Question: "The real political leadership of Sparta rested with the elders and the ephors"(C.G.Thomas) To what extent is this an accurate assessment of the government of Sparta?

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When examining ancient and modern evidence on Sparta, its political leadership could be perceived to be in the control of the elders, the dual kingship and the ephors alone. However, for one to agree with C.G.Thomas and confirm the accuracy of the above statement, the political significance of the apella and the democratic system in ancient Sparta would have to be ignored.

Herodotus has suggested the kings and their twenty-eight elders were the most powerful figures involved with politics in ancient Sparta. When referring to the two kings in his book 'The Histories' he states, "and the power of declaring war on whom they please. In this, no Spartan may attempt to oppose their decision". This quote visibly shows that even the assembly may not question or attempt to rebut a decision made by a king; this is evidently not the working of a democratic society.

In saying that, modern historian H.Michel

disagrees, as through his research he has found Sparta was a thriving democratic society. This is shown by the quote, "the constitutional system of the Spartan state was an excellent one, and escaped many of the weaknesses and dangers of that extreme form of democracy found in Athens and in democracies of the present day."(H Michel) To escape 'many of the weaknesses and dangers' certainly, this includes eliminating any form of aristocracy.

According to Plutarch this was not so, as he strongly suggests the ephors were just a façade for democracy, while strengthening the aristocracy. When referring to the ephors, he has written, " and even though it appeared to be to the people's advantage, in fact it strengthened the aristocracy".

Aristotle, would unquestionably argue this, as he has found the ephors to be making the democratic system stronger, " for an aristocracy has turned into a democracy".