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The Shaping of a Civilization

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Elisabeth Kutek

BADM  MW 8:00am-9:15am

Professor Dong

13 October 2017

        The Shaping of a Civilization

        Both Sparta and Athens established thriving civilizations during their time, but due to the pressures of the Peloponnesian wars, they were forced to conform numerous aspects of their society and way of life. The Spartan government was a mixed constitution that advocated for a cautious and peaceful foreign policy, and the Athenian government had a democratic political system deeply rooted in society. Even though these systems had been consistent for a very long time, they were affected by the war. The war also affected social structures, the commonwealth of both civilizations, and led to the abandonment of traditional greek morality for both empires. The formation of alliances and their purposes began to change as both Sparta and Athens continuously became more dependent on their allies for power, resources, and tribute. The civilizations of both Sparta and Athens went through intense struggle throughout the Peloponnesian wars. This shaped all aspects of the population, from the government, politics, and policy, to the social and class structures that governed their daily lives.

Not only was Spartan society shaped by the war, it was already shaped on the basis of the possibility of war. Their pragmatic way of life held no guilty pleasures, and families were built only to reproduce and provide meals for the warriors. They also depended heavily on the subordinate helot population, shown when the text says, “Spartans alone had no need to earn a living and devoted themselves exclusively to military training” (4). This began to change as the war allowed helots to gain their freedom and change class structure when Clearidas brought Brasidas army back from Amphipolis and created a new class called the neodamodeis. They were allowed to live freely and began to slowly increase their population as the opportunity to fight for freedom also increased, but as this occurred the Spartiate population of full citizens started to heavily decline.

Sparta was already self-sufficient and didn’t even rely on a currency besides a large iron bar to get around, considering they didn’t trade extensively and had fertile ground for agriculture. The war however, forced Sparta to be more dependent on funds and Spartiates started to participate in unethical practices generally, and to reduce poverty caused by the war. They began to have less children so that they could maximize their inheritances. Spartiates also tried to acquire massive amounts of private land to make up for the lack of public grant, and given they relied on land to run their civilization, an owner of mass amounts of land was a very wealthy citizen. The poverty caused by the war also heavily affected the population. It created a new class of “inferiors” who were born with a spartiate status but because of their lack of wealth were unable to contribute to the common meals. The surrender at Sphacteria also showed what the war was doing to the moral of the Spartans as they disregarded their traditions and natural laws. 350 soldiers surrendered to the Athenians for the first time in history and were still able to integrate back into society with same or even higher status.

The Peloponnesian war soon caused Sparta to create alliances differently than they would have before the war started, and they soon began to deviate from their cautious and peaceful foreign policy. As the war continued, any state of democrats needing assistance could call upon Athens, and any oligarchs could call upon Sparta, and whereas Sparta would usually avoid any external affairs and politics, they began to participate. Additionally, Sparta was uninterested in foreign relations and expansion, and that all changed once alliances meant more resources, money, and strength in power. Sparta also created an alliance with Persia on the sole basis of funds and a naval fleet even though their views and desires didn’t align. Sparta claimed to be fighting for the “Freedom of the Greeks” (57), but was aware that Persia would most likely try to claim some states once the war was over.

Athens alliances, adherence to Greek tradition, and commonwealth were also all heavily affected and changed by the Peloponnesian Wars. Athens had a large amount of commonwealth, mainly because they had a lot of allies whom they exploited for money and resources. The reason they needed funds before the war and the Spartans didn’t was because they had to maintain a naval fleet, and that required a plethora of resources. Within the first year Athens was struggling to maintain itself due to it’s lack of exports such as olive oil and wine, and that created an imbalance of trade. This led to a lack of imports that decreased the commonwealth and was disheartening considering Athenian society revolved around trade. Within this time they had also depleted more than one-fourth of the disposable war chest and two thousand talents. The plague played a large role in why individuals living in the Athenian society were deviating from traditional morals. Due to Pericles’ policy, the Athenians were living inside of the walls while the war ensued, and had to watch all of their crops be destroyed by the Peloponnesians and the mass population mixed with no modern sewage system started a plague that wiped out one-third of the population. The civil bonds of society started to break down as the frequent deaths made citizens feel like they no longer knew whether their lifespan was going to equate to years or dats, and began to participate in inappropriate behavior such as stealing, rape, and open sex. They also let go of the strong Greek tradition of having a proper burial for their dead.  



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