Two classical Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta, were as similar as they were different regarding political and social structures. While Sparta kept themselves isolated from their neighbors, Athens kept themselves in contact with everyone. Sparta and Athens were both polytheistic; Sparta’s patron saint was Ares and Athens’ was Athena. Ares was Sparta’s patron saint because Sparta was a militaristic oligarchy, meaning their government was run by a few people and revolved around warfare. Sparta’s government structure consisted of two kings who served as generals to the army and ephors, elected officials who oversaw daily affairs.
Athens’ government adopted a policy known as direct democracy—the power of citizens to directly make decisions on laws and policies, instead of through elected representatives.
Both Sparta and Athens had a Council and an Assembly. For Sparta, the Council was comprised of Spartan bred men over 60 and the two kings; they could propose and pass laws. Their Assembly consisted of 30 year old male Spartans who could veto the Council’s decisions.
Athens had a Council of 500 which had 50 members randomly selected from 10 districts who decided on laws proposed by the Assembly; it was democratic. The Assembly was made up of male citizens of Athens who formulated laws. When Sparta conquered another city-state, they took the people and made them slaves.
As for the social aspect of the two dominant ancient poleis, Sparta was more extreme than Athens. Since Sparta was militaristic, they went to war numerous times, crushing their opposition and enslaving the survivors. Sparta amassed a large number of slaves because of this. Athens had slaves, but the slaves had a chance of buying their freedom. Moreover, in Spartan society, newborn babies of both genders were inspected. If they looked or acted weakly, they were abandoned in the countryside. At age seven, boys would begin training for the military and lived in barracks. They would never live at home again. For one year, as part of their training, each man would be given a cloak and was set loose in the wild for a year to test their survival skills. When the men turned 20, they were allowed to marry, but had to live in the barracks until they were 30 years old. When they were 30, the Spartan males could live with their wives and join the Assembly, but had to eat with the other men for another ten years. In contrast, males of Athens were taught that knowledge was superior to the military.
The boys were taught to read, write, play music, and practice rhetoric since they had to voice their views in the direct democratic Athens. Males between the age of 20 and 50 were required to serve in the army for one year. Lastly, the women of Sparta and Athens were not regarded as highly as the males. In Athens, women were confined to the home and domestic life. They were denied an education. The only important role they could hold would have been in religious rituals. Spartan women were given more independence, an education and laborious physical training. The Spartan women’s most important role was to bear healthy children, especially males. Analogous to Athenian women, Spartan women had to obey their fathers and husbands. Therefore, Spartans and Athenians were generally different in governmental composition, but their social structures were equally patriarchal.
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