The Spartan Government

Aristotle on the Mixed Form of Government in Sparta

Statue of Aristotle against blue sky.
sneska / Getty Images

Aristotle, in "On the Lacedaemonian Constitution"—a section of The Politics—says that some claim Sparta's system of government included monarchical, oligarchic and democratic components.

The Lacedaemonian [Spartan] constitution is defective in another point; I mean the Ephoralty. This magistracy has authority in the highest matters, but the Ephors are chosen from the whole people, and so the office is apt to fall into the hands of very poor men, who, being badly off, are open to bribes.
Aristotle

Monarchical 

In the monarchical system two kings—hereditary monarchs, one from each of the Agiad and Eurypontid families—had priestly obligations and the power to make war (although by the time of the Persian Wars, the kings' power to make war was restricted).

Oligarchic

The kings were automatic members of the Gerousia, the council of 28 elders picked for life plus the two kings. Five ephors, chosen annually by popular election, had the main power.

Democratic

The final component was the assembly, made up of all Spartiates—full Spartan citizens—over 18.

Aristotle on the Poor

In the quoted passage on the government of Sparta, Aristotle disapproves of government run by poor people. He thinks they would take bribes. This is striking for two reasons: that he would think the rich were not susceptible to bribes, and that he approves of government by the elite, something people in modern democracies tend to disapprove.

Why would such a well-educated, brilliant thinker believe there was a difference between the rich and poor?

Sources

  • Xenophon: Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 13.1ff and  8.3