Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Government: ephorate, gerousia, ekklesia

See text: pp.40-44

Past HSC question - 2009:
(b) Outline the role of the gerousia in this period. (4 marks)

  • five ephors
  • elected by ekklesia
  • supervised kings on campaign
  • chief government officials of Sparta
  • foreign policy and diplomacy
  • wide police powers over citizens and helots
  • presided at meetings of ekklesia
  • worked with gerousia and judicial system
  • each month swore loyalty to kings

“It was apparently about 130 years after Lycurgus’ time that the first ephors were appointed, headed by Elatus, during the reign of Theopompus... In fact by its renunciation of excessive authority and the related resentment, the Spartan kings escaped the danger of suffering the fate which the Messenians and Argives inflicted upon their kings.” (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 7)

According to Plutarch in his Life of Cleomenes (10), the ephors were originally assistants to the kings who gradually gained more authority.

  • gerontes – over 60 (28 plus 2 kings)
  • elected for life by ekklesia
  • elite
  • tried serious criminal cases
  • could prosecute the kings
  • presented legislation to the ekklesia

“According to Plato, its combination with the kings’ arrogant rule, and the right to an equal vote on the most important matters, produced security and at the same time sound sense... by placing the office of the Elders in the middle as a kind of ballast, and thus striking a balance, it found the safest arrangement and organisation, with the twenty-eight Elders always siding with the kings when it was a matter of resisting democracy, yet in turn reinforcing the people against the development of tyranny.” (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 5)

  • all male citizens over 30
  • met once a month, outdoors
  • voted yes/no on legislation by acclamation – or by division (Thuc 1.87)
  • had no power to debate, amend or introduce legislation
  • elected ephors each year
  • elected men for vacancies in gerousia
  • appointed generals and admirals

“Aristotle says that Knakion is a river, while Babyka is a bridge. It was between these that they used to hold their assemblies: there were no porticoes nor any other edifice. For in his opinion these were in no way conducive to sound deliberations, but instead harmful. They make those who assemble idiotic and give them silly, mindless notions, when at their meetings they can stare at statues and pictures, or the stages of theatres, or the richly decorated roofs of council chambers.” (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 6)