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Lycurgus (c. 390-c. 324 BC) was a leading Athenian public official during the period after the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), in which Athens and its allies were defeated by Philip of Macedon. Lycurgus’ special achievement was his reorganization of Athenian finances, which doubled the amount of money raised annually. These additional funds were used for such things as increasing Athens’ military capability and rebuilding the theater of Dionysus in stone. Lycurgus was not a logographer, but he brought charges of corruption or treason against many officials, usually with success. Only one speech survives, Against Leocrates (330 BC).

life and works

We know little of Lycurgus’ life before 338 except that he came from a very old Athenian family and as a youth he studied with Isocrates and Plato. After Chaeronea he received an appointment or mandate to restore the financial condition of Athens; the precise nature of his position is not certain. In this position he had great success, and he continued to control Athenian finances and play a large role in the governance of the city for the next dozen years. Among his accomplishments in addition to his financial reforms were increasing the fleet and making other military improvements, refurbishing many religious and other public structures, and having official copies made of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides to protect them against actors’ interpolations.

Lycurgus’ prosecutions of other Athenians earned him a high reputation as a severe but honest guardian of the public interest. The one speech that survives was one of the few in which he did not secure a conviction. He brought a charge of treason against an ordinary citizen named Leocrates, accusing him of leaving the city during the turmoil after Chaeronea. Leocrates’ actions were probably not illegal in a strict sense, but Lycurgus argues that such cowardice is essentially treason. We are told by Aeschines (Aeschin. 3.252) that Leocrates was acquitted on a tie vote.


There is general agreement that despite Lycurgus’ notable political accomplishments, his rhetorical ability ranks rather low among the ten Attic orators included in the Hellenistic canon. He pays little attention to niceties of prose style, and in his attacks on corruption and moralistic evocation of past glories, he tends to belabor his arguments rather tediously. Against Leocrates is unusual in the use it makes of citations of poetry, but although scholars are grateful that he preserved the fifty-five lines of Euripides’ lost Erectheus and thirty-two lines of an otherwise unknown Tyrtaeus elegy, most agree that Lycurgus’ purpose would have been better served by a shorter quotation.

    Blass, Friedrich, Die attische Beredsamkeit.. 3rd ed. vol. 3.2 Leipzig 1898. Conomis, Nicos C. Lycurgi, Oratio in Leocratem. Leipzig 1970. Jebb, R. C. The Attic Orators from Antiphon to Isaeus, vol. 2. London 1893. Kennedy, George, The Art of Persuasion in Greece. Princeton 1963. Kennedy, George, “Oratory” in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature. Ed. by P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (Cambridge 1985), pp. 498-526.
Michael Gagarin

Lycurgus (2), an Arcadian

Lycurgus (3), an Athenian

    leader of the "men of the plain," son of Aristolaidas: Hdt. 1.59

Lycurgus (4), father of Ancaeus and Cepheus

Lycurgus (5), father of Opheltes

Lycurgus (6), son of Aleus

Lycurgus (7), son of Dryas

Lycurgus (8), son of Herakles by Toxicrate

Lycurgus (9), son of Pheres

Lycurgus, son of Pronax

Lycurgus, Spartan lawgiver

Lycurgus, suitor of Hippodamia

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