Government in Ancient Sparta
Supposedly formed by Lycurgus, the government in Sparta is very unique in that it is an Oligarchy; combining monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The reason for this is that few people actually ruled Sparta, and their power or time in office was limited to avoid corruption. There were two kings to keep a check on one another, there were 28 members of the Gerousia – a council of elders that included the two kings, five ephors who held in their hands the highest of powers but only served for one year, and the apella which was made up of all other Spartan citizens or Homoioi.
The Ephors controlled almost every aspect of Spartan life and were only limited by the fact that they could only rule for one year and only once in a lifetime. At the end of their term, Ephors had to justify that all their actions and decisions had been for the good of Sparta. At the beginning of life, a week after birth, Spartan children were judged by the Ephors. If the children were healthy, they would live. If not, they would be left exposed to the elements on the mountains. Responsibilities of the Ephors also included declaring war on the helots each year and accompanying Kings to war. They were the Spartan form of a civil court and could replace magistrates or overthrow kings at any point in time. Ephors received foreign envoys and also controlled the Krypetia, the ruthless group of Spartan youths whose job was to kill helots. They’re massive powers were expressed by Xenophon, Aristotle and Plutarch. Xenophon explains that Ephors were ‘competent to punish whomsoever they choose’. He goes on to also express the honour that Ephors were eligible for, stating “All rise from their seats for the King, but the Ephors do not rise from their seats of office.” Plutarch believed that the Ephorate strengthened the aristocracy and Spartan constitution and was to the people’s advantage. Aristotle, however, was in complete disagreement about the Ephorate, stating...
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