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Spartan Government

Aristotle on the Mixed Form of Government in Sparta

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Bust of Aristotle

Bust of Aristotle

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The Lacedaemonian [Spartan] constitution is defective in another point; I mean the Ephoralty. This magistracy has authority in the highest matters, but the Ephors are chosen from the whole people, and so the office is apt to fall into the hands of very poor men, who, being badly off, are open to bribes.
- From Aristotle The Politics: On the Lacedaemonian Constitution

Government of Sparta

Aristotle, in the On the Lacedaemonian Constitution section of The Politics, says some claim Sparta's system of government included monarchical, oligarchic and democratic components.

  • Monarchical: Two kings, hereditary monarchs, one from each of the Agiad and Eurypontid families, had priestly obligations and the power to make war (although by the time of the Persian Wars, the kings' power to make war was restricted).

  • Oligarchic: The kings were automatic members of the Gerousia, the council of 28 elders picked for life plus the two kings. Five ephors, chosen annually by popular election, had the main power.

  • Democratic: The final component was the assembly, made up of all Spartiates (full Spartan citizens) over 18 (but see Spartan Assembly).

Note that in the quoted passage on the government of Sparta, Aristotle disapproves of government run by poor people. He thinks they would take bribes. This is striking for two reasons: (1) that he would think the rich were not susceptible to bribes, and (2) that he approves of government by the elite, something people in modern democracies tend to disapprove.

Something to think about: Why would such a well-educated, brilliant thinker believe there was a difference between the rich and poor?

References

  • Maps
    [ www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/GREECE.HTM] Major Cities in Ancient Greece
    Organization of Society
    Chronology of Early Sparta
    [ URL = www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7849/timeline.html] Timeline of Sparta vs the rest of Greece

  • Ancient History Sourcebook:
    11th Brittanica: Sparta The history of the Spartans from prehistory to the middle ages with particular focus on the government.

  • The Ephors of Sparta
    Table of the names and dates of the terms of the ephors and their sources.

  • Herodotus on the Kings of Sparta C 430 BCE
    Privileges (includes priesthood, guard of 100 men, right to the hides and backs of sacrificial cattle, double portions at feasts, and power to make war), obligations (includes selecting husband for woman without a father) of the kings, and procedures following a king's death.

  • The Kings of Sparta
    A table listing kings of Sparta. These hereditary joint kings came one from each of the Agiad and Eurypontid families.

  • Periegesis Hellados III
    Passage from Pausanias on the legendary history of the founding of Sparta. Lacedaemon was the son of Zeus who married Sparta, a daughter of Eurotas, the grandson of the aboriginal Lelex, the original ruler of the land. Very complicated genealogy.

  • The Spartan System
    Class notes providing definitions of key terms Eunomia (good order), Agoge (training), Lacedaemonians, Spartan, Spartiate (full citizen of the polis of Sparta), Perioikoi, Helots, Gerousia (28 elected Spartiates over 60 plus the two kings), Ephors (five Spartiate overseers), and Ecclesia (the assembly).

  • Thomas Martin Overview
    From Perseus, search for gerousia for information on the gerousia's submission of proposals to the assembly for the Spartiates to vote on.

  • Xenophon: Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 13.1ff
    The King's rights in military and religious matters and how the two are connected; that is, the kings make sacrifices and if the sacrifice is acceptable, they wage war. The king also leads the army.
    Also, Xenophon: Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 8.3
    The ephors fine whom they will, charge people with capital crimes, and deprive magistrates of office.

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