What are Differences between Athens and Sparta?

Athens and Sparta were powerful city-states in Ancient Greece, and the differences can be spotted showing each with distinct and unique cultures.
JAN23 What are Differences between Athens and Sparta
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The city-states of Athens and Sparta were two of the most powerful in ancient Greece. Who was better Athens or Sparta? Though their cultures differed greatly, the two states often conflicted. In this blog post, we’ll explore the history and differences between Athens and Sparta and see how they compare.

1. What are Differences between Athens and Sparta?

There are many differences between Athens and Sparta, particularly in how they were governed. While Athens valued democracy and openness, focusing on arts and culture, Sparta maintained a strict military lifestyle and chose to have only a small ruling class. This translated into differences in daily life as well.

In Athens, citizens were allowed to participate in government decisions and could engage in various trades or forms of leisure. In Sparta, all energy was dedicated to military endeavors and maintaining an elite fighting force. Despite these distinctions, both societies made significant contributions to the development of ancient Greece. Each had its own strengths and weaknesses, making them unique yet equally important in shaping the course of history. (See What do Greeks find Attractive?)

2. What was the Biggest Difference between Athens and Sparta?

The biggest difference between Athens and Sparta is not a single thing, but many; they do share similarities in language and culture. However, their political systems varied greatly. In Athens, citizens were actively engaged in government through a system of direct democracy. All male citizens over 18 could participate in decision-making and lawmaking through assemblies and juries.

In contrast, Sparta had an oligarchical government run by a small group of elite leaders known as the Spartan Council. This council comprised members of the city’s royal families and elected members. Though citizenship was limited to only those with both parents being natives of Sparta, women held more power and influence than in other city-states. Ultimately, Athens and Sparta represented two distinct forms of governance during ancient Greece.

3. What are 3 Similarities between Athens and Sparta?

Athens and Sparta were powerful city-states in ancient Greece, and the differences between Athens and Sparta show each with a distinct and unique culture. However, there are similarities between Athens and Sparta:

  • One notable example was their religious practice like many other Ancient Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta worshipped the same pantheon of gods, though they each had their own patron deities.
  • Additionally, both utilized a heritage system for labor, relying on enslaved people or lower-class individuals to perform manual labor.
  • Their governmental structure was similar to oligarchies controlled by landed aristocrats who ruled both city-states.

While Athens and Sparta had many differences that set them apart, it is clear that they also had similarities between Athens and Sparta. (See What are the Types of Cultures in the World?)

4. Who was Better Athens or Sparta?

The question of who was better, Athens or Sparta, is a controversial topic with no clear answer. It ultimately depends on what metrics one chooses to prioritize. However, in terms of military strength and leadership capabilities, Sparta was superior. Spartans were known for their dedication to harsh military training from a young age, making them formidable fighters on the battlefield. This focus on a strong army allowed Sparta to lead an alliance of city-states that dominated southern Greece.

On the other hand, Athens had a more balanced approach to military and civilian life. While they certainly had skilled soldiers, their navy was their true strength. Ultimately, both cities played important roles in ancient Greek culture and history, but if forced to choose, Sparta was the more powerful player in terms of martial prowess and leadership.

5. Why Athens was Better than Sparta?

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By Getty Images from Unsplash+

When comparing the ancient Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta, it becomes clear that Athens was the superior choice.

  • One key reason for this is their government structure. While Sparta had a strict, militaristic oligarchy, Athens developed the world’s first democracy, allowing for equal political participation among its citizens.
  • Athens strongly emphasized education and intellectual development, producing famous philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. Sparta, however, focused solely on physical training and warfare.
  • Athens was a center of remarkable cultural achievements in art, architecture, and literature.

Overall, while both city-states had their strengths and weaknesses, it is clear from the differences between Athens and Sparta that Athens produced a more well-rounded and advanced society. (See What Nationality is Cameroon Congo?)

6. How did Women’s Rights differ between Athens and Sparta?

While Athens and Sparta were prominent city-states in ancient Greece, their attitude toward women’s rights differed greatly. In Sparta, women were allowed to inherit property and wealth but also to undergo intense physical training and participate in sports alongside men.

In contrast, Athenian society viewed women as inferior citizens and denied them any political rights or participation in public life. These differing attitudes towards gender roles were reflected in Spartan and Athenian education as well – while boys and girls received formal education in Sparta, girls were largely excluded from academics in Athens. The relative freedom and empowerment of Spartan women stood in stark contrast to the disempowerment of their Athenian counterparts. 

7. What were Spartan Girls taught?

Spartan girls were also well-rounded in their education and physical fitness. From a young age, they participated in the same rigorous physical training as their male counterparts before learning literacy and mousike, a term encompassing singing, dancing, musical composition, and poetry.

Some notable women in Spartan society even became warriors themselves or acted as leaders in battle. Though their ultimate duty was to bear and raise children who would become strong soldiers for Sparta, Spartan girls were given opportunities for intellectual and physical development rarely afforded to women in other ancient societies. Their education undoubtedly contributed to Sparta’s reputation as a powerful city-state in Greece.

8. Why did Athens and Sparta develop so differently?

The Athenian desire for expansion and control was also reflected in their government. Sparta had a very strict, hierarchal system with kings at the top, followed by overseers. Athens, however, had a system of democracy where all free citizen men could participate in government decisions. The famous philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens for his controversial teachings.

Sparta also focused heavily on military training from a young age, while Athens strongly emphasized education and the arts. This led to Athens becoming a center of philosophy and learning, while Sparta maintained its reputation as a fierce warrior society. This highlights the main differences between Athens and Sparta. (See Why is Global Culture Important?)

9. How was Education different in Athens and Sparta?

In Athens, education was seen as a means of developing well-rounded individuals and cultivating their intellect. Both boys and girls were educated in reading, writing, music, and athletics, emphasizing the development of reasoning skills through debates and discussions.

In contrast, the Spartan education system focused almost exclusively on military training, starting at seven. Boys were sent to military barracks, where they learned to endure harsh physical conditions and became skilled in combat tactics. It should be noted that while Sparta heavily emphasized practical skills, they did place some importance on literature and poetry as they believed it fostered discipline and courage. Ultimately, education in Athens aimed to produce balanced individuals, while in Sparta, it was meant to prepare citizens for war.

10. Did Athens have Slaves?

Yes, it is a commonly held belief that ancient Athens, like many civilizations of the time, relied heavily on slavery. However, while it is true that slaves did exist in Athenian society, they were not as ubiquitous as in other Greek cities. Additionally, Athenian enslaved people were not always treated as property but had certain rights and could even gain their freedom through benevolent actions or purchasing their emancipation. Despite this, it remains true that Athens did enslave people, and their presence played a significant role in the city’s economy and daily life. But compared to other societies of the time, their treatment was markedly more humane. Check out How do You become a Slave?

Though there were many differences between Athens and Sparta, two notable distinctions were their views on pork and helots. The Spartans believed that eating pork made one strong, while the Athenians thought it was unclear. Additionally, the Spartans kept slaves called helots, who did all the manual labor, whereas Athens did not enslave people. Though there are some biggest differences between Athens and Sparta, both civilizations were great in their ways. 

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