V. I proceed to give a brief, but I trust a sufficient outline, of the Spartan constitution, social and political, without entering into prolix and frivolous discussions as to what was effected or restored by Lycurgus - what by a later policy.
There was at Sparta a public assembly of the people (called alia), as common to other Doric states, which usually met every full moon - upon great occasions more often. The decision of peace and war - the final ratification of all treaties with foreign powers - the appointment to the office of counsellor, and other important dignities - the imposition of new laws - a disputed succession to the throne, - were among those matters which required the assent of the people. Thus there was the show and semblance of a democracy, but we shall find that the intention and origin of the constitution were far from democratic. "If the people should opine perversely, the elders and the princes shall dissent." Such was an addition to the Rhetra of Lycurgus. The popular assembly ratified laws, but it could propose none - it could not even alter or amend the decrees that were laid before it. It appears that only the princes, the magistrates, and foreign ambassadors had the privilege to address it.
The main business of the state was prepared by the Gerusia, or council of elders, a senate consisting of thirty members, inclusive of the two kings, who had each but a simple vote in the assembly. This council was in its outline like the assemblies common to every Dorian state. Each senator was required to have reached the age of sixty; he was chosen by the popular assembly, not by vote, but by acclamation. The mode of election was curious. The candidates presented themselves successively before the assembly, while certain judges were enclosed in an adjacent room where they could hear the clamour of the people without seeing the person, of the candidate. On him whom they adjudged to have been most applauded the election fell. A mode of election open to every species of fraud, and justly condemned by Aristotle as frivolous and puerile . Once elected, the senator retained his dignity for life: he was even removed from all responsibility to the people. That Mueller should consider this an admirable institution, "a splendid monument of early Grecian customs," seems to me not a little extraordinary. I can conceive no elective council less practically good than one to which election is for life, and in which power is irresponsible. That the institution was felt to be faulty is apparent, not because it was abolished, but because its more important functions became gradually invaded and superseded by a third legislative power, of which I shall speak presently.
The original duties of the Gerusia were to prepare the decrees and business to be submitted to the people; they had the power of inflicting death or degradation without written laws, they interpreted custom, and were intended to preserve and transmit it. The power of the kings may be divided into two heads - power at home - power abroad: power as a prince - power as a general. In the first it was limited and inconsiderable. Although the kings presided over a separate tribunal, the cases brought before their court related only to repairs of roads, to the superintendence of the intercourse with other states, and to questions of inheritance and adoption.
When present at the council they officiated as presidents, but without any power of dictation; and, if absent, their place seems easily to have been supplied. They united the priestly with the regal character; and to the descendants of a demigod a certain sanctity was attached, visible in the ceremonies both at demise and at the accession to the throne, which appeared to Herodotus to savour rather of Oriental than Hellenic origin. But the respect which the Spartan monarch received neither endowed him with luxury nor exempted him from control. He was undistinguished by his garb - his mode of life, from the rest of the citizens. He was subjected to other authorities, could be reprimanded, fined, suspended, exiled, put to death. If he went as ambassador to foreign states, spies were not unfrequently sent with him, and colleagues the most avowedly hostile to his person associated in the mission. Thus curbed and thus confined was his authority at home, and his prerogative as a king. But by law he was the leader of the Spartan armies. He assumed the command - he crossed the boundaries, and the limited magistrate became at once an imperial despot!  No man could question - no law circumscribed his power. He raised armies, collected money in foreign states, and condemned to death without even the formality of a trial. Nothing, in short, curbed his authority, save his responsibility on return. He might be a tyrant as a general; but he was to account for the tyranny when he relapsed into a king. But this distinction was one of the wisest parts of the Spartan system; for war requires in a leader all the license of a despot; and triumph, decision, and energy can only be secured by the unfettered exercise of a single will. Nor did early Rome owe the extent of her conquests to any cause more effective than the unlicensed discretion reposed by the senate in the general.