Characterize the major differences between Sparta and Athens, including your view of the strengths and weaknesses of each. Which do you think reflected qualities necessary to the maintenance of present-day democracies, and why?
Athenian and Spartan culture were altogether different in numerous angles. Nevertheless, in the meantime, the two shared a series of common characteristics. The distinctions are what separated the two, while common beliefs and cultures joined them as Greek city-states.
System of Governance
One of the main differences between Athens and Sparta relates to the way their governments were structured. The system of government for Sparta was Oligarchy. Every year, there was election of Ephors (Wright, 2015). Five of them were elected. They were accompanied by two kings. These kings passed on crowns to their respective chosen sons. “Gerousia” represented the senate. Kings and Ephors could often meet in the “appella” which represented national assembly to make decisions regarding various civil issues.
Decisions were reached through the power of the majority. What was only required was just a shouting of “no” or “yes” Due to power of majority, the five Ephors had the ability to overrule the decision made by the kings. They had an exclusive form of government although the participation was exclusively open to members from the highest social ranking. With oligarchy, power was consolidated on experienced people only. With experienced people come best decisions. On the other hand, this system opened avenue for social division.
On the flip side, Athens practiced democratic system of government whereby the people, regardless of their social status, had a say in regard to state proceedings and affairs. This is different from the Sparta’s system of governance. In Athens, 5,000-6,000 people were reduced to group consisting of 500 people. The 500 people could then be divided further to groups of 50. Every group would be in charge for like a month. Ten generals were elected automatically as a result of their experience (Mitchell, 2015). The others were selected through “lot” voting. They an assembly referred to as “ekklesia”, where they sat and discussed militaristic, social and political matters.
Athens formed the foundation of modern democracy. Democracy promotes equality, encourages personal development and leads to societal consistency despite the fact it takes time to actually mature in any country. It is the best system of government which reflects the will of the majority unlike oligarchy which represents the will of few powerful individuals.
Both the two great powers had established strong sea and land forces at various phases in their history. However, each had dominance in one specific arm of military. Sparta dominated on land-based military made up of armored hoplites. Spartan hoplites went through extensive training from as early as 7 years old, making them among the finest brand of warriors of the ancient times. Their education system referred to as “agoge” entailed harsh training which took place in the wilderness (Wright, 2015). This greatly improved their performance in the battlefield.
On the other hand, Athens was popular for when it came to navy. While at particular stages, particularly under the Demosthenes, Athenian military developed substantial strength, nearly matching that of Spartans, generally it was not superior. They had special and powerful ship comprised of Triremes. This was a revolutionary ship, comprising of one hundred and seventy oarsmen, sailors, soldiers, and a captain. It was maneuverable and fast because of its in-battle ferocity. It played a great role during the countering of the Persian threat during the invasion of Greece by Xerxess (Mitchell, 2015).
Mitchell, T. (2015). Democracy’s Beginning (pp. 203-246). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wright, A. (2015). City States (pp. 10-12). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.