Describe the Social, Cultural and Political Features of Classical Athens and Ancient Sparta

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Sparta then experienced a period of great wealth and power in the Greek region until, the Messinian people who had been enslaved by the Spartans revolted wanting their freedom and land back. It took Sparta twenty years to conquer the revolt and it became clear that the Spartans had to change their way of life. So, they turned themselves into a military state, establishing their military power across Greece. Unlike Sparta, Athens was not a military-based state but rather an aristocracy, led by noble families, and it’s from here their early problems stemmed.

Athens problems were cause by the greed and power of their noble positions and they constant bickering between themselves over control of the city. On the other end of the spectrum, the poor faced many problems and hardships as the nobles forced them into slavery and into debt, taking their land. Religion was a cultural aspect that all Greeks had in common. They worshipped the same family of Gods and Goddesses and built temples, carried out sacrifices and celebrated festivals in the God’s name.

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In return, the Greeks believed that the Gods would protect them, make their crops grow and grant them favours. The Gods and Goddesses each had particular powers and responsibilities and each was responsible for an aspect of Greek society. The Greeks also worshipped heroes, some of who were sons of gods and goddesses. Each city-state was also under the protection of a patron deity; Sparta’s was Apollo – God of Prophecy, Music and Healing, Athens’ was Athena – Goddess of Wisdom.

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This cultural aspect of Sparta and Athens was quite alike.

Mythology is Ancient Greece was an all-important aspect of Greek Religion. Greek mythology is the body of myths and etchings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their Gods and Heroes, the Nature of the World and the origins and significance of their ritual practices. Mythology consisted of figures such as; Hercules, Perseus, Medusa, Hydra and Kraken. Spartan and Athenian social structures were very quite different. All Spartan babies were inspected for physical health by tribal leaders; and if he or she wasn’t physically healthy it was taken to a place on Mount Taygetus and left to die.

From ages thirteen to eighteen, young men were very strictly trained; if they did not do as expected, their teachers flogged them. They were given one piece of clothing to training for both Summer and Winter, went barefoot, exercised naked and were given very little food. Growing into adults, Spartans were expected to take on more personal responsibility in order to exercise authority and discipline. These included; training youths by telling them about the honourable behaviour of older Spartans, and supervising their training. Education within Sparta wasn’t seen as a high priority they just continued to train.

Marriage in Sparta was expected after the age of twenty and men were punished if they remained bachelors. Although Spartan men didn’t have much of a social life however they did enjoy numerous leisure activities including: music, dancing, festivals and hunting. In Athens, unlike Sparta, it was believed that males should have a balanced education; early education concentrated on writing, grammar, reciting poetry and music. At fourteen, they were trained physically at gymnastics, wrestling, running, jumping, discus, javelin and boxing variations. Gradually as they grew up they were also expected to learn basic military skills.

The sons of wealthy learnt to ride and were often taken to listen to teachers and sophists, who gave them instructions in culture, politics and argument. In opposition to the Spartans, Athenians lived very social lives. They spent there days in the agora; to meet family and friends, wander around to see foreign foods or go to the boarder to gossip. Other actives include; exercise in the ‘palestra’, relaxing in public baths, festivals and parties. Gambling and drinking however, were the chief activities in the night such as cock fighting and games of dice.

Socially, Sparta and Athens had many things in common however, they also came into conflict about many aspects of social life. Citizenship in Athens and Sparta had their similarities however, were in-fact quite different. Citizenship in Sparta was generally only for males but not all men living in the city state could be citizens. In order to be accepted as a full Spartan citizen one had to; show that both parents were descended from the original Dorian’s, completed all six stages of the ‘agoge’, which was the Spartan military and educational system and be a member of the ‘syssitia’ a military club.

Spartan citizens were called ‘homoioi’ meaning peers or equal and were full-time soldiers, forbidden to do any other work. Total loyalty was expected to the state and authority. Other requirements included: being physical fit and prepared for war, they were expected to attend the assembly to vote on issues and any man would much rather prefer death that defeat in war. In Athens, to prove citizen eligibility, an Athenian man had to show he was born in Athens, both parents were born in Athens, were of a citizen class and were both legitimately married.

Athenian citizens were expected to be interested and involved in everything about their city-state and to be well-informed politically. Another key duty, was to attend the people’s assembly to take part in debates and vote on issues. Women played a major role in the functioning of both Athens and Sparta. Athenian women were expected to run their husbands household effectively and successfully. However, it was a heavy responsibility for a teenager, as most Athenian girls were married at the age of fourteen or fifteen.

Although they were trained to cope well, they spent most of their childhood being educated by their mothers learning house-hold tasks, how to be a good house-hold manager and to care for children. Women didn’t necessarily have rights politically and socially and were not allowed to mix with men. Instead, they lived fairly secluded live in the ‘gynaikon’ the women’s quarters of the house. All women also had a guardian who had complete control over them. Unlike Athenian women, Spartan women’s duty was to produce strong and healthy children and they weren’t required to do house-hold chores.

Like Athenian women, they didn’t have many political rights and we’re not allowed to vote, however, they were more socially active than Athenians, they could mix with men and spent much of there time outside. Like all Spartans, they trained in gymnastics, running, wrestling , discus and javelin. But, it was there beauty that made them admirable, they were not allowed to wear cosmetics, jewellery, perfume and expensive clothes as they were admired for there natural beauty and physique. Playing important roles in Spartan and Athenian society were the: ‘periocci’, ‘helots’, ‘slaves’ and ‘metics’.

Periocci and Helots were endemic to Sparta and played a major role in society. Periocci were free land dwellers, some of which were land owners and were most often; traders, craftsmen, sailors and fisherman. They engaged in trade and industry and their chief contribution to Sparta was economic. Although they didn’t quite have the rights of citizens they owed there allegiance to Sparta and were expected to serve as a hoplite in the military however, wasn’t involved in the Spartan training program. Helots were also endemic to Sparta, were near the bottom of the social hierarchy and were possessions of Sparta.

They were the original inhabitants of Laconia and Messenia who were lands conquered by the Spartans. Their main role was agricultural, providing food for Spartans. They had no political rights and while they could live on the land with their family they weren’t allowed to move without government permission. The helots were a constant threat to security and always under suspicion and were threated very harshly. At times, helots were killed by the ‘krypteia’ – a secret police, to keep control. Making comparisons were the Athenian slaves and metics, slaves worked most commonly for rich men who owned them, they did common house-hold tasks.

Most slaves were not Greek some of which were prisoners of war. There was a special group of slaves that were owned by the state known as ‘Scythian Archers’, who kept control of citizens at assemblies. Metics like periocci worked as traders, craftsmen, shopkeepers and bankers, and also had no political rights and couldn’t own land or a house. Government in Sparta and Athens were of complete conflict. Sparta was an ‘oligarchy’ which was a system or government were the rule was by the few while on the other-hand, Athens was a ‘democracy’ a system of government were the rule was by the people.

Sparta was ruled by two kings whose main duties were military and religiously based. They were supreme commanders of the army and held office as long as the Gods were pleased. However, the ‘gerousia’ obtained the most power also limiting the king’s power. It was a council of thirty men, including the two kings, and functioned, offering advice on political decisions, preparing bills to be presented and act as a court of justice in cases of treason. Another ruling power was the ‘ephors’ who were five men selected each year who supervised the training and discipline as well as administering civil justice and issuing orders to mobilise armies.

The ‘paella’ was the assembly of Spartiates who voted on legislation, by simply clapping or saying yes or no. Over in Athens, the rule is different, it’s democratic, meaning the rule was by the people. There was three groups which contributed to Athenian government: The Assembly or ‘Ecclessie’; the The Council or ‘Boule’; and the Generals or ‘Strategoi’. The government featured all adult, male citizens who had the right to vote and propose legislation, they were also all allowed to stand for office. People were allowed to hold office for one year which limited their potential to develop too much power.

The Ecclessie was the sovereign body of Athenian government and determined the way the vote went by a show of hands, The Boule, was a council of 500 men, consisting of fifty councillors from each tribe, they dealt with day-to-day business of Athens and proposed law for the Esslessie. They were elected by lot, annually and could hold office twice in an entire lifetime however, the member must be over thirty years of age. The Generals or Strategoi, is a group of ten generals who were elected annually by the assembly.

They were in control of the Athenian navy, army and calvary and could be fined if they didn’t carry out their duties. In this aspect of political society Athens and Sparta differed greatly. Classical Athens and Ancient Spartan warfare, were allies and also shared many common aspects. The most common of these was the hoplite phalanx, a hoplite was a Greek soldier who formed the phalanx, which was the formation used in Spartan and Athenian tactics. Hoplites were organised in the phalanx, row beyond row of men arranged with a wall of shields between each. The Strategos led the charge from the most vulnerable decision.

The first four rows advanced with spears horizontal and behind their spears vertical. The large shield the hoplites carried provided a wall that became crucial to the phalanx’s effectiveness. As the lines neared the phalanx broke into a run, the challenge was to keep cohesive while gaining enough speed for the initial contact. When they did meet, the forward ranks did the hacking and spearing they could while the rear kept up the pressure. Hoplite soldier’s armoury was called the panoply, consisting of a shield, helmet, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear and tunic.

Aspects that differed from each other, was the Athenian Navy, although the Spartans has a naval fleet the Athenian were the dominators of sea battle, The Athenian navy was comprised around the Trireme, which was the basis of Athenian power, wealth and Empire it was a manoeuvrable, quick rowing boat used to ran the opposing ships causing their hull to break and eventually sink. However, the Spartan Army was undoubtably the greatest military power in Greece, All Spartan citizens between the ages of eighteen and sixty were full time soldiers.

Units of periodic and helots accompanied the Spartans to war and commander in chief of the army were the two Spartan Kings. Although hoplites were armed in the same way as other Greeks there were rituals and features to recognise then as Spartans; When Spartans were in sight of battle, they polished their weapons and groomed their hair, they placed garlands on their heads and the king would sacrifice a female goat, then take an omen from the Gods, although he would only send his men into battle if the omen was favourable.

The Spartan and Athenian Armies had similar however different codes of honour when it came to war. The Athenians believed combat should be bloody, horrible and decisive. While Spartans believed they should never retreat in battle, stand firm no matter the odds and defeat the enemy or die. In conclusion, the powerhouses of Ancient Greece: Athens and Spartans shared many aspects of their society while they also differed from each other in their particular forms, in all aspects of social, cultural and political life.

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Describe the Social, Cultural and Political Features of Classical Athens and Ancient Sparta. (2018, Sep 26). Retrieved from

Describe the Social, Cultural and Political Features of Classical Athens and Ancient Sparta

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