In ancient times the Greeks lived in city states. Each state had its own laws, government and money but they shared the same language and religion. The two most important city states were Athens and Sparta. We know much about Athens because it produced many writers and artists, whose work has survived to this day.
At first both Athens and Sparta were ruled by Kings. Then both were ruled by small groups of powerful people (oligarchies). Later Athens came to be ruled by the people as a democracy whilst Sparta remained an oligarchy.
Athens was the largest and most powerful Greek state. It was a city with lots of beautiful public buildings, shops and public baths.
Parthenon, a temple
The people of Athens lived below the Acropolis (rocky hill). The marble Parthenon, a temple, (see picture above) was built on the highest part of the Acropolis.
Model of the Parthenon in the British Museum
Inside the Parthenon stood a large gold and ivory statue of Athena.
Athena was the goddess of wisdom and war and was the patron of Athens. The legend says that Athene and Poseidon had a contest to have the city named after them. Poseidon promised the riches of the sea, but Athena’s gift of an olive tree was felt to be more valuable.
In Athens boys went to school but girls were taught at home.
Athens did not have a king, it was ruled by the people as a democracy. The people of Athens believed that no one group of people should make the laws and so citizens could choose the government officials, and vote for or against new laws. The people of Athens chose their ruler.
They held a large meeting on the slopes of a hill in Athens where any citizen could speak, and tell the government what it should be doing. This was called the Assembly, and there had to be at least 6,000 citizens at every Assembly.
Athenian democracy was not like modern democracy. Only citizens over 18 could vote. Women, slaves and foreigners could not become citizens. So democracy in Athens meant rule by the men of Athens.
Slaves made up about a quarter of the working population on Athens. Most were people who had been captured in warfare and sold to slave dealers. They were then put on sale in the slave market.
Find out what Athens and Sparta were really like
Sparta's powerful army is ready for war. Athens knows that it cannot defeat this army ... but it has a Navy and Sparta does not. The year is 430 BC. Poliphus and his family from Athens and Sparcus and his family from Sparta are thinking about the future. They each have different points of view!! Cool site!