During the late Archaic Greek and Classical periods, two particular city-states were in existence with significant similarities as well as differences. These two city-states, Sparta and Athens have unique formations of government, histories, goals, as well as societies.
After experiencing the effects of a rising population and shortage of arable land, the Spartans moved through their mountainous western frontier in hope of seeking a new spacious land to live upon. Their decision to change their home grounds put the Spartans in great danger as they found themselves entering into the fertile plain of Messenia.
Fearing that they may be overthrown by power by the Messenian resistance and the helot status, the Spartans began to seek protection for their city-state and their citizens. In hope of protecting themselves, the Spartans began a new way of life by introducing a dominant military camp that would keep their community alert and aware at all times. This was the foundation of how the Spartans became a military based society.
On the other end of the Greek city-states, the Athens chose a relatively different path as their governmental system, a democracy. Although the Athens did not prosper into a democracy over night, each step taken revealed a transition into the new governmental system they were yet to obtain. In hope of avoiding a civil war, a member of the aristocracy, Solon, was appointed as authority to posses power and provide law. Solon chose to break down his citizens into social classes that would be based primarily upon the annual yield of their farms. Thus, breaking away from the originally known practice of a political mobility they had grown to know. In 546 B.C.E., aristocrat, Pisistratus came into power, soon strengthening his possition in the citizens eyes, while viewing him as the main superior figure. As his power came to a haul, he traditionally passed the torch onto his son, Pericles, who transitioned all power into the government and the Assembly, Council of 500, and Peoples Court. Thus, allowing the men of the city-state to participate and voice their views in governmental issues. In addition to their democratic formation, the Athens too began to become prominent in sales of wealthy painted pottery and vases, which too was their final step in becoming a democracy.
As we look back upon the two significant differences in the governmental systems of Sparta and Athens, there are also many other characteristics that distinguish the differences and similarities of these two city states. The difference in land as well as population perceives a relative historical comparison. Sparta lacked land area and was forced to seek other land in the fertile plain of Messenia. Although, if we look at the Athens, we see that they had no issues with plentiful land, as they possessed large and populous territory. Another characteristic that set the differences between Sparta and the Athens were their societies. Although they were similar because both classified their people socially, the both divided their citizens in two uniquely different ways. The Athenian citizens were divided by Solon, the lawgiver and posesser of all power, into four classes based on the annual yield of their farms. The top three would have the opportunity to hold state offices while the lower classes were only allowed to participate in meetings in the Assembly with no office. The main difference between the two city-states was that the Athenian society was broken down into social classes while the Spartans were not. Spartans took a different route, as their government was based on a military foundation. There were no visible social classes, as it was understood the male responsibility as a dominant military man. At the age of seven, it was understood that any male Spartan began life becoming prepared to be a strong soldier, while being taken from their families and placed in the barracks to live. The soldiers were the only figure placed with high regards in their society. Though these city-states had their differences, there were also similarities between the two. Both the Spartans and Athenians relied on the male citizens as valuable rolls in the formation of their city-states. We see this as the Spartans demanded their men at a young age to prepare to meet the demands of the their state through the military. On the other end, we see the Athenian men taking a more political stand point, while being selected to hold offices in the state in addition to being paid for their work. In addition to this similarity, we see that women were not primarily in the picture in either government, in the Spartans nor the Athenian city-states. As a whole, both city-states looked to the male citizens as important characteristics in the formation of their city-states.
In close, the Spartans and Athenian city-states were both preeminent city-states of the late Archaic Greek and Classical periods. Though they possessed this similarity, there were many differences between the two.
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