Sparta: Government and classes

Sparta: Government and classes

Sparta had a highly unusual system of government.

Two kings ruled the city, but a 28-member 'council of elders' limited their powers.

These men were recruited from the highest social class, the aristocratic Spartiates. Rather like medieval knights, the Spartiates were a class of military professionals who lived most of their lives in communal barracks. Rarely seeing their wives and children, their lands were farmed by slaves, leaving them free to pursue to the arts of war.

Beneath this highest class was a middle class, called the Perioeci. Made up of a farmers and artisans who were the descendants of those peoples whom the Spartans had first conquered, the Perioeci paid taxes and could serve in the army, but had no real political rights.

At the bottom were the helots: a slave class descended from those peoples who had resisted subjugation by Sparta. Because the helots were constantly rebelling, the Spartans attempted to control them by forming a secret society that annually murdered any helot suspected of encouraging subversion.

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