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June 24, 2014

Differences between Athens, Sparta and Plato’s imaginary Polis

This report describes the differences presented by two political thinkers of Greece. There were several differences in political, social, and justice system of these polises. Thucydides and Plato both described their concept of justice and role of women in these polises and in the imaginary republic of Plato

Political System of Athens and Sparta
Athens and Sparta have different political and social systems. Athens was ruled by “limited democracy”, i.e. a council of 500 with some generals and magistrates were elected to pass laws and to run the government. Women were not entitled to participate in the political system of Athens. On the other hand, Sparta’s political system was classified as an oligarchy, but it actually was a mixture of monarchy, democracy and aristocracy. Sparta was ruled by two kings, both were military generals, five overseers, to run the daily administrative system of the government and council of 28 Senators, made law for citizens and acted as judges. Senators were chosen by the kings and citizens for life. Women in Sparta too, were not eligible to participate in political arena. (Thucydides, 1996)

Social Structure
Social structure of Athens divided into several classes. Aristocrats belonged to the highest class; they owned large states, small farmers and landowners made the middle class and the lowest class comprised of thetes, which are urban craftsmen and trireme rowers. Metics were the foreigners, they were not allowed to own land but they could run industries or other businesses. Slaves, although not treated as badly as in other cities of Greek, have no rights at all. 
Social structure of Sparta consists of three classes:
·         Spartiates: they were the army officers and farmers cultivated their land. They had the right to vote
·         Perioeci: they were either the aliens or neighbors. They could not vote, neither they had the right to serve in army. They worked usually as merchants, craftsmen or artisans
·         Helots: this was the farmer class, they had to give half of their crop to the owner of the land

System of Plato’s ideal Polis
Plato introduces a new social order in his ideal state in which the ruling class surrenders both their family and property right for the sake of unity and integrity of the state. This was communism of property and family. His argument was that:
·         Private property and family were the sources of corruption and dissention in the society. If the ruler’s guardian ever acquires private property and families, they will become householders instead of guardians; they will not be in a position to devote their full time to public duty. Property and the affairs of family would result in mutual hatred and intrigues
·         The union of political powers with the economic power was fetal to political unity. Hence political and economic power be in separate hands

Plato’s theory of Education

Plato disliked the Athenian system of education, which is compulsory but privately managed. He liked Spartan education system, which was state regulated. He was of the opinion that education should be calculated to promote justice and enable a man to perform his allotted duties in the state. Through education the eye must be turned to the light. To Plato, education did not mean the storing up of external knowledge. It meant that bringing of the soul into proper environment for its development due to its vital function and character-building nature. It had to be regulated by the state and must be compulsory. It was meant for both the sexes. Plato paid particular attention to the education of women. He believed that failure to educate women might result in the loss of considerable potential, which might otherwise be devoted to the welfare of the state.
Plato’s scheme of education had following two phases:
  • Elementary Stage: up to the age of six, a child to be taught lessons of good manners and good tastes. Plato rigidly censored education from early childhood. From seven to eighteen years, education should both be physical as well as intellectual. This education is followed by two years period, i.e. from eighteen years to twenty years, of military training. At the age of twenty, there would be a public examination and those who failed dropped down to become the warrior and producers, the two lesser classes in the ideal state of Plato 
  • Higher Education: those who passed public examination at the age of twenty were chosen to receive vocational training. First ten years devoted to intellectual and physical training. At the age of 30, they have to appear in a selective examination, those who failed dropped down to become the auxiliaries or subordinate officers and those who passed, have to be trained further for a period of five years. There was further 15 years training on political affairs and finally at the age of fifty they will become the guardians or philosopher- king in the true sense.    

Thucydides concept of justice
According to Thucydides, culture and faction of States of Athens and Sparta were based on the mixture of fear, power and self-interest. He described the justice system and process of trial. There was no proper justice system; any one can be accused by any one. There was no proper judge in a trial and a number of citizens had the responsibility to work as judiciary and jury. In any case, there was no attempt to charge a person against a broken law but the accuser was charged with different assertions (Freeman, 1999)    
Plato’s concept of justice
The Republic is an indictment, an act of discrediting and discarding of Greek life and institutions. It establishes that Plato was completely fed up with the current politicians. He had seen the fall of Athenian democracy at the hands of the Spartan oligarchy in the Peloponnesian War. He had seen the rule of the oligarchs, which he termed as Thirty Tyrants. He had seen the execution of Socratics at the hands of democracy. The execution of Socrates made Plato lose respect for the laws and constitution of his state as be considered Socrates to be the wisest, most just, and best of all the men he had ever known. In the Republic, he portrays the ideal state in which justice is to reign supreme.
            Plato’s system of justice had the following characteristics:
  • The conception of justice is based upon the principles of non-interference. To him, justice is the will to concentrate on one’s own sphere of duty and not to meddle with the sphere of others
  • It was based upon the principle of functional specialization. He conceived that an ideal state should be organized on the basis of functionalist specialization
  • It was based upon the principle of mutual cooperation and harmony. Justice is the harmonious balancing and the operation of life among the three classes in the state 
  • Platonic conception of justice goes against individualism because men must think not as an individual or isolated unit, but as a part of an organic and harmonious whole
  • Platonic conception of justice is something external and not conventional. True justice connotes the idea of service and that in turn connotes the idea of social whole to which the service is rendered
  • Plato conceives not of legal justice but of universal justice. His conception of justice refers to the whole duty of man and not only legal duties

Role of Women in Athens and Sparta

Women in Athens were not entitled to participate in political and sports activities. They were supposed to be the property of their husbands and usually indulged in domestic chores. Some women, though, held high positions in religious rituals.
Women were most independent and had many rights in the society of Sparta. They were allowed to take part in sports. They were enjoyed real freedom. They have the right to own land and property.

Role of Women in Plato’s Republic
Plato had different views about role of women in his imaginary polis. He claimed that certain women were also trained with men in order to use them for ruling class. He said in his Republic book V, “if we use the women for the same things as the men [specifically the guardian class], they must also be taught the same things [as the men].”  (Plato, P. 451e, 1997). It is very much obvious from Plato’s writings that he recognized the importance of women’s role in his republic. Although Plato believed that women are weaker than men, but he only meant that in muscular sense, otherwise he gave almost equal rights to women in his imaginary polis.   


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