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The Gerousia (γερουσία) was the Spartan council of elders. This governmental body is a gerontocracy that was made up of 60-year-old Spartan males. It was created by the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus in the seventh century BC, in his Great Rhetra ("Great Pronouncement"). According to Lycurgus' biographer Plutarch, the Gerousia was the first significant constitutional innovation instituted by Lycurgus.
It consisted of 30 members in total, at least 28 of them 60 years of age or older. Two of these members would be the two Spartan kings, who could be younger than 60. (Sparta was ruled by two hereditary kings, equal in authority.) If one geronte (any Gerousia member other than the kings) died, the people would immediately vote for a new one by shouting for the man they felt was best suited for the job. A group of men in a house would decide which the loudest shout had been without knowing whom it had been given for. Of the other 28, usually several would belong to one of the two royal Spartan houses (the Agiad and the Eurypontid). Elected members had to be over the age of 60 and were elected for life. All members would have, in their youth, gone through the Spartan military training program known as the agoge. Theoretically, any Spartan citizen of the appropriate age could stand, but in practice members were selected from the most important aristocratic families. While elections to the Gerousia were technically democratic, contemporary writers (such as the Stagirite philosopher Aristotle) considered the fairness of the elections to be dubious at best.
The Gerousia prepared motions or rhetrai ("rhetra") for the wider citizen assembly, the Apella, to vote on. The Gerousia could also veto motions passed by the Apella and was consulted by the ephors in matters of interpretation of the law. Additionally, the Gerousia filled the role of a supreme court. It could try murder cases — and had the power to condemn, fine, or banish. It could even try the kings for any alleged crime. As a Supreme Court, it had the ultimate say as to what was or was not lawful. In effect, it was the supreme institution in the Spartan constitution, and could override any decision by any other organ in the Spartan political system.
- Cartledge, Paul. The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece. 2003. Vintage Books.
- Schulz, Fabian. Die homerischen Räte und die spartanische Gerusie. 2011. Düsseldorf, Wellem Verlag.