THE REAL STORY OF THE WARRIOR-HEROES OF ANCIENT GREECE!
“For the Spartans, it wasn’t walls or magnificent public buildings that made a city; it was their own ideals. In essence, Sparta was a city of the head and the heart. And it existed in its purest form in the disciplined march of a hoplite phalanx on their way to war!” – Bettany Hughes, writer/historian.
(For Part Two, go here)
SPARTA AND ATHENS
In the century following the Persian Wars, Sparta would find herself enmeshed in a long fratricidal struggle against her erstwhile ally, Athens.
These two leading Greek cities could not have been more different.
Physically, Athens was a great cosmopolitan metropolis. Its public buildings, such as the Parthenon crowning the lofty Acropolis, were the wonder of the Ancient World; and still amaze today. Sparta, by contrast, was but a collection of villages. Its public buildings were modest, and Sparta left us no lasting stone monuments of any note. Athens was defended by great fortress walls; Sparta’s “walls” were the spears and shields of its scarlet-cloaked warriors. Athens is remembered for its philosophers and playwrites. Sparta is remembered for the simplicity and hardness of its men and the conditions under which they chose to live (“spartan”); and their pithy, sarcastic brand of humor (“laconic”). Sparta produced no Socrates or Sophocles; it produced men like Leonidas and Brasidas.
Sparta is remembered only for its invincible warriors, the Spartans, and their immortal stand at Thermopylae.
Athens was a democratic state, where every issue of governance and policy was voted upon daily by the (male) citizens. Meeting on a rocky outcropping beside the Acropolis, overlooking the city’s agora, all Athenians so interested could come and hear or take part in the oratory; could vote on any and every decision of the day. It was a system that allowed maximum civic participation; but put no constitutional restraints on the emotional whims of its constituents.
Sparta, on the other hand, was a constitutional monarchy, in which policy was administered by the annually elected ephors; laws were made by a senate (Gerousia) composed of elderly Spartans, and ratified by a polling of all Spartiates 30 years or older.
(Of the two systems, Sparta proved the more enduring, surviving for nearly 500 years with little internal strife. Athenian democracy was short-lived, lasting less than two centuries and interrupted by periods of demagoguery and tyranny.)
Militarily, the two greatest powers in Hellas could not have been any more different, as well…..
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