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Athens and Sparta were two of the most powerful city-states in Greece at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war, a conflict that lasted from 431 to 404 BC.
In this conflict, Athens was primarily a naval power. Through its leadership of the Delian League after the Persian war, Athens has become a de facto empire, exacting tribute from its allies. In part as a result of its plundering treasure from the Delian League, Athens had become the preeminent cultural center of Greece, known for its architecture, poetry, drama, and other arts. Politically, Athens was a democracy, albeit one with the franchise restricted to a small number of male citizens.
Sparta was primarily a land power, and a far more militaristic society. Its government was a hybrid, combining elements of monarchy and oligarchy. Much of the Spartan economicl system depended on the subjugation and labor of helots, a class of quasi-slaves who significantly outnumbered the ruling Spartans and would occasionally revolt.
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