Sparta Government Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Vinicius Pereira

Vinicius has taught History for elementary and high school students and is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Sparta was not a democracy, but there are some similarities between the Spartan government and modern democracies. In this lesson, we will learn about the government of Sparta, how it was divided and who was in charge of governing the city.

The Spartan Constitution

Spartan Warrior
hoplite

Sparta was not a democracy. Like in its famous army, decisions were made by a small group of people and the rest had to obey. But there are some elements of the Spartan government that are very similar to modern democracies like the United States. For example, Sparta had something very similar to our Constitution.

The Great Rhetra, meaning the Great Saying or Great Proclamation, was a group of laws that organized the Spartan society, very similar to what the U.S. Constitution does. It described how Sparta would be governed and who had the power in the Spartan society. But unlike modern constitutions, it was not written. Spartans did not write much. They passed on their laws and traditions orally from father to son (women were not considered citizens and could not participate in government).

The Great Rhetra organized the Spartan government in four parts: The Ephors Council, the Diarchy, the Gerousia and the Apella.

Lycurgus: creator of the Great Rhetra
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The Ephors Council

The Ephors Council was formed by five men elected every year among all citizens (men whose father and mother were Spartans). They were the most powerful of the four parts of the Spartan Government. They governed the city and declared war, they could reject laws passed by the other parts, and most importantly supervised the kings. But wait a minute, did I say kings? Plural?

Diarchy

Yes, Sparta had two Kings! Sparta had two important families, and to avoid conflicts between these families Spartans decided to have two kings at the same time. Diarchy means the rule of two, but Spartan kings were more like generals and military commanders (remember, the city was governed by the Ephors). The Kings also shared religious duties like sacrifices and war rituals.

The Gerousia

Geron in Ancient Greek means 'old man, elderly.' So the Gerousia was the Spartan Council of Elders. Its members were 28 men over the age of 60 years plus the two kings, a total of 30 members. The Gerousia was a mix of Congress and Supreme Court; they were responsible for proposing laws, judging serious crimes and banishing individuals.

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