Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Social structure: Spartiates, perioeci, 'inferiors', helots

See text: p.45 Spartiates; p.46 Inferiors; p.52 The perioikoi; p.53 The Helots

Past HSC question - 2008
a Who were the perioikoi? (3 marks)

Examiners' comment:
a. To gain full marks in part (a) candidates needed to correctly identify the perioikoi and to provide accurate information about them.

Past HSC question - 2008
(b) Who were the helots? (3 marks)

Examiners' comment:
(b) Better responses were in the form of a short paragraph with detailed and accurate information about helots. These responses included such things as their origins, function in the Spartan state and their status. Some candidates gave brief and limited answers with few specific details.

  • Males over 30 who had completed the required military training and been accepted into a mess. Called homoioi: similar or peers - not ‘equals’ - Spartiates were not equal in wealth or status.
  • Expectations of a citizen: obedience and loyalty to the state; marriage and procreation (the unmarried were ridiculed); bravery in battle (cowards were stripped of citizenship.

Xenophon refers to hypomeiones - ‘inferiors’ - but does not define the term. It seems they were neither citizens, perioeci or helots. Some examples of inferiors may be:
  • Mothax (pl. mothakes) - children who went through the agoge but did not become citizens.
  • Partheniai - Illegitimate children of Spartan women and helots.
  • Tresentes - cowards in battle who were stipped of citizenship.
  • Neodamodeis - ‘new people’ - helots who had been freed as a reward for military service.

  • “Dwellers around” - not citizens nor slaves.
  • Possibly pre-Dorians who weren’t enslaved ; or Dorians of a different tribal group from those who became Spartans.
  • Served in the army as hoplites, but were not as well trained as Spartans: e.g. the 5,000 Lacedaemonians who fought with the Spartiates at Plataea 479 BC; supported Spartans at Pylos 425 BC; and at Coronea 394 BC.
  • Supervised by the ephors.
  • Not known exactly where they lived.
  • By the 5th C BC, conducted all craft, trade and commerce in Sparta, as these were not permitted for the Spartiates.

  • Descendents of the enslaved populations of Laconia and later Messenia. Messenia was conquered in the 7th C BC. According to the poet, Tyrtaeus, the Spartans worked them hard.
  • Owned by the state, not individuals: “An unfree people not a random collection of individually owned slaves.” (Paul Cartledge)
  • Assigned to Spartans to work their land: a system of state serfdom. This freed the Spartans from working the land and allowed them to focus on military training.
  • There were helot revolts during the 5th and 4th Centuries.
  • The number of Spartans or the number of helots is not known. It is known that the helots greatly outnumbered the Spartans.

(see also 2.6 Control of the helots)