Athens and Sparta were both poleis (that’s the plural of
• These were city-states, each independent with their
own sub-culture and form of governance.
• What kinds of governments were there?
• There was no “capital city” of Greece
• While you were Greek, and proud of it, your primary
allegiance and loyalty were towards your city-state
• Squabbling among the Greeks almost did them in on
several occasions when they fought the Persians
• There were a number of city-states both in Greece and
elsewhere. We talk about Athens and Sparta the most
because they emerged as the most powerful ones.
Some important places -
What do these mean:
• Rule by a king
• Rule by a small group of people. Usually elites
bound together by interests and wealth.
• Rule by a small group of people, but in the classical
definition, they’re chosen for their virtue and wise
rule (though this wasn’t always the case).
• Rule by a individual with absolute power who took
power by force, sometimes with popular support
• Sword of Damocles
• Center and citadel of city-state. Literally means
“high city” or “city at the top.”
• Usually refers to the one in Athens nowadays
• An open public area acting as a center of public life
and also the marketplace
• Land-bound serfs that worked Spartan land (if all the
citizens are going to be soldiers, somebody’s gotta be
• Were from the surrounding land of Laconia and
Messenia that they conquered.
• Owned by the state and not individual masters and the
masters couldn’t sell them
• Sparta got half of the helot’s crops
• Significantly outnumbered the citizens.
• The potential threat they presented was another
reason why the Spartans had such a potent army
(gotta keep ‘em down) and the Spartans were
reluctant to fight too far from Sparta lest the helots
Here’s a map of the Spartan region:
(Sorry, it’s in French)
In Greek, they’re known as the Lacedaemonians
• Lacedaemon was the name of the city-state while
Sparta was the ancient town, but we just call it all
• According to legend, it was founded by Lacedaemon,
the son of Zeus and Taygete (a nymph)
They controlled most of the southern Peloponnese (or
effectively controlled it as Sparta was the dominant
• Argos and Arcadia were it’s main rivals on the
Sparta was a military culture
• The entire Spartan culture went towards developing
and fielding a strong army
• This was to preserve itself as well as to keep down the
• Children were taught at home until they were seven
and they began their training
• Exercises for them and all ages were always done in
the nude… and oiled up
• At 13, they were dropped off in the woods in groups
with nothing and had to survive (without theft)
• Engaged in pederasty (what we would now call
• Older men were expected to have erotic loving
relationships with boys (and were fined if they
didn’t). This was also a mentor relationship.
• With the Spartans, it was a “chaste” pederasty
– actual coitus was not allowed, but other
• Even in this, self-control was paramount.
• Many other city-states engaged in pederasty of
some form or another and those forms also
changed over time. They were all officially
stamped out by the Roman emperor Justinian
• Began military service at 20
• Soldiers were not allowed to trade or hold non-
• These were done by a class called the periokoi,
free non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta.
• Exercised full rights and duties of citizens at 30.
• Weren’t free from military service until 60.
• To help ensure the physical superiority of their people,
babies were bathed in wine shortly after birth. If they
survived, they were taken to elders. If the elders
deemed the baby unfit, it was left exposed to die on a
hillside (other city-states practiced exposure).
• Two hereditary kings, five ephors, the gerousia, and
• The two kings were equal in power (hypothetically) and
exercised various duties.
• They eventually became less powerful and
important, and were primarily generals
• The five ephors were a council elected for one year by
the apella. All citizens were eligible.
• The gerousia was like a Senate – a council of 30 elders
(they had to be over 60) and were elected for life by
the apella. Could veto the apella.
• The apella was like a lower legislative body. Every
citizen over 30 could attend. Votes were taken by
• Were more independent than in other city-states.
• Learned reading and writing and girls were also given
similar harsh physical training to the boys (many
domestic tasks were left to the helots and periokoi)
• Girls also received same amount and quality of food
as boys, which wasn’t the case everywhere.
• Could own and control property and could overtake
husband’s property while he was at war. Were
expected to defend it too and to put down revolts.
• Were not rushed into sex and bearing children and
were not forced or compelled to marry men
considerably older than them.
• Husbands also allowed other men to bed their wives
and produce children. May have practiced polyandry.
• According to the Roman historian Plutarch, this is how
• “The custom was to capture women for
marriage(...) The so-called 'bridesmaid' took charge
of the captured girl. She first shaved her head to
the scalp, then dressed her in a man's cloak and
sandals, and laid her down alone on a mattress in
the dark. The bridegroom—who was not drunk and
thus not impotent, but was sober as always—first
had dinner in the messes, then would slip in, undo
her belt, lift her and carry her to the bed.”
Athens is famous for being the primary basis of western
• Especially in its democracy, although its democracy
wasn’t always constant, and its form is slightly different
than what we’re familiar with.
Athens was originally a kingdom which morphed into
more of an aristocracy that became unstable, partially
due to laws being oral and arbitrary
• In 621 BC, Draco was appointed to codify the laws
• This wound up being an unpopular move because
the laws (both as they already existed and were
codified by Draco, but also most especially as
designed by Draco) were extremely harsh.
• Death was the penalty for even minor crimes, like
stealing vegetables. Draco claimed that this was an
appropriate punishment and if something even
worse were found, he would have applied to greater
• Different classes were also treated differently –
debtors could be sold into slavery if in debt to a
• An upside is that murder was punished by the state
instead of by blood-feud vendettas.
• It is from Draco that the term ‘draconian’ derives.
• The Athenian lawmaker
that first established the
basis of civil democracy
• Draco’s constitution wasn’t
working out too well and in
594 BC, Solon revised it
• He threw out all of Draco’s
laws except those
• He had to strike a balance between the concerns of the
aristocracy and those of the poor.
• The poor were disgruntled at the possibility of they
and their families being sold into slavery if they were
in debt to an aristocrat.
• The aristocrats wanted to prevent a revolution and
keep their wealth (and their skin).
• Some reforms:
• Debt-slavery was abolished. Anybody who had been
sold into slavery due to debt was liberated.
• All outstanding debts at the time were abolished.
• Death penalty only for murder.
• Classes were based on income, not birth
1. Pentakosiomedimnoi: Those whose land produced 500 bushels per
2. Hippeis: Those who were worth 300 bushels
3. Zeugitai: Those who were worth 200 bushels
4. Thetes: Manual laborers.
• Move was important because it helped break the
power of hereditary aristocracy
• Introduced trial by jury
• Set up new system of government that included not
just the top two classes (in the Areopagus), but also
the third class in the Boule (council of 400 – 100
from each of the four tribes) and the assembly for
• After the new laws were published and made official, he
left Athens for 10 years lest he be tempted to make
himself a tyrant (though he was effectively one in
making the laws).
• Went touring. Interesting story concerning Croesus
• Neither the poor nor the rich of Athens were
particularly jazzed about the new laws at first (the
aristocrats had debts to them abolished and the poor
didn’t get more wealth), but they liked them over time.
• Hippocrates’s son
• Was the pederast mentee of Solon
• Became leader of Athens’ poor in 565 BC
• Made attempts at seizing control of Athens, but either
failed or was overthrown. He first seized power in 560
BC finally made it stick in 546 BC and became a tyrant.
• Made popular reforms.
• Reduced taxation
• Introduced festivals
• Increased trade and commerce
• Produced coin money
• Beautified the city
• Had official copies of the Iliad and Odyssey written
• He helped the poor and gave them jobs through public
works, so they were satisfied and supported him.
• While he preserved the democratic institutions, he
loaded the upper bodies with family and cronies.
• When he first took power in 560 BC, it was through
cunning deception. Did it again later.
• Solon urged the Athenians to resist Pisastratus, but
they were too cowardly and Pisastratus too powerful.
Solon himself openly opposed Pisastratus.
• Took power with Spartan help after Pisastratus’s son
Hippias was exiled
• Reformed the government
• Previously, there were multiple tribes and there was
conflict among the city folk, hill folk, and plain folk.
• Cleisthenes organized ten entirely new tribes each
composed of people from the three regions and of
different family tribes.
• The broke old tribal
or class loyalties and
towards the state.
• Solon’s council of
400 became the
Council of 500, 50
people from each
• This assembly became the main governing body
of Athens and dealt with day to day affairs.
• Anybody was eligible to serve for one year and it
was expected that all male citizens would serve
• Also served as a supreme court / jury, except for
murder cases and religious matters (those
remained to the Areopagus)
With the establishment of the assembly, Athens became a
representative democracy. The citizens themselves ran
• Women didn’t have the same rights as in Sparta
• Expected to take care of the home
• Boys were taught reading and writing and girls were
taught domestic skills, like spinning and sewing, by
• Not allowed out of the house except maybe for the near
• Main purpose was to produce healthy children
• Odd treatment considering that women played an
important role in some religious rites and the city’s
patron goddess was Athena
• Women could be educated if they were Hetaerae
• A bit like Japanese geishas
• They were educated so that they could entertain
men with good conversations at parties, the
• Also learned physical talents, like dancing
• Sometimes acted as prostitutes (and had a similar
• Despite public social status, they and their opinions
were often respected by men
• Pericles’s mistress Aspasia was a hetaera (we’ll talk
about them later)
• Practiced existed throughout Greece and in Athens,
although the rules governing it differed from city-state
• Slaves were usually barbarians, typically captured in
war. Others were born slaves or their free parents sold
them into slavery for money.
• It was considered by some an abomination to
enslave a fellow Greek. Greeks could be slaves, but
many free Greeks didn’t like the idea.
• Don’t think of this in terms of the American experience
with slavery – only some of them were African and the
treatment was different.
• Relatively well-treated in Athens when compared with
• Couldn’t slap a slave because you might
inadvertently hit a citizen instead.
• A master could beat his slave, though.
• Testimony was taken only under torture.
• Could buy their freedom or earn through fighting in
• Masters could free their slaves.
• Even then, though, they couldn’t be citizens and
there were still conditions on them.
• In other city-states, the treatment was much, much