The oligarchy is a system where an elite, selected because of family backgrounds, wealth or ability. Such systems often developed out of need for security, where a quasi-feudal status of elite, defined by military service, not dissimilar to medieval knighthood, develops to a standard where this elite also took over the civil governance of a state. There are obvious disadvantages to this system, such as the lack of representation for differing sections and levels of society, and a disparity between higher and lower classes. Oligarchy inevitably protects the rights of a conservative warrior-caste, and state which adopts this system is by necessity forced to wage war endlessly in order to prevent unrest on the part of the nobles, and rebellion of the people, for peace reveals the faults of the rulers.

In Sparta, the law-giver Lycurgus created a set of reforms which changed the polis forever during the 8th century BC. His laws set the basis for later institutions which allowed Sparta to have military might in Classical Greece. His most famous, or infamous, law was the agoge, which detailed that healthy 7-year-old boys be taken for rigorous, and cruel, military training. His syssitia, which forced men to eat in common mess halls, gave rise to the sense of being soldiers in an army,

“a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

(No Man Is An Island, John Donne)

even in peace. He also created laws prohibiting over-decoration and embellishment, and though Thukydides tells us that Spartan generals are as avaricious as other commanders campaigning, he respected the degree of moderation shown by Spartans in the private sphere.