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Amphictyonic League

The Amphictyonic League (Amphictyony) was a form of Greek religious organization that was enjoined to support specific temples or sacred places. Members met at specific times in the same sanctuary to keep religious festivals and conduct other matters as well. The most famous was the Delphic or Great Amphictyonic League that was organized to support the greater temples of Apollo and Demeter. The League council had religious authority and the power to pronounce punishments against offenders. Punishments could range from fines to expulsion to sacred war.

The founders were the Aenianes or Oetoeans, the Boeotians (of Thebes), the Dolopes, the Dorians (of Sparta), the Ionians (of Athens), the Locrians, the Magnesians, the Malians, the Perrhoebians, the Phocians, the Pythians (of Delphi), and the Thessalians. The League doctrine required that no member would be entirely wiped out in war and no water supply of any member would be cut even in wartime. It did not prevent members from fighting about the dominance over the temples.

agoge - "training"; the education and discipline system enforced on Spartan citizens.

Dioscuri - "Sons of God"; the twin mythic heroes Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces), celebrated as a state cult at Sparta.

Dorians - Greek-speaking tribes originating north of Greece proper who moved south into the Aegean world beginning c.1100 B.C. They are thought to have ended the Mycenaean Greek civilization and instituted the so-called Dark Ages of Archaic Greece. Many Archaic Greek city-states were established or assimilated by the Dorians, including Sparta (c.1000 B.C.).

Ecclesia - the Assembly in Spartan government, comprised of all male citizens over age 30 . Also sometimes known as the Apella.

enomotia - the smallest tactical unit in the Spartan army, roughly comparable to a platoon, commanded by an enomotarch. The size depended on the age classes that were called up, anything up to 40. There is some disagreement among historians as to how many constituted a Mora, ancient and modern, 16 or 32?

eunomia: "Good Order" The Spartan name for their way of life (constitution)

ephor - one of five powerful civil magistrates in Spartan government, elected annually by the Assembly.

Eurotas River - flows south through Laconia between the Taygetus and Parnon mountain ranges. Sparta lies on the west (right) bank.

Gerousia - the Council of Elders in Spartan government, comprised of the two kings plus 28 citizen members aged at least 60 years who were elected by the Assembly to life terms.

harmost - a Spartan military governor.

helot - conquered subjects used as serfs, both in the Eurotas valley and in Messenia to the west; legally they were enemies of the State and subject to arbitrary brutal treatment. They were the property of the Spartan State.

hippeis - the royal bodyguard of 300 picked soldiers. Often translated as "knights," but the royal guard did not fight as cavalry.

hoplite - a heavily armed foot soldier in Greek armies, typically of the citizen class.

hypomeiones - "inferiors"; a shadowy class thought to be Spartiates who had lost full citizenship status due to poverty or other disenfranchising circumstances.

kleros - an allotment of cultivatable land distributed to a Spartan citizen. The income from which would he would use to pay his mess bill and thus entitle him to the status of 'Equal'. Each allotment came with helot family (families) who did the actual farming to sustain the family of the Spartan warrior and themselves. Spartan warriors were exempt from all subsistence labour in order to devote their entire careers to warfare. Land could not be bought or sold; Sparta prohibited money in fact -- used iron spits for currency.

Krypteia, secret police of senior cadets selected by the ephors to train the young and to spy on the helots to prevent rebellions.

Lacedaemonians: The inhabitants of the territory belonging to the Spartan state, the valley of the Eurotas River in s. central Peloponnese and other conquered territory (Messenia). `Lacedaemonian' sometimes means any inhabitant, but sometimes is also used loosely to mean `real' Spartan full citizens, Spartiates: A Spartiate IS a Lacedaemonian, but not every Lacedaemonian is a Spartiate.

Lacedaemon - the river plain surrounding Sparta itself, often used synonymously for the city or the Spartan state. The initial letter L (lambda), the Greek "L", was the shield blazon of the Spartan soldier.

Laconia - the southeastern section of the Peloponnese, of which Sparta was the main city.

lochos - a unit of the Spartan army, roughly comparable to a battalion or regiment, commanded by a lochagos. Thucydides mentions 7 lochos at Mantinea in 418 B.C while Xenophon mentions 12 in the Mantinean campaign of 362 B.C

Messenia - the southwestern section of the Peloponnese, conquered by Sparta in two bitter wars between c.735 B.C. and c.620 B.C.

mora - the largest unit of the Spartan army commanded by a polemarch. Introduced some time around 430 B.C and seems to have disappeared after Leuctra. Depending on who you read could be 500, 700 or 900 strong in the ancient sources but some modern writes put it over 1000 strong. Perhaps they were describing armies with different call-ups and campaigns or where the perioecic contingent was not present.

mothaces - "warriors"?; this term is still far from clear or agreed upon, but seems likely to refer to the sons of certain hypomeiones (not helots) who shared the full agoge training and upbringing as foster-brothers of more privileged Spartiates. Also called mothones by some sources.

neodamodeis - "new citizens"; helots awarded their freedom in exchange for military service or as reward for meritorious actions. They were not, however, considered true Spartiates and did not share in their political rights.

oba: word used for the Spartan villages of which there were originally four, Amyclae became the fifth and a sixth was added probably by Cleomenes III for his mercenaries who were granted citizenship in 227.

Peloponnese - the large southern peninsula of mainland Greece, home to Laconia and other regions and connected to central Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth.

pentekostys -  a unit of about 160 men at full strength commanded by a pentekonter. Again controversy rages over it meant 'fifty' men or a fiftieth of the army.

perioeci - "dwellers around," or "neighbours"; Laconians who were largely self-governing freemen but not Spartan citizens.

phalanx - a tight formation of hoplites, typically eight ranks or more deep, in a line of battle.

phiditia - mess hall and barracks of 20-30 hoplites = ila, wing or company of the phalanx. "Cadets" from ages 7-20 lived at the phiditia and served the adult hoplite warriors; all adult warriors had to eat their main daily meal at the phiditia. Provisions had to be provided by individual soldiers from their land allotment. If for some reason they lost control of their land allotments they became inferiors (hypomeiones) and could no longer dine at the phiditia. Phiditia key to building camaraderie among Spartan warrior elite; state supervision made it the basis of the national militia.

rhetra - literally "a law," the Rhetra is often used to mean the whole of the classical Spartan constitution attributed to the lawgiver Lycurgus.

Sciritis - highland region of the central Peloponnese between Laconia proper and Arcadia, ruled by Sparta and supplying a corps of specialized infantry to the Spartan army. Became independent after Leuctra.

Spartiate - The word used to refer to a full citizen of the polis of Sparta, who had gone through the AGOGE and was serving in the Spartan military . Not every Spartan was a Spartiate. The total number of Spartiates was never more than 9,000 in a population of 225,000+ Lacedaemonians and subjects. By 371 B.C the number was down to around 1500. The Great Earthquake (ca. 465) constant warfare and the loss of a Spartans kleros or land holding had a great deal to do with this.

strategos - a general

syssitia - the communal, military-style dinner messes of adult Spartan males, generally of about sixteen members each. Admission to a syssition was a requirement for full citizenship.

Thermopylae - "Hot Gates"; a pass between the mountains and the sea connecting central with northern Greece. In 480 B.C. a Greek army led by the Spartan King Leonidas fought a desperate battle here against invading Persians, and the Spartans fell to the last man.

tresantes: "tremblers" , term used for cowards in Sparta

taxis: unit of brigade strength in the Athenian and other Greek city state armies.

talent: a unit of currency, 37,320 grammes of silver this was broken down for ease of use into 600 minae or 3,600     drachma or 36,000 obols. To put this in perspective in the 4th century BC 2 obols per day was regarded as subsistence wage. A semi-skilled worker received 3 obols a day while an archon at Athens received 4 obols per day. In the military world a mercenary hoplite received 4 1/2  obols per day in the early 4th century this had risen to 9 obols per day, but these rates fluctuated with the laws of supply and demand.


Dual monarchy, two royal families (Agiads, Eurypontids),  both claiming descent from HERACLES, the cultural hero and ancestor of the Dorians. Kings served for life, and the office was hereditary; but kings had to be trained in the Agoge too.


The "Old Men": 28 Spartiates over the age of 60 (that is, beyond the age for military service) + the two kings (= 30). The Gerontes (Senators) were elected by the Assembly of Spartiates for life. In fact they controlled much of the public business and decided on what the Assembly could discuss (the PROBOULEUTIC function); they could also veto actions taken by the Assembly


5 Spartiate "Overseers", elected (?) annually by the Assembly. Any Spartiate could be EPHOR. They had financial, judicial, and administrative powers--even over the Kings and Gerontes! Two Ephors always went with a king on campaign to control arrogance and to protect the interests of the whole State. They managed the KRYPTEIA ('Secret Service').


the Spartiate Assembly, men above 18; could only vote YES or NO, (by shouting); were subject to veto. Could only meet on summons, and only discuss what was submitted to them, much like Prime Ministers Question Time.