Depending upon which scholar you ask, the Krypteia (Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden things”) was either a part of the Spartan Agoge; or a kind of Gestapo, or secret police force, in ancient Sparta’s military. Many Scholars are still not entirely sure what the purpose and nature of this time (or police force) was supposed to be.
Spartan youths who had distinguished themselves during their time of education and training, would be given an opportunity to put their newly acquired skills to the test. A kind of final practicum, before their ‘graduation.’ According to Plutarch in The Life of Lycourgos, 28:3-7, the Spartan ephors— a council of five magistrates who shared power with Sparta’s two kings– would declare a pro forma war upon the population of Helots living throughout the Lakedaimonian countryside. In this way, any Spartan citizen could kill without incurring blood-guilt. The young men were sent out with only a knife, and orders to kill any Helot they might chance upon, and to survive by raiding for food. They were in this way expected to prove, not only their skill and cunning, but their willingness to kill for the Polis. Only those young Spartiates who took part in this autumnal ritual could expect to attain respectability and high rank within Spartan society.
According to some scholars, the members of the Krypteia would stalk the Helot villages and spy out potential sedition. Anyone they considered to be troublesome could be summarily executed on the spot. Some say that the Krypteia would also make a point of killing any Helot they felt was too strong, or too skilled, or too beautiful, or too spirited; in this way, they tried to keep their population of slaves servile and obedient. The Krypteia were expected to be exceedingly stealthy in their execution of these duties, and any boy who was noticed or caught, could be severely whipped as punishment.
Additionally, some scholars contend that the Krypteia was simply a part of the Spartan youth’s military training, honing skills that could be useful to them in the exceptional event that they ended up separated from their battle units in the field.
In any case, the time of the Krypteia was definitely an unpleasant one for the Helots of Lakedaimonia.