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[1270a] [1] for the Spartans used to be away in exile abroad for long periods on account of their military expeditions, both when fighting the war against the Argives and again during the war against the Arcadians and Messenians; but when they had turned to peaceful pursuits, although they handed over themselves to the lawgiver already prepared for obedience by military life (for this has many elements of virtue), as for the women it is said that Lycurgus did attempt to bring them under the laws, but since they resisted he gave it up. So the Spartan women are, it is true, responsible for what took place, and therefore manifestly for this mistake among the rest; although for our own part we are not considering the question who deserves excuse or does not, but what is the right or wrong mode of action. But, as was also said before, errors as regards the status of women seem not only to cause a certain unseemliness in the actual conduct of the state but to contribute in some degree to undue love of money. For next to the things just spoken of one might censure the Spartan institutions with respect to the unequal distribution of wealth. It has come about that some of the Spartans own too much property and some extremely little; owing to which the land has fallen into few hands, and this has also been badly regulated by the laws; [20] for the lawgiver made it dishonorable to sell a family's existing estate, and did so rightly, but he granted liberty to alienate land at will by gift or bequest; yet the result that has happened was bound to follow in the one case as well as in the other. And also nearly two-fifths of the whole area of the country is owned by women, because of the number of women who inherit estates and the practice of giving large dowries; yet it would have been better if dowries had been prohibited by law or limited to a small or moderate amount . . .1 But as it is he is allowed to give an heiress in marriage to whomever he likes; and if he dies without having made directions as to this by will, whoever he leaves as his executor bestows her upon whom he chooses. As a result of this2 although the country is capable of supporting fifteen hundred cavalry and thirty thousand heavy-armed troopers, they numbered not even a thousand. And the defective nature of their system of land-tenure has been proved by the actual facts of history: the state did not succeed in enduring a single blow,3 but perished owing to the smallness of its population. They have a tradition that in the earlier reigns they used to admit foreigners to their citizenship, with the result that dearth of population did not occur in those days, although they were at war for a long period; and it is stated that at one time the Spartiates numbered as many as ten thousand. However, whether this is true or not, it is better for a state's male population to be kept up by measures to equalize property. The law in relation to parentage is also somewhat adverse to the correction of this evil.

1 A clause seems to have been lost: ‘Also it would have been better to regulate by law the marriage of heiresses.’

2 i.e. the consequent fall in the number of men rich enough to keep a horse or even to provide themselves with heavy arms.

3 The battle of Leuctra, 371 B.C.

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  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 4.145
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 7.234
    • T. G. Tucker, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 8, 8.89
  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), DOS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), LACO´NIA
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
    • Smith's Bio, Tyrtaeus
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