Outline the main features of the Spartan political system. What were the roles of the Spartiates, the Perioeci and the Helots within the Spartan polis?
Sparta’s political and social system was attributed to Lycurgus, whom it is written, obtained an oracle from Delphi called the Great Rhetra outlining the constitutional setup, training systems (agoge) and laws for Spartan life (Plutarch 1982:14-15). The political system consisted of a dual kingship, Gerousia, Ephors and an assembly consisting of full Spartan citizens or Spartiates. Spartiates referred to themselves as ‘homoioi’, meaning equals, and were at the top of a rigid caste system where there were two other main groups, the perioeci and the helots. Both these groups greatly outnumbered the Spartiates. This essay will examine the functions of the political bodies and roles of the different social classes, which together made Sparta unique in the Greek world.
The Spartan constitution was a mixture of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy, with their dual kingship setting them apart, the monarchical aspect. Kingship was hereditary with both kings claiming descent from Herakles, one belonging to the Agiad family and the other to the Eurypontids (Fine 1983:143). Duties were mainly religious and military, their power being weakened by increasing power of the Ephors (Kresner 1961:43). Some matters, however, were left within their jurisdiction:
“Certain definite legal matters are left to their sole decision…if a girl inherits her father’s estate and has not been betrothed by him to anybody, the kings decide who has the right to marry her, secondly, all matters connected with the public roads are in their hands; and, thirdly, anyone who wishes to adopt a child must do so in the king’s presence.” (Herodotus 1983:407)
At war they came into their own, one king only went on campaign, directing it with absolute authority and exercising a power of life and death over troops (Robinson 1960:49). They also sat on the...