Politics in Ancient Sparta


Many changes in Spartan politics have been attributed to Lykourgos. However as Plutarch writing in the 2nd century AD said, “nothing can be said about Lykourgos that is not disputed”. Historians question whether he was a real man, many men or just a myth. What we learn about Lykourgos suggests that he sought advice from the Oracle of Delphi who provided him with instructions on how to improve Spartan politics and life. These instructions were recorded in a document known as the Great Rhetra.

The Great Rhetra introduced land distribution (known as kleroi) and the common messes, called syssitia. It also introduced a council of elders, known as the gerousia. The gerousia was made up of 28 gerontes, men of high standing over the age of 60. The other two members of the gerousia were the two kings of Sparta descended from two families – the Agiads and the Eurypontids. By the 5th century the judicial function of the kings had greatly declined and they were responsible for three areas: maintenance of public highways, adoption of children and the marriage of heiresses whose fathers had died. One area kings no longer had power in was the authority to declare war. After the reign of Cleomenes (520-490BC), it appears that the power of declaring war passed on to the ekklesia. The final group of people in Spartan politics were the ephors, five Spartiates* over 30 who were elected for a year. They do not appear to have been included in the Great Rhetra and are instead believed to have been introduced at a later date. Over time the power of the ephors increased as they gained various powers and administrative functions. By the 7th century were a key part of the Spartan political system.

*Spartiates were Spartan males over 30 who had been born to Spartan parents and successfully completed the agoge (military training).


About Thought Student

A lover of learning who blogs about history, life and opinions at thoughtstudent.wordpress.com
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