Comparing Athens and Sparta is much like comparing apples to oranges. Both unique in their own way yet differing greatly even though they were neighboring cities. For example, the Athenian form of government was democracy, or demos, meaning the people. Each election year, the Athenian men, usually limited to between 5,000 and 6,000, would gather for consideration. After much heated debate, which lasted days upon days, the candidates were then narrowed down to 500 men. Out of those 500, they were split up into groups of 50. Each group would then be in charge for a month. The groups would use a system called ‘Lot’ or voting, to decide all matters, including military, social, and political. Sparta, on the other hand, was an oligarchy, which is derived from the Greek word meaning few. This oligarchy held elements of democracy as well as monarchy, and aristocracy. At the top of the political food chain were two kings and five senators underneath them that were elected by the people annually. General assemblies were held to vote on motions and pass legislation. As a law, the senate had the power to overrule the kings with a unanimous vote. However, this consideration was rarely used.
Their lifestyle and social cultures were just as different. The Athenian people considered themselves to be modern and quite forward thinking. They valued education and the arts. They maintained a strong military but did not recruit by force. Spartans put no value in education. They were proud people, but their priority was the strength of their military and defense. And they gave little concern to the outside world.
The women of Sparta were often held in the same regard as men. Many Spartan women were fierce warriors as well as loving mothers. Instead of being regarded as property, the women of Sparta owned property alongside the men. In contrast, Athenian women were legal property of their husbands or their fathers. Their duties were to their families and their homes. They had daily routines that they were forced to follow rigorously. Even though the two cities were in close proximity, their lives and cultures couldn’t have been more different.