Athens and Sparta Essay

Document Based Question: Athens vs. Sparta

Directions: In a structured five-paragraph essay, answer the question below using quotes from the 11 provided primary sources to support your claims. You must use (directly quote) at least 6 documents total from the 11 below which clearly contrast Athens and Sparta with regard to their government, economy and culture. You should include the following components in your essay:

I. An introduction that has a hook, sets the stage with historical background to the content and has a clear thesis statement that addresses the prompt.   
(For example a clear thesis that addresses the prompt would look like this; Athens and Sparta were different in their governments because Athens was a ____ and Sparta was a ____, different in economic structure because Athens used ______ while Sparta relied on ____, and different in culture because Athens valued ____ and Sparta valued ____.)

II. III and IV. Body paragraphs that identify the most significant difference between Athens and Sparta in the three areas required, and support it with clearly explained evidence; one quote that describes Athens, and one that describes Sparta. It is not enough to simply insert a document as evidence, you must interpret and explain it. You should have clear:   a. Claim or topic sentence      b. Evidence- facts and primary source quotes, one for each city      c. Explanation- shows how evidence supports the claim

V. A conclusion that restates the thesis statement and comments on the significance of the topic. You should include some commentary that explain the “So what?” of the topic.

Essay Question:
•    Explain the most important differences between Athens and Sparta in their forms of government, economic structure and their cultural values.


Document 1- Excerpt from “The Persian Wars, Book VI, ’56-60. On the Kings of Sparta” by Herodotus.
From: Fred Fling, ed., A Source Book of Greek History, (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1907), pp. 63-66.
The kings alone give decision on the following cases.....and it is ordained that they shall sit in council with the elders, who are in number twenty-eight, and if they do not come, those of the elders who are most closely related to them shall have the privileges of the kings and give two votes besides their own, making them three in all. These rights have been assigned to the kings for their lifetime by the Spartan state.... When the king is dead and another is appointed king, this king who is newly coming in sets free any man of the Spartans who was a debtor to the king or the state..

Document 2- Excerpt from “The Spartan Constitution” by Aristotle.
From: Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, trans. Benjamin Jowett (London: Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 30-49.
Some, indeed, say that the best constitution is a combination of all existing forms, and they praise the Lacedaemonian because it is made up of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy, the king forming the monarchy, and the council of elders the oligarchy while the democratic element is represented by the Ephors; for the Ephors are selected from the people. Others, however, declare the Ephoralty to be a tyranny, and find the element of democracy in the common meals and in the habits of daily life. At Lacedaemon, for instance, the Ephors determine suits about contracts, which they distribute among themselves, while the elders are judges of homicide, and other causes are decided by other magistrates.

Document 3- Excerpt from “Funeral Oration” by Pericles.

It is true that our government is called a democracy, because its administration is in the hands, not of the few, but of the many, yet while as regards the law all men are on an equality for the settlement of their private disputes, as regards the value set on them it is as each man is in any way distinguished that he is preferred to the public honors, not because he belongs to a particular class, but because of personal merits; nor again, on the ground of poverty is a man barred from public service....
....For we alone regard the man who does not take part in public affairs, not as one who minds his own business,
but as good for nothing; and we Athenians decide public questions for ourselves or at least endeavor to arrive at a sound understanding of them, in the belief that it is not debate that is a hindrance to action, but rather not to be instructed by debate before the time comes for action.

Document 4- Excerpt from “Parallel Lives” by Plutarch.

From Plutarch, Parallel Lives, “Lycurgus.” based on the translation by Audrey Stewart and George Long.
...he would not allow citizens to leave the country at pleasure, to wander in foreign lands where they would contract strange habits and learn to imitate the untrained lives and ill regulated institutions to be found abroad. Also he banished from Lacedaemon all strangers who were there for no useful purpose...for fear that they might teach the people some mischief. Strangers introduce strange ideas and these could lead to subversive discussions and political views, which would jar the established constitution, like discord in music.

Document 5- Excerpt from “The Old Oligarch on the Athenian constitution” by unknown author.
From Fred Fling, ed., A Source Book of Greek History, (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1907), pp. 155-159.
Again, some people are surprised at the fact that in all fields they give more power to the masses, the poor and the common people than they do the respectable elements of society, but it will become clear that they preserve the democracy by doing precisely this. When the poor, the ordinary people and the lower classes flourish and increase in numbers, then the power of the democracy will be increased.

Document 6- Excerpt from “On Lycurgus and Spartans” by Xenophon.
From Adams, Paul. “On Lycurgus and the Spartans” Xenophon. 01 September, 2008. <>.
Lycurgus prohibited free citizens from having anything to do with business....they should not desire wealth with a view to sensual gratification.

Document 7- Excerpt from “History of the Peloponnesian Wars” by Thucydides.

From Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Peloponnesian War. In The Greek Commonwealth: Politics and Economics in the Fifth Century Athens, translated by Alfred Zimmern. 4th edition (Oxford: 1924), pp.202-209.
... And as we give free play to all in our public life so we carry the same spirit into our daily relations with one another. We have no black looks or angry words for our neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way and we abstain from the little acts of churlishness which though they leave no mark yet cause annoyance to who so notes them. Open and friendly in our private intercourse, in our public acts we keep strictly within the code of law.

Document 8- Excerpt from “Parallel Lives: Lycurgus” by Plutarch.

From Plutarch, Parallel Lives, “Lycurgus.” based on the translation by Audrey Stewart and George Long. Document 9- Excerpt from “The History of the Peloponnesian Wars” by Thucydides.
For ample leisure was one of the blessings with which Lycurgus provided his countrymen, since they were absolutely forbidden to practice any mechanical craft, and moneymaking and business were unnecessary because wealth was disregarded and despised. The Helots tilled the soil and produced the usual crops from them....So slavish did they deem it to labor at a trade and in business....
Lycurgus abolished all pride, envy, crime, and luxury, which flowed from these old and terrible evils of riches and poverty, by inducing all landowners to offer their estates for redistribution and prevailing upon all citizens to live on equal terms with equal incomes. They were to strive only to surpass one another in courage and virtue, there being henceforth no social inequalities among them except as praise or blame can create.
Each man’s allotment of land was large enough to produce annually seven medimni of barley for himself and twelve for his wife, with oil and wine in proportion. He thought this would be sufficient because it was enough to maintain them in health, and they needed nothing more.

Document 9- Excerpt from “The History of the Peloponnesian Wars” by Thucydides.

From Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Peloponnesian War. In The Greek Commonwealth: Politics and Economics in the Fifth Century Athens, translated by Alfred Zimmern. 4th edition (Oxford: 1924), pp.202-209.
.... Yet ours is no work a day city only. No other provides so many recreations for the spirit- contests and sacrifices all the year round and beauty in our public buildings to cheer the heart and delight the eye day by day...
For we are lovers of beauty, yet with no extravagance and lovers of wisdom, yet without weakness. Wealth we employ rather as an opportunity for action than as a subject for boasting; and with us it is not a shame for a man to acknowledge poverty, but the greater shame is for him not to do his best to avoid it.
He realized the country was poor and unproductive, and that sea traders send no goods to those who can give them nothing in exchange. Therefore, he turned the attention of the citizens to manufactures. He made a law that no son was obliged to support his father unless he had been taught a trade.....and seeing that the soil of Attica was scarcely rich enough to maintain those who tilled it and was incapable of feeding an idle and leisured multitude, he sought to dignify all trades and ordered the Council of Areopagus to inquire how every man made a living and to punish those who had no occupation.

Document 10- Excerpt from “Funeral Oration” by Pericles.
From: Thucydides (c.460/455-c.399 BCE): Peloponnesian War, Book 2.34-46.
And our city is so great that all the products of the earth flow in upon us, and ours is the happy lot to gather in the good fruits of own soil with no more home felt security of enjoyment than we do those of other lands........

Document 11- Excerpt from “The Lycurgan Reforms” by Plutarch.
but as soon as they were seven years old they were to be enrolled in certain companies and classes; where they all lived under the same order and discipline, doing their exercises and taking their play together. Of these, he who showed the most conduct and courage was made captain; they had their eyes always upon him, obeyed his orders, and underwent patiently whatsoever punishment he inflicted; so that the whole course of their education was one of continued exercise of a ready and perfect obedience...Reading and writing they gave them just enough to serve their turn; their chief care was to make them good subjects, and teach them to endure pain and conquer in battle.