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The Perioeci or Períoikoi (Greek: , /pe'ri.oj.koj/) were the members of a social class and population group of non-citizen inhabitants of Laconia and Messenia, the territory controlled by Sparta, concentrated in the coastal and highland areas. The name roughly means "those dwelling around/nearby", deriving from ?, peri, "around", and , oîkos, "dwelling, house".
They had a central role in the Spartan economy, controlling commerce and business, as well as being responsible for crafts and manufacturing, including producing the weapons and armour of the Spartan Army (the Spartans considered all commercial and money-making activities to be unworthy of them). The Perioeci were also the only people allowed to freely travel outside the Spartan state's borders, which the Spartans were not, unless given permission.
The polis or city-state of Sparta was formed during the Greek Dark Ages, controlling the plains around the Eurotas river. Those communities already existing in the area which could not be assimilated into the Spartan state, or subjugated as helots, became the perioeci. Whether they were Dorians like the Spartans, or descended from pre-Dorian populations in the Peloponnese, is unknown.
The Perioeci were free, unlike the helots, but were not full Spartan citizens. They lived in their own settlements in the perioecis, which were described by ancient authors as poleis. These settlements were largely under the control of the Spartan state, but were self-governing on domestic issues.
The perioeci were obliged to follow Spartan foreign policy, and supplied men to fight in the Spartan army. Like the hómoioi (Greek: , full Spartan citizens), the perioeci fought in the army as hoplites, probably in the same units. The perioeci had the right to own land, which would have been necessary to support those in the army.
In the Classical period, the Spartans were not permitted to engage in any economically productive activities, and so the perioeci were responsible for Spartan manufacturing, including producing weapons and armour, as well as conducting the trade that the Spartan state needed. For instance, the large number of masks and figurines dedicated at the site of the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia were probably produced by perioecic craftsmen.
The perioeci are mentioned in Aristotle's Politics but in a much more general sense than merely as those within the Spartan state. In describing the ideal state, Aristotle believed that the actual citizens and members of the state should be the rulers, the warriors (those who are allowed to bear arms), the statesmen and the priests but that those who perform trades, such as mechanics, craftsmen, husbandmen and farmers should be either slaves or perioeci, because such professions are ignoble and do not produce virtue, according to him. In that sense, the perioeci are meant to be common to all ideal Hellenic states, as a sort of middle class whose ranks the slaves may aspire to join, below the citizens but above slavery. They are free men, but they do not own property and are not allowed to vote, to hold office or to influence the state or the laws by any other means. When Aristotle mentions them, he sometimes refers to them as "barbarian" and implies that such non-citizen free men would be non-Hellenic foreigners.