High School History: Sparta and Athens

Sparta and Athens 1

Dorians conquered the local people, made Sparta the capital, and set up a harsh government under the control of military leaders. Lycurgus established the Spartan form of government around 600 BC. Sparta had to be strong enough to defeat its enemies and also to control its slaves, called helots. The king headed the government.

The real power was with 5 elderly men called ephors. These ephors were responsible for day-to-day workings of the city; eventually, they became more powerful than the king; they commanded armies, decided questions of law and conducted business with other countries. Citizen - person who owes loyalty to a particular country and is entitled to that country's protection. Spartan citizenship is limited to male land owners.

All male citizens 30 years and older were members of the assembly, which discussed and voted on important public issues. Thirty males over 60, called elders, made up the senate. The senate often decided which issues the assembly could handle. The senate set the agenda for the assembly and could overrule its actions. Sparta's citizens were expected to live tough, active lives and to do without luxuries. A Spartan existence is hard; it denies many of the comforts of life. Every healthy male citizen had to serve as a soldier. The highest form of devotion a Spartan soldier could show was to fight his city's wars and return Awith his shield or on it. Spartan boys left home at age 7 to train as soldiers. By 20, those who survived the harsh training became full soldiers. They could also marry at age 20, but they still had to live in military barracks. At age 30, they became full citizens and could live in homes of their own. They continued to serve int he army until the age of 60. Spartan girls received most of their training at home. They were encouraged to be good wives and mothers of strong, healthy children. To be unmarried or to have no children was considered a disgrace. Women could inherit property and pass it on to their children. As a result, women owned nearly half the wealth of ancient Sparta, and they could have influence and control in the city-state.

The city-state of Athens was very different from Sparta. In Athens, the world's first democracy developed. (Democracy is a government in which the citizens rule themselves.)
Draco was the Athenian ruler who began trying to make reforms around 620 BC.
1. He organized laws by putting them down in a written code or Draco's Code.
2. He let people know exactly what the laws were and that they applied to everybody.
3. The code also explained the harsh penalties for people who broke the laws.
4. The code gave a person accused of murder the right to a trial. The accused had to be proven guilty before being punished.
Overall, Draco's code helped Athens to develop a government based on written laws.

Solon was the next Athenian ruler.
1. He made Draco's laws less harsh.
2. He ended the practice of enslaving those who failed to pay their debts.
3. He created a court for all citizens and gave all citizens the right to vote.
4. Citizenship, however, was quite limited --- women and slaves could not be citizens; only men who were born in and lived in a city-state could be citizens. Altogether, only a little more half of the male population of Athens were citizens.

Only citizens could be members of the Assembly that approved decisions made by the government.
Freed slaves, poor landowners and labourers wanted to become citizens and gain more political power.
At the same time, the wealthy classes believed that Solon had given too much of their power to the small landowners and merchants. A period of unrest followed Solon's rule.

Cleisthenes - a third democratic reformer:
1. Gave more support to the common people.
2. Recognized the social and military classes and broke the power of the old noble families.
3. Permitted some immigrants and former slaves to become citizens.
4. Introduced the practice of ostracism or banishment. Athenian citizens could vote to banish, or ostracize, from the city-state those people, whom they considered to be dangerous.

By about 500 BC, Athens was much like a modern democracy. The Athenian assembly became the law-making body. All free adult male citizens could now participate in the assembly. The assembly met 40 times a year to discuss and vote on issues. The Council of 500, chosen from volunteers from each of the 10 districts of the polis, helped the assembly sort out business. A smaller council of 50 men, whose membership changed 10 times a year, ran the day-to-day business of the city-state. Athens was a direct democracy --- citizens took a direct part in government . They discussed and voted on the issues for themselves. In court cases, citizens represented themselves and argued their cases before the jury. Citizens were also expected to serve as jurors and officeholders. The term of office was one year, so many citizens had the chance to serve their state. Direct democracy did not always work perfectly in Athens. The right to vote and take part in government was limited to a small, privileged group of citizens. Despite this, Athens provided a model of government to the rest of Greece. It remains a model that is looked up to in many parts of the world today.