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Sparta - Government of Ancient Sparta

Aristotle on the inadequacy of the Spartan Constitution and System of Government


Bust of Aristotle

Bust of Aristotle

Aristotle, in the On the Lacedaemonian Constitution section of The Politics, says some claim Sparta's system of government included the following three components:
  1. monarchical (rule by kings),
  2. oligarchic (rule by the aristocrats or other privileged few), and
  3. democratic (rule by the deme or citizens, restricted to free men of a certain class) components.
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).

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

The final component was the assembly, made up of all Spartiates (full Spartan citizens) over 18.

"The Lacedaemonian 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

Resources on Spartan Law

  • 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 B.C.)
    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).

Helots Quiz

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