The Lacedaemonians missed Lycurgus sorely, and sent for him many times. They felt that their kings were such in name and station merely, but in everything else were nothing better than their subjects, while in him there was a nature fitted to lead, and a power to make men follow him. However, not even the kings were averse to having him at home, but hoped that in his presence their subjects would treat them with less insolence. Returning, then, to a people thus disposed, he at once undertook to change the existing order of things and revolutionize the civil polity.
He was convinced that a partial change of the laws would be of no avail whatsoever, but that he must proceed as a physician would with a patient who was debilitated and full of all sorts of diseases; he must reduce and alter the existing temperament by means of drugs and purges, and introduce a new and different regimen.
Full of this determination, he first made a journey to Delphi
, and after sacrificing to the god and consulting the oracle, he returned with that famous response in which the Pythian priestess addressed him as
‘beloved of the gods, and rather god than man,’ and said that the god had granted his prayer for good laws, and promised him a constitution which should be the best in the world.
Thus encouraged, he tried to bring the chief men of Sparta over to his side, and exhorted them to put their hands to the work with him, explaining his designs secretly to his friends at first, then little by little engaging more and uniting them to attempt the task. And when the time for action came, he ordered thirty of the chief men to go armed into the market-place at break of day, to strike consternation and terror into those of the opposite party. The names of twenty of the most eminent among them have been recorded by Hermippus; but the man who had the largest share in all the undertakings of Lycurgus and cooperated with him in the enactment of his laws, bore the name of Arthmiadas.
When the tumult began, King Charilaüs, fearing that the whole affair was a conspiracy against himself, fled for refuge to the Brazen House1
but he was soon convinced of his error, and having exacted oaths for his safety from the agitators, left his place of refuge, and even joined them in their enterprise, being of a gentle and yielding disposition, so much so, indeed, that Archelaüs, his royal colleague, is said to have remarked to those who were extolling the young king,
‘How can Charilaüs be a good man, when he has no severity even for the bad?’
Among the many innovations which Lycurgus made, the first and most important was his institution of a senate, or Council of Elders, which, as Plato says,2
by being blended with the
‘feverish’ government of the kings, and by having an equal vote with them in matters of the highest importance, brought safety and due moderation into counsels of state. For before this the civil polity was veering and unsteady, inclining at one time to follow the kings towards tyranny, and at another to follow the multitude towards democracy;
but now, by making the power of the senate a sort of ballast for the ship of state and putting her on a steady keel, it achieved the safest and the most orderly arrangement, since the twenty-eight senators always took the side of the kings when it was a question of curbing democracy, and, on the other hand, always strengthened the people to withstand the encroachments of tyranny. The number of the senators was fixed at twenty-eight because, according to Aristotle, two of the thirty original associates of Lycurgus abandoned the enterprise from lack of courage.
But Sphaerus says that this was originally the number of those who shared the confidence of Lycurgus Possibly there is some virtue in this number being made up of seven multiplied by four, apart from the fact that, being equal to the sum of its own factors, it is the next perfect number after six. But in my own opinion, Lycurgus made the senators of just that number in order that the total might be thirty when the two kings were added to the eight and twenty.