1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Crypteia

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CRYPTEIA (Gr. κρύπτειν, to hide), a kind of secret police in ancient Sparta, founded, according to Aristotle, by Lycurgus; there is, however, no real evidence as to the date of its origin. The institution was under the supervision of the ephors, who, on entering office, annually proclaimed war against the helots (serf-class) and thus absolved from the guilt of murder any Spartan who should slay a helot. It was instituted primarily as a precaution against the ever-present danger of a helot revolt, and secondarily perhaps as a training for young Spartans, who were sent out by the ephors to keep watch on the helots and assassinate any who might appear dangerous. Plato (Laws, i. p. 633) emphasizes the former aspect, but there can be little doubt that, at all events after the revolt of 464 (see Cimon), its more sinister purpose was predominant, as we may gather from the secret massacre of 2000 helots who, on the invitation of the ephors, claimed to have rendered distinguished service (Thuc. iv. 80).

See Helots; Ephor; also A. H. J. Greenidge, Handbook of Gk. Const. Hist. (London, 1896); G. Gilbert, Gk. Const. Antiq. (Eng. trans., London, 1895).