GEROUSIA (Gr., Doric ), the ancient council of elders at Sparta, corresponding in some of its functions to the Athenian Boulē. In historical times it numbered twenty-eight members, to whom were added ex officio the two kings and, later, the five ephors. Candidates must have passed their sixtieth year, i.e. they must no longer be liable to military service, and they were possibly restricted to the nobility. Vacancies were filled by the Apella, that candidate being declared elected whom the assembly acclaimed with the loudest shouts - a method which Aristotle censures as childish (Polit. ii. 9, p. 1271 a 9). Once elected, the gerontes held office for life and were irresponsible. The functions of the council were among the most important in the state. It prepared the business which was to be submitted to the Apella, and was empowered to set aside, in conjunction with the kings, any "crooked" decision of the people. Together with the kings and ephors it formed the supreme executive committee of the state, and it exercised also a considerable criminal and political jurisdiction, including the trial of kings; its competence extended to the infliction of a sentence of exile or even of death. These powers, or at least the greater part of them, were transferred by Cleomenes III. to a board of patronomi (Pausanias ii. 9. 1); the gerousia, however, continued to exist at least down to Hadrian's reign, consisting of twenty-three members annually elected, but eligible for re-election (Sparta Museum Catalogue, Nos. 210, 612 and Introduction § 17).
Fuller discussions of the gerousia will be found in Aristotle, Politics, ii. 9, 17-19: Plutarch, Lycurgus, 5, 26; G. F. Schömann, Antiquities of Greece; The State (Eng. trans.), p. 230 ff.; G. Gilbert, Constitutional Antiquities of Sparta and Athens (Eng. trans.), p. 47 ff.; C. O. Müller, History and Antiquities of the Doric Race (Eng. trans.), iii. c. 6, §§ 1-3; G. Busolt, Die griechischen Staats- und Rechtsaltertümer (Iwan Müller's Handbuch der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, iv. 1), § 89; Griechische Geschichte, 2te Auflage i. 550 ff.; A. H. J. Greenidge, Handbook of Greek Constitutional History, 100 ff.; H. Gabriel, De magistratibus Lacedaemoniorum, 31 ff.
(M. N. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)