Spartans vs Athenians – Who had the stronger army?

Sparta and Athens had a lot in common when it comes to the civic organisation, the structure of government, and judgement and views of women. Yet, a field of militaristic organisation can be said to be unique for both sides. Here is the list of some major differences between the Athenian and Spartan army.


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Sparta’s Primary Focus Was On Its Land-Based Army

Hoplites were the finest warriors in the ancient world. Credits: Weapons and Warfare

Hoplites were the finest warriors in the ancient world. Credits: Weapons and Warfare

The most characteristic and authentic aspect of the Spartan society is its military. That being said, the entire city-state of Sparta focused on strengthening its army forces, thus becoming recognised for its land-based army composed of well-trained and armoured citizen-soldiers known as hoplites. Since the age of 7, the Spartan hoplite was subjected to rigorous training with the aim of becoming the finest warrior of the ancient world. Every single hoplite had to go through education system known as the “agoge”, involving training in the wilderness or in barracks. Preparing the warriors in the rigid conditions brought Sparta success in many wars.

Athens Was Famed For Its Navy

Athens had the exceptional navy ships such as the Triremes. Credits: Preceden

Athens had the exceptional navy ships such as the Triremes. Credits: Preceden

Unlike the Spartans, the Athenians focused on building up impeccable navy forces. During the warring years, the dominance of Athens at sea was growing. This rapid rising power occurred under the rule of Demosthenes when the Athenian navy gained its monumental strength, which allowed them to compete the Spartans. Due to the sea dominance, Athens was in control of the vast sea space as well as many Greek “poleis” (city states). What set Athens’ navy apart from both Sparta and others is the Triremes, a revolutionary ship at that time. The Trireme is considered to be an addition to the earlier Bireme, being more efficient and powerful on the battlefield. The Trireme was comprised of 170 oarsmen, soldiers, sailors and a captain. Because of its in-battle ferocity and the bronze ramming beak on the front, the Trireme was way ahead in speed and manoeuvring compared to other ships.

The Spartan Army Was In Control of Helots

Helots were both slaves and soldiers. Credits: Legacy-Fall

Helots were both slaves and soldiers. Credits: Legacy-Fall

The reason why Sparta had a military based society was slaves from Messenia known as helots, who had to be taken under control as well as trained. Due to the high number of helots, their Spartan master had to keep an eye on them on a regular basis. For this reason, they were subjected to scare tactics to ensure no uprisings occurred. In order to “cleanse” the army of helots, the Spartans had their own organization known as the “krypteia” who would do the dirty work. Once well-trained, organized and obedient, helots were ready for battle. Even though they were often humiliated by their master, there were many cases that proved helots as great warriors.

Athens Had The Most Technologically Advanced Navy

Trireme wood

Athens had the most advanced navy forces at the time. Credits: Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited

Compared to Sparta who strived towards the military perfection, Athens wanted  to gain a firm standing amongst powers in the Classical Mediterranean by collecting natural resources. At their peak, Athens possessed some of the most advanced siege engines, especially when it comes to the navy. With the help of ships, the Athenians were in a position to collect resources all over the Eastern Mediterranian. What’s more, their allied “poleis” were a great financial assistance. Therefore, Athens was abundant in timber resources, which allowed them to produce a large fleet of high-quality ships. For instance, Themistocles interpreted the oracle “wood will save the city” at the moment of Xerxes’s invasion of Greece. It is the wooden Triremes that countered the Persian attack successfully. Moreover, the wooden navy fleet defeated a much larger Persian fleet in the Bay of Salamis, proving how untouchable the Athenian navy was.

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  • Nathan

    The Peloponnesian War proved who was the stronger. Athens did win some battles on land against the Spartans, but the war ended with a Spartan victory over the Athenian fleet. Each side’s expected advantage proved to be less certain than expected.

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