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Sparta - Governmental Structure

Governing bodies

Sparta, despite the repressive treatment of her helots and foreign cities, had strong democratic tendencies. Like other Greek cities, she had placed limits on the power of her kings. She also had an Assembly of Citizens, to which all Spartan men were admitted, after they reached the age of 30. Offset against these outward signs of democracy, was the existence of the Krypteia, a secret police force. It was an effective instrument of repression, particularly against the helots. Every year recruits were sent into Messenia with the power to murder any helot they suspected of anti-governmental activities or who potentially represented a threat.

The kingship

Unlike Athens, which turned the office of king into a ceremonial position, Sparta chose to leave power in the hands of its kings. At the same time, Sparta took measures to limit their power. Part of this was accomplished by dividing duties between two kings, rather than one. The origin of the double kingship may have been an ancient union of two tribes, each with their own king, into the Spartan nation.

The kings served as priests with responsibilities for sacrifices for war. They also served as supreme commanders of the army, although as this duty evolved, the responsibility was given to only one of the kings and the people decided who would lead. They served as judges, although their duties were gradually curtailed as well.

The Gerusia (Council of Elders)

The Gerusia was, as its name suggests, a true body of elders, since its members, except for the kings, had to be over 60 years in age. It consisted of 28 members, plus the two kings. The general assembly voted for them and they were appointed for life. Its primary functions were to prepare matters for the Assembly, to advise on policy matters, and to act as a court of justice in criminal matters.

Assembly of the People

The Spartan Assembly was similar to the Athenian Ecclesia. It had final authority to decide issues, but it was not suited for writing legislation. The Gerusia usually had to draft proposals and then have the Assembly vote yes or no. It did elect the members of the Gerusia, the Ephorate, and magistracies and also decided questions of war and peace. Spartan citizens were automatically admitted to the Assembly once they reached the age of 30.

The Ephors

The ephorate was a form of supreme judicial body, consisting of five members, chosen by the Assembly. They were intended to serve as "guardians of the rights of the people." They had the power to indict the kings. Two would accompany the king on military expeditions.