The history of Sparta was the great exception to the political evolution of the city-states. Despite the fact that Spartans in the end were all Greek, Sparta failed to ever move in the direction of democratic rule. Instead, its government evolved into something more closely resembling a modern day dictatorship. If the Spartans had followed the other Greek city-states in their political practices they might have been able to avoid their own downfall and could have even become stronger.
Spartans were originally Dorians who had come to Laconia as an invading army. Although by the end of the ninth century they had conquered all of Laconia but still were not satisfied. West of the Taygetus Mountains was the fertile plain of Messenia. The Spartans were determined to conquer, and they were successful in their goal to dominate the Messenians. The Spartans took the land of the Messenians, Killed and expelled their leaders, and turned the general population into slaves called helots. Almost all of the features of Spartan life resulted from the Messenian wars. Unfortunately when they enslaved their enemies they unknowingly and foolishly enslaved themselves. “They lived through the remaining centuries of their history in deadly fear of insurrections. This fear explains their conservatism, their stubborn resistance to change, lest any innovation result in a fatal weakening of the system.”
Shortly after the Messenian wars Sparta went into a defensive foreign policy in fear that the helots would rise up and revolt if given the chance. Spartan government devoted itself to keeping what Sparta had already gained and achieved.
In fact they choose to isolate themselves completely from the rest of Greece in fear that dangerous ideas would come into their city. Leaders of Sparta even discouraged the idea of travel and banned trade with anyone outside of Spartan territory, resulting in Sparta’s first and perhaps most crucial mistake due to their political choice of isolation.
The Spartan Constitution called for a government to preserve the old system of the Dark ages. Although instead of having just one king, they had two, both from predominant families. Spartan kings enjoyed little of the power handed to them, and were commonly just military and priestly figureheads. The next branch of government is the council containing twenty-eight nobles all over the age of sixty. This group supervises administration and served as the highest court for criminal trials. The third body of government, the assembly, is made up of every male Spartan citizen. The assembly has the power to deny council proposals and elect officials. But the most important and powerful branch of government is the ephorate. The ephorate’s basically were the government; they had the power to veto any legislation, controlled the education system, and could depose the kings if a “religious omen” were to appear. The Spartan government completely in the hands of the ephorate’s had turned into an...