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Athens and Sparta


By Aliki Ammerman

Athens and Sparta were the greatest cities in ancient Greece.

Athens was open to new ideas. After King Kodros died, the Athenians tried

different types of government that were not successful. Solon in 594 BC, and later Kleisthenes in 508 BC, wrote new laws that gave Athens a truly democratic system.

In the Athenian democracy, every male citizen could be chosen by lot serve in

the government for one year. The government had four branches:


1. The Assembly of all Athenian citizens.

2. The Council of 500 Members; its business was to bring issues for discussion

    before the Assembly.

3. Ten archons (leaders) who were elected to run the state business.

4. Courts; their judges were elected among the citizens.


The Assembly was the heart and essence of the Athenian democracy. All citizens

were members of the Assembly and knew the laws of their city. It was the pool from which the Council, the Ten Archons, and the Judges of the Courts were selected by lot to serve for a certain amount of time. Those citizens who did not hold public office still took part in the decision-making through their vote. They met once a month to discuss issues, voice their opinion, and vote. Through open discussions at the Assembly, every citizen knew the problems of his state, and helped find solutions for them.

An important part of the democratic system was to encourage Education. Its

purpose was to create informed citizens who could help their city in time of peace and defend it in time of war. A good citizen was a person who thought clearly, loved beauty in art and literature, and was capable of serving in the government. Education groomed the Athenian citizen to hold office: he learned the state laws so he could serve as judge; he learned how the government worked so he knew what to do when his turn came to be an Archon or a member of the Council.

There was a drawback to the system: the women of Athens did not enjoy the same

freedoms and privileges the men did. Their place was at home, where they were

responsible for the house, the children, and the slaves. Girls were educated at home in home arts.

To Athens we owe many of our ideas about beauty, freedom, and democracy; and

although the Athenian model included the use of slaves and excluded women from

holding public office, it nevertheless opened the path for later societies to pursue

democracy, and formed the basis on which western thought developed.

What about Sparta?

Here all Spartans lived according to the old laws written by their king Lykurgos

around 800 BC. These laws were strict and made Sparta a military state.

The government in Sparta included these four branches:


1. Two kings; they came from two Spartan families and their office was

hereditary. One led the army in time of war, and the other stayed behind. With

this system there was always a leader in place.

2. Five Ephors; they were elected from the body of citizens over 30, for one

year. Together with the two kings, they ruled the city. They ran the meetings of

the Gerousia and the Apélla, and made sure the laws passed were properly

observed. They had the power to punish disobeying Spartans.

3. The Gerousía, or Senate of 28 Elders; this was a group of men over 60,

elected from noble Spartan families. They had equal power with the kings and

they decided when a vote should be taken on issues brought to the Assembly. The

kings had to answer to the Gerousía.

4. The Apélla, or Assembly of Citizens: all male Spartan citizens over the age

of 30 were members of the Apélla. They elected the members of the Gerousía,

and voted on issues brought to them by that body.


This system of government was an oligarchy, or rule by a few men.

The Spartans, too, supported Education. The purpose of education here was to

create good soldiers for the defense of the city and the Spartan way of life. The boys left home at the age of seven to live in army camps, where they trained to be soldiers. The girls stayed at home, but they, too, exercised and became strong and healthy.

Spending so much of their time training for war, did not allow Spartans to pursue

the sciences or the arts. Their legacy lies in their spirit and their love for their

homeland. We still refer to a simple kind of living as "Spartan" and a person with few words is "laconic."



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Notice: This page is from the author’s e-book “Let’s learn about Greece” and is the copyrighted property of Aliki Ammerman. Permission is given to children and teachers to use the material on this page for educational purposes only. For more pages like this, as well as facts about Greece, order the book “Let’s learn about Greece” at:

Thank you!


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