Compare and Contrast the Spartan and Athenian Constitutional and Political Systems Essay

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  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #87149531

Excerpt from Essay :

Spartan and Athenian constitutional and political systems. In the first part, an introduction of Athens and Sparta has been given. In the second part, both the forms of governments in Spartan and Athenian lands have been discussed. In the final part, a summary of the differences and similarities between the political systems of the two poleis have been included.

Ancient Greece is well-known as the starting point of western civilization. It was the Greeks who brought in the concept of democracy and ground-breaking ideas in technical and inventive fields. Ancient Greece was not a single country. Instead, independent city-states were present within its regime that possessed their particular administrations and armed forces. Athens and Sparta were the most important and leading states among them. The two ancient Greek rivals clattered for the most part and gave the majority of customs and traditions to the world. Regardless of the fact that the two city-states were close together on the map, their beliefs and principles, societies, forms of governance, political systems, constitutions and the basic approach towards living were drastically different (Solanki 2012).

The inspiring, intellectual and inventive heritage of ancient Athens to the world is huge and beyond measure. Athens turned out to be the strongest Greek city-state after the Persian Wars. Despite the fact that it was a rather smaller and less governing than Sparta at the commencement of the wars, Athens was more vigorous, competent and powerful in the combat against Persian Empire. On the other hand, Sparta enjoyed an age of affluence. However, unlike Athens, the ancient city-state was only determined to improve its military arts and became the strongest Greek city after 600 B.C.

Forms of Government: Similarity and Differences

There were lots of differences between Sparta and Athens even though they were very near geographically. Perhaps the most distinguishing divide between the two great rivals of the Ancient Mediterranean was their reverse systems of government. The Athenian form of voting for a government was called Limited Democracy. On the other hand, oligarchy (rule by a few) was the form of government practiced in Spartan land. However, it also had elements of monarchy, democracy and aristocracy. Sparta's structure of government was very restricted and was only open to members who belonged to the highest class of the society. On the other hand, Athens had a democratic system in which people were the rulers.

In Ancient Greece, two forms of government existed at that time i.e. democracy and oligarchy. Two kings in conjunction with a council consisting of twenty-eight elders ruled Sparta. Spartan citizens over 30 years of age voted for this kind of oligarchic government. On the other hand, it was Athenians who broke new grounds of democracy in ancient Greece. Athens was under the leadership and guidance of a council of 500 members whom the general public elected. This council was in charge of devising and deciding the laws of the state. The egalitarian government in Athens was selected and synchronized by a male population that belonged to the upper class (Solanki 2012). It can, therefore, be concluded that the two poleis were alike in their form of government as both possessed an Assembly elected by the citizens.

As far as the constitutions are concerned, the constitution of Sparta was an unusual combination of monarchy or rather a diarchy, aristocracy and democracy and the same. There were two simultaneous Spartan kings. There is no specific reason for having two kings but the best possible explanation is that they wanted to create a compromise between the opponent houses. Another reason could be that the Spartan administration wanted to keep away from the hazards of absolutism. The kings were granted limited power. Their responsibilities included commanding the army in war, heading the judiciary and performing the sacrifices that the state religion called for. Despite the fact that they were positioned as kings, both were inferior to the Senate in every matter. With the passage of time, they lost their power (Durant 1997).

The most influential faction of the Spartan government was the Senate. It included aged members of the aristocracy. It considered members under the age of 60 as mature enough. True power was in the hands of this elderly and mature council called the Geriousia (Brand). The Senate drafted legislation, put together the public policy and also performed as a kind of Supreme Court for capital offenses and transgressions. There was also the Assembly or paella which can be regarded as the token democracy. It permitted male citizens over the age of 30 as its members. They had monthly meetings. All laws in the Spartan territory were to be approved by this Assembly. However, it was not their responsibility to talk about these laws or modify. All they had to do was to either accept or reject them. If truth be told, only a few of those laws were made a part of the Constitution once it was in operation. The Assembly's power was limited as compared to the Senate. The Senate could overturn a decision made by the Assembly (Durant 1997).

In addition to this, there was another section of people that possessed significant power in Sparta. They were called the Ephors, five magistrates, elected by the Assembly on an annual basis. They enjoyed equal power to the kings. After the Persian wars, the ephors were given embassies, decided legal disagreements, dominated and directed armies and even ordered and evaluated the kings (Durant 1997).

The Athenian society began as a kingdom just like Spartan. However, its society was organized along the procession of kinship. There were 4 tribes and each claimed a heavenly epic predecessor. Besides this, every tribe had their own governor, treasurer, general religious ceremonies. Moreover, every tribe had its unique obligations of defense, communal aid and settling of scores. The tribes communally held lands and rights of intermarriage and inheritance. They were further divided into brotherhoods, clans and families (Durant 1997).

As similar to Sparta, the power of the monarchy in Athens declined with the passage of time. The heads of the oldest and the richest families in the city-state held the true and absolute power. The usefulness of the kings was evident only in times of threats and disorders. On the other hand, the family heads avowed their feudal control over the management in times of strength and permanence (Durant 1997).

Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BC is renowned for being the purest, most intense form of democratic system in human history. At the outset, Athens did not have a constitution in black and white. It had its origin in the class warfare. The political rights of the Athenians depended upon their economic conditions and stability. Hippes, Zeugitai and Thetes were the three political ranks that were used to determine the political status of the Athenians (Durant 1997). Hippes (Horsemen) were mainly knights who had possession of horses and belonged to the top division of the society. For the most part, this faction included archons, judges and priests. Zeugitai (Yokemen), on the other hand, owned a yoke of oxen and had enough money to furnish themselves as important infantry. This class included farmers and merchants principally. They were also considered as citizens. However, the Thetes (Menials) were not considered as citizens, served the state as low infantry and possessed no political power (Durant 1997).

The different interests of the mentioned groups hindered collaboration and mutual aid among various sections of the general people in Athens. Consequently, there was a political and social deadlock and the cutback of patrician power and influence accompanied by ongoing social turbulence and disorder (Brand). Archons could become the permanent members of the Boule once their term of office reached its end. The Boule was a council similar to the Senate in Sparta and…

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