Q:

What was the role of the council of elders in Sparta?

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Quick Answer

The Spartan council of elders, or Gerousia, consisted of 28 aristocratic men and two kings who worked collectively in an oligarchy to submit proposals and provide counsel to assemblymen. Each member was aged over 60 years old and selected by the assembly, or Ecclesia, based upon his strength of virtue.

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Once they had attained positions in council, Gerousia members held their seats for the rest of their lives. They were often selected from landed families of wealth and nobility whose men pursued military knowledge in communal settings alongside fellow Spartiates. Though they collaborated with the Ecclesia when drafting and passing proposals, the council of elders maintained a greater influence over younger assembly members through rights that permitted the revocation and reintroduction of those that were poorly received.

While the majority of council proposals were passed by the Ecclesia, a separate cohort of five free men were appointed to maintain the government's political integrity through their own judicial influence. These individuals operated together as the Ephors. They were enabled to exert external power that held the potential to bring other politicians to trial. Unlike the assembly, they were not obliged to rise before the council of elders when convening with or summoning the other two political branches.

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