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The perioeci, or perioikoi, were the members of an autonomous group of free but non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta. Concentrated in the coastal and highland areas of Laconia and Messenia, the name περίοικοι derives from περί, peri, "around", and οἶκος, oikos, "dwelling, house". They were the only people allowed to travel to other cities, which the Spartans were not, unless given permission.
The city-state of Sparta was formed during the Greek Dark Ages, controlling the plains around the Eurotas river. Those communities already existing in the area which could not be assimilated into the Spartan state, or subjugated as helots, became the perioeci. Whether they were Dorians, like the Spartans, or descended from pre-Dorian populations in the Peloponnese is unknown.
The Perioeci were free, unlike the helots, but were not full Spartan citizens. They lived in their own settlements in the perioecis, which were described by ancient authors as poleis. These settlements were largely under the control of the Spartan state, but were self-governing on domestic issues.
The perioeci were obliged to follow Spartan foreign policy, and supplied men to fight in the Spartan army. Like the homoioi (full Spartan citizens), the perioeci fought in the army as hoplites, probably in the same units. The perioeci had the right to own land, which would have been necessary to support those in the army.
In the Classical period, the Spartans were not permitted to engage in any economically productive activities, and so the perioeci were responsible for Spartan manufacturing, including producing weapons and armour, as well as conducting the trade that the Spartan state needed. For instance, the large number of masks and figurines dedicated at the site of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia were probably produced by perioecic craftsmen.
In "Politics" by Aristotle
περίοικοι are mentioned in Politics (Aristotle), but in a much more general sense than merely as those within the Spartan state. In describing the Ideal State, Aristotle believed that the actual citizens and members of the state should be the rulers, the warriors (i.e. those who are allowed to bear arms), the statesmen, and the priests, but that those who perform trades, such as mechanics, craftsmen, husbandmen and farmers, should be either slaves or περίοικοι, because these professions are ignoble and do not produce virtue, according to Aristotle. In this sense, the περίοικοι are meant to be common to all ideal Hellenic states, as a sort of middle class which the slaves may aspire to join the ranks of, below the citizens but above slavery. The περίοικοι are free men, but they do not own property, and they are not allowed to vote, to hold office or to otherwise influence the state or the laws. When Aristotle mentions περίοικος, he sometimes refers to them as "barbarian περίοικος", implying that these non-citizen free men would be non-Hellenic foreigners.
- Helots, non-free inhabitants of Sparta
- Metics, similar social class of Athens.
- Sciritae, distinct group of non-citizens of Sparta occupying a roughly equivalent social stratum
- Cartledge, Paul (2002). The Spartans: An Epic History. Macmillan. p. 67.
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- Herodotus, Histories, VII.234
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- Hammond, N.G.L. (1982). "The Peloponnese". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N.G.L. The Cambridge Ancient History (2 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 333.
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- Cartledge, Paul (2002). The Spartans: An Epic History. Macmillan. p. 68.
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- Aristotle, Politics, VII.IX
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- Paul Cartledge, Sparta and Lakonia. A Regional History 1300 to 362 BC, Routledge, New York City, 2002 (2nd edition) ISBN 0-415-26276-3
- Edmond Lévy, Sparte : histoire politique et sociale jusqu’à la conquête romaine (Sparta: Political and Social History until the Roman Conquest), Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire" (Points of History), Paris, 2003 ISBN 2-02-032453-9
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- Mathieu Aref, Grèce (Mycéniens=Pélasges) ou la solution d'une enigme (Greece (Mycenaeans=Pelasgians) Or A Solution To The Enigma) - Collection Mnemosyne (Mnemosyne Collection) - Paris 2004
- Andrey Zaykov. The Status of the Lakedaimonion perioikoi. Part I (In Russian + English summary: К вопросу о статусе лакедемонских периэков. Часть I). Published in: Issedon - ΙΣΣΕΔΩΝ: Almanac of Ancient History and Culture. Ekaterinburg: The Ural State University Press, 2003. Vol. 2. P. 16-44.
- Andrey Zaykov. The Status of the Lakedaimonion perioikoi. Part II. Published in: Issedon - ΙΣΣΕΔΩΝ: Almanac of Ancient History and Culture. — Ekaterinburg: The Ural State University Press, 2005. Vol. 3. P. 69-85.