Discussion: Ancient Greece and and the Hellenistic Age


Athens and Sparta were two important cities/states of the Greek civilization. Athens was located about 150 miles away from Sparta, yet they were different from one another. Their governments were structured to the way they practiced gender roles, and the way they treated their women are all major points of contrast.

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The system of government in Athens was mainly democratic, where Sparta was small and ruled by kings. Their local gods may have influenced the preference of one over the other; Athens’ goddess was Athena, associated with wisdom and war. Sparta’s god was Ares, who was associated with war. Athens was located near the sea, so its navy was highly specialized. Sparta was in a mountainous region, so it prided itself as a military power. Athens was a commercial focus, where Sparta was an agrarian society, weary of trade with outsiders.

Gender roles were strict and required by the law in Athens, where men were considered superior to women. Boys were preferred to girls, which translated into their schooling – boys were educated while girls were left untaught. In Sparta, boys and girls were educated and trained in physical sports like running, wrestling. In Athens, all governmental affairs were limited to men; women were not even allowed to vote. In Sparta, both men and women had a say in public matters.

Athenian women’s status was considered second-class citizens; they did not receive a proper education, nor did they have any claim to the property. Athenian women also had no say in governmental matters; their role was limited to look after their families. Spartan women were strong and enjoyed the most self-sufficiency. They were educated from a young age and could buy, sell, and inherit property. Spartan women lived an active lifestyle, participating in physical activities like sports. This is mainly due to the burgeoning need to provide healthy children, especially boys, to serve the city-state.

Athens was more of a typical Greek polis compared to Sparta. Athens pioneered in trade, democracy, entertainment and treated its slaves better than its rival Sparta. Artisans, poets, and performers were respected in Athenian society. Athens was a stereotypical masculine society that upheld its family values. Sparta was ruthless about military training; boys as young as 7 years were sent off to be military trained.

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Athens was most famed for its democracy, that was both normal and unusual. Its democracy was not like todays though. It underwent multiple revisions just to get to the point where they can sustain themselves peacefully. It began with the rule of tyrant that was eventually shut down by lawgivers such as Solon. Solon reformed the tyrant’s laws and made it that rather than birth, wealth, the key component of holding office. Which meant that anyone who had money/property could now participate in government, not only those born into aristocratic families. Other lawgivers also helped to better reform and guide the new democracy as well. Their democracy was still only ruled by small percent, but they did have direct participation. With that being said, the participation was only limited to those of whom had a certain level of property. So, the big difference among other poleis is that Athenian democracy allowed more participation in the government. But in conclusion, Athens democracy was only possible due to others not having any freedom or rights at the time.

Spartan government was different from Athenian democracy. It was made up of two kings, five ephors, the appella, and the Gerousia. The kings were responsible for leading the army and hold religious functions. The ephors withheld most of the executive power in Sparta, they oversaw education, military training, and the secret service. The appella were the group of citizens responsible for voting for the Gerousia. While their government looked like a dictatorship, it was really a equalitarian oligarchy. This system had its flaws, Spartans emphasized on martial ability as a requirement to become a citizen and not property, thus not acquiring more demographic with new citizenship and actually begin to stagnant. They also never allowed crafts or business or to make money, because of this they lacked in trade and cultural flourishing unlike in Athens. Demographic decline began to arise in Sparta due to both the rule that men/husbands had to live in the barracks until they are 30 thus, they were stopping normal times sexual relations; and, Spartans refusing to give citizenship to any whom they deemed weak in any way.

In Sparta, boys and girls received the same education until the age of 7. It is then that the boys are trained for the military and girls are trained to become a well-rounded citizen to run the household, property, and affairs of their husband while he was in barracks or on active duty. This was not equality, rather, they made spartan girls efficient baby making machines.

Gender roles in Greek society were somewhat similar across the board. Women were seen as a lesser subject to the man. Women were there to serve their husband and household. A woman’s main function was to produce children to continue her husbands blood line. They were not their husbands’ partner, but yet a pawn to their husbands gain. They had no voice outside of the household, and only held jurisdiction within the home, mainly only because they were the homemakers themselves. Men kept their wives secluded within the household to cook, clean, and stayed out of sight. Women had no social existence outside the home, especially if unmarried. Their only place was seen as a homemakers and lineage producers. The husband could also determine if the child produced was worthy of living, if chosen not (usually the daughters) they would leave the infant out in the elements to die. This process where Greek fathers determine the livelihood of their infant by exposure to the elements is referred to as infanticide. Men were also allowed to, and encouraged to, indulged in sexual acts before marriage through prostitutes and slaves. While woman on the other hand, had to be seen as sexually pure, if not she could not be wed. Greek culture was centered on the cult of male Masculinity. They saw man as the ideal form, and even Aristotle said that women were nothing but defective men. Though in Athens it was encouraged to have sexual mentor-mentee relationships between a teenage boy and adult man. In other poleis, like Thebes and Sparta, men were encouraged to become lovers as equals, so that when they would fight, they would fight to protect their lover.

Both cities were advanced within their government and societal structure. Though Spartans emphasized on community extremes rather than emphasizing on citizen participation of democracy like Athens did. Spartans stood out, had different laws and regulations than those of other neighboring cities, which made them a strong force to be reckoned with, but also made them a small weak unit than eventually dwindled out with demographic decline. Due to these reasons, I believe that Athens is the more typical Greek polis with a typical governmental and societal structures of cities in those times.


Lectures 1-5

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