Zeus on his throne with his eagle

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The Apella (Greek: Ἀπέλλα) was the popular deliberative assembly in the Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, corresponding to the ecclesia in most other Greek states.[1] Every Spartan male full citizen who had completed his thirtieth year was entitled to attend the meetings, which, according to Lycurgus' ordinance, must be held at the time of each full moon within the boundaries of Sparta.


The word is derived from the Doric word apella (ἀπέλλα), which originally meant wall, fence for animals and later assembly of people within the limits of the square.[2] The explanation is given by Hesychius: apellai (ἀπέλλαι), sekoi (σηκοί "folds"), ecclesiai (ἐκκλησίαι: popular assemblies).[3][4] The festival apellai was surely dedicated to the god Apollo (Doric form: Ἀπέλλων) and it was spread by the Dorians in central-Greece, as it is proved by the use of the month Apellaios (Ἀπέλλαιος).[5]


The meetings had in all probability taken place originally in the Agora, but were later transferred to the neighbouring building known as the Skias.[6] According to Plutarch, a Great Rhetra[7] was given by Pythia to Lycurgus. The old aristocratic council, was substituted by the gerousia (thirty elders including the two kings). The meetings of the "apella" should take place from time to time, and the citizents should have the power to debate and take the decisions. [8][9] This right of the citizents was very soon limited. The kings Theopompus and Polydorus, probably during the 7th century BC, added to the "rhetra" that the kings and the elders (gerousia) could set aside any "crooked" decision of the people.[10][9]

The presiding officers were at first the kings, but in historical times the ephors, and the voting was conducted by assessing the loudness of shouting in the crowd; if the president was doubtful as to the majority of voices, a division was taken and the votes were counted. Vote by shouting could be seen as the first type of range voting. [11] The apella simply accepted or rejected the proposals submitted to it. In later times, too, the actual debate was almost, if not wholly, confined to the kings, elders, ephors and perhaps the other magistrates. The apella voted on peace and war, treaties and foreign policy in general: it decided which of the kings should conduct a campaign and settled questions of disputed succession to the throne: it elected elders, ephors and other magistrates, emancipated helots and perhaps voted on legal proposals.

There is a single reference[12] to a "small assembly" (ἡ μικρὰ καλουμένη ἐκκλησία) at Sparta, but nothing is known as to its nature or competence. The term apella does not occur in extant Spartan inscriptions, though two decrees of Gythium belonging to the Roman period refer to the μεγάλαι ἀπέλλαι[4][13]

The apella was responsible for electing men to the gerousia for life. Candidates were selected from the aristocrats and presented before the apella. The candidate who received the loudest applause became a member of the gerousia.

The apella also elected the five ephors annually. Ephors presided over meetings of the gerousia and the apella. They could not run for re-election.

The gerousia presented motions before the apella. The apella then voted on the motions. However, unlike the ecclesia in Athens, the apella did not debate; it merely approved or disapproved of measures. Moreover, the gerousia always had the power to veto the decision of the apella.

See also


  1.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Apella". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. Spartan verb: ἀπελλάζειν, and the festival ἀπέλλαι, which surely belonged to Apollo: Nilsson, Vol I p. 556
  3. Ηeschych. ἀπέλλαι, σηκοί, ἐκκλησίαι, ἀρχαιρεσίαι: Nilsson, Vol I, p. 556
  4. 1 2 απελλάζω
  5. Nilsson, Vol I, p. 556
  6. Paus. iii. 12. 10
  7. D. Ogden, Crooked speech: the genesis of the Spartan rhetra, JHS 114 (1994) 85-102.
  8. Plut. Lycurg. VI, 1-2.
  9. 1 2 C. Mosse, p. 168-171
  10. Plut. Lycurg. VI,4,5
  11. Xen. Hell. iii. 3. 8
  12. Le Bas-Foucart, Voyage archéologique, ii., Nos. 242a, 243


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