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Tag Archives: Lycurgus

Sparta: City of Soldiers 700 B. C. – 500 B. C.


In Sparta, the shops in the market place had little gold or jewelry to sell and no fine furniture at all. The people in the streets were not well dressed. Even the temples, although big, were plain and there was little in Sparta to show that this was the strongest polis in Greece. Sparta was old fashioned and proud of it. The polis had begun as a kingdom and it stayed a kingdom. The only change its citizens made in more than 400 years was to have two kings instead of one. Each kept a watchful eye on the other and the one who was the better general took charge of the army. For a Spartan, that was progress enough. He did not like experiments. The system that modern Athens called “democracy” looked to him like bad organization and if there was one thing a Spartan wanted it was to keep things in order. His own days and years were run on a military schedule, because he was a soldier in the army. Each citizen of the polis was in the army. He started his training when he was seven and he remained a soldier until he was sixty. His orders came from his officers, the kings and the five ephors who managed the day-to-day affairs of the city. He obeyed orders and had no time for experimenting with newfangled ideas. In the early days, Sparta had been very much like Athens. By the seventh century B. C., when Athens was changing almost from day to day, the Spartans established their own way of doing things. As a matter of fact, they had no choice. Their ancestors, a fierce tribe of Dorian invaders, had taken the city from its old Achaean rulers. Using iron swords, they had quickly overrun the …

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Athens: City of Wisdom and War 700 B. C. to 500 B. C.


Of all the city-states in Greece, Athens was the most fortunate. The city’s guardian was Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. Indeed, the Athenians did well in war and were blessed with wisdom. In the dark days, when barbaric invaders had conquered one city after another, Athens had not surrendered. Later, when Athens felt the growing pains that brought civil war and ruin to so many city-states, a series of wise men guided Athenians safely through their troubles. The right leaders always seemed to come along at the right time. It was more than good luck, ofcourse. The Athenians put their trust in men with new ideas and they were willing to experiment. The experiments changed an ordinary little town into a great brilliant polis that left an enduring mark on the world. Athens was old. Its story began with a list of kings so ancient that no one was quite sure when they had lived. The greatest of them was Theseus, the young hero who killed the monster at Crete. The storytellers said that he won the friendship of the neighbouring tribesmen and persuaded their chiefs to swear loyalty to his city. That was the beginning of the polis, but many years passed before it became important. In the seventh century B. C., Athens was only a second-rate, backwoods polis. Its king could do little more than dream of the glorious old days when their forefathers had defended the town’s acropolis – the Athenians called it the Rock – against the barbarians. Attica, the countryside around the old fortress on the Rock, was really ruled by a quarrelsome lot of rival noblemen, the chiefs of the clans. These barons ran their vast estates like private kingdoms. They owned the country villages and all but owned the people in …

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