Sparta and Athens

Among the Greek city-states Sparta and Athens stood out for their specific characteristics, which can exemplify the Greek world of the time.

Each city had the power to govern itself, the decisions made by the polis were different. This characterized the diversity of the Greek world. It means that although they shared a common world view, something that allowed relative closeness, there was in the history of each polis a space for differentiation within Hellas . In this sense, the cities of Sparta and Athens are recognized as clear examples of this diversity.

Sparta was founded by the Dorians, had in its structuring the warrior foundation, basically maintained in the Archaic and Classical phases. It had its development based on the exploration of ancient inhabitants of the region. Based on the militaristic character, one can understand its social structure.

Athens was founded by the Ionians, had in its beginnings the land element as the basis of the assembly of its political, economic and social institutions, but the commercial activity stood out, mainly in the classical phase, changing some characteristic features of the Archaic Period.


Military city from the beginning, founded by the Dorians in the region of Laconia, south of the Peloponnese peninsula. The region allowed the development of agriculture, which reasonably supplied the population.

Spartan Society

A rigid society was formed in Sparta, marked by the military principle in which warriors occupied a prominent place and were known as Sparta .

Other groups, submitted by the Dorians in Laconia, developed artisan, agricultural and commercial activities that placed them in an inferior situation. They were periecos . Some of them even participated in the Spartan military forces subordinated to the Sparta warrior chiefs.

Further down in this social hierarchy were the hilotas . These came from other conquests of the Sparparatas in areas further away from the Laconia and worked as servants of the state. They had no rights and were distributed in the conquered lands. The result of his work was shared among families of Spartan warriors.

One aspect that differentiated Sparta from Athens was the treatment given to women . Spartans valued them relatively. They participated in military exercises and even held administrative posts in the polis, not being confined exclusively to domestic space. Despite this importance they did not participate in political life, which was given to the best warriors.

If the definition of elevated social position and political participation were associated with military activity, one should consider the importance of the formation of the warrior among members of this Spartan elite.

Spartan Education

Spartans had as their educational foundation the concern to train warriors . It used to define rigid education as Spartan. There were physical punishments, children starved for military training, intense physical activities; all this for the realization of a single interest, that is, to constitute men apt to exercise dominion over other peoples .

Esparciatas received military training for seven years, developed military skills, known as strategy, and underwent constant exercises to improve physical fitness. Moreover, they were taught to speak little, hence the characteristic laconism of that culture. The important thing was to speak what one wanted in a few words. In this way, an elite of men affiliated with rhetoric and philosophy did not flourish in Sparta, as happened in Athens.

Political discussion existed between men considered equal ( homoioi ), those who had already given evidence of military value. They participated in the political institutions of the city, asserting their interests.

Spartan Politics

Political life in Sparta was limited to the military aristocracy. Its members participated in deliberative and consultative devices in such a way that important families were contemplated with a true agreement between pairs. Among political institutions, there are:

  • appeals – made up of men over thirty years old and representing the deliberative body;
  • gerusia – sort of council of elders. Only 28 elderly people, those who lived fantastic stories, who showed military valor, were chosen to occupy this apparatus;
  • eforato – was associated with the daily government of the polis. This is explained by the fact that there are no meetings of the appeal in the day to day of the city.

In this way, the appeal chose five men left from that assembly to govern the polis. The government was defined by the ephors along with the gerous and the diarchy . This was an ancestral division of Dorian groups of distinct lineages, who came together to control the Peloponnese.

The alliance foresaw the existence of two kings (diarquia) : one with the function of chief warrior, leading men into battle, and the other with a religious function, a kind of supreme priest who would obtain the support of the gods in the Spartan military campaigns.

Sparta and Athens
Sparta and Athens

All who participated in the political life were considered the best men of Sparta, so it can be said that his government was aristocratic and thus remained until the end. This means to point out yet another difference in relation to Athens, since it changed the aristocratic structure, moving towards a democratic government, as set out below.


City facing the sea. The resources of Attica , where it was located, were not sufficient to guarantee the livelihood of the population. Thus, from its earliest days there was interest in exploring the natural harbor (Piraeus) to conduct navigations aimed at negotiating products with other cities.

Athenian society

It was organized with first reference to control over land. Families who controlled at the beginning of the polis the best lands constituted the Athenian elite. Members of these traditional families were called Eupatrid (well-born). Beyond them, there were still small landowners, known as Georgians , and men who had no control over land, the Thetas , but were free and engaged in craft and maritime activities, among others.

It is further emphasized that, because of the development of commerce, men who had not been born in the polis participated in that society, being called Metecos . They did not enjoy citizenship rights and paid taxes to trade.

Finally there were large numbers of slaves . Purchasing, indebtedness, and wars were common ways of securing slave labor. It can be said that almost half the population was made up of non-free men, which is to say that slavery was intense in Athens.

Several authors who deal with the so-called thematic history and analyze the female condition over time claim that Athenian society was strongly patriarchal . Women were even considered domestic slaves. In this way, the asymmetry of the relationship between man and woman was clear.

Athenian education

In educational terms, the formation of the citizen necessarily passed through the development of the ability of communication: the good talk (power of persuasion), known by rhetoric . This was very important for a city that had intercourse with various places.

Besides being essential to argue to convince in the commercial plan, it depended on this ability the good government of the city, since only citizens who understood the value of the word could contribute in a debate for the better decision making of the polis.

Sophists were valued men in Athens, for they taught the art of persuasion. It is worth mentioning that from the criticism made to them by Socrates , as Plato reports , it was possible to develop philosophy in the city, more precisely as metaphysics .

Another aspect of Athenian education lies in the development of mathematical studies . The discussion of values ​​necessarily passed on the measure of things, their reason, the proportions of things, and that is number.

The monetary system created by the Athenians already raised the question of the numerical relations between things, facilitating exchanges, that is, commerce. This practice was realized through the learning of music, and in this sense, the Pythagorean thought was absorbed by the Athenian educators.

Sparta and Athens
Sparta and Athens

In addition to rhetoric and mathematics, Athenian education was guided by an interest in the development of physical activities and military exercises. Athenians should be prepared to defend their place of birth and demonstrate physical skills in the competitions between Greek cities, which were held in Olympia.

In this way, it can be said that it was a comprehensive education aimed at achieving the ideal of sound mind and sound body . The citizen, able to perform various tasks through it, was the fundamental element of Athenian politics.

Athenian politics

In political terms, the city of Athens experienced a political evolution: from aristocratic government to democratic .

Such changes are due to the reforms introduced by the legislator Solon, in the sixth century BC, which enlarged Bulé , one of the Athenian assemblies, giving political space to those who fulfilled the (census) income criterion. This benefited the largest native merchants in the city.

At first, Athens was a monarchy whose king was called basileus. However, from the 7th century BC onwards, the Eupátridas controlled political life through the Areopagus and the Archon . The first was exercised by judges from the aristocracy and the second constituted by nine rulers who shared responsibility for making some important decisions.

Among the archons, one can emphasize archon-eponymous, archon-polemarco and arconte-basileus. The first was responsible for the administration (prefecture), the second, military chief and the third, kind of supreme priest. In addition to these institutions, there was still Ecclesia that voted, approving or rejecting Areopagus proposals.

Sparta and Athens
Sparta and Athens

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