The Spartan Constitution, or Politeia, refers to the government and laws of the Dorian city-state of Sparta from the time of Lycurgus, the legendary law-giver, to the incorporation of Sparta into the Roman Republic: approximately the 9th century BC to the 2nd century BC. Every city-state of Greece had a politeia at all times of its sovereign life, including the preceding Achaean Sparta and the subsequent Roman Sparta. The politeia of Dorian Sparta, however, was noted by many classical authors for its unique features, which supported a rigidly layered social system and a strong military.
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According to Plutarch, Lycurgus (to whom is attributed the establishment of the severe reforms for which Sparta has become renowned, sometime in the 9th century BC) first sought counsel from the god Apollo by obtaining an oracle from Delphi regarding the formation of his government. The divine proclamation, which he received in this manner, is known as a "rhetra" and is given in part by Plutarch as follows:
Plutarch provides by way of explanation: "In these clauses, the "phylai" and the "obai" refer to divisions and distributions of the people into clans and phratries, or brotherhoods; by "archagetai" the kings are designated, and "appellazein" means to assemble the people, with a reference to Apollo, the Pythian god, who was the source and author of the polity. The Babyca is now called Cheimarrus, and the Cnacion Oenus; but Aristotle says that Cnacion is a river, and Babyca a bridge."
Another version of the rhetra is given by H. Michell:
That is to say that after the people had been divided according to their different tribes ("phyles" and "obes"), they would welcome the new Lycurgan reforms.
Issuance of coinage was forbidden. Spartans were obliged to use iron obols (bars or spits), meant to encourage self-sufficiency and discourage avarice and the hoarding of wealth. A Spartan citizen in good standing was one who maintained his fighting skills, showed bravery in battle, ensured that his farms were productive, was married and had healthy children. Spartan women were the only Greek women to hold property rights on their own, and were required to practice sports before marriage. Although they had no formal political rights, they were expected to speak their minds boldly and their opinions were heard.
Spartan society can be represented by a three-layer pyramid ruled by the government.
Not all inhabitants of the Spartan state were considered citizens (part of the demos). Only those who had successfully undertaken military training, called the agoge, were eligible. Usually, the only people eligible to receive the agoge were Spartiates—men who could trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the city—although there were two exceptions. Trophimoi ("foster sons") were foreign teenagers invited to study. This was meant as a supreme honor. The pro-Spartan Athenian magnate Xenophon sent his two sons to Sparta for their education as trophimoi. Alcibiades, being an Alcmaeonid and thus a member of a family with old and strong connections to Sparta, was admitted as a trophimos and famously excelled in the agoge as well as otherwise (he was rumoured to have seduced one of the two queen consorts with his exceptional looks). The other exception was that sons of helots could be enrolled as syntrophoi (comrades, literally "the ones fed, or reared, together") if a Spartiate formally adopted him and paid his way. If a syntrophos did exceptionally well in training, he might be sponsored to become a Spartiate himself. A free-born Spartan who had successfully completed the agoge became a "peer" (ὅμοιος, hómoios, literally "similar") with full civil rights at the age of 20, and remained one as long as he could contribute his equal share of grain to the common military mess in which he was obliged to dine every evening for as long as he was battle-worthy (usually until the age of 60). This was meant as assurance that every peer took good care of his estates and patrimony. Such hómoioi were also required to sleep in the barracks until the age of 30, regardless of whether they were married or not.
Others in the state were the Perioki, who can be described as civilians.
Helots were the state-owned serfs who made up 90 percent of the population. They were citizens of conquered states, such as Messenia who were conquered for their fertile land during the First Messenian War.
The Doric state of Sparta, copying the Doric Cretans, instituted a mixed governmental state: it was composed of elements of monarchical, oligarchical, and democratic systems. Isocrates refers to the Spartans as "subject to an oligarchy at home, to a kingship on campaign" (iii. 24).
The state was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and the Eurypontid families, both descendants of Heracles and equal in authority so that one could not act against the power and political enactments of his colleague, though the Agiad king received greater honour by virtue of seniority of his family for being the "oldest extant" (Herod. vi. 5).
There are several legendary explanations for this unusual dual kingship, which differ only slightly; for example, that King Aristodemus had twin sons, who agreed to share the kingship, and this became perpetual. Modern scholars have advanced various theories to account for the anomaly. Some theorize that this system was created in order to prevent absolutism, and is paralleled by the analogous instance of the dual consuls of Rome. Others believe that it points to a compromise arrived at to end the struggle between two families or communities. Other theories suggest that this was an arrangement that was met when a community of villages combined to form the city of Sparta. Subsequently the two chiefs from the largest villages became kings. Another theory suggests that the two royal houses represent respectively the Spartan conquerors and their Achaean predecessors: those who hold this last view appeal to the words attributed by Herodotus (v. 72) to Cleomenes I: "I am no Dorian, but an Achaean"; although this is usually explained by the (equally legendary) descent of Aristodemus from Heracles. Either way, kingship in Sparta was hereditary and thus every king Sparta had was a descendant of the Agiad and the Eurypontid families. Accession was given to the male child who was first born after a king's accession.
The duties of the kings were primarily religious, judicial, and militaristic. They were the chief priests of the state, and performed certain sacrifices and also maintained communication with the Delphic sanctuary, which always exercised great authority in Spartan politics. In the time of Herodotus (about 450 BC), their judicial functions had been restricted to cases dealing with heiresses, adoptions and the public roads. Civil cases were decided by the ephors, and criminal jurisdiction had been passed to the ephors, as well as to a council of elders. By 500 BC the Spartans had become increasingly involved in the political affairs of the surrounding city-states, often putting their weight behind pro-Spartan candidates. Shortly before 500 BC, as described by Herodotus, such an action fueled a confrontation between Sparta and Athens, when the two kings, Demaratus and Cleomenes, took their troops to Athens. However, just before the heat of battle, King Demaratus changed his mind about attacking the Athenians and abandoned his co-king. For this reason, Demaratus was banished, and eventually found himself at the side of Persian King Xerxes for his invasion of Greece twenty years later (480 BC), after which the Spartans enacted a law demanding that one king remain behind in Sparta while the other commanded the troops in battle.
Aristotle describes the kingship at Sparta as "a kind of unlimited and perpetual generalship" (Pol. iii. I285a), Here also, however, the royal prerogatives were curtailed over time. Dating from the period of the Persian wars, the king lost the right to declare war, and was accompanied in the field by two ephors. He was supplanted also by the ephors in the control of foreign policy. Over time, the kings became mere figureheads except in their capacity as generals. Real power was transferred to the ephors and to the gerousia.
After the ephors were introduced, they, together with the two kings, were the executive branch of the state. Ephors themselves had more power than anyone in Sparta, although the fact that they only stayed in power for a single year reduced their ability to conflict with already established powers in the state. Since reelection was not possible, an ephor who abused his power, or confronted an established power center, would have to suffer retaliation. Although the five ephors were the only officials with regular legitimization by popular vote, in practice they were often the most conservative force in Spartan politics.
The difference with today's states is that Sparta had a special policy maker, the gerousia, a council consisting of 28 elders over the age of 60, elected for life and usually part of the royal households, and the two kings. High state policy decisions were discussed by this council who could then propose action alternatives to the demos.
The collective body of Spartan citizenry would select one of the alternatives by voting. Unlike most Greek poleis, the Spartan citizen assembly could neither set the agenda of issues to be decided, nor debate them, merely vote on the alternatives presented to them. Neither could foreign embassies or emissaries address the assembly; they had to present their case to the Gerousia, which would then consult with the Ephors. Sparta considered all discourse from outside as a potential threat and all other states as past, present, or future enemies, to be treated with caution in the very least, even when bound with alliance treaties.
Agesilaus II (; Greek: Ἀγησίλαος Agesilaos; c. 444/443 – c. 360 BC), was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta and a member of the Eurypontid dynasty ruling from 398 to about 360 BC, during most of which time he was, in Plutarch's words, "as good as though commander and king of all Greece," and was for the whole of it greatly identified with his country's deeds and fortunes. Small in stature and lame from birth, Agesilaus became ruler somewhat unexpectedly in his mid-forties. His reign saw successful military incursions into various states in Asia Minor, as well as successes in the Corinthian War; however, several diplomatic decisions resulted in Sparta becoming increasingly isolated prior to his death at the age of 84 in Cyrenaica.
Agesilaus was greatly admired by his friend, the historian Xenophon, who wrote a minor work about him titled Agesilaus.Agoge
The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic Greek, or ἀγωγά, agōgá in Doric Greek) was the rigorous education and training program mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved cultivating loyalty to the Spartan group, military training (e.g., pain tolerance), hunting, dancing, singing, and social (communicating) preparation. The word "agoge" meant rearing in ancient Greek, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance, or training.According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and 6th centuries BC when the state trained male citizens from the ages of seven to twenty-one.The aim of the system was to produce strong and capable warriors to serve in the Spartan army. It encouraged conformity and the importance of the Spartan state over one's personal interest and generated the future elites of Sparta. The men would become the "walls of Sparta" because Sparta was the only Greek city with no defensive walls after they had been demolished at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the males were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group.
The agoge was prestigious throughout the Greek world, and many aristocratic families from other cities vied to send their sons to Sparta to participate in the agoge for varying periods of time. The Spartans were very selective in which young men they would permit to enroll. Such honors were usually awarded to the próxenoi of Sparta in other cities and to a few other families of supreme ancestry and importance.Apella
The Apella (Greek: Ἀπέλλα) was the popular deliberative assembly in the Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, corresponding to the ecclesia in most other Greek states. Every Spartan male full citizen who had completed his thirtieth year was entitled to attend the meetings, which, according to Lycurgus' ordinance, must be held at the time of each full moon within the boundaries of Sparta.Battle of Aegospotami
The Battle of Aegospotami ( ee-gəs-POT-ə-my) was a naval confrontation that took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander destroyed the Athenian navy. This effectively ended the war, since Athens could not import grain or communicate with its empire without control of the sea.Cleombrotus I
Cleombrotus I (Greek: Κλεόμβροτος Α΄; died July 6, 371 BC) was a Spartan king of the Agiad line, reigning from 380 BC until 371 BC. Little is known of Cleombrotus' early life. Son of Pausanias, he became king of Sparta after the death of his brother Agesipolis I in 380 BC, and led the allied Spartan-Peloponnesian army against the Thebans under Epaminondas in the Battle of Leuctra. His death and the utter defeat of his army led to the end of Spartan dominance in ancient Greece. Cleombrotus was succeeded by his son Agesipolis II. His other son was Cleomenes II.
Many historians cite Cleombrotus as being a Pro-Theban Spartan (meaning he had pro-Theban tendencies) unlike his fellow king, Agesilaus II. He was blamed for the humiliating defeat at Leuctra by his contemporaries for being biased towards the enemy, though some modern historians do not believe that he was actually pro-Theban.Constitution of the Lacedaemonians
The Lacedaemonion Politeia (Greek: Λακεδαιμονίων Πολιτεία), known in English as the Polity, Constitution, or Republic of the Lacedaemonians, or the Spartan Constitution, is a treatise attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon, describing the institutions, customs, and practices of the ancient Spartans. The work examines the reasons for Sparta's power and renown, despite the city state's sparse population. There are fifteen chapters: the first thirteen enumerate the practices and institutions that made Sparta great; the last two describe Sparta's decline and the survival of its monarchy. The Polity dates to the period between 387 and 375 BC, and is the only contemporary account of the Spartan political system which survives. Together with Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgus", it provides the most detailed surviving description of the Spartan state, and is considered the best source of information about Spartan women during classical antiquity.Dicaearchus
Dicaearchus of Messana (; Greek: Δικαίαρχος Dikaiarkhos; c. 350 – c. 285 BC), also written Dicearchus or Dicearch (), was a Greek philosopher, cartographer, geographer, mathematician and author. Dicaearchus was Aristotle's student in the Lyceum. Very little of his work remains extant. He wrote on the history and geography of Greece, of which his most important work was his Life of Greece. He made important contributions to the field of cartography, where he was among the first to use geographical coordinates. He also wrote books on philosophy and politics.Ephor
The ephors were leaders of ancient Sparta and shared power with the two Spartan kings. The ephors were a council of five elected annually who swore "on behalf of the city", while the kings swore for themselves.Herodotus claimed that the institution was created by Lycurgus, while Plutarch considers it a later institution. It may have arisen from the need for governors while the kings were leading armies in battle. The ephors were elected by the popular assembly, and all citizens were eligible for election. They were forbidden to be reelected. They provided a balance for the two kings, who rarely cooperated with each other. Plato called the ephors tyrants who ran Sparta as despots, while the kings were little more than generals. Up to two ephors would accompany a king on extended military campaigns as a sign of control, and they held the authority to declare war during some periods in Spartan history. There were a total of 7 Ephors, consisting of the two kings and the 5 who were elected.
According to Plutarch, every autumn, at the crypteia, the ephors would pro forma declare war on the helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a helot without fear of blood guilt. This was done to keep the large helot population in check.
The ephors did not have to kneel down before the Kings of Sparta and were held in high esteem by the citizens, because of the importance of their powers and because of the holy role they earned throughout their functions. Since decisions were made by majority vote, this could mean that Sparta's policy could change quickly, when the vote of one ephor changed. (E.g. in 403 BC when Pausanias convinced three of the ephors to send an army to Attica; this was a complete turn around to the politics of Lysander.)
Cleomenes III abolished the ephors in 227 BC, but they were restored by the Macedonian king Antigonus III Doson after the Battle of Sellasia in 222 BC. Although Sparta fell under Roman rule in 146 BC, the position existed into the 2nd century AD, when it was probably abolished by the Roman emperor Hadrian and superseded by Imperial governance as part of the province of Achaea.Georg Friedrich Schömann
Georg Friedrich Schömann (28 June 1793 - 25 March 1879), was a German classical scholar of Swedish heritage.Gerousia
The Gerousia (γερουσία) was the Spartan council of elders, which was made up of men over the age of sixty. It was created by the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus in the seventh century BC, in his Great Rhetra ("Great Pronouncement"). According to Lycurgus' biographer Plutarch, the creation of the Gerousia was the first significant constitutional innovation instituted by Lycurgus.Great Rhetra
The Great Rhetra (Greek: Μεγάλη Ῥήτρα, literally: Great "Saying" or "Proclamation", charter) was used in two senses by the classical authors. In one sense, it was the Spartan Constitution, believed to have been formulated and established by the legendary lawgiver, Lycurgus. In the legend Lycurgus forbade any written constitution. It was therefore presumed to have been oral.
In a second sense, the rhetra refers to an oracle of Delphi, which was believed to have contained the entire constitution in verse. The credo of being unwritten fails in this case, as a written record of all oracles was maintained by the priests at Delphi. They and others consulted it frequently. It survived long after the demise of the oracle but is missing now, except for fragments handed down by classical authors.
The classical authors and the literate population of Sparta knew better than to suppose that the rhetra went into effect as written by an oracle and remained unchanged. A double tradition developed: tales of the oracular rhetra and stories of the laws of Lycurgus. As there is no history of any constitutional issues dividing the Spartans, they seem to have had no problem accepting its contradictions, perhaps because they knew it was legendary.
Also, the concept of the constitution being truly oral and a state secret presents certain paradoxes, such as how the classical authors knew so much about it. Moreover, the workings of the government of a major Greek state over centuries cannot have been either unwritten or a secret. For example, Cyrus the Younger knew perfectly well that Lysander was forbidden by law to hold a second term as navarch, and yet he requested the Spartan government to make an exception. And finally, if the Spartans were forbidden to write anything down, the existence of inscriptions in the Eurotas valley becomes problematic. The institution of the rhetra in fact coincides with the innovation of the Greek alphabet based on the Phoenician alphabet.Homosexuality in the militaries of ancient Greece
Homosexuality in the militaries of ancient Greece was regarded as contributing to morale. Although the primary example is the Sacred Band of Thebes, a unit said to have been formed of same-sex couples, the Spartan tradition of military heroism has also been explained in light of strong emotional bonds resulting from homosexual relationships. Various ancient Greek sources record incidents of courage in battle and interpret them as motivated by homoerotic bonds.Leonidas I
Leonidas I (; Doric Λεωνίδας Α´, Leōnídas A'; Ionic and Attic Greek: Λεωνίδης Α´, Leōnídēs A' [leɔːnídɛːs]; "son of the lion"; died 11 August 480 BC) was a warrior king of the Greek city-state of Sparta, and the 17th of the Agiad line; a dynasty which claimed descent from the mythological demigod Heracles. He was the husband of Gorgo, the daughter of Cleomenes I of Sparta. Leonidas had a notable participation in the Second Persian War, where he led the allied Greek forces to a last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) while attempting to defend the pass from the invading Persian army.List of kings of Sparta
This list of kings of Sparta details the important rulers of the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta in the Peloponnese.
Sparta was unusual among the Greek city-states in that it maintained its kingship past the Archaic age. It was even more unusual in that it had two kings simultaneously, who were called the archagetai, coming from two separate lines. According to tradition, the two lines, the Agiads and Eurypontids, were respectively descended from the twins Eurysthenes and Procles, the descendants of Heracles who supposedly conquered Sparta two generations after the Trojan War. The dynasties themselves, however, were named after the twins' grandsons, the kings Agis I and Eurypon, respectively. The Agiad line was regarded as being senior to the Eurypontid line.Although there are lists of the earlier purported Kings of Sparta, there is little evidence for the existence of any kings before the middle of the sixth century BC or so.
Spartan kings received a recurring posthumous hero cult like that of the Doric kings of Cyrene. The kings' firstborns sons, as heirs apparent, were the only Spartan boys expressly exempt from the Agoge; however, they were allowed to take part if they so wished, and this endowed them with increased prestige when they ascended the throne.Lycurgus of Sparta
Lycurgus (; Greek: Λυκοῦργος, Lykoûrgos, Ancient Greek: [lykôrɡos]; fl. c. 820 BC) was the quasi-legendary lawgiver of Sparta who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. All his reforms promoted the three Spartan virtues: equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity.He is referred to by ancient historians and philosophers Herodotus, Xenophon, Plato, Polybius, Plutarch, and Epictetus. It is not clear if Lycurgus was an actual historical figure; however, many ancient historians believed that he instituted the communalistic and militaristic reforms – most notably the Great Rhetra – which transformed Spartan society.Perioeci
The Perioeci or Períoikoi (Ancient Greek: Περίοικος, /peˈri.oj.koj/) were the members of an autonomous group of free non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta. Concentrated in the coastal and highland areas of Laconia and Messenia, the name Περίοικοι derives from περί, peri, "around", and οἶκος, oîkos, "dwelling, house". They were the only people allowed to travel to other cities, which the Spartans were not, unless given permission.Sparta
Sparta (Doric Greek: Σπάρτα, Spártā; Attic Greek: Σπάρτη, Spártē) was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity the city-state was known as Lacedaemon (Λακεδαίμων, Lakedaímōn), while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.
Given its military pre-eminence, Sparta was recognized as the leading force of the unified Greek military during the Greco-Persian Wars. Between 431 and 404 BC, Sparta was the principal enemy of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, from which it emerged victorious, though at a great cost of lives lost. Sparta's defeat by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC ended Sparta's prominent role in Greece. However, it maintained its political independence until the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC. It then underwent a long period of decline, especially in the Middle Ages, when many Spartans moved to live in Mystras. Modern Sparta is the capital of the Greek regional unit of Laconia and a center for the processing of goods such as citrus and olives.
Sparta was unique in ancient Greece for its social system and constitution, which configured their entire society to maximize military proficiency at all costs, and completely focused on military training and excellence. Its inhabitants were classified as Spartiates (Spartan citizens, who enjoyed full rights), mothakes (non-Spartan free men raised as Spartans), perioikoi (free residents, literally "dwellers around"), and helots (state-owned serfs, enslaved non-Spartan local population). Spartiates underwent the rigorous agoge training and education regimen, and Spartan phalanges were widely considered to be among the best in battle. Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to men than elsewhere in the classical antiquity.
Sparta was the subject of fascination in its own day, as well as in Western culture following the revival of classical learning. This love or admiration of Sparta is known as Laconism or Laconophilia.
At its peak around 500 BC the size of the city would have been some 20,000–35,000 citizens, plus numerous helots and perioikoi. The likely total of 40,000–50,000 made Sparta one of the largest Greek cities; however, according to Thucydides, the population of Athens in 431 BC was 360,000–610,000, making it unlikely that Athens was smaller than Sparta in 5th century BC. The French classicist François Ollier in his 1933 book Le mirage spartiate ("The Spartan Mirage") warned that a major scholarly problem regarding Sparta is that all the surviving accounts were written by non-Spartans who often presented an excessively idealized image of Sparta.Spartiate
The Spartiates (Greek: Σπαρτιάτες, "Spartans") or Homoioi (Greek: Ὅμοιοι, "those who are alike"; sing. homoios) were the males of Sparta known to the Spartans as "peers" or "men of equal status". From a young age, male Spartiates were trained for battle and put through gruelling challenges intended to craft them into fearless warriors. In battle, they had the reputation of being the best soldiers in Greece, and the strength of Sparta's hoplite forces let the city become the dominant state in Greece throughout much of the Classical period. Other city-states were reluctant to attack Sparta even though it could muster a force of only about 8000 Spartiates during the zenith of its dominance, such was the reputation of its soldiers.Thimbron (fl. 400–391 BC)
Thimbron or Thibron (Greek: Θίμβρων; fl. 400–391 BC) was a Spartan general. He was sent out as harmost in 400 BC, with an army of about 5,000 men, composed of 1,000 emancipated helots and 4,000 other Peleponesians, to aid the Ionians against Tissaphernes, who wished to bring them into subjection. In addition to this force, Thimbron recruited 2,000 local troops upon his arrival, but was initially unable to face the Persian army in the field. However, after he was joined by elements of the Ten Thousand, he was able to seize several cities. He then, according to Xenophon, settled in to besiege Larissa, but this proved fruitless, and Thimbron was ordered to abandon it. Diodorus suggests that at some point, after taking Magnesia, Thimbron attempted to conquer Tralles in Ionia, but was unsuccessful and returned to Magnesia. He is then said to have withdrawn to Ephesus after Tissaphernes arrived with a large force of cavalry. In any case, Thibron was recalled to Sparta and replaced by another general, Dercylidas, before he could launch his next campaign. Upon his return to Sparta Thimbron was tried and exiled for allowing his troops to plunder Sparta's allies in the region.In 391 BC, during the Corinthian War, Thimbron was again dispatched to Ionia with orders to take aggressive action against the Persian satrap Struthas, who was pursuing a pro-Athenian, anti-Spartan policy. He was given an army of 8,000 men and launched a number of successful raids into Persian territory. His raids tended to be poorly organized, however, and Struthas took advantage of this to ambush one of these expeditions. Struthas successfully lured Thimbron and his men into ideal cavalry terrain before launching the attack. The Spartan army was routed and most of them, including Thimbron, were killed. One source even indicates that Thimbron was slain in personal combat by Struthas himself. What was left of his army was subsequently incorporated into a new army under Diphridas. It is likely that this Thimbron is the same one mentioned by Aristotle as writing a treatise on the Spartan Constitution.