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Spartan Politics

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Sparta had a Political organisation unlike many other Greek states at that time that drew upon elements of all types of Government structures. The Spartan constitution contained elements of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy and was described by ancient writers as a mixed constitution. The four elements were made by the two kings (monarchical), Gerousia (oligarchic), the Five Ephors (limited Democratic) and the Ekklesia (democratic).

This system all came about from the work of the law-giver named Lycurgus who is acclaimed to have received the Rhetra from the Delphic Oracle and impose it upon Sparta, However even his existence is under debate between historians past and present such as Xenophon and Plutarch. The monarchical component of the Spartan Government is made up by the Two Spartan Kings. This duel Kingship could have originated during the ninth century B. C, However other Historians argue that this was established to prevent one King becoming two powerful.

These two hereditary kings held Office for life at the head of the Spartan State and their roles and privileges came from three main functions in Military, Religious and Judicial/Political. The Kings main role in Military could vary between the Kings. The Kings were supreme me commanders of the army yet only one led the campaign while the other one stayed in Sparta. Ancient Historian Herodotus claims this was after Cleomenes and Demaratos in 510 BC the two kings that had disputes. However Xenophon notes that it was the Ekklesia who chose what King went on the campaign.

However there were some privileges of being a king when being in charge of the military the King had a personal bodyguard of 300 hoplites (Xenophon) and the King would receive rewards in the form of booty collected from victories. Nevertheless If they didn’t perform their duty in the field of battle well the Ephors could fine or exile a king if his actions warranted it (Thucydides) Religion also played a main part of everyday Spartan life of which the Kings were appointed chief Kings. They were two major priest hoods in Sparta the Zeus Lacadaemonois and the Zeus Uranios which the kings presided over.

Sacrificing played a large role within their religion so each month they would offer sacrifices to Apollo. Herodotus states that the Kings were the first to sit at the syssition after the sacrifice was made and were served first and given a double helping. The Delphic Oracles were also important and the Kings were appointed responsible for safekeeping of all oracles. They would appoint to pythioi to consult the Delphic oracle and report on the oracles direction. Once again like the military campaigns if things went all wrong the Kings were the ones to blame.

Because Sparta was also a democratic state the Kings did not have as much power politically as many other Kings and were restricted by it. Herodotus believes they practically saw to foreign affairs but selecting and appointing officials who saw to entertaining foreign visitors. They two Kings though were both members of the Gerousia only holding one vote each. It is thought that the 5 Ephors could have come from the chiefs of the 5 villages that composed Sparta however they were more like five magistrates elected by citizens once every year. Any Spartiate over 30 was eligible yet could only hold office for a year.

The Ephors could have been the most influential of the major groups according to Xenophon who apparently had power to fine other magistrates and power over all Spartiates, including the Kings. Xenophon is backed up by other Ancient Historians such as Thucydides who claims they could investigate, fine, sentence to death or exile a King. The Ephors had many duties and responsibilities and were responsible for things like education, war, finance and maintaining law. Although the kings were the supreme commanders of the armies the Ephors had control over many aspects that would have undermined the Kings authorities.

The Kings were not able to declare war unless the Ephors had issued orders for mobilizing the Spartan army according to Xenophon. They also had the power to direct generals to particular campaigns and constantly acted as overseers always having two Ephors accompany the King into battle. They were responsible for the education of the Spartan youth and maintaining discipline throughout the community this was achieved through there power to be able to fine people on the spot for many things including even being lazy.

Their jobs also entitled them to join the Gerousia in conducting criminal trials and were privileged even more in being the only magistrates to be able to hold a civil trial. They also controlled the Krypteia and state finances. According to Aristotle among all the duties two chair the meetings for both the Gerousia and Ekklesia which would have given them considerate power over the other governmental systems. Aristotle claims that the Ephors were not a perfect government system and had flaws because even poor men could be elected, this ade some open to bribery, but this was mitigated by limitation of membership to a year.

Plutarch once quoted Lycurgus about the Gerousia saying members had to be over 60 years of age, but had to be the best and most deserving. It was a council of elders; made up of twenty-eight members plus the two Kings and they were elected for life. To be elected to the Gerousia you had to be chosen by the Ekklesia. The Ekklesia gave Sparta the appearance of the being a democracy but it had no real power because it was not allowed to discuss or amend bills.

Their main role was to vote on things like debates, proposals and elections. Plutarch writes that the Ekklesia elected member of the Gerousia and Ephors, this should have given it considerable power, but that was limited by the rider of the Rhetra which allowed the Ephors to annul or cast aside decisions of the Ekklesia. He also writes it wasn’t just the Ephors who could but that also the Gerousia had the power to annul or ‘set aside’ decisions of the Ekklesia. The major setback of the Ekklesia was that it couldn’t put forward its own proposals.

The Ekklesia more or less acted like a citizen today where you can vote on who is in government this is because to be able to join the Ekklesia the only requirement was to be a male citizen over the age of 30. The Ekklesia showed true democracy because it allowed the citizens to be able to make decision that affected the running of their state. Because the Gerousia were a council of the elect they had more power than the Ekklesia did, the exact role of the Gerousia in the political system is hard to asses.

The Gerousia did serve as a court to capital offences according to Xenophon. They could impose punishments, including the death sentence, fines, banishment and decrees dishonoring and individual. One key role of the Gerousia in working with the Ekklesia could be that they, prepared roles to be brought before the full Ekklesia for their voting upon. Gerousia too was not a perfect government according to Aristotle which members were possibly open to corruption because they were not answerable to anyone and were appointed for life.

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