Spartan “ Council of Elders”

“ Council of Elders”

     The Gerousia
• “Lycurgus also provided for the continual
  cultivation of virtues even to old age, by fixing the
  election to the council of elders as a last ordeal at
  the goal of life, thus making it impossible for a
  high standard of virtuous living to be disregarded
  even in old age.... Moreover he laid upon them,
  like some irresistible necessity, the obligation to
  cultivate the whole virtue of a citizen. Provided
  they duly perform the injunctions of the law, the
  city belonged to them each and all, in absolute
  possession, and on an equal footing.... “.
•   “in each constitution there is naturally engendered a particular vice
    inseparable from it: in kingship it is absolutism; in aristocracy it is
    oligarchy; in democracy lawless ferocity and violence; and to these
    vicious states all these forms of government are, as I have lately shown,
    inevitably transformed. Lycurgus, I say, saw all this and accordingly
    combined together all the excellences and distinctive features of the best
    constitutions, that no part should become unduly predominant and be
    perverted into its kindred vice; and that, each power being checked by the
    others, no one part should turn the scale or decisively out-balance the
    others; but that, by being accurately adjusted and in exact equilibrium, the
    whole might remain long steady like a ship sailing close to the wind. The
    royal power was prevented from growing insolent by fear of the people,
    which had also assigned to it an adequate share in the constitution. The
    people in their turn were restrained from a bold contempt of the kings by
    fear of the Gerusia, the members of which, being selected on grounds of
    merit, were certain to throw their influence on the side of justice in every
    question that arose; and thus the party placed at a disadvantage by its
    conservative tendency was always strengthened and supported by the
    weight and influence of the Gerusia. The result of this combination has
    been that the Lacedaemonians retained their freedom for the longest
    period of any people with which we are acquainted.”
• “Amongst the many changes and alterations which
  Lycurgus made, the first and of greatest importance
  was the establishment of the senate, which having a
  power equal to the king's in matters of great
  consequence, and, as Plato expresses it, allaying
  and qualifying the fiery genius of the royal office,
  gave steadiness and safety to the
  commonwealth……..found in this establishment of
  the senate a central weight, like ballast in a ship,
  which always kept things in a just equilibrium; the
  twenty-eight always adhering to the kings so far as to
  resist democracy, and on the other hand, supporting
  the people against the establishment of absolute

• There were 28 members plus the two kings
• Membership was restricted to Spartans over 60years
  of age who were no longer liable for military service
• Members were elected by the Assembly. Aristotle
  mentions “ the best families”. Plutarch says that they
  have to be” the best and most deserving.”
• Selection was by acclamation( shouting and
  clapping). He was taken in procession around the
  city, attended a special banquet and honoured in
  verse and song. Aristotle describes this process as”

• The gerousia was a probouleutic body. This meant
  that they prepared and deliberated on bills to be
  presented to the Assembly for voting
• If we accept the Rider as a later document, it
  established almost a veto power in that it could
  decline to accept the decision of the Assembly and
  adjourn proceedings.
• The Gerousia, Kings and Ephors acted as a court of
  justice.They tried cases of murder and treason And
  imposed penalties ranging from death to banishment
  and fines
           Modern Historians

• “It would take a brave and confident king to pursue a
  policy that did not command the support of the
  majority of the Gerousia, knowing that in the event of
  failure, he was likely to be prosecuted upon his
  return.” Buckley ( see G E M De Ste Croix )
• “ Even the kings whose position was more exalted
  than of other citizens, were tried before the Gerousia
  and ephors…the Gerousia was the highest lawcourt
  in Sparta, the only court that could inflict the graver
  penalties of deat, exile or loss of civil rights.”
                    Ste Croix
• “ Any Spartan, even a king, might be influenced in his
  course of action by the knowledge that he was likely
  to be prosecuted if he pursued an unsuccessful
  policy, in opposition to the wishes of the faction then
  dominant in the Gerousia..Xenophon tells us when
  King Cleombrotus was leading the army in Boeotia,
  and his friends told him that if he let the Thebans
  escape without a battle, he would be “ in danger of
  suffering the extreme penalty at the hands of the
  city.”And his enemies commented that this time
  Cleombrotus would really show whether the rumour
  of his partiality for the Thebans was true or not. The
  result was that Cleombrotus, who would have been
  well aware of the personal influence on many
  gerontes of the passionately anti Theban King
  Agesilaus, was prompted to join battle, perhaps
  against his better judgement.”
        Dynamism in Spartan

• “Despite the mirage of the stable , balanced
  and harmonious government many ancients
  speak of, it is clear from the anecdotal
  evidence that the interaction of the three
  elements varied over time, depending on
  such factors as external events , factions, and
  personal prestige.”        Your beloved leader
•   “Again, the council of elders is not free from defects. It may be
    said that the elders are good men and well trained in manly virtue;
    and that, therefore, there is an advantage to the state in having
    them. But that judges of important causes should hold office for
    life is a disputable thing, for the mind grows old as well as the
    body... Many of the elders are well known to have taken bribes and
    to have been guilty of partiality in public affairs. And therefore
    they ought not to be irresponsible; yet at Sparta they are so. But
    (it may be replied), 'All magistracies are accountable to the
    Ephors.' Yes, but this prerogative is too great for them, and we
    maintain that the control should be exercised in some other
    Further, the mode in which the Spartans elect their elders is
    childish; and it is improper that the person to be elected should
    canvass for the office; the worthiest should be appointed, whether
    he chooses or not. And here the legislator clearly indicates the
    same intention which appears in other parts of his constitution; he
    would have his citizens ambitious, and he has reckoned upon this
    quality in the election of the elders; for no one would ask to be
    elected if he were not “
          The Spartan

“ A collection of warrior citizens, to settle
   questions of great moment.” Michel
  Criteria for Membership

1.Had to be born of two
Spartiate parents
2.Pass the examination by
Elders at Birth
3.Had to pass all stages of
the Agoge
4.Had to be a member of a
5. Male over the age of 30
Excluded from Membership

  1. Perioicoi
  2. Inferiors
  3. Helots
  4. Women
      Roles and Responsibilities

•   Questions of War and Peace
•   Signing of Treaties
•   Election of Gerousia and Ephors
•   Issues of disputed Succession
•   Freeing of helots
Process of Decision Making
“ After them the commoners
Shall make response to direct proposals
With conscientious speech and all just consequence,
Making no twisted plans against our realm
And commoner’s majority shall win the day”

“ But the people must have the ultimate authority and
power…( rider ) But if the people shall speak crookedly, the
elders and founder chiefs are not to ratify the motion, but
must refuse to do this and they are to dismiss the people
for perverting and changing the motion contrary to what is
best.”                      Plutarch
      Problems of Evidence

• On the vast majority of cases when the
  Spartan state took action, historians do
  not specify the authority which ordered
  the action, but simply say that “the
  Spartans decided that….”
• The Assembly met once a month at the full moon, in the open
  air “appelaze between Babyka and Knakion” under the
  chairmanship of the Ephors
• Pausanius speaks of a Parliament house called the Skias, or
  canopy where the Spartans hold their meetings, “ This canopy
  they say was made by Theodorus of Samos”.It may be likely
  that the shade area was for the Elders or Ephors rather than the
  whole Assembly
• The system was probouletic, in that resolutions were discussed
  by the Gerousia and Ephors and then presented to the
• Voting was by acclamation
                   Historic Decisions
•   Xenophon tells us of the conspiracy of Cinadon in the first year of Agesilaos’
    reign. The conspiracy was reported to the Ephors;” they did not even summon
    what is called the little Assembly but collected the gerontes from wherever each
    one happened to be, and their joint decision was to send Cinadon oit of town
    and arrest him quietly at Aulon

•   Thucydides gives us a record of the debate in 432 on whether to go to war with
    Athens. It seems to exclude the Gerousia in any serious consideration. The
    Spartans “ held their usual assembly” which was addressed both by their allies
    and by an Athenian delegation; then all foreigners were removed while they
    debated among themselves and at the end a formal vote was taken.
•   “ After this speech, Sthenelaidas, himself as Ephor, put the question to the
    Spartan Assembly. They actually make their decisions by shouting and not by
    voting, and he said that he could not distinguish which acclamation was louder,
    because he wanted them to show their opinion clearly and thus be all the more
    eager for war…” Thucydides
       Limitations to Power

• Public voting could be manipulated and
  result in intimidation. Acclamation did
  not rest on one man one vote.
• If the decision was crooked the Ephors
  could withdraw the resolution and allow
  it to lapse. The Assembly could not
  amend the resolutions.
           Historian’s Views

• “The Assembly included everyone, but it seemed
  to have been a rather passive role. It could never
  initiate action nor amend proposals. It could only
  approve or reject and one may wonder how much
  independence of judgment was exercised by a
  body of men for whom strict military obedience
  was the paramount virtue.” Finlay

• “ The fact that it met so constantly gave it
  considerable power and the acts of the Ephors
  were always under review.” Michel
• Create a visual representation of
  Spartan Government. Your image must
  reflect understanding of roles and
  responsibilities, power structure,
  limitations and other factors such as
  prestige that may affect the relationship
  between the three elements.

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