November 17, 2009
The Ancient Spartan Government
When looking at the different types of government there has been established, one that stands out is democracy, an institution that has shaped societies throughout history and the world. Democracy was established in during the Classical period and it is commonly held that this type of government was used throughout the Greek world.
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However, Greece was not a unified country and neither was its form of administration. In Sparta, located south of Athens (the homeland of democracy), the government was very different. It practiced Oligarchy, where power rested with a small group of elite men.
The rule of Sparta was shared between a council of elders and five magistrates called 'ephors', whilst two kings had special military powers. These kings were, ultimately, answerable to the assembly of the Spartiates (according to Herodotus at the fifth century BCE numbered around 5,000). The Spartan government was a large aristocracy whose origins, according to ancient writers, were the hoplite class. The dual kings were the highest point of authority, the ephors next and the Council of Elders beneath them and lastlly, the Assembly.
The dual-kings, known as 'basileis', served as the head of the Spartan government. Usually the succession of the kings were hereditary both were equal to each other. They were both equally competitive and co-operative and served to monitor the powers of the monarchy. Due to having at least one leader, the Spartans were able to avoid what the Greeks termed 'anarchy' (the absence of leadership or of government).
The dual kings held judicial, military and religious powers. "One king served as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, while the other supervised domestic matters at home and took charge if his co-king was killed in action. The kings functioned as the chief priests and conducted all the public sacrifices". In addition to this, the kings were also expected to serve as moral exemplars.
The five ephors ("overseers") were elected each year by acclamation from candidates who were over the age of 30. They represented the principle of the law, and took a monthly oath to uphold the office of the kings as long as they acted in accordance with the laws. Due to this, they shared certain powers with the kings but they also held the power to overthrow them as well. The ephors monitored the kings closely and two of them would always accompany a king when he was on campaign. The ephors presided over the