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Sparta vs Athens > The Battle for the Ancient World October 9, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.

Sparta, a small city in the rugged mountains of southern Greece, fielded the most feared military in the ancient world. Spartan soldiers, hardened by grueling training that began at birth, never lost a battle in the bloody conflicts that raged almost constantly between the small city-states of ancient Greece. To build this remarkable army, elders in Sparta tested every newborn for weakness and deformities. Babies deemed unlikely to become strong soldiers were tossed into a gorge. For those that passed the test, training was cruel and relentless. The Greek historian and essayist Plutarch wrote that for many of the Spartan soldiers marching to battle was a relief: “For the Spartans, actual war was a holiday compared to their tough training.”

The rivalry between militaristic Sparta and its neighbor Athens dominated the history of ancient Greece. Athens, the birthplace of democracy, was a far less rigid society. Unlike Sparta, where there was little time for culture, Athens was home to some of the most extraordinary accomplishments of philosophy, art, and science in human history. The playwrights Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles, as well as philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates were born in Athens during the city’s golden age in the fifth century BC.

While Athens and Sparta temporarily joined forces to defeat two attempted Persian invasions, they spent much of the classical period competing for the leadership of the Hellenic world. When the cities fought, as they did repeatedly between about 550 and 350 BC, it was a clash of civilizations in the fullest sense. While Sparta’s famed soldiers held the advantage on land, Athens made up the difference with its sea power. The rivalry came to an abrupt end when Philip of Macedonia invaded from the north. The Greek city-states were swallowed up into the empire that Philip and his son, Alexander the Great, extended over much of Greece and Asia.

Additional Facts
1. Sparta was the capital of the Greek region of Laconia. The word laconic in modern English is derived from the taciturn attitude of hardened Spartan soldiers.

2. To prove their toughness, Spartan boys competed to see how much whipping they could endure.

3. Many of the buildings on the Acropolis in Athens, including the famous Parthenon, were constructed during the city’s golden age in the fifth century BC.

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