PopulationAthens:655,780 (796,442 back in 2004)Sparta: Spartan males we (today) would consider as small Athens never faced the problem of trying to control a large population of angry and sometimes violent subjects. This also explains why Sparta had to remain an intensely militaristic state.
The economy of Athens was based upon farming, manufacturing and trade. Athens and other cities derived much of their wealth in the trade of woolen goods, wheat, olive oil, grapes and wine throughout the Greek Mediterranean world.
Athenians also manufactured metal goods, including weapons, and also pottery which used for the home or to transport olive oil and other goods from city to city. Where there is trade, there is the need for shipbuilding and finances. Athens became a center for financial business--loans and investment, etc. Athens was also enriched by large silver mines in its territory which was worked by huge slave-gangs.
ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY came to mean the equality of justice and the equality of opportunity. The equality of justice was secured by the jury system, which ensured that slaves and resident aliens were represented through their patrons. The equality of opportunity did not mean that every man has the right to everything. What it did mean is that the criteria for choosing citizens for office was merit and efficiency and not wealth.
The political history of Athens in the classical period is the story of the rise of its Athenian power, the establishment of democracy, and its final destruction as a great power at the hands of the Spartans.
The politics of Athens centered on the conflict between the aristocrats who ruled Athens, and the common people. As small farmers began to sell out and lose out to rich landowners in the 600s BCE, political tensions rose, and an aristocratic leader by the name of Solon attempted in 594 a series of laws to ease those tensions.
These laws freed all citizens made slaves by debt, canceled much of the debt held by common people, and widened the eligibility for public office to citizens of wealth, even if they were not of noble blood.
It is often said that democracies will seek peace. That was not true in Athens. The tyrant Pisistratus and his son built up Athenian military power, but it was the new Athenian democracy after Cleisthenes that aggressively used that power, first in supporting the revolt of Greek colonies against their Persian overlords on the Ionian coast. This action provoked a major war with Persia, and Athens, along with Sparta and other Greek cities, defeated the Persian attack both on the land and at sea.
In the end Athens is defeated. Its democracy was temporarily dissolved, and its imperial ambitions were ended forever.
Thucydides, whowrote a famoushistory of thiswar, was anAtheniangeneral in theearly phase ofthe conflict.