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Spartan or Athenian?

Athens and Sparta are two of the most known Ancient Greek empires of the past time. They were similar in many ways, including the geographical location; however, their differences are more dominant in the Sparta-Athens relationship.

Athens and Sparta did have something in common. They both were powerful governments in Ancient Greece; they had the same religion and mythology, which was polytheistic with Zeus as the mighty deity. Athens and Sparta were situated in the Balkans and had a structure of a polis (city-state type of structure). Both empires were male-dominant, oligarchic, idealistic, spoke the same language, had slaves in their social structure and were long-time rivals. Nevertheless, the list of similarities is small. Apart from these affinities, Athens and Sparta were at different ends of the spectrum regarding culture, political and economic systems, etc.

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Description of Athenian Society

Athens encouraged individualistic expression: public speaking, sculpting, philosophy, and poetry. Furthermore, Athens promoted education; before attending any educational facilities, a person must undergo seven years of homeschooling. The Athenians entrusted household issues to the women. In addition, sports played very significant part in the daily life of citizens. The Athenians thought that mental development was nothing without physical progress; they advocated achieving of beauty in all human endeavors. Moreover, they were eager to expand the horizons of their minds and to learn something new.

Concerning political system of Athens, it was an oligarchic monarchy with democracy traits. Tyranny was widespread on Athenian lands. Nevertheless, aristocracy played a big role in political processes. The Athenians thought that the only way to expand the territories was to colonize nearby lands. Democracy would effloresce during the ruling of Pericles. Solon was the creator of the Athenian law codex, which included the termination of slavery, the creation of courts, etc. (Powell 283).

The Athenians based their economy on sea trade and products they received from their colonies. They had coin money and many small farms. The government encouraged small industry and craftsmen, not only from Athens, but also from other places by giving them citizenship.

Social structure consisted of citizens, metics, slaves, and women. Citizens comprised all male Athenian population, which was divided into three subclasses: aristocrats, middle class, and thetes. Slaves and women could not receive citizenship and had no rights in Athens.


Description of Spartan Society

On the contrary, "Life at Sparta in several ways resembled that of a military camp - a point familiar in antiquity" (Powell 219). Military system in Sparta was simple - every male was a military starting at the age of 7 and ending at the age of 60, In other words, military education and training were a priority in Sparta. Anything that went beyond the limits of natural needs was considered an unneeded luxury. Weak children were murdered by throwing them off the cliff. Sparta was a hyper-masculine nation, and they honored such traits as a duty, toughness (both physical and mental), strength, discipline, and willpower (Cartledge 147).

Spartans based their political system on oligarchic and monarchic duumvirate, which was the ruling of two equally powerful kings. Sparta was a totalitarian empire with the fierce Lycurgus Code.

Economic system of Sparta was mainly based on farming and small industry. The Spartans did not participate in any kind of an outer trade. They also did not have coins; Spartan currency was metal bars.

Sparta had three social classes: spartiates, periocci, and helots. Spartiates were citizens with a full spectrum of rights. Periocci were not citizens, however, they were free. Helots were much like the slaves in Athens, although they could not be bought and had rights to have a property. Helots did not have civil rights, but their social position was better than social position of Athenian slaves. Moreover, Spartan women were citizens and even had the rights to receive education, compete in various sports, etc.; i.e. they had rights that Athenian women did not have.

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Comparison of Spartan and Athenian Societies

It is not easy to determine which empire had better living conditions. It is apparent that helots had a better position than slaves did because slaves were not even considered human beings. Spartan women also had better conditions than Athenian women did. Athenian women did not have any rights and were not considered citizens while Spartan women had a variety of rights, including citizenship. Living conditions of full citizens of both empires differed utterly. Life of the Athenian citizens was easy; they had good living conditions and opportunities to improve themselves both intellectually and physically. On the contrary, living conditions of spartiates were not as good; military style of living was rigid and tiring. Despite bad living conditions, the Spartans were still one of the most prominent and the toughest warriors in all the human history. The Athenians were mostly famous for their intellectual heritage (philosophers, orators, mathematicians), however, they were successful in warfare.

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Taking into consideration every aspect of Athenian and Spartan life, Sparta had better living conditions for preparing warriors while Athens had better living conditions for upbringing intellectuals. Undoubtedly, Sparta beats Athens when it comes to living conditions of women and slaves. Sparta and Athens had different purposes, so both states were equal in terms of living conditions of full citizens.

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