Sparta vs Athens

Topics: Sparta, Ancient Greece, Battle of Thermopylae Pages: 11 (3895 words) Published: May 7, 2013

Reproduced by Mr Asad Ali, from the Source: Will Durant’s World History, volume-2, “Life of Greece”.

1. Greece is a piece of land where every inch deserves a few acres of history. Geographically speaking, it is doted with thousands of islands; historically, it produced a civilization that is by far the most fertile and most long lasting by any standards of human civilization.

2. To enlist the achievements of Greek civilization is simply not possible here. Nevertheless, it may suffice to say that today’s western world is an infant child of their Greek ancestors. We hardly find anything there, and perhaps elsewhere, that is not Greek in its origin. May it be arts, literature, science, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, geometry, sculpture, architecture, religion, superstitions taboos and what not, all are Greek, though sometimes labelled with new names.

3. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that the Greeks also inherited some aspects of their civilization from a few external sources; and naturally so. Of course, in the hierarchical order, they come after Mesopotamia, Egypt and Babylon ------------ but what is significant about them is the fact that no other civilization since has so widely and so deeply influenced the course of future history. That is why they say that the history of Greece is less the past and more the present and the future.

4. There are two angles from which we see this long lasting impact of the Greek civilization: first, the nature of Greek influence, and second, the extent or the degree of it. (Having said this,) I must make it clear that I am going to talk here about neither of the two. What I will talk to you about is one very small segment of this civilization, which otherwise has become quite obscure under the dust of time.

5. At the very outset, let me apprise you gentlemen that centuries before Christ, the Greeks had organised themselves, socially and politically, in the form of city-states, which simultaneously, became their strength as well as weakness. While we all know Athens as the torch bearer of Greek civilization, there is another friend and foe of Athens which is known as the Greek City State of Sparta. And it is this city-state of Sparta with its social, political and military institutions which remains the focus of my talk today.

6. For this purpose, it is important to refer to the map to have a general idea of what we shall be talking about. So our spotlight will remain focussed here, in and around Sparta.
7. Now these city states were almost independent. We call them almost independent because in all internal affairs they would rival each other, for example in trade and military power, but to face the common threat of foreign invasion, of course from Persia, they would pose a united front. So whenever they were threatened by invasion, they stood united; but in the absence of it, they would remain hostile to each other. And finally, it was this inter-state hostility that broke them to pieces.

Athens & Sparta Emerge as the Most Powerful Rivals
8. With the passage of time, Athens and Sparta grew in strength, but also in mutual rivalry, which can be attributed to two factors: one the ambition for power, and second, the economic ambition manifested through trade and commerce. It makes a very interesting study to compare and contrast the characteristic features of these two rivals. Both run parallel to each other as the spearheads of two different tendencies. (To sum them up in the shortest possible terms: one is arms, the other, arts.)

9. While having presumed that we know much about Athens or Greece in general, Sparta has been relatively less known to us. This is because where Athens contributed something universal in the Epic of human civilization, the Spartans remained blinded by only one aspect of it, i.e.; survival through the fittest military means. In other words,...
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