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Form: Gr.Heilotai or Helotai.

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This name was given at Sparta to those among the original inhabitants of Laconia who lost their land and freedom at the Dorian conquest . (For the others, see PERIOECI.) It is not certain what the word originally meant. Some scholars have explained it as "prisoners of war"; others have derived it from Helos, the name of a city supposed to have been conquered in consequence of an insurrection. This view was held in antiquity. The Helots were slaves of the state, which assigned them to individual citizens to cultivate their lands. Their employers had no power to kill them, to sell them, or to set them free. The law fixed a certain proportion of the produce in barley, oil, and wine, which the Helots were bound to pay over to the landowner. The rest was their own property, and a certain degree of prosperity was therefore within their reach. A Helot was liable to be called upon for personal service by any Spartan, even if not attached to his estate; but no authority save that of the state could either set him free or remove him from the soil to which he was bound. In war, the Helots were employed sometimes as shield-bearers to the heavy-armed troops, sometimes as archers and slingers, sometimes in other subordinate capacities. After Sparta had become a naval power, they were used as pilots and marines; but they were seldom admitted to the ranks of the heavy-armed infantry. For distinguished merit in the field they might be set free, and a special class called Neodamodeis was formed of these liberated Helots. The Neodamodeis, however, had no civil rights; and indeed it was but seldom that a Helot ever became a Spartan citizen. The children of Spartan fathers and Helot mothers, called Mothakes, were free, and brought up with the young free Spartans. In many cases, through a species of adoption on the father's part, they obtained the citizenship. The Helots formed a very numerous body, amounting to more than half of the whole Lacedaemonian population (400,000). As they were in a state of chronic discontent, they were, in times of danger, a source of anxiety to the Spartans, and the object of constant vigilance. Hence the institution of the Crypteia, which used to be erroneously represented as a chase of the Helots. The fact is that, before being admitted to military service proper, the young Spartans were annually commanded by the ephors to scour the country, seize on any objects of suspicion, and, in particular, to keep an eye on the Helots, and put any Helot, whom they had reason to distrust, out of the way with-out more ado.
Type: Standard
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