John Bagnell Bury: A history of Greece,
up to the Death of Alexander the Great, 2nd ed, 1913.
(As reprinted by Random House. Apparently in 1996 a more recent
edition updated by Russell Meiggs was put out by St. Martins Press,
but I do not have that.)
Here's a summary of what Bury has to say about ancient
Sparta & its government & organization. It is actually quite interesting.
In my opinion the Spartans were way ahead of their time in many
respects (not all good)...
There were 4 branches.
1. The two co-kings. Limited hereditary monarchs who were kept in check by the other
parts of govt as well as by each other. One of the two kings was the commander in chief
of the army (Which one? Chosen on each occasion by the people - so the co-kings
couldn't get too nasty, they had to compete for the favor of the people). The kings were
also in charge of public roads.
2. The Gerontes = rich elders.
Council of 30 consisting of the 2 co-kings plus 28 others each of age>=60
and of noble birth. Held office for the (rest of) their life. Elected by people.
Acted as advising body, "heavy influence on political affairs," and court of criminal
3. The Appella = assembly of the people.
You had to be age>=30, and I think also male(?), to be in the Appella.
Presumably also had to be a "citizen" but that is all.
Did the electing. Also indicated their will on questions of the day; the agenda of
those questions was prepared by the Gerontes.
The election method was a "childish" (Aristotle) method called "the shout" which was
actually range voting really. Quite clever in its simplicity and with a design that
theoretically prevents any bias+cheating on the part of the vote counters (I wonder if
that really was true? I know I wouldn't want to be a vote-counter
caught cheating...). Described
4. The Ephors. A council with 5 members. They were elected and theoretically
any Spartan could become an Ephor. Assumed office on the first day of each year
(in the Spartan calendar; they knew about equinoxes).
Ephors had the power to indict the king. Also were the supreme court.
The Ephors are known to have been around as early as 757 BC (Alexandrians made
lists of them) and probably arose because the kings alone were not enough manpower to
do what govt had to do. But Bury thinks they first attained great power during
the 700-600BC century.
Bury quote p.118:
"This unique constitution cannot be placed under any general head; cannot be called
kingdom, oligarchy, or democracy, without misleading... it participated in all three."
Now about what kind of a place Sparta was:
it was bad news if you were not one of the landowners.
Basically it was a militarist state a lot like apartheid South Africa.
There were landowning "citizens." And there were indentured "Helots" who were
slaves or serfs or some kind of laboring peasant class.
They farmed plots and they paid as rent half of their harvest to the
owners. The Spartans had conquered Messenia and made most everybody there
into a Helot. Their goal was to keep it that way.
Now the Helots were probably not too thrilled about this setup.
Somehow a smaller number of Spartans were keeping control of a larger number of
Helots. There was always the worry of a Helot revolt. (Occasionally there actually
WAS a Helot revolt, but they all ultimately got crushed.) The overclass, to prevent that,
became ultra-militarized war-experts. The Spartans were famed throughout
the Ancient World as the best fighters, invincible.
They had a winning streak hundreds of years long.
They developed infantry tactics of "phalanxes"
and "hoplites" and superior metalworking armor & weapons technology, and only the
overclass had the money it took to pay for that. (A lot like the "knights" and serfs" in the
middle ages much later.)
EVERY male member of the overclass had to be in the army and trained in military
schools until age 30 (left home to enter military boarding school at age 7!),
after which point they were "a man" and allowed to do other stuff (as well as to join the
Appella). Weren't healthy enough to be in the army? Not good.
Unhealthy/deformed babies were intentionally killed by exposure as part of their
eugenics program, both genders. (Health judged by a panel of tribal heads.)
Plus the whole culture of the place was about military valor and sacrificing for the good
for the State. So you can imagine why the Spartans were the most feared in battle.
The whole damn country was an armed camp to the max designed
to keep the Helots subjugated.
The overclass had land-lots which it was illegal to subdivide,
so they passed from father to son and ensured the
continuation of the class system without diminution. They had the "Krypteia"
which was a secret police, keeping an eye on the Helots and organizing death squads if
they felt like it. Spartan citizens had the legal
right at any time to kill a Helot for any reason, such as, just they were a bit uppity or
worrysome. The only way a Helot could stop being a Helot was if he did something
the State liked (and the State could then reward him with emancipation & conversion
to citizen). The main things the Helots could do that the State liked, was help the Army.
The females were supposedly more free than in most Ancient places.
E.g. they could and did own land, had equal rights in divorce, and got educated.
They had to do gymnastic training. They also did stuff to help the army.
There were some dicey bits for adults aged 20-30 or so trying to form romantic
attachments; that was highly constrained by the armed-camp system.
You could marry before age 30, but it had to be a commuter marriage.
They had a lot of homosexuality and views about polygamy or polyandry.
The women realized they had the Duty to Breed for the State so they strived mightily to
do what it took to keep the Citizenry populated despite said difficulties.
There were also illegitimate offspring of Helots+Citizens, and they formed another
social class apparently with intermediate rights, maybe a merchant/tradesman
class; Bury says he doesn't understand that very well.
So what happened to Sparta? When Philip of Macedonia & son Alexander the Great
conquered everyplace, they did NOT want to tangle with the Spartans. Somehow they
reached some kind of peaceful accommodation (346 BC?),
it isn't known how, but anyhow the terms
weakened & shrunk Sparta a lot and they had to live with it.
Once the Alexandrian Age
was on, Sparta became comparatively irrelevant. The Spartans might have
had the ability to contribute a lot to world culture and/or to conquer a lot of the world
but neither happened because they were focused on keeping their own domain
subjugated & militarized. (Kind of like E.Germany or Apartheid S.Africa?)
So anyhow, their system had elements of apartheid, oligarchy, monarchy,
militarism, secret police, caste system, and democracy all combined.
It lasted about 400 years to the Alexandrian Age. Then it still continued on in
weakened form. Nobody seems to be saying how long they continued on
in weakened form - maybe even 1000 years? - they didn't suddenly die,
they just kind of faded away, having a lot less power thanks to the removal of a lot
of their Helot-lands. (They sided with the Romans against the rest
when the Romans came along, so that wasn't a game-ender.)