The Freedom of a Man in Athens and Sparta

Published: 2021-06-17 06:24:46
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Category: Europe

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While both the Spartan and Athenian poleis were considered a major polis of their time period, their citizens had vastly different lifestyles that contributed to their city’s reputation as a free city. Spartans were known for their ascetic, militaristic lifestyle with their extreme dedication to the polis before family and friends. On the other hand, Athenians were known for their focus on democracy and politics and emphasis on courage and loyalty. However, Athens is the freer polis because it encourages political participation and grants more independence for every citizen while Spartans are born into a rigid social structure with little to no individual independence.
According to Plutarch’s Life of Lykurgus, “So it seems to have been well said that in Lacedaemon the free man was more free and the slave more a slave than anywhere else.” What Plutarch meant by “free” was that Spartans enjoy a relatively stress-free lifestyle due to their idea that wealth was unnecessary. They were “utterly forbidden to practise any mechanical art” and had “ample leisure.” Those who were too old to physically serve the polis looked after the young and taught what was useful for the society to function such as resourcefulness. As a result of having so much free time, Spartans dedicated their life to become the best, strongest warrior, which meant that Sparta had an incredibly strong military despite having smaller numbers. The Spartans, therefore, also enjoyed perpetual immunity from any invasion from another polis.According to Pericles Funeral Oration, “By their courage and their virtues (our ancestors) have handed us a free country.” What Pericles meant by “free” was that their political policies and polis were open to all citizens, including those in poverty or in the minority. Athenians (who were male and adults) were chosen randomly to serve in a voting political body, and being involved in politics was part of the requirements of being an Athenian. Furthermore, “free” could mean the citizens’ military security because of Athen’s immense navy strength. So, no walls were required around the polis. Athenians, similarly to Spartans, enjoyed immunity to any invasions.
However, Athenians valued democracy and loyalty as a form of freedom while Spartans valued asceticism and simplicity as a form of freedom. Athenians were free to have recreation, contests, sacrifices, and more while maintaining their security as a polis. Sparta, in contrast, were vastly outnumbered by the Helots who were ready to revolt at any time. Spartans were basically trapped within their polis in order to protect it. Additionally, Spartans were not allowed to make foreign contact with other poleis in case the other lifestyles seeped into Spartan tradition. In contrast, Athens would make regular foreign contact to trade goods and to export their local products. Spartans were all born into the harsh lifestyle and had no power to dissent. From an early age, they were all indoctrinated into valuing the polis over all and using physical means to get what they wanted. Overall, the Spartans had little say in how they ran their lives. Athenians valued loyalty and courage as a means to keep the citizens loyal to the polis. In fact, Athenians were incredibly proud of their polis to the point that they were arrogant or overconfident. Because of Athen’s democracy, each person was equal in the society and could maintain their individuality without going against the polis ideals. All in all, Sparta was way more restrictive of its citizens than Athens making Athens the freer polis.
In conclusion, although I believe that Athens was more free overall than Spartans, Greeks admired Sparta for its extreme dedication and selfless attitude. Sparta and Athens are, in essence, a product of their environments, and their respective cultures help define what makes each polis interesting and unique regardless of freedom.

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