Ancient History: Sparta 98% Assesment Mark

Topics: Sparta, Ancient Greece, Battle of Thermopylae Pages: 19 (6386 words) Published: October 14, 2012

By Jorge T

What are the main features of Spartan government in the period to 500BC?:


Throughout the Greek world at this time, a great period of expansion and colonization took place, chiefly due to land hunger. Sparta attacked neighboring Messenia and engaged in a series of wars, reducing the population to serfdom. The success in these wars enabled Sparta to double the agricultural resources. At some point after the Messenia wars, the Spartans undertook a drastic and revolutionary reorganization of their social and political systems. The whole state became geared to a militaristic way of life; a new system of law and order, or eunomia was established. Plutarch tells us that the new state that emerged at this point was due to the lawgiver Lycurgus who had sought the help of the Delphic oracle. He was instructed to “establish a sanctuary to Zeus and Athena; divide the people into tribes and obai; appoint the two kings and a Gerousia of 28 men. Although there are some issues on the reliability of sources on Lycurgus, conflicting accounts had been given to most aspects of the life of Lycurgus particularly those relating to his initiatives as a lawmaker.

The changes or reforms allegedly introduced Lycurgus were in the form of a great Rhetra and most probably date from the 7th century BC. Rhetra is the oral tradition of the Spartans and their laws, often based in oracles. Plutarch believed that the Great Rhetra was an statement from the Delphic oracle brought back by the lawgiver, Lycurgus, and presented to the Spartans.

The great Rhetra is significant because it was the foundation of the Spartan constitution. It appears to limit the powers of the two kings and wit was particularly concerned with the establishment of the Gerousia.

Sparta’s government was primarily an oligarchy, but it included democratic elements. Sparta had two kings, who came from two different families According to legend, Eurysthenes and Prokles were the twin sons of Aristodemus, a descendent of Herakles, These two were supposedly the first kings of Sparta. Sparta’s militarism required that the kings assert strong generalship. As kingship was hereditary in Sparta – Aristotle, refers to the Spartan kings as “hereditary generals’, there was no retirement age, and the kings often brought the troops into battle and lead them into war even as elderly men. In early times both kings lead the armies to war but at some point there was a problem that resulted in a change of policy. Herodotus (7, 75) tells us that in the time of Kleomenes and Demaratus it was decided that only one king would go to war and the other shall remain in Sparta. Spartan kings were expected to undertake many roles. He was chief priest, commander-in-chief of the army, judge and lawgiver. He also performed various social duties

In the Spartan political system, power was divided among the kings, ephors, the Gerousia and the ekklesia. There were five magistrates called ephores, once from each oba or territorial region. It is believed that the ephors were instituted as part of the political system very early in Spartan history. Their establishment has been attributed to Lycurgus. Another possibility is that king Theompompus introduced them some time in the 7th century BC. The five Ephors were elected annually among the Spartans, although the ephors could not be re-elected, they withheld significant power and enforced control over most aspects of Spartan life. They were:

* Executives of the states and chief administrators.
* Advised the king and kept a check on royal powers
* Decided which units would be mobilized in times of war * Received foreign ambassadors
* Had charge of the training and education system- the agoge. * Controlled other Spartan magistrates
* Were responsible for most civil and criminal cases
* Could arrest and imprison...
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