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Encyclopedia > Krypteia

Krypteia or Crypteia (Gr. κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”) was a tradition involving young Spartans, part of the agoge (Spartan education). Its goal and nature are still a matter of discussion among historians. The Agoge was a rigorous education and training regime undergone by every Spartan male except for the heirs to the kingships. ...

Young Spartan men who had completed their training at the agoge with such success that they were marked out as potential future leaders, would be given the opportunity to test their skills and prove themselves worthy of the Spartan military tradition through participation in the kryptia. The Agoge was a rigorous education and training regime undergone by every Spartan male except for the heirs to the kingships. ...

Every autumn, according to Plutarch (Life of Lycurgus, 28, 3–7), the Spartan Ephors would pro forma declare war on the Helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a Helot without fear of blood guilt. Armed only with dagger, the Krypteria were sent out into the countryside with the instructions to kill any Helot they encountered at night and to take any food they needed. This could be used to remove any Helots considered troublesome and provide the young men with a manhood test and experience of their first kill. Such brutal oppression of the Helots permitted the Spartans to control the agrarian population and devote themselves to military practice. It may also have contributed to the Spartans' reputation for stealth. Plutarch Mestrius Plutarchus (ca. ... An ephor was an official of ancient Sparta. ...

Plato (Laws, I, 633), a scholiast to Plato, and Heraclides Lembos (Fr. Hist. Gr., II, 210) also describe the krypteia. Plato (Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn) (ca. ... The Laws is Platos last and longest dialogue. ...

  • Some scholars (Wallon) consider the krypteia to be a kind of secret police force organised by the ruling classes of Sparta and targeted at the enslaved Helot population that economically supported it. This does not square with the fact that a boy who got caught was in fact punished by a sound whipping, which suggests a possible link with the gymnopaedia, an annual festival of military activities and games for adolescents.
  • Others (Koechly, Wachsmuth) believe it to be a military training, similar to the Athenian ephebia. Jeanmaire points out that that this bushranger life has no common point with the disciplined and well-ordered communal life (see homon...ia) of the Spartan hoplite; but as it is only a short passus in a very long and thorough training, this could precisely fit an additional skill only rarely useful when separated from one's unit. He draws comparison with African secret societies' (wolf-men and leopard-men) initiation rituals. Indeed it seems a typical rite of passage, possibly pre-dating the classical military organisation, and may have been preserved through Sparta's legendary religious conservatism.

A secret police (sometimes political police) force is a police organization that operates in secret to enforce state security. ... Sparta (Greek Σπάρτη) was a city in ancient Greece, whose territory included, in Classical times, all Laconia and Messenia, and which was the most powerful state of the Peloponnesus. ... Helots were Peloponnesian Greeks who were enslaved under Spartan rule. ... Corybantian dance, the type of dance most likely danced on Gymnopedia festivals (image from Smiths Dictionary of Antiquities) Gymnopaedia derives from the ancient Greek γυμνοπαιδία, a festivity in Sparta, where naked youths would perform war dances. ... EPHEBOS (often in the plural EPHEBOI), also anglicized as EPHEBE, is a Greek word for an adolescent age group or a social status reserved for that age in Antiquity. ... A hoplite armed with a spear. ... Coming from the Latin, initiation implies a beginning. ...


  • Henri Jeanmaire, « La cryptie lacédémonienne », Revue des études grecques 26, 1913;
  • Hermann Koechly, Cryptia : De Lacedæmoniorum cryptia commentatio, Leipzig, 1835;
  • Pierre Vidal-Naquet, “The Black Hunter and the Origin of the Athenian Ephebeia”, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 194 (1968);
  • Wilhelm Wachsmuth, Altertumskunde: Hellenische Altertumskunde aus dem Geschichtpunkt des Staats, Halle, 1844.



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