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 city-states. Every Spartan male full citizen who had completed his thirtieth year was entitled to attend the meetings, which, according to Lycurgus's ordinance, had to be held at the time of each full moon within the boundaries of Sparta.[1]


The word is derived from the Doric word apella (ἀπέλλα), which originally meant wall, enclosure of stones, and later assembly of people within the limits of the square.[2] It is derived from the Ancient Greek word pélla (πέλλα), "stone", which appears in some toponyms in Greece like Pella (Πέλλα) and Pallini (Παλλήνη). [3]The explanation is given by Hesychius: apellai (ἀπέλλαι), sekoi (σηκοί "folds"), ecclesiai (ἐκκλησίαι: popular assemblies).[4][5] The festival apellai was surely dedicated to the god Apollo (Doric form: Ἀπέλλων).Apellaios (Ἀπελλαῖος) was the month of these rites. The use of this month in various Dorian states indicates that the festival was spread by the Dorians in central Greece. [6] [7]


The meetings had in all probability taken place originally in the Agora but were later transferred to the neighbouring building, known as the Skias.[8][1] According to Plutarch, a Great Rhetra[9] was given by Pythia to Lycurgus. The old aristocratic council was substituted by the gerousia (thirty elders, including the two kings). Meetings of the "apella" should take place from time to time, and citizens should have the power to debate and take decisions.[10][11] That right of the citizens was very soon limited. 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.[12][11]

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.[1] Vote by shouting could be seen as the first type of range voting. [13] 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 the king who 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.[1]

There is a single reference[14] 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, but two decrees of Gythium belonging to the Roman period refer to the μεγάλαι ἀπέλλαι.[1][5][15]

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 ephorate 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. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainTod, Marcus Niebuhr (1911). "Apella". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 160.
  2. ^ Spartan verb: ἀπελλάζειν, and the festival ἀπέλλαι, which surely belonged to Apollo: Nilsson, Vol I p. 556
  3. ^ Πέλλα / Pella, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon
  4. ^ Ηeschych. ἀπέλλαι, σηκοί, ἐκκλησίαι, ἀρχαιρεσίαι: Nilsson, Vol I, p. 556
  5. ^ a b απελλάζω in Liddell and Scott's lexicon
  6. ^ Nilsson, Vol I, p. 556
  7. ^ Ἀπελλαῖος
  8. ^ Paus. iii. 12. 10
  9. ^ D. Ogden, Crooked speech: the genesis of the Spartan rhetra, Journal of Hellenic Studies 114 (1994) 85-102.
  10. ^ Plut. Lycurg. VI, 1-2.
  11. ^ a b C. Mosse, p. 168-171
  12. ^ Plut. Lycurg. VI,4,5 [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Xen. Hell. iii. 3. 8
  15. ^ Le Bas-Foucart, Voyage archéologique, ii., Nos. 242a, 243