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Freedom in Athens and Sparta
Both Athens and Sparta would have claimed that they were the most free society in ancient Greece. Obviously, their answers depend quite heavily on how each society defined freedom. According to what we’ve learned about Athens and Sparta, how did each society define freedom? In the end, which one was truly the most free and why?
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Freedom in Athens and Sparta
Freedom is an aspect that has changed many times over the years. The different states in the world have changed what they include in their definitions of freedom over the years. The initial definitions varied from state to state. The definition that each state had, determined the things that their citizens could do and those that they were prohibited from doing. Some of the states that differed in their definition of freedom were Athens and Sparta. The leaders in each of the state considered different features more important to their citizens thereby leading to the formation of rules that portrayed their difference in their view of freedom. These differences meant that the some things were legal in one state and illegal in the other.
Freedom in Athens focused mostly on the political freedom of the citizens of the city-state. One of the political freedoms that Athens practiced was the use of a jury system while judging on what was right for the city and what was not. The jury in the city-state was a group of more than 500 Athens citizens. The jurors was made of men only, women were not allowed to be part of the jury system. The use of a jury system was an opportunity for the Athenians to ensure that the judgment passed by the states was the judgment supported by the majority of the citizens. The opinion of the jurors was a representation of what all the citizens felt about a particular issue.
The freedom in Athens further included the reliance on public opinion of the appropriate religious beliefs. One could be persecuted for teaching and holding beliefs that were against those held by the city-state’s residents. However, the jury judged whether one was guilty of such a crime or not. For example, when Socrates was accused of disregarding the religious beliefs held in Athens and holding contradicting beliefs, he had to make a case for himself before a jury. The state did not separate the business of the church from the influence of the government officials. The Athens citizens were therefore not free to choose the religions of their choices since they risked being executed if they deviated from the normal religious beliefs.
Athens was also a supporter and holder of democracy. The governance and law formation depended mostly on the public opinion. The members of the assembly had the power to propose new laws. These laws could be examined in the assembly and later on passed to the jurors to determine if they could be enacted into law. The opinion of the jurors was the final determinant of whether the law was appropriate or not. This further helped ensure that the laws that governed the state were those that the citizens felt were appropriate for the land. This made it easy for the citizens to follow the laws as well as promoted unity amongst the citizens. It further helped reduce the probability of rebellion and increase the support that the leadership of the country got from the citizens.
The freedom in Sparta on the other hand was different as it focused on maintaining the freedom of their ancestral land. This meant that the Spartans could give their lives to ensure that foreigners did not rule their homeland. Their definition of freedom hindered them from expanding their territory, as they were cautious about sending their soldiers to conquer other territories. The leaders that ruled the Spartan kingdom were therefore Spartan by birth. Those that lived in the state but were not Spartans by birth would never be allowed to lead or take part in political proceedings.
Similar to the Athens political freedom, the women and the residents that were not Spartan by birth had no political rights. Only the Spartan men could make politically related decisions. The women however had the freedom to attain an education. The girl child in this society was allowed to go to school just like the boy child was. They were not married off at an early age but were rather allowed to grow up and mature before marriage. Ensuring that the girls were educated was seen as an important aspect in Sparta as it helped ensure that when the women were left in charge of the children while the men were at war, the children were well taken care of and educated under the guidance of their mothers. They women also had the freedom to advice their husbands on how to govern their estates as well as the appropriate political decisions.
The freedom in Sparta further included the freedom of the people that were conquered by Spartans. Those from kingdoms conquered by the Spartans were allowed to carry out economic activities of their choice. There were no laws prohibiting them from engaging in the different economic activities. They were considered free people instead of slaves, as commonly considered in other states. Despite being free however, they were not allowed to participate in political activities and decisions. Instead, they had to follow everything that their superiors told them to follow. This made it difficult for the Spartans to rule the kingdoms that they conquered, as this system inspired the residents to rebel against the Spartan rulers.
Evidently, the definition of freedom in Athens and Sparta was different. The differences included the fact that Athens’ definition of freedom focused mostly on the political freedom and democracy while the definition of freedom in Sparta mostly concentrated on the origin of the rulers of the state. This difference determined if the government of either country would allow the people to do certain things or prohibit them from doing them. For example, the need of Spartans maintain their ancestral land free led to the country prohibiting the political freedom of foreigners while Athens’ need to promote democracy helped ensure that the government allowed the people to participate in decision making processes.
definition of freedom by the Athens people was better than that of the Spartans,
thus, the people of Athens were truly free as compared to the Spartans. This is
because the people of Athens would take part in the decision making process in
the state matters. They therefore used laws that they felt were appropriate for
their needs. They could thereby change laws as their needs changed. However,
the Spartans confined themselves to thinking that ruling themselves made them
free. Their lack of participation in passing of laws and decision-making
limited their freedom. Laws would be made that they did not consider
appropriate for them but they would not question them. The lawmakers had the
final say in such matters.
Evans, Nancy. Civic rites: Democracy and religion in ancient Athens. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
O’Pry, Kay. “Social and political roles of women in Athens and Sparta.” Saber and Scroll 1, no. 2 (2012): 7-14.
Perry, Marvin et al. Western civilization: Ideas, politics, and society. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013.
 Nancy, Evans. Civic rites: Democracy and religion in ancient Athens. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 1.
 Ibid, 2
 Ibid, 1
 Ibid, 2
 Marvin Perry et al. Western civilization: Ideas, politics and society. (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013), 56