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Sometimes this question emerges, what was the difference between ancient Sparta and Rome? Besides the nearly 400 year difference between the two civilizations here are the 5 differences between Rome and Sparta.
Simply put, the 5 main differences between Rome and ancient Sparta are the following.
- Ancient Sparta had a three their class society while Rome had a two
- The Spartans embraced monarchy while Rome feared it
- Sparta’s entire economy centered around agriculture while Rome was more dependent upon trade
- Spartan citizens were not allowed to handle cash while Romans were encouraged to do so
- Contrary to popular belief the Spartan military was not a permanently standing army while the Roman one was
Both of these ancient civilizations are fascinating to learn and study about. Rome would adopt several of the Spartan military theories into its own legions. Further, Spartan honor would be highly admired and shape Roman society in the early Roman Empire.
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Without further ado, let’s jump right into the 5 differences between the Romans and Spartans.
1.) Ancient Sparta Had A Three Tier Class Society While Rome Had Two
One of the main differences between ancient Sparta and the Romans was how their society was structured.
In ancient Sparta there were 3 social classes. At the bottom you had the helot slaves which worked the manual labor jobs around Sparta. These helots were typically captured slaves from Spartan military campaigns but they could also have been bought.
It’s important to remember that the helot slaves of Sparta would not be called slaves today. They existed in the space between completely free and completely enslaved. Helots were known to own their own property and only pay their share of taxes to their Spartan overlords. Further, they could travel around the countryside but not leave Spartan territory.
Just above the helot slave you had the perioeci of Sparta. These were the freedmen who could own their own helot slaves or property. The perioeci would live in the hills and lands surrounding the city of Sparta and handle all the trade and commerce for the city. Further, the perioeci were the only members of Spartan society who could leave Spartan territory freely. This was because the Spartans knew they would return because of their property.
The top class of Spartan society was the Spartan citizen. In total these were only about 4-5% of the total population of Sparta. This was the landed gentry elite who were allowed to serve in the military. However, the Spartan citizens could not use money, leave Spartan territory freely, or open a business.
Rome on the other hand only had a two tier society. In ancient Rome you were either from a patrician family or a plebeian. Rome was built around old families controlling a majority of the political and economic power in Rome.
The patrician class of Rome would dominate all politics and own a majority of the land in Rome. The patrician families would sit in the senate and eventually form quasi-political factions to prevent upstart politicians. This would create massive problems which ended up destabilizing the Roman Republic and lead to the Empire.
The lower class of Roman society was the plebeian. This included the Latins, Italians, slaves, common freedmen, and foreigner. Over the course of the Roman Republic there was an ongoing battle between these two classes of people called the Concordia Ordinum or “harmony of the orders.”
As such one of the main differences between ancient Sparta and Rome was that their social class system was different.
2.) The Spartans Embraced Monarchy While The Romans Feared It
Another main difference between the ancient Spartans and the Romans was that the Spartans embraced monarchy while the Romans feared it.
Sparta was ruled by two kings. These kings held complete control over the army and the men of Sparta while outside the city. However, while in the city the Spartan kings were at the mercy of a 28 man council of elder Spartan warriors called the gerousia.
However, the Spartan kings held considerable rights while in the city. Their children were exempt from the agoge which was a several year long education camp which harshly trained young Spartan men to be professional warriors. Historians are unsure why this was, however it appears that only the Spartan two ruling families had this luxury.
The Romans on the other hand hated monarchy above all else. The Roman Republic was founded in the 8th century BC as a monarchy under a series of kings. From what little history we have of Rome these were a series of awful kings which caused the Romans to execute them. This is where we get the word regicide from.
Over the course of the middle and late Roman Republic one of the worst things you could be claimed of doing was installing a Roman King to rule over the ‘free’ Roman citizens. This would often result in either execution or exile from the Roman state.
Even after the first emperor of Rome, Augustus, came to power he was careful to not appear as king. He took the title of princeps which translates to “first citizen” to demonstrate that he was a member of the citizenry body.
As such one of the main differences between ancient Sparta and Rome was that Sparta embraced monarchy while Rome feared it.
3.) Sparta’s Economy Focused Upon Agriculture While Rome Was Dependent Upon Trade
Another main difference between ancient Sparta and Rome was their economies. Sparta had an economy built upon and around agriculture. Rome on the other hand built it’s economy around trade.
Sparta was a nearly completely self-sufficient city-state in ancient Greece. This was because from the ground up it was built with farming practices in mind. The ancient town of Sparta is located beside two rivers on a large flat and fertile plain.
Sometime around the 7th century BC Sparta would begin the process of acquiring the helot slaves from a series of successful wars. This would lead to a massive agricultural economy growing over the next 300 years. Sparta would rise out of this economy to become the powerhouse of the Greek world during the late 5th and early 4th century BC even defeating Athens.
Rome on the other hand built her economy to rely more upon trade. From the beginning Rome was founded around other Latin cities/tribes. While Rome would build an agricultural sector it would also engage in trade from an early age. Because of this several large road networks would begin to be built around modern Italy.
This trading economy exploded in growth after the rise of the Empire. Now with a central bureaucracy Rome was free to expand across the world. We know this because around 1 AD the amount of coins Rome would produce for commerce would skyrocket. Today Roman coins are found as far as Japan or eastern Europe.
As such another main difference between ancient Sparta and Rome was how they built their economies.
4.) Spartan Citizens Were Not Allowed To Handle Money While Roman Ones Were
Another major difference between Rome and ancient Sparta was that the Spartan citizens were not allowed to handle cash.
The entire Spartan economy was set up to give the Spartan citizens everything their heart could need. There was no need for cash because a Spartan could simply just ask to have it.
We know of this from Lycurgus, the Spartan lawmaker who wrote the Spartan constitution. Lycurgus believed that if Spartans had access to cash they would become corrupt and being to destroy the state internally. As such no Spartan was allowed to handle money but rather had to ask for permission from the king for luxuries they did not already have.
Rome on the other hand was the opposite. Roman citizens here heavily ‘encouraged’ to seek out monetary gain wherever they could. This would often lead to corrupt politicians bribing people in the city of Rome to cause trouble in the Roman forum during an important vote. In Roman society money ruled everything.
This was because each Roman politician would patron select other politicians. This would secure votes and political power for certain families. This took a lot of wealth however and from the ground up people looked for ways to generate some additional money off hand.
As such another main difference between ancient Sparta and Rome was that in Sparta citizens were not allowed to handle any money while Roman citizens did.
5.) Sparta Never Had A Permanently Standing Military While Rome Did
Contrary to popular belief Spartan warriors were not professional soldiers. This was because there was not permanently standing military for the Spartan to join. When Sparta would go out to war all male citizens between the ages of 20-60 would have to gather their gear and march with the king.
However, when the army returned to Sparta the warrior would turn back into a citizen. These citizens would enjoy a life of luxury and would spend their days relaxing, training, and eating.
The Roman army on the other hand after the reforms of Gaius Marius was a permanently standing army. There were always legions in the field and always soldiers were either fighting or training for the next deployment/march. Often a soldier would not go ‘home’ for several years, the legion was his home now.
From the point of Gaius Marius up through the end of the Roman Empire there were legions stationed around the borders of Rome to protect it from invasion. Soldiers would often be rotated around these legions to make room for incoming soldiers.
As such another major difference between ancient Sparta and Rome was that the Spartan citizen was not a professional soldier. They would come home after a battle/war while the Roman soldier stayed in the field.
Both Sparta and Rome are fascinating subjects of research. Sparta had one of the most unique societies in the ancient world. It was so unique that it was praised by the Athenians for staying true to its traditional roots for several centuries. Rome on the other hand changed numerous times as it got larger and more powerful.
Both societies are great to study. Any prospective graduate students of history will find lots to research here.
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