Monday, December 13, 2010

More about the Beginning of the Unique Spartan Political System

A key component added to the Spartan political system, as part of the reforms, was the Damos, or assembly of hoplites. Members of this body were called Homoioi, and to maintain that designation, an individual was required to make his assigned food contribution to the mess, carry out his military duties, and attend the meetings of the assembly.

This Damos, unlike most of the others, was not an aristocratic assembly, but rather one of peers. Originally consisting of Homoioi and Hypomeiones (inferiors), this class differentiation disappeared over time as the new system matured.

The Damos was a “Sparta only” political body, so it did not include enfranchised citizens from outside the city like other Greek Poleis. And there were certainly some eccentricities in its implementation. It did not include all of the Spartiatai (eligible Spartan citizens) or any Helots. Since all members were Hoplites, those outside the military were not represented.

Beyond these political changes, sat the redistribution of land as the practical force behind the leveling of the classes. New landowners found themselves better off than they had been previously, even though they could never really become peers of the wealthy.

To balance the nobles being merged into the Damos, the kings were merged into the Gerousia. They were added as the twenty-ninth and thirtieth members, with no greater power than any of the other members save not having to stand for election. The kings other functions, besides leading their men into battle, were to oversee the maintenance of roads, approve adoptions, and select the men heiresses could be betrothed to.

These Lycurgian reforms must be considered a great achievement, though they only benefited a minority and were heavily dependent on the subjugation of the Helots. They would serve as a model for all future Poleis in Greece. Other democracies and the oligarchies that passed through an interim period of dictatorships, emerged on the other side with Sparta as the model for a stable and successful political system.

That model included a sovereign assembly and a small councilor body charged with introducing legislation for consideration by the assembly – predating in basic form the Roman Republic. The Athenians would later (461 B.C) increase the sophistication of the assembly by allowing its members to debate and amend bills the council sent to it. Government officials and members of the council were also allowed to speak about the merits of a bill under consideration. At least in its early stages, the Spartan Assembly did not allow debate and was limited to the role of voting on the legislation by a simple majority. It did, however, possess the power to replace deceased members of the Gerousia and elect the Ephors.

The latter was the wellspring of the power of the Damos and fundamental to the goal of a balanced stable political system. Later, the Ephors would expand their own powers to include convening the Damos and presenting motions to it.

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