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age classes

A method of social and political organization in Sparta and Crete in the Classical period. Traces of analogous institutions in other Greek states permit the hypothesis that age-class systems played an important role in the development of the polis throughout the Greek world in earlier periods. In the Spartan agōgē (educational system) boys were removed from their parents at the age of 7 and allocated in annual age classes (bouai, ‘herds’) to tutors who were responsible for their upbringing. At 12 the boys entered pederastic relationships with young adults (e.g. Agesilaus and Lysander). The krypteia, a head-hunting ritual with a police function, occurred at initiation into adulthood, after which all members of each age class married simultaneously. Age-class control of marriage, along with segregation of the sexes until the age of 30, probably had important demographic consequences linked to Sparta's manpower problems. Completion of the various stages of the system, which also provided the basis for military organization, conferred political rights and duties. In old age some individuals obtained considerable political power through membership of the gerousia (council of elders).


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