Athens – Greece
During the fifth century of Ancient Greece the city-states of Athens and Sparta represented two very different forms of living. Spartans directed their time towards their military capabilities while the Athenians were interested in comfort and culture. Spartas and Athens political and environmental differences along with their different views on women caused the two city-states to be very dissimilar.
Two major forms of government existed during Ancient Greece: oligarchy and democracy. The government in Sparta was controlled by an oligarchy in which the power was held by a group of five men called ephors. Working below the ephors was the Council of Elders and an Assembly. Male citizens over age sixty could serve on the Council while anyone, male or female, over the age of twenty could be a member of the Assembly.
1 Though the citizens had little say in the decisions made by the government, the system worked effectively. It was the oligarchy in Sparta that put a war-like attitude as its first priority in the city-state. Every man in the army fought with a great deal of passion for his country. The beliefs of Sparta were oriented around the state.
The individual lived and died for the state. The government in Athens followed a very different course than that of Sparta. Upper class male citizens over the age of thirty were the only Athenians who held any right to vote. The democracy in Athens consisted of an executive, legislative, and judicial branch.
All branches of the government were capable of vetoing one another. It was also customary to expel from the country any speaker who became too powerful. However, as stated in the Athenian Constitution, male citizens were equal and the governments focus was on the individual rather than the state as a whole.2
Another difference between the two great city-states was their environment and how it affected the trade in the two cities.
The Athenian economy depended on foreign trade and travel.3 Because of Athens location on the Aegean Sea, sailing increased trade. While trade was a necessity in Athens, it wasnt in Sparta. Since Sparta was cut off from the rest of Greece by two mountain ranges there was little trade being done.
The Spartans rarely traveled from their city-state or allowed foreigners into it. This kept out foreign ideas and allowed an element of surprise when it came to attacks.4
Quite possibly one of the greatest differences between the Athenian and the Spartans regarded their attitude towards women. Womens roles in society and their relationship with the community played a major role in the development and effectiveness of each states government and culture.
Unlike the rest of Greek women, Spartan women had the freedom of equality except for voting rights. They did little housework or sewing. Since men were in the military, the women had full authority over their households and were not forced into a life of only childbearing and housekeeping like the Athenian woman.5 Since the woman of Sparta exemplified a greater authoritative influence, the nation thrived and became a world leader.
When Athenian girls came of age, their fathers offered them for marriage. Even as wives, they were required to stay indoors at all times. Their primary life tasks were child rearing, housework, and sewing giving them no possibility to contribute to the Athenians development and culture.
Sparta was uneasy concentrating on war and the State as a whole while Athens was laid back focusing its attention on comfort and the people of the State.
With their differences in government, physical surroundings and views on women Sparta and Athens represented the two very different ways a polis could have been back in the fifth century of Ancient Greece.