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PARTHE´NIAE (παρθενίαι) are, according to the literal meaning of the word, children born from unmarried women (παρθένιοι, Hom. Il. 16.180). The partheniae, as a distinct class of citizens, appear at Sparta after the first Messenian war and in connexion with the foundation of Tarentum; but the legends as to who they were differ from one another. Hesychius says that they were the children of Spartan citizens and female slaves; Antiochus (ap. Strab. vi. p.278) states that they were the sons of those Spartans who took no part in the war against the Messenians. These Spartans were made Helots, and their children were called partheniae, and declared ἄτιμοι. When they grew up, and were unable to bear their degrading position at home, they emigrated, and became the founders of Tarentum. Ephorus (ap. Strab. vi. p.279), again, related the story in a different manner. When the Messenian war had lasted for a considerable number of years, the Spartan women sent an embassy to the camp of their husbands, complained of their long absence, and stated that the republic would suffer for want of an increase in the number of citizens if the war should continue much longer. Their husbands, who were bound by an oath not to leave the field until the Messenians were conquered, sent home all the young men in the camp, who were not bound by that oath, that they might cohabit with the maidens at Sparta. The children thus produced were called partheniae. On the return of the Spartans from Messenia, these partheniae were not treated as citizens, and accordingly united with the Helots to wage war against the Spartans. But when this plan was found impracticable, they emigrated and founded the colony of Tarentum. (Compare> Theopomp. ap. Athen. 6.271; EPEUNACTAE.) Modern writers have differed in their preference for one or other of these accounts. Grote prefers to follow Antiochus, while Gilbert gives more weight to the narrative of Ephorus, remarking with truth that the action of the husbands, shocking to our ideas, would be less so to Spartans of that age (see MATRIMONIUM p. 132). No doubt, as he says, Ephorus stands higher as an authority than Antiochus; but, in dealing with an ancient tradition, this does not go for much. Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 8.7), who is a better authority than either, does not enter into the circumstances of the birth of the partheniae at all. His statement, however, that they were [p. 2.349]born ἐκ τῶν ὁμοίων would lead us to reject Antiochus's version; but, on the other hand, it favours the simpler story of Hesychius rather than that of Ephorus. It> may be added that the somewhat similar account of degrading marriage in the colonists of Locri Epizephyrii (Plb. 12.5) might incline us to suspect the traditions. Thus much seems certain that the partheniae at Sparta, whether illegitimate or not, were debarred from the rights of full citizens, probably from the land-portions, by the exclusive Spartiatae, and, as they formed a dangerous faction, were forced into an emigration, which proved successful and of considerable historical importance. (See Histories of Greece: Thirlwall, i. p. 332; Grote, iii. p. 519; Curtius, 1.218, E. T.;--Schömann, Antiquities, p. 200; Gilbert, Staatsalterthümer, 1.19.)

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