundred Helots, and seven hundred Thespians. They held off a much larger Persian army of for many days.

Sparta and Athens’s military were very different in many respects. Sparta was famous for its rigorous training. Training started at an early age, and only the strongest survived. Soldiers were allowed to buy a home and start a family only at age thirty-five. Sparta’s training made its military the best in the world. Athens’s military was not nearly as rigorous. Military training started at age eighteen and most soldiers were not in the army full time.

Sparta’s most famous battle was the battle of Thermopylae (as detailed earlier in this essay). Sparta’s main role in the Persian War was to lead the infantry and to provide some food for the soldiers. Athens most famous battle was the battle of Salamis. As the Persians burned Athens to the ground the Athenians fled to the nearby islands that were across the straits of Salamis. The Persian fleet followed the Athenian ships into the straits. Then the Greek ships turned and rammed the Persians with their bronze rams. Athens’s main role in the Persian War was to stop and destroy the Persian navy. They also played a key role in preventing Persian ships from bringing reinforcements to the Persian army.

Spartan warriors

The Peloponnesian War was fought between Athens and Sparta. It started because Athens tried to help one of the members of the Peloponnesian league (a coalition of city-states that were led by Sparta) to form a democratic state. Sparta didn’t like that, so they declared war on Athens. Sparta’s strategy was to besiege Athens. Athens’s strategy was to use its ships to raid the Peloponnesian shoreline.

A Peloponnesian war map
The main reason Athens and Sparta were different was because of their geographic location. Sparta was set in a deep valley while Athens was on a flat plain by the sea. Since the trade of Athens exposed them to more knowledge they had better education. The new ideas that flooded into Athens set the foundations for democracy. The fertile soil of Sparta’s valley allowed their economy to thrive. The mountains’ natural defense allowed the Spartans to focus on a strong offensive army.

Authors page

My name is Miles I’m 12 years old, my birthday is Nov. fifteenth. Until recently I lived in Madison, WI were I was born. I enjoy reading, surfing, logrolling and playing the cello. I have one sibling, a little brother. My dad works at U.C.S.C were he is a professor of sociology. My Mom works at the new teacher project, mentoring new teachers. I have two grandparents who live in Wisconsin. I also have two Grandparents who live in El Cerrito. My Great-grandmother lives in Maryland. My favorite football team is the Green Bay Packers and my favorite baseball team is the Milwaukee Brewers. In school my favorite class is Core but I also like Orchestra. I know a little French, and I am definitely not fluent. In college I want to study to become an architect or a writer, but technology also interests me and I may want to study that in college. If I could take an ultimate vacation I’d go to London or Paris. My favorite food is ice cream. I don’ t have any pets but I’d like one, preferably a reptile. My favorite pastimes are: surfing, video games, reading, playing, football, and hanging out with friends. At Christmas and in summer I go back to Wisconsin to visit friends and relatives. At Christmas we sled and play in the snow. This summer we’ll go camping there.


1.Frey, Wendy. History Alive, The ancient world. 2004 Palo Alto. TCI
2. Deary, Terry. The Groovy Greeks. 1993 London, UK. Scholastic.
Web pages
1.Sparta. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Date retrieved 12/5/07.
2.Athens. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Date retrieved 12/5/07
3.Peloponnesian War. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Date retrieved 12/4/07
4.Sparta. Washington State University. Date retrieved 12/3/07
5.Athens. Washington State University. Date retrieved 12/4/07

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