Source: Aristotle The Politics Book Two : VI



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Spartan Essay 1.
Spartan Government

Source: Aristotle – The Politics Book Two : VI


Some, indeed, say that the best constitution is a combination of all existing forms, and they praise the Lacedaemonian because it is made up of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy, the king forming the monarchy, and the council of elders the oligarchy while the democratic element is represented by the Ephors; for the Ephors are selected from the people.
Question : With reference to your Source and other evidence explain the Spartan system of Government
The Spartan system of government was multifaceted, it consisted of a monarchical dual kingship; the Gerousia formed the oligarchical element and the Ephorate and Ekklesia comprised the democratic component. This multi-tiered constitution was set forth in the Great Rhetra which was then implemented by Lycurgus the Lawgiver. The overall aim of the government was to attain Eunomia (“Good application of the law”). Aristotle explores the concept of a multi-tiered constitution in his work Politics: Book 2 Section 6 while affirming how each political element is represented in the Spartan political system.
The Great Rhetra was an oral document that issued reform to the Spartan system of law (Rhetra) in a time of crisis. It is said that The Great Rhetra was given to Lycurgus from the Delphic Oracle. The Great Rhetra gradually reformed a fractured Sparta; it synthesized three political elements into a constitution, creating a Spartan state immune to the downfalls of a single-tiered state, as reinforced by H. Michel “The constitutional system of the Spartan state was an excellent one, and escaped many of the weaknesses and dangers of that extreme form of Democracy found in Athens”. The Great Rhetra also bought about the reconstruction of the Gerousia with a static 30 members (28 Gerontes + two kings), it also implemented Citizen’s to classified by birth (tribe) and residence (obai). The Great Rhetra also established duties of the king in relation to the state, it manipulated the rights of Spartan’s permitting them to vote and allocating each Spartan their own block of land. The Rider was an amendment to the Great Rhetra which specified that any proposal by the assembly could not be accepted had it been altered, however it granted the kings to reconsider proposals. Aristotle writes “The Great Rhetra provided
The monarchical element of the Spartan government was formed by a dual kingship. The dual kingship was composed of two hereditary kings from the Agiad and Euryptonid families who were “equal in authority so that one could not act against the power and political enactments of his colleague”- (Herod .vi .5), Plato solidifies this “… split it into , so as to restrict its powers to more reasonable portions”. ; they were succeeded by their first born son after ascension to the throne (sons born prior to ascension would give way to sons born post-ascension). The primary roles of the kings were religious and militaristic with some judicial responsibilities. Aristotle writes “dealings with the gods are assigned to the kings”, this refers to the Chief Priest status of both kings, as Chief Priests the kings were responsible for the protection and safe keeping of the Delphic Oracle, they also were “(to) Peform all public sacrifices on the cities behalf” and would sacrifice a “perfect victim on the 1sT/7th day of each month. During times of war one king would campaign while the other stayed in Sparta, the king on campaign would assume the role of Commander-in-Chief of the army while the other upheld the monarchical responsibilities in the Spartan Polis. During times of war, only one king would campaign and assumed the role of Chief Commander. Both of the two kings had the right to wage war (but none did), and while they couldn’t ratify peace treaty’s they could arrange conditions for finalisation by the Ekklesia. The kings were also responsible for public road maintenance, this ensured the assembly of an army was swift and efficient. The militaristic motif’s of the polis are seen throughout the responsibilities of the kings, as they are leaders of the army and allow the mobilisation of an army.

The Gerousia (Council of Elders) represents the oligarchical component of the Spartan government. The Council was made up of 28 members or Gerontes (elders) and the two kings. The Gerontes were elected by acclamation (the person who received the loudest cheer would be elected. democracy, the Gerousia was considered a gerontocracy (a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population). The Gerousia acted as a supreme court for significant political/criminal cases. They tried cases involving kings, and had the right to impose severe punishments IE revoking of citizenship, death and exile. They also held the probouleutic function of proposing laws and policies for ratification by the Ekklesia. However, the gerouisa was not bound to accept the Ekklesia’s decision as they could re-introduce a rejected law or policy when the Ekklesia was disposed to vote correctly. Similarly they could prevent a law/policy being ratified if they were unhappy with the Ekklesia’s decision. The Gerousia reflects elements of Spartan society, encompassing the military values and highlighting their significance.

The Ephor’s comprised one of the democratic elements of the Spartan constitution, Five males (one from each district) over the age of 30 we elected annually by the Ekklesia. They served a one year tenure to stop gross power accumulation. Hooker describes the Ephor’s as the “day to day government of the state” as their roles covered the paramount concerns of the polis. They controlled the public finances, training of the youth (agoge) and set the parameters of war (setting age groups and numbers) , they issue of the krypteia by annually declaring war on the helots. The Ephor’s comprise a democratic element, although it’s limitations, it is effective in the teaching, preparation and execution of Sparta’s militaristic outlook.

The Ekklessia composed the second democratic element as stated in Source 1 “the democratic element is represented by the Ephors”, or gave the appearance of democracy. Any male who held Spartan citizenship and was over thirty years old was eligible for membership . The Ekklesia projected an image of democracy through its administrative and executive functions of debating issues of war and peace, signing treaties and the appointment of Gerontes and Ephors. Although their primary role was to pass law/policy put forward by the Gerousia. The Ekklesia played a vital role in the stability of the Spartan Government.



The Spartan system of government is often praised for the synthesised constitution of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. It incorporated the advantageous aspects of each political system, while removing the undesirable effects of one singular political system.


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