The Ecclesia in Sparta

Cover for the book "A History of Greece"

Courtesy of Amazon

In "A History of Greece, to the Death of Alexander the Great," J. B. Bury says the Spartan Assembly or Ecclesia was restricted to Spartiate men of at least 30* years of age, who met when summoned by the Ephors or Gerousia. Their place of meeting, called the skias, refers to a canopy, and possibly the name of a building. They met monthly. Sarah Pomeroy, in "Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History," says they met outdoors monthly at the full moon, but this is controversial. They might have met at the new moon and indoors, although since this was before street lights, and since the moon in some aspect comes into the picture—therefore, you have a night scene—Pomeroy's position makes sense. We don't know for sure if the ordinary Spartan had the right to debate. Pomeroy says not. Speeches were made by kings, the elders, and ephors. This limits the democratic nature of the Spartan mixed government. The men of the ecclesia could only vote yes or no and if "crooked," their vote by shouting could be vetoed by the Gerousia.

Also Known As: Apella

Alternate Spellings: Ekklesia

Aristotle on the Spartan Ecclesia

Here is what Aristotle has to say about the Spartan Ecclesia (Politics 1273a)

"The reference of some matters and not of others to the popular assembly rests with the kings in consultation with the Elders in case they agree1 unanimously, but failing that, these matters also lie with the people2; and when the kings introduce business in the assembly, they do not merely let the people sit and listen to the decisions that have been taken by their rulers, but the people have the sovereign decision, and anybody who wishes may speak against the proposals introduced, a right that does not exist under the other constitutions. The appointment by co-optation of the Boards of Five which control many important matters, and the election by these boards of the supreme magistracy of the Hundred, and also their longer tenure of authority than that of any other officers (for they are in power after they have gone out of office and before they have actually entered upon it) are oligarchical features; their receiving no pay and not being chosen by lot and other similar regulations must be set down as aristocratic, and so must the fact that the members of the Boards are the judges in all lawsuits, [20] instead of different suits being tried by different courts as at Sparta. But the Carthaginian system diverges from aristocracy in the direction of oligarchy most signally in respect of a certain idea that is shared by the mass of mankind; they think that the rulers should be chosen not only for their merit but also for their wealth, as it is not possible for a poor man to govern well or to have leisure for his duties. If therefore election by wealth is oligarchical and election by merit aristocratic, this will be a third system exhibited in the organization of the constitution of Carthage, for there elections are made with an eye to these two qualifications, and especially elections to the most important offices, those of the kings and of the generals. But it must be held that this divergence from aristocracy is an error on the part of a lawgiver; for one of the most important points to keep in view from the outset is that the best citizens may be able to have leisure and may not have to engage in any unseemly occupation, not only when in office but also when living in private life. And if it is necessary to look to the question of means for the sake of leisure, it is a bad thing that the greatest offices of state, the kingship and the generalship, should be for sale. For this law makes wealth more honored than worth, and renders the whole state avaricious; and whatever the holders of supreme power deem honorable, the opinion of the other citizens also is certain to follow them, and a state in which virtue is not held in the highest honor...."

* There are different opinions on this subject. Some modern writers say 18; some 30, and going from Cartledge's 2003 The Spartans, it could even be 20. Here is what Cartledge writes:

"What was this damos or Assembly? In Classical times it consisted of all adult male Spartan warrior citizens, those who were of legitimate Spartan birth, who had been through the prescribed state upbringing, who had been selected to join a military-style mess, and who both were economically capable of meeting their minimum contributions of produce to their mess and had been guilty of some act of cowardice or other disqualifying public crime or misdemeanour."

Kennell's Spartans: A New History, says that once a hebon (for ten years, up to age 30), a Spartan became a Spartiate and eligible for the sussition. This is significant because adult male Spartan citizens are said to have been members of the Assembly, so if they're deemed "Spartiates" they should be members.


Bury, John Bagnell. "A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great." Classic Reprint, Paperback, Forgotten Books, October 20, 2017.

Spartan Reflections
By Paul Cartledge

Aspects of Greek history, 750-323 BC: A Source-Based Approach
By Terry Buckley

Ancient Sparta: A Re-Examination of the Evidence
By Kathleen Mary Tyrer Chrimes Atkinson.

By Humfrey Michell

Pomeroy, Sarah B. "Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History." Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, et al., 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, July 3, 2017.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The Ecclesia in Sparta." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). The Ecclesia in Sparta. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Ecclesia in Sparta." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 25, 2021).