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HELO´TES or--AE (Εἵλωτες, Εἱλῶται: Ilotae, Liv. 34.27) were a class of bondsmen subject to Sparta. The whole of the inhabitants of Laconia were included in the three classes of Spartans, Perioeci, and Helots, of whom the Helots were the lowest. They formed the rustic population of the country, dwelling in small villages or on detached farms, both in the district immediately surrounding Sparta and around the towns of the Perioeci. We need not regard them as exclusively or even mainly settled in the low fertile country watered by the Eurotas, where the estates of the Spartans were mostly situated (Gilbert, p. 31); they were doubtless, as cultivators of the soil, diffused over the whole country. Their condition was that of serfs attached to the land, adscripti glebae, and they could not be sold away from it; they were regarded as the property of the state, which, while it gave their services to individuals, reserved to itself the power of emancipating them (Ephorus ap. Strab. viii. p.365; δοῦλοι τοῦ κοινοῦ, Paus. 3.20.6). Different etymologies are given of their name. In ancient times it was believed to be derived from the town of Helos on the coast of Laconia (Hellanicus ap. Harpocrat. s. v. εἱλωτεύειν: Ephorus ap. Strab. l.c.; Theopompus ap. Ath. 6.272 a; Schol. Plat. ad Alcib. i. p. 122 D [p. 919 a ed. Turic.]; Apostolius, Cent. 6.59 = Leutsch, Paroemiogr. 1.379). But apart from other improbabilities, it is impossible to form Εἵλωτες from Ἕλος, the inhabitants of which are called Ἕλειοι or Ἑλεα̈ται: nor is the difficulty diminished if we treat ἕλος, not as a proper name but in the sense of “marsh,” as if “dwellers in the lowlands” were meant. The explanation of Müller (Dor. 3.3 init.) as “prisoners” from the root of ἑλεῖν, “to take,” like δμῶες from the root of δαμάω,, is now universally accepted; and, as he points out, there are traces of it in ancient times by the side of the other (οἱ ἐξ αἰχμαλώτων δοῦλοι γενόμενοι, Schol. Plat., Apostol., ll. cc.; [p. 1.940]Etym. M. s. v.). Why two classes of the conquered should have received such different treatment as the Perioeci and Helots is a question which goes back to pre-historic times and cannot be satisfactorily answered. The general opinion in the ancient world was that the former had made terms with their conquerors, whereas the latter had surrendered at discretion after resistance, perhaps aggravated by rebellion (Ephor., Theopomp., ll. cc.). Müller, as the avowed apologist for the Dorian race, tried to prove that, on their arrival in the Peloponnese, they found a class of agricultural serfs in the land, consisting of the Leleges or other early inhabitants, already deprived of their freedom by the Achaeans, and made no change in their condition. But Schömann has well pointed out that this theory, though not altogether inconceivable, at least contradicts the express statements of ancient writers (Schömann, Antiq. 1.194, E. T. ; cf. Thumser, Staatsalterth. p. 121, n. 2; Gilbert, p. 32, leaves the point undecided). Few would attach any importance to the statement of Pliny, who in a catalogue of inventions (H. N. 7.200) says, “servitium invenere Lacedaemonii;” but earlier and better writers also ascribed the origin of predial slavery in Greece to the Thessalian and Dorian conquests. (See, besides the passages already referred to, Theopomp. ap. Ath. vi. p. 265 b, c.) Schömann further argues that there is no trace of this institution in Homeric descriptions of the heroic age ; the lowest in the agricultural scale is the θής, a free labourer working on poor wages for a small farmer (ἀνδρὶ παρ᾽ ἀκλήρῳ, Od. 11.490): others less correctly make the θὴς a serf or villain (L. and S. s.v. Merry and Riddell, ad loc.).

At the end of the second Messenian war (B.C. 668), the conquered Messenians were reduced to slavery, and included under the denomination of Helots. Their condition appears to have been the same, with some slight differences, as that of the other Helots. But, in addition to that remembrance of their freedom, which made not only them, but through their influence the whole class of Helots, more and more dangerous to their masters, they preserved the recollection of their national existence, and were ready to seize any opportunity for regaining it. Henceforward the danger from the servile population became much more serious, and the Spartan precautions against a rising more cruel and unscrupulous; a state of things which in the end was aggravated by the dwindling numbers of the ruling oligarchy. Epaminondas, after the battle of Leuctra, restored the main body of these Messenian Helots to their country, where they no doubt formed the chief part of the population of the new city of Messene (Thirlwall, 5.104, 105; Grote, ch. 78, 7.197 ff.).

The Helots formed by far the most numerous class of the population. Schömann, after Müller (Dor. 3.3.6), reckons them at 224,000 out of a total of 380,000 or at most 400,000; it must be admitted, however, with Büchsenschütz (Besitz und Erwerb, p. 139 n.) and Gilbert (l.c.) that the calculations upon which this estimate is based are very uncertain. They occupied both the 9,000 larger estates (κλῆροι) of the Spartans and the 30,000 smaller lots of the Perioeci. Several families resided in dwellings of their own upon each κλή̀ρος: Müller assumes six or seven, but the κλῆροι must have differed greatly in extent and fertility. They cultivated the land and paid to their masters as rent a fixed measure of corn, the exact amount of which had been fixed at a very early period, the raising of that amount being forbidden under heavy imprecations (Plut. Inst. Lac. 41, p. 239 d). The annual rent paid for each κλῆρος was eighty-two medimni of barley, and a proportionate quantity of oil and wine (Plut. Lyc. 8 and 24). It is impossible to accept Müller's calculation, that this represented only a fifth of the produce, and that the Helots kept four-fifths for themselves. Compare the Athenian HECTEMORII The domestic servants of the Spartans were mostly Helots. They attended on their masters at the public meal; and many of them were no doubt employed by the state in public works. Bought slaves were rare at Sparta, but not altogether unknown: the poet Alcman is said to have been a Lydian slave from Sardis.

In war the Helots served as light-armed troops (ψιλοί), a certain number of them attending every heavy-armed Spartan to the field; at the battle of Plataeae, there were seven Helots to each Spartan, and one to every hoplite of the Perioeci (Hdt. 9.10 and 28). These attendants were probably called ἀμπίτταρες (i. e. ἀμφιστάντες, Hesych. sub voce), and one of them in particular the θεράπων or orderly (Hdt. 7.229; ὑπασπιστής, Xen. Hell. 4.5, 14); though θεράπων was also used by the Dorians as a general name for armed slaves. The ἐρυκτῆρες, mentioned as emancipated Helots, were probably Helots serving in war and not yet free, though they generally became so if they showed distinguished bravery: one of their duties was to carry off the wounded from the ranks (ἐρύκειν, akin to ἐρύειν). The Helots only served as hoplites in particular emergencies; and it was a universal rule that such service was followed by the bestowal of freedom. The first instance of this kind was in the expedition of Brasidas, B.C. 424; others are recorded in the Peloponnesian and Theban wars (Thuc. 4.80, 5.34, 7.19; Xen. Hell. 6.5, § 28). On the other hand, in the Spartan fleets the general body of the sailors were Helots, and while serving in this capacity they were called δεσποσιοναῦται. They may generally have been rewarded with freedom, but it is probably by a mistake that they are spoken of as free during their period of service (Schömann, Antiq. 1.198 n.).

The treatment to which the Helots were subjected, as described by the later Greek writers, is marked by the most wanton cruelty. Thus Myron states that “the Spartans impose upon them every ignominious service, for they compel them to wear a cap of dog-skin, and to be clothed with a garment of sheep-skin, and to have stripes inflicted upon them every year for no fault, that they may never forget that they are slaves. And besides all this, if any rise by their qualities above the condition of a slave, they appoint death as the penalty, and their masters are liable to punishment if they do not destroy the most excellent” (Athen. 14.657 d). And Plutarch (Plut. Lyc. 28) states that Helots were forced to intoxicate themselves, and perform indecent dances as a warning to the Spartan youth. The general opinion of ancient writers is summed up in [p. 1.941]the passage of Theopompus already cited (ap. Ath. 6.272 a): τὸ δὲ τῶν εἱλώτων ἔθνος παντάπασιν ὠμῶς διοικεῖτ αι καὶ πικρῶς. These statements must be received with some caution, owing to the “rhetorical spirit with which later historians embellished their philanthropic views” (Müller, § 3). Thus Myron, whose work on the Messenian war was a mere romance, absurdly treats the sheep-skin garment and dog-skin cap, universally worn by the peasantry in outlying districts, as badges of insult. The Helots had some at least of the privileges of freemen; their family rights were respected; and they had a certain power of acquiring property. Cleomenes, for instance, offered manumission to every Helot who could pay down five Attic minae; and no fewer than six thousand purchased their freedom for the considerable sum of £20 each (Plut. Cleom. 23). In their social relations with their. masters, the anecdotes of their treatment (e. g. the story of their drunkenness), as Grote puts it, “betoken less of cruelty than of ostentatious scorn.” This feeling, it must be remembered, increased in later times as the Spartans made up by increased arrogance for their diminishing numbers. But politically a much darker sentiment prevailed on the part of the Spartan government and the ephors, its leading representatives, at least from the time of the Messenian wars. The chronic dread of insurrection overcame every scruple of good faith or humanity, and the measures of repression described under CRYPTEIA were had recourse to. Here also we find exaggerated statements in late and uncritical writers; but there can be no doubt of the fact related by Thucydides, that on one occasion 2,000 of the Helots who had rendered the greatest service to the state in war, were induced to come forward by the offer of emancipation, and then were mysteriously put to death (Thuc. 4.80).

The Helots might be emancipated, but in that case, instead of passing into the class of Perioeci, they formed a distinct body in the state, known at the time of the Peloponnesian war by the general term of νεοδαμώδεις (Thuc. 5.34, 7.19, 58, 8.5), but subdivided into several classes. Myron of Priene (ap. Ath. vi. p. 271 f) enumerates the following classes of emancipated Helots:--ἀφέται, ἀδέσποτοι, ἐρυκτῆρες, δεσποσιοναῦται, and νεοδαμώδεις: this, however, is a piece of very careless writing; the terms ἀφέται ( “discharged” ) and ἀδέσποτοι speak for themselves, but the ἐρυκτῆρες and δεσποσιοναῦται were probably not emancipated at all (see above), and νεοδαμώδεις is the general term which he here confuses with its subdivisions. Besides these, there were the μόθωνες or μόθακες, who were domestic slaves brought up with the young Spartans, and then emancipated. These were generally or invariably the illegitimate sons of Spartan lords by Helot mothers, and in many cases they attained not merely freedom, but civic rights and even high command; Callicratidas, Lysander, and Gylippus are all said to have been of Mothakic origin (Phylarch. ap. Ath. 6.271: e; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.43; Müller, Dor. 3.3.5). The νεοδαμώδεις received permission to dwell where they wished (Thuc. 5.34); implying, as Müller thinks, a grant of land as their own. On the classes of Spartan citizens, cf. CIVITAS (Greek), p. 446 ff. (Müller, Dorians, 3.3; Thirlwall, 1.309-313; Grote, pt. 2, ch. 6=2.140-145; Schömann, Antiq. 1.194-201, E. T.; Gilbert, Staatsalterth. 1.31-36; Thumser, Staatsalterth. § 19, in Hermann-Blümner.)

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