What Is the Council of Elders in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the Council of Elders was a significant governing body. Also known as the Gerousia, it was composed of 28 elders over the age of 60 who were elected for life. The council played a crucial role in the political system of Sparta, which was one of the most powerful city-states in Greece.

History and Purpose

The Council of Elders was established in Sparta around the 8th century BC. Its primary purpose was to advise and guide the two Spartan kings on matters related to law, foreign policy, and military strategy. The Gerousia also had the power to propose laws and act as a court for certain cases.

Selection Process

Members of the Council of Elders were selected based on their age, reputation, and experience. Candidates had to be at least 60 years old and have served in other governmental positions before being considered for membership in the Gerousia. The selection process took place annually and involved both popular election by Spartan citizens and approval by existing members of the council.

Powers and Responsibilities

The Council of Elders had significant power within Spartan society. They were responsible for proposing new laws or changes to existing ones that would then be voted on by the larger assembly known as the APella. The Gerousia also acted as a supreme court for particular cases, such as those involving treason or disputes between citizens.

Relationship with Kings

The two Spartan kings held significant power within their respective roles but still relied heavily on guidance from the Council of Elders. The Gerousia could veto decisions made by either king or propose alternative solutions to problems facing Sparta.


In conclusion, the Council of Elders played an integral role in ancient Greek politics, specifically within Sparta’s society. Their selection process, powers, and responsibilities made them a crucial governing body in ensuring the success of Spartan society. The use of such councils was not unique to Sparta, however, as other ancient Greek city-states also relied on similar bodies to govern their societies.