In classical times it was a community of perioeci, politically dependent on Sparta, though doubtless with a municipal life of its own.
Lysander as ephor proposed on behalf of Agis that all debts sbould be cancelled and that Laconia should be divided into 19,500 lots, of which 4500 should be given to Spartiates, whose number was to be recruited from the best of the perioeci and foreigners, and the remaining 15,000 to perioeci who could bear arms. The Agiad king Leonidas having prevailed on the council to reject this measure, though by a majority of only one, was deposed in favour of his son-in-law Cleombrotus, who assisted Agis in bearing down opposition by the threat of force.
Though organized on similar lines, with a citizen population divided into three Dorian tribes (and one containing other elements), with a class of Perioeci (neighbouring dependents) and of serfs, the Argives had no more constant foe than their Lacedaemonian kinsmen.
The term, however, came to denote not a nationality but a political status, and though the main body of the perioeci may have been Achaean in origin, yet they afterwards included Arcadians on the northern frontier of Laconia, Dorians, especially in Cythera and in Messenia, and Ionians in Cynuria.
This last burden grew heavier as time went on; 5000 Spartiates and s000 perioec hoplites fought at Plataea in 479 B.C., but the steady decrease in the number of the Spartiates necessitated the increasing employment of the perioeci.