The helots (/ /,; Greek: εἵλωτες, heílotes) were a population that constituted a majority of the population of Laconia and Messenia – the territories comprising Sparta. There has been controversy since antiquity as to their exact characteristics, such as whether they constituted an Ancient Greek tribe, a social class, or both. Orationes 25, 63 = Frag. 37 DK; see also Plutarch, Li hi Lycurgus 28, 11.</ref> whereas according to Pollux, they occupied a status "between free men and prisoners of war". Tied to the land, they primarily worked in agriculture as a majority and economically supported the Spartan citizens.
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The number of helots in relation to Spartan citizens varied throughout the history of the Spartan state; according to Herodotus, there were seven helots for each Spartan at the time of the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Thus the need to keep the helot population in check and prevent rebellion was one of the main concerns of the Spartans.