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Democracy Or Oligarchy? A Comparative Essay

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During the Classical Age of Greece, two powerful city-states emerged, each governed by a different system. Athens was run by democracy, whereas, Sparta, a military state, was governed by oligarchy. Athens' democracy served its people better. Since all had a say in the government and everyone was included in a state was ruled by many. In Sparta, the state was controlled by a select few, kings and ephors, who had absolute power. In Athens plenty of time was spent on architecture, to ensure that Athens would forever leave behind a cultural legacy, whereas in Sparta it was believed that there was no need to build extravagant buildings, therefore leaving very little of a cultural legacy. Finally, Athenian slaves were treated very well, often paid, and had a chance to buy their freedom, unlike Sparta, where slaves were treated as though they were not people, and could be killed for any reason at all.

In Sparta slaves lead cruel lives. The number of slaves in Sparta outnumbered the amount of citizens, making Spartans constantly paranoid of a helot revolt. In order to prevent this fear, "the ephors declared war on them every year. In spite of these precautions, the Spartans frequently had to suppress helot revolts"(Davis 90). The Spartans felt this was an efficient way to keep the numbers of slaves down, and to further subdue the slaves hopes of one day being free. Since slaves were treated horribly by the Spartans they were constantly trying to escape. In Sparta a slave could be killed simply because of being suspicion of that slave being a rebel or planning to escape. In Athens most slaves were loved, respected, and often paid for their labours. They were given the opportunity to pay for their freedom. Unlike Sparta, slaves in Athens were "protected from bodliy harm by legislation"(Davis 94). Slaves were much more happy in Athens since they were not constantly in fear for their lives. In Athens slaves also had several opportunities for normal jobs, for example, a slave could be an artistan. Slaves in Athens, "often worked alongside citizens and metics in both unskilled and highly skilled jobs"(Davis 95). On the most part, slaves in Athens were happy and content, however one-fifth of the slave population was forced to live and work in the silver mines. Since slaves in Athens received better treatment and the ability for them to have jobs other than normal labours, slaves had a better life than the slaves of Sparta. Another dividing point between these two city-states was their architecture.

In Sparta it was believed that life should be kept simple. This belief that "to successfully control their empire and defend it against their enemies, they must sacrifice their comfort and culture for a more rigid and disciplined army camp" (Davis 89). As a result Spartans left behind very little architecture and even less of a cultural legacy. Most of what can be found of Sparta now are rocks in fields. In Athens there was a great love of architecture. An example of this is the Parthenon, "an achievement of unmatched harmony and classical beauty"(Davis 86). The Parthenon is one of the most recognized building in Greece. This temple was dedicated to Athena and often used in religious celebrations such as the Panathenaea. Athens strove for a cultural legacy and admired the beauty with in their city. Pericles, a great leader, was aware of this when he said, "Mighty indeed are the marks and monuments of our empire which we have left. Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now"(Davis 93). Pericles knew that the wonderful architecture of Athens would always be admired and wondered at, leaving behind a cultural legacy that would be remembered as a strong city-state and for their culture far longer than Sparta's. This contrast in ideals can be best seen in the different systems of government of Athens and Sparta.

In Sparta the system of government was an oligarchy. In this form of government power belonged to the selected few. The most powerful men in Sparta were the ephors. They were, "elected annually, they had command over all. The ephors controlled education and both public and private moral conduct. They enforced laws through a secret



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