How did the Spartan Assembly originate?

May 2012
163
Sacramento CA USA
#1
I can't seem to find the answer by searching historum or the internet, although maybe I'm not searching correctly.

I'm curious as to the motivation for creating the Spartan Assembly. After all, power is rarely given up, willingly, to the populace.

Thanks for any guidance.
 
Jan 2015
2,843
MD, USA
#2
I know very little about Spartan society and politics, but from what I've heard and what I know about other states, I'd be very surprised if the Assembly was actually drawn from what *we* would call the "populace". My guess is that it was composed of Spartan citizen *landowners*, in other words the elite. Don't know, though! Looking forward to more informative answers!

Matthew
 
Likes: arkteia
Feb 2017
132
Pacific Ocean
#4
I can't seem to find the answer by searching historum or the internet, although maybe I'm not searching correctly.

I'm curious as to the motivation for creating the Spartan Assembly. After all, power is rarely given up, willingly, to the populace.

Thanks for any guidance.
In the Lives of Plutarch, specifically the one about Lycurgus, he states that there was a period of unrest in Sparta, in which people were demanding more freedom from the kings. In response to this, Lycurgus consulted the oracle at Delphi, being answered that he would be given a constitution that would prove by far to be the best of them all. He then united with thirty nobles that helped him establish his reforms, of which the most important was the establishment of the Council of Elders.

To establish how this council would work, Lycurgus went to Delphi again, this time getting as an answer "After you have built a temple to Zeus of Greece and Athene of Greece, and have divided the people into tribes and obes, you shall found a council of thirty, including the chiefs, and shall from season to season apellazein the people between Babyka and Knakion, and there propound measures and divide upon them, and the people shall have the casting vote and final decision." (Plutarch, Lykurgus, VI) Plutarch states that this Council was a kind of middle ground between despotism and democracy, and that by preserving this balance it terminated the period of unrest in Sparta.

Even though this account is full of myth and legend, written by someone who lived centuries after what he purports to narrate, one could guess that these reforms were enforced by military power, which in the story might be represented by those 30 nobles that helped Lycurgus, and really could be an answer to a period of unrest. But power never went to the populace, composed of perioikoi (free non-citizens that resided in the region) and helots (slaves/serfs which did most of the hard work), as it remained in the hands of the spartiates. The Cambridge Ancient History III.1, chapter 17, has some information about this, but not much. Might be a good place to start your search, though. Plutarch's text can be found in Project Gutenberg.
 
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Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
#5
Another good discourse on the Spartan government system is Machiavelli. He provides really good information, and makes a comparison against Rome, with Sparta being a minimal republican type government (the two kings and two consuls held similar authority, the big senate and Sparta's small senate, assembly etc.) One was built to expand, one to maintain its borders.
 
May 2012
163
Sacramento CA USA
#6
I know very little about Spartan society and politics, but from what I've heard and what I know about other states, I'd be very surprised if the Assembly was actually drawn from what *we* would call the "populace". My guess is that it was composed of Spartan citizen *landowners*, in other words the elite. Don't know, though! Looking forward to more informative answers!

Matthew
Thank you for the reply, Matthew Amt.
 
Oct 2015
720
Virginia
#9
However it got that way, in historic times, the duties of Spartan kings were limited to military, religious and ceremonial; the main executive power lay in the board of 5 ephors (elected for a one year term by the assembly) and the gerousea (a council of 28 men over 60, elected for life by the assembly-plus the kings). The assembly was, in effect, soverieign. However, as noted above, the franchise was limited to the full citizens...the Spartiates. There were, apparently, never more than 10,000 Spartiates and the number fell over time to a few hundred. This decline led to the "revolutionary" efforts of kings like Agis IV and Cleomenes III.
 
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