Ancient Greece was comprised of small city-states, of which Sparta and Athens were two. Athens was renowned as a center of wisdom and learning. The people of Athens were interested in arts, music, and intellectual pursuits. Sparta, on the other hand, was recognized for its military strength. A Spartan's life was centered on the state, because he lived and died to serve the state. Although the competing city-states of Sparta and Athens were individually different as well as governmentally diverse, they both managed to become dominating powers in Ancient Greece. This essay will compare and contrast both Athens and Sparta in regards to society, government, culture and gender. Lastly it will explore the advantages and disadvantages of living in either of these two poleis.
First one must look into the societal structure of these two poleis. Spartan society was divided into three main classes. At the top was the Spartiate, or native Spartan, who could trace his or her ancestry back to the original inhabitants of the city. The Spartiate served in the army and was the only person who enjoyed the full political and legal rights of the state. Below the Spartiates were the perioeci, or "dwellers around or about." These were foreign people who served as a kind of buffer population between the Spartans and the helots. Because of this vital function, they were accorded a great deal of freedom. Most of the trade and commerce carried out in Sparta were performed by the perioeci. At the bottom, of course, were the helots. Athenian society was divided up in a similar manner. At the top were the citizens, who made up 40% of the population. They were the only people who could be landowners and were expected to serve in the army even though they had to buy their own equipment. Below the citizens were the Metics, who made up 25% of the population. They were the resident aliens living in Athens and were usually traders.