), the Spartan legislator. We cannot more appropriately begin the life of Lycurgus than by repeating the introductory remark of Plutarch, that concerning Lycurgus nothing can be said for certain, since his genealogy, his travels, his death, and likewise his laws and political arrangements, are differently told by different writers. Modern criticism has not been satisfied with such a simple statement of inextricable difficulties, but has removed them all at once, by denying the real existence of Lycurgus altogether. However, such hasty scepticism is warranted neither by conflicting and vague statements, which, in the case of a semi-historical personage, cannot well be otherwise; nor even by the fact, that Lycurgus had a temple in Sparta, and was there worshipped as a hero.
But although we do not deny the existence
of Lycurgus, we cannot pretend to know any thing for certain beyond his bare
existence. Hardly a single action, or a single institution, commonly attributed to Lycurgus, can be historically proved to belong to him. Of the real Lycurgus we know almost nothing; and the one with whom we are acquainted is the Lycurgus of half historical fiction. Yet to his name are attached questions of the highest importance. To him is attributed the framing of the most peculiar, as well as the most highly and universally extolled (Plut. Lyc. 35
) of the constitutions, which ancient Greece, like a fertile soil, brought forth with wonderful exuberance and unparalleled variety. We shall try therefore in the following article, 1. to give an outline of what passes for the life of Lycurgus; 2. to point out the general features and the character of the Spartan constitution, while for the details we refer once for all to the respective articles in the Dictionary of Antiquities;
and 3. to trace the origin of the Spartan constitution.
Aristotle makes Lycurgus to be a contemporary of Iphitus, who lived B. C. 884.
In conjunction with Iphitus, Lycurgus is said to have established the sacred armistice of Olympia, which prohibited all wars during the Olympic festivals, and protected the territory of the Eleians for ever against all hostile attacks. (Müller, Dor.
1.7.7.) Xenophon differs widely from Aristotle in placing Lycurgus more than 200 years earlier, that is, at the time of the Heracleids. (Xen. Rep. Lac.
10.8.) Timaeus, perhaps in order to remove the difficulty, assumed that there were two Lycurgi. (Plut. Lyc. 1
It appears from these discrepancies that the name of Lycurgus did not occur in the list of Spartan kings, which belongs to the oldest documents of Greek history (Müller, Dor.
1.7.3.) Therefore it is intelligible how Herodotus could (1.65) call Lycurgus the guardian of his nephew, Labotas, the Eurysthenid; whilst Simonides (Aelian, Ael. VH 9.41
) calls him the son of Prytanis, brother of Eunomus, the Proclid, Dionysius (2.49
) makes him to be uncle to Eunomus ; and the common account (Plut. Lyc. 2
; Arist. Pol.
2.7. 1; Ephor. apud Strab.
x. p. 482) the son of Eunomus, and guardian of his nephew Charilaus. 1
Sparta was in a state of anarchy and licentiousness, perhaps in consequence of the conquest of Laconia, at a time when the victorious Dorians, finding themselves in a new position, in the midst of a conquered and subject population, and in a comparatively rich land, had not yet been able to accommodate their old forms of government to their new situation.
There were conflicts between the kings, who aspired to tyranny, and the people, anxious for democratic reforms. (Arist. Pol.
5.8.4; Heracl. Pont. 100.2; Plut. Lyc. 2
At this juncture the king, Polydectes, the brother of Lycurgus, died, leaving his queen with child.
The ambitious woman proposed to Lycurgus to destroy her yet unborn offspring if he would share the throne with her.
He seemingly consented; but when she had given birth to a son, he openly proclaimed him king; and as next of kin, acted as his guardian.
But to avoid all suspicion of ambitious designs, with which the opposite party charged him, and which might seem to be confined by the untimely death of the young king, Lycurgus left Sparta, and set out on his celebrated journey, which, almost like the wanderings of Heracles, has been magnified to a fabulous extent.
He is said to have visited Crete, and there to have studied the wise laws of Minos, and of his Dorian kinsmen. Thence he repaired to Asia Minor, where he derived not less instruction from comparing the dissolute manners of the Ionians with the simple and honest hardihood of the Dorian race. Here he is said to have met either with Homer himself, or at least with the Homeric poems, which he introduced into the mother country.
But not content with the Grecian world, he is further said to have penetrated into Egypt, the land of mystery from the days of Herodotus to our own, and therefore duly entitled to claim the authorship of everything the origin of which was or seemed obscure; and he is even reported to have been carried by his curiosity into Libya, Iberia, and India, and to have brought back to rugged Lacedaemon and his Spartan warriors the philosophy of the gymnosophists.
It is useless for criticism to try to invalidate these accounts. Their very extravagance sufficiently proves their falsehood.
The return of Lycurgus to Sparta was hailed by all parties, since he was considered as the man who alone could cure the growing diseases of the state.
He undertook the task: Yet before he set to work he strengthened himself with the authority of the Delphic oracle, and with a strong party of influential men at Sparta, who were able in case of need to support his measures with their arms.
The reform seems not to have been carried altogether peaceably.
The new division of all the land among the citizens must have violated many existing interests. Plutarch has preserved a statement, that king Charilaus fled into the temple of Athene Chalcioecos; and we may presume (if the whole story can be looked upon as authentic) that this was not from a mere mistake, as Plutarch thinks, but from necessity.
Whatever opposition there was, however, was overborne, and the whole constitution, military and civil, was remodelled. After Lycurgus had obtained for his institutions an approving oracle of the national god of Delphi, he exacted a promise from the people not to make any alterations in his laws before his return. And now he left Sparta to finish his life in voluntary exile, in order that his countrymen might be bound by their oath to preserve his constitution inviolate for ever. Where and how he died nobody could tell.
He vanished from the earth like a god, leaving no traces behind but his spirit; and he was honoured as a god at Sparta with a temple and yearly sacrifices down to the latest times. (Hdt. 1.65
; Plut. Lyc. 31
; Ephor. apud Strab.
viii. p. 366.)
The Spartan constitution was of a mixed nature: the monarchical principle was represented by the kings, the aristocracy by the senate, and the democratical element by the assembly of the people, and by their representatives, the ephors.
The question has therefore arisen, what the prominent feature of the Spartan constitution was. Plato doubts whether it ought to be called a tyranny, on account of the arbitrary power of the ephors, or a monarchy, on account of the kings; while, at other times, no state seemed more democratical, "although (he adds) not to call it an aristocracy (i. e.
a government of the ἄριστοι
, or best), is altogether absurd." (Leg.
iv. p. 712.) So too Isocrates says in one place (p. 270; comp. p. 152a) that the Spartans had established among themselves an equal democracy, and in another (p. 265a) that the Spartan government was a democracy mixed with aristocracy. (Comp. Arist. Pol.
2.6.) Again, Aristotle says (Pol.
4.9) "that the test of a well mixed constitution is the uncertainty of its name: thus the Spartan constitution is sometimes called a democracy, because the rich and poor are treated in the same manner as to education, dress, and food; and because the people have a share in the two highest offices, by electing the one, and being eligible to the other; sometimes an oligarchy, because it has many oligarchical institutions, such as that none of the magistrates are chosen by lot, and that a few persons have power to pass sentence of banishment and death."
It is evident that the royal prerogatives were on the decline during the whole of the period in which we can follow the course of events. Even at the earliest stage it was divided between two persons, and was consequently weak.
The kings had originally to perform the common functions of the kings of the heroic age. They were high priests, judges, and leaders in war; but in all of these departments they were in course of time superseded more or less.
As judges they retained only a particular branch of jurisdiction, that referring to the succession of property.
As military commanders they were restricted and watched by commissioners sent by the senate; the functions of high priest were curtailed least, perhaps, because least obnoxious.
In compensation for the loss of power, the kings enjoyed great honours, both during their life and after their death, which at Sparta might almost be thought extravagant. Still the principle of monarchy was very weak among the Spartans, although their life resembled more that of the camp than that of a town. Military obedience was nowhere so strictly enforced as at Sparta, but nowhere was the commander himself so much restricted by law and custom.
It is more difficult to decide whether the aristocratical or the democratical element prevailed.
The powers of the senate were very important: they had the right of originating and discussing all measures before they could be submitted to the decision of the popular assembly; the management of foreign policy and the most important part of the administration was entrusted to them (Isocr. Pan.
p. 265a; Dionys. A. R. 2.14
; Paus. 3.11.2
; Aeschin. in Tim.
p. 25. 36); they had, in conjunction with the ephors, to watch over the due observance of the laws and institutions; and they were judges in all criminal cases, without being bound by any written code. For all this they were not responsible, holding their office for life, a circumstance which Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 2.6.17
) strongly censures.
But with all these powers, the elders formed no real aristocracy. They were not chosen either for property qualification or for noble birth.
The senate was open to the poorest citizen, who, during 60 years, had been obedient to the laws and zealous in the performance of his duties. (Arist. Pol.
2.6.15.) Tyrannical habits are not acquired at such an age and after such a life; party spirit cannot exist but in a close corporation, separated from the rest of the community by peculiar interests. Thus, in Sparta, during its better days, the elements of an aristocracy were wanting.
The equal division of property was alone sufficient to prevent it.
The only aristocracy was one of merit and personal influence, such as will and must always exist.
There are mentioned, however, a class of citizens called the equals, or peers (Ὅμοιοι
) (Xen. Hell. 3.3.4
, &c.; de Rep. Laced.
10.4, with the note of Haase), who may appear to have formed an exclusive body, possessed of peculiar privileges But these Ὅμοιοι
must be regarded as those Spartans who had not suffered a diminution of their political rights, who were not ὑπομείονες
as such citizens were called at Athens; afterwards perhaps the word was used in contradistinction from emancipated slaves, who were not admitted to all the civil privileges of the genuine Spartans.
These equals perhaps formed also the lesser assembly mentioned by Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 3.3
. ἡ μικρὰ ἐκκλησία
) (see Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth.
§ 55, p. 464; Hermann, § 28); but were by no means an aristocraticai body.
The mass of the people, that is, the Spartans of pure Doric descent, formed the sovereign power of the state. From them emanated all particular delegated authority, except that of the kings, which indeed was theoretically based on what may be called divine right, but, as we have seen, derived its strength in every particular part from the consent of the people.
The popular assembly consisted of every Spartan of 30 years of age, and of unblemished character; only those were excluded who had not the means of contributing their portion to the syssitia. (Arist. Pol.
2.7, 4.) They met at stated times, to decide on all important questions brought before them, after a previous discussion in the senate. They had no right of amendment, but only that of simple approval or rejection, which was given in the rudest form possible, by scouting.
A law of the kings, Theopompus and Polydorus, during the first Messenian war, modified the constitutional power of the assembly; but it is difficult to ascertain the exact meaning of the old law preserved by Plutarch, which regulated this point. (Plut. Lyc. 6
It seems to have authorised the magistrates to refuse any amendments being made by the people, so that if this right existed before by law or custom, it was now abolished; or if it had been illegally assumed, it was again suppressed.
The want of this right shows that the Spartan democracy was moderate as well as its monarchy and aristocracy, for the right of amendment, enjoyed by a popular assembly such as existed at Athens, is almost the last stage of licentious ochlocracy.
But it must be confessed that the sovereign people of Sparta had neither frequent nor very important occasions for directly exerting their sovereign power. Their chief activity consisted in delegating it; therefore the importance of the ephors, who were the representatives of the popular element of the constitution, rose so high, in proportion as the kings lost their ancient prerogatives.
The ephors answer in every characteristic feature to the Roman tribunes of the people. Their origin was lost in obscurity and insignificance, and at the end they had engrossed the whole power of the state, although they were not immediately connected with military command. Their institution is variously attributed to Lycurgus (Hdt. 1.65
) and Theopompus (Plut. Lyc. 7
), who is said to have had in view the perpetuation of monarchy, through the diminution of its rights.
The ephors were ancient officers for the regulation of police and minor law-suits.
It is significant that their origin is ascribed to Theopompus, who diminished the power of the popular assembly. Consequently, as the people in a body withdrew more and more from the immediate exercise of sovereign power, this power was vested in their representatives, the ephors, who, in behalf of the people, now tend to the kings the oath of allegiance, and receive from them the oath of obedience to the laws. They rise paramount to kings and people, and acquire a censorial, inquisitorial, and judicial power, which authorizes them, either summarily to impose fines on the magistrates, and even kings, or to suspend their functions, or to impeach and arrest them, and bring them to trial before themselves and the senate. On account of this excess of power, Aristotle says that their power was tyrannical, and justly so; for they exercised the sovereign power of the people, who were in themselves the source of all law.
It may surprise us, that the Spartan constitution, which contained such a strong democratical element, was always looked upon in Greece as the model of a perfect aristocracy, and that Sparta invariably throughout the whole history of her incessant wars supported aristocratical institutions against the aggressions of democracy.
She always took the lead of the aristocratical, as Athens did of the democratical party.
The reason is, that the Dorians in general, and particularly the Spartans, considered good order (κόμος
) as the first requisite in the state. (Müller, Dor.
3.1.1, 10.) They preferred order, even coupled with suppression, to anarchy and confusion. The Spartan willingly yielded during his whole life, and in every situation, to military discipline, and submitted unconditionally to established authority. Müller says (l.c.
) "the Doric state was a body of men acknowledging one strict principle of order and one unalterable rule of manners; and so subjecting themselves to this system, that scarcely anything was unfettered by it, but every action was influenced and regulated by the recognised principles." And this was not an unaccountable fancy, a predilection, a favourite pursuit; but on it was based the security of the whole Spartan commonwealth. The Spartans were a small number of lords among a tenfold horde of slaves and subjects. To maintain this position, every feature in the constitution, down to the minutest detail, was calculated. (Thuc. 4.3
; Arnold, Second Appendix to his Thucydides.)
With reference to their subjects, the few Spartans formed a most decided aristocracy; and to maintain their dominion, they had to preserve order and concord among themselves. Nothing was so dangerous as a turbulent popular assembly, nothing could tempt so much either the subject population to aspire to equality, or a demagogue to procure it for them, and thus to acquire tyrannical power for himself.
In the relative position of the Spartans to their subjects, we discover the key to all their institutions and habits: the whole of their history was formed by this single circumstance.
When the Dorians had conquered Peloponnesus, they appear to have granted at first mild conditions to the conquered inhabitants, which in Argolis, Sicyon, Corinth, and Messenia allowed both races to coalesce in course of time. (Isocrat. Panath.
p. 270a. b. 286, a.; Ephorus, apud Strab.
8.5.4; Arnold, 2nd append. to Thuc. p. 641; Müll. Dor.
But in Sparta this partial equality of rights was soon overthrown. Part of the old Achaeans, under the name of perioici, were allowed indeed to retain their personal liberty, but they lost all civil rights, and were obliged to pay to the state a rent for the land that was left them. They were subject to Spartan magistrates, and compelled to serve as heavy-armed soldiers, by the side of the Spartans, in wars which did not concern them.
But still they might be considered fortunate in comparison with the Helots, for their want of political rights was compensated to some extent by greater individual liberty than even the Spartans enjoyed. (Müll. Dor.
Those, however, of the old inhabitants who had through obstinate and continued resistance exasperated the Dorians, were reduced to a state of perfect slavery, different from that of the slaves of Athens and Rome, and more similar to the villanage of the feudal ages. They were allotted together with patches of land, to which they were bound, to individual members of the ruling class. They tilled the land, with their wives and children, and paid a fixed rent to their masters,
not as the perioici to the state (Plut. Lyc. 8
); they followed the Spartans as light-armed soldiers in war, and were in every respect regarded as the ever available property of the citizens, who through the labour of their bondsmen were enabled to indulge in unlimited leisure themselves.
But the number of these miserable creatures was large. (Müll. Dor.
3.3.6.) At Plataeae every Spartan was accompanied by seven Helots; and they were by no means so different in race, language, and accomplishments, either from one another or from their masters, as were the slaves of Athens or Rome, bought from various barbarous countries, a motley mass, that was easily kept down. Such slaves were very rare at Sparta. (Müll. Dor.
3.3.2.) The Helots assumed the appearance of a regular class in the state, and became both useful and formidable to their masters: their moral claims for enfranchisement were much stronger than those of the Athenian slaves.
The resistance of their ancestors to the invading Dorians was forgotten in course of time, and in the same proportion the injustice of their degraded state became more and more flagrant and insupportable; therefore the Helots yielded only a reluctant obedience so long as it could be enforced. They kept a vigilant look-out for the misfortunes of their masters, ever ready to shake off their yoke, and would gladly " have eaten the flesh of the Spartans raw." Hence we hear of constant revolts or attempts at revolts on the side of the oppressed, and of all possible devices for keeping them down on the side of the oppressors. No cruelty was too flagrant or too refined to accomplish this end. We need only advert to the hateful crypteia,
an institution which authorised select bands of Spartan youths to range the country in all directions armed with daggers, and secretly to despatch those of the Helots who gave umbrage to their masters. (See Dict. of Ant. s. v.
) But when this quiet massacre worked too slow, wholesale slaughters were resorted to. Thucydides (4.80
) relates an act of tyranny, the enormity of which is increased by the mystery that surrounds it.
By a promise of manumission, the most impatient and dangerous of the Helots were induced to come forward to claim this high reward for their former services in war, and then were all secretly despatched, about 2000 in number.
In the face of such a heinous cowardly crime, it is difficult to be persuaded by Müller, who (Dor.
3.3.3) attempts to make out that the slavery of the Helots was far milder than it is represented. If it had been, it would have been borne more patiently.
But after the great earthquake in B. C. 465 we find that the Messenian Helots took advantage of the confusion at Sparta, seized upon the towns of Thuria and Aethaea, and fortified Ithome, where they long held out against all the power of Sparta. (Thuc. 1.100
After the taking of Pylos, when the Spartans and Athenians concluded an alliance for fifty years, it was stipulated that if the Helots should revolt, the Athenians should assist the Spartans with all their forces. (Comp. Thuc. 1.118
; Arist. Pol.
2.6.2.) Similar apprehensions often occur in after-times.
After the battle of Leuctra, many of the Perioici and all the Helots revolted to the Thebans. They kept up this character to the very last, when they joined the Romans in the war, which extinguished the independence of Sparta.
It is unnecessary to go much into detail. Enough has been said to show, that as long as Sparta was determined to maintain her tyrannical ascendancy over her subject population, all her institutions must have united to accomplish this one end. And such, indeed, was the case.
In the first place we need wonder no more at the co-existence of the three political elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, which, although varying at times in their relative positions, were on the whole preserved as integral parts of the constitution, none being entirely crushed by the other; and therefore caused the discrepancy of the ancients in calling the Spartan constitution either a monarchy, or an aristocracy, or a democracy.
It was the fear of their common enemy that kept all those unanimously together, who were within
the precincts of the privileged class.
The same forbearance was shown in Sparta by the people, who constitutionally possessed the sovereign power, as that which we see existing in Rome for a long period after the comitia of the tribes had unlimited power in enacting and abolishing laws.
As in Rome it was the danger of foreign wars which induced the people to resign into the hands of a select body, the senate, that prerogative which they constitutionally possessed, so at Sparta the assembly of the people voluntarily withdrew from the immediate exercise of all the powers it might have assumed, because they saw that they must, and that they could with safety entrust the management of public affairs to a few men who were themselves as much interested as the whole people in supporting the dominion of Sparta.
In comparison with these subjects, indeed, every Spartan was a noble, and thus the Spartan constitution might on this account be termed an aristocracy, as well as that of the early Roman republic. Arnold, in his 2nd Appendix to his Thucydides, considers this the ground on which the Spartan government was looked upon in Greece as the model aristocracy, and always took the lead of the aristocratical against the democratical party. But G. C. Lewis (in the Philol. Mus.
vol. ii. p. 56, &c.) has satisfactorily refuted this supposition, and shown that the condition of slaves and perioici never came into consideration with ancient politicians in determining the nature of a government, but that only the body politic, which comprised the citizens of full right, was taken notice of. Thus, Plato says, that Sparta was an aristocracy, not by reason of the perioici, but of the gerontes: and when he, Isocrates, and others, call it democratic, they allude to the power of the whole Spartan order in making laws and in electing magistrates, to the equality of education, to the public tables, &c., which are democratical institutions in relation to the body of Spartans, though they were aristocratical in respect of the perioici and helots (Phil. Mus.
vol. ii. p. 60).
This is very true; but nevertheless it was their dominion over their subjects, which fostered originally among the Spartans that predilection for aristocratical institutions in other parts of Greece, because they were accustomed to consider them as the support of order and quiet, in opposition to the restless spirit of democracy.
If we go more into the details of the institutions of Sparta, we find in the military aspect of the whole body of citizens, or rather soldiers, another striking result of this operative cause at the bottom of the whole political system. The Spartans formed, as it were, an army of invaders in an enemy's country, their city was a camp, every man a soldier, and very properly called ἔμφρουπος
from his seventeenth to his sixtieth year.
The peaceful life in the city was subjected to more restraints and hardships than the life during a real campaign, for the military institutions of Sparta were not intended to enable her to make foreign conquests, but to maintain those she had already made. Sparta, although constantly at war, made no conquests after the subjection of Messenia; all her wars may be called defensive wars, for their object was chiefly to maintain her commanding position, as the head of the Hellenic race.
In an army nothing can be of higher importance than subordination. Hence it was the pride of the Spartans, as king Archidamus (Isocrat
§ 81, p. 132, Steph.) said, that they "excelled in Greece, not through the size of their city, nor through the number of their citizens, but because they lived like a well-disciplined army, and yielded a willing obedience to their magistrates." We have seen already that these magistrates, and the ephors of later times in particular, were entrusted with very extensive power. They resembled less consuls or tribunes, than dictators, chosen in time of need and danger.
Another striking feature in the government of Sparta was the excessive degree to which the interference of the state was carried, a practice never realised to such an extent in any other government, before or after, except in the ideal states of Plato and other philosophers.
In a constitutional monarchy, such as England, people know not from experience what state-interference is; but even in the most absolute monarchies of the Continent, where people complain that the state meddles with everything, nothing short of a revolution would immediately follow the attempt at an introduction of anything only distantly similar to the state-interference of Sparta.
The whole mode of viewing things at present is different, nay the reverse of what it was then. We maintain that the state exists for the sake of its individual citizens; at Sparta, the citizen only existed for the state,--he had no interest but the state's, no will, no property, but that of the state. Hence the extraordinary feature in Sparta, that not only equality, but even community of property, existed to an extent which is unequalled in any other age or country. Modern politicians dread nothing more than the spreading of communism or socialism. In Sparta it was laid down as a fundamental principle of the constitution, that all citizens were entitled to the enjoyment of an equal portion of the common property. We know that such a state of things could not exist in our age for a single moment, and even all the vigilance and severity of Sparta was unable to prevent in course of time the accumulation of property in a few hands; but that it could at all exist there to a certain degree for a long period, can again only be accounted for by the existence of the same cause to which we must trace all the institutions of Sparta.
It was devised for securing to the commonwealth a large number of citizens and soldiers, free from the toils and labours for their sustenance, and able to devote their whole time to warlike exercises, in order so to keep up the ascendancy of Sparta over her perioici and helots; and on the other hand, it was the toils and labours of the perioici and helots which alone could supply the state with a stock of property available for an equal distribution among the citizens. Where no such subject population existed, it would have been a fruitless attempt to introduce the Spartan constitution.
The Spartans were to be warriors and nothing but warriors. Therefore not only all mechanical labour was thought to degrade them, and only to become their slaves; not only was husbandry, the pride of the noblest Romans, despised and neglected, trade and manufactures kept off like a contagious disease, all intercourse with foreign nations prevented, or at least impeded, by laws prohibiting Spartans to travel and foreigners to come to Laconia, and by the still more effective means of the iron money; but also the nobler arts and sciences, which might have adorned and sweetened the leisure of the camp, as the lyre soothed the grief of Achilles, were so effectually stifled, that Sparta is a blank in the history of the arts and literature of Greece, and has contributed nothing to the instruction and enjoyment of mankind. What little trade and art there was in Laconia was left to the care of an oppressed race, the Lacedaemonian provincials, who received little or no encouragement from Sparta, and never rose to any distinction.
But the sort of state interference which is the most repulsive to our feelings, and the most objectionable on moral and political grounds, was that which was exercised in the sanctuary of that circle which forms the basis of every state, the family.
It is evident that, in order to maintain their superiority, the Spartans were obliged to keep up their numbers; even the most heroic valour and the best organisation of military discipline would fail to perpetuate the subjection of the Helots, if these should ever outnumber their lords too disproportionably. We have seen that, to prevent this, by thinning their ranks, the most barbarous and iniquitous policy was pursued.
But even this was inefficient, and it was necessary to devise means for raising the number of citizens as well as lowering that of the slaves. Sparta seems never to have suffered from a dread of over population.
It is the fate of all close corporations, which admit no new element from without, to decrease more and more in number, as, for instance, the body of the patricians in Rome.
The Spartans were particularly jealous of their political franchise, and consequently their numbers rapidly diminished.
In her better days Sparta mustered from 8000 to 10,000 heavy-armed men (Hdt. 7.234
; Arist. Pol.
2.6. 12); but in the days of Aristotle this number had sunk to 1000 (Arist. Pol.
2.6.11); and king Agis, when he attempted his reform, found only 700. (Plut. Agis 5
.) Even as early as the time of Lycurgus Sparta must have felt a decrease of citizens, for to him is ascribed a law which rewarded a father of three children with release from military service, and one of four children with freedom from all duties to the state. (Arist. Pol.
2.6, 13. Comp., however, Manso, Sparta,
1.1, p. 128, who doubts whether this was a law of Lycurgus.)
But the mere person
of a citizen was of little use to the community.
In order to be of efficient service, he must have a strong healthy body, sufficient property in land and slaves to enable him to live as a soldier, and he must, moreover, be trained in the regular school of Spartan state education, which alone could form the true Spartan citizen. From these causes are derived the laws regulating marriage, the succession of property and education. Every Spartan was bound to marry, in order to give citizens to the state; and he must marry neither too early nor too late, nor an unsuitable woman. (Müll. Dor.
The king Archidamus, for instance, was fined because he married a short woman (Plut. de Educate.
2), from whom no kings, but only kinglings (Βασίλισκοι
), could be expected. To the matrimonial alliance so little sanctity was attached for its own sake, that it was sacrificed without scruple to maxims of state policy or private expediency (Plut. Lyc. 15
; comp. Polyb. in Mai's Nov. Coll. Vet. Scriptor.
ii. p. 384.); a regular family life was rendered impossible by the husband's continual absence from home, either in the gymnasia, or at the chase, or at the Syssitia and Leschae. Women were excluded from the common meals of the men.
It was considered disreputable for the husband to be seen much in the company of his wife (Xen. de Rep. Lac.
1.5); his whole existence was engrossed by his public duties.
The chief and only object of marriage was the procreation of a healthy offspring to supply the state with good citizens. Hence those regulations, so shocking to our feelings, which authorised a weak or old husband to admit a strong man to his matrimonial rights; or those which provided a widow, who had not yet any children, to supply her husband's place with a man (probably a slave), and to produce heirs and successors to the deceased. (Xen. Rep. Lac.
1.6; Müll. Dor.
3.10.4). In Sparta it was considered an act of magnanimity that, when Leonidas was sent to Thermopylae, he left as a legacy to his wife, Gorgo, the maxim, " Marry nobly, and produce a noble offspring" (Plut. de Herod. Malign.
32, p. 321, Lac. Apophth.
p. 216, fr. p. 355); and when Acrotatus had fought bravely in the war against Pyrrhus, the women followed him through the town and some of the older ones shouted after him: "Go, Acrotatus, enjoy yourself with Chelidonis, and beget valiant sons for Sparta." (Plut. Pyrrh. 28
We cannot blame the Spartans so much for the laws which disposed of the hands of heiresses without in the least taking notice of their individual inclinations.
The laws regarding this point were pretty nearly alike in most ancient Greek states, as every where the maintenance of the existing families and properties was considered of primary importance to the welfare of the state. Hence at Sparta the next in kin had a right and was bound to marry an heiress, and to continue her father's family. (Müll. Dor.
But that branch of social life in which Sparta stood most aloof from the rest of Greece and the world was the education of her citizens, young and old; for the education of the Spartan was not confined to his youth, but extended nearly throughout his whole life.
The syssitia, or, as they were called at Sparta, phiditia, the common meals, may be regarded as an educational institution; for at these meals subjects of general interest were discussed and political questions debated, so that they were not a bad school in politics and laws for the citizens.
The discussions on these occasions may have been a sort of compensation for the silence that was imposed on the popular assembly; they may to some extent have answered the purpose of the Roman contiones, and of the public press of our days. And they were the more efficient for such purposes, as friends and relations generally, to the number of fifteen, formed companies for dining together at one table, into which companies fresh members were only admitted by unanimous election. These ἑταιπιαλ
, (as they were called by the Dorians in Crete) formed a sort of elementary division of the army, and a political body, bound together by the ties of friendship and mutual esteem.
The youths and boys used to eat separately from the men in their own divisions. For a concise view of the Spartan system of education see Thirlwall's Hist. of Greece,
vol. i. p. 327.
The organisation of the Spartan army, the climax of all their political institutions and social arrangements, which we have now reviewed, is treated of in the Dict. of Ant.,
so that we can here dispense with a repetition of its details.
It was more perfect than any other in Greece, and procured to Sparta an authority among Greeks and barbarians, which the envy and hatred of her bitterest enemies could not but acknowledge.
As long as Sparta could supply her armies with a sufficient number of genuine Spartan citizens they were invincible; but the decline of her free population necessarily drew after it that of her military strength, and after the days of Leuctra and Mantineia she never rose to that eminence she had proudly occupied after the battle of Plataeae or Aegos-potami.
We now return to the more immediate subject of this article, and inquire how far the framing of the constitution of Sparta must be attributed to Lycurgus.
This inquiry is not a useless speculation, but will serve to throw additional light on the character of that extraordinary political organisation, as we shall have to determine whether it was a spontaneous result of the Dorian character and the peculiar circumstances of the Spartan Dorians, or whether it was stamped upon them by the hand of a superior genius, without whose interference the course of political development would have run in a different direction.
We have said already that the ancients were unanimous in regarding Lycurgus not only as a real historical person, but also as the originator of all the institutions of Sparta.
But their testimony in this respect proves too much. One need only read Xenophon's little work, De Republica Lacedaemoniorum,
in order to see the absurdity of ascribing every thing to the lawgiver.
According to this view, the Spartans must have lived before Lycurgus without all law, custom, and government, which we know is not true, and cannot be true, or, what would be more wonderful still, Lycurgus had the power of sweeping away every ancient custom, and supplanting it by a whole system of new foreign regulations. To adduce a few instances of this erroneous view, we will mention the institution of the popular assembly, which is ascribed to Lycurgus (Plut. Lyc. 6
There cannot be any doubt that an assembly of the people existed in Sparta from the first, as well as in all other Greek states, even in the heroic ages.
A still more essential part of every Greek commonwealth was the council of elders, and yet this also is ascribed to Lycurgus. (Plut. Lyc. 5
But it is quite ridiculous to say that Lycurgus abolished gold and silver money, and enacted that iron should be the only currency.
The first money in Greece was coined about the eighth Olympiad by Pheidon, tyrant of Argos. (Müll. Aeginetica,
This was silver money. Gold money was first coined in Asia. The Spartan state at the time of Solon possessed not gold enough to gild the face of the statue of Apollo at Thornax, and sent to Croesus to buy it. (Hdt. 1.69
A similar mistake is made when the institution of the ephors is ascribed to Lycurgus. (Hdt. 1.65
; Xen. de Rep. Laced.
8.3.) Other accounts mention the king Theopompus as the author of this magistracy. (Plut. Lyc. 7
; Arist. Pol.
But neither of the two statements is correct.
The office of ephors was common to several Doric states. They were originally officers of police, exercised a civil jurisdiction in minor cases (Müll. Dor.
3.7), and were doubtlessly coeval with the first origin of the Spartan state.
Such considerations have induced modern critics to examine more carefully the truth of every separate statement, in order thus to arrive at a more correct notion of the influence of the individual mind of a lawgiver on the spirit of the Spartan constitution. Some critics have gone quite to the extreme, and, placing Lycurgus in the same category with Theseus or Romulus, have entirely denied his historical existence, alleging the authority of Hellanicus, the most ancient writer on Sparta, who ascribes the Spartan institutions to Procles and Eurysthenes, without even mentioning the name of Lycurgus. (Strab. viii. p.366
.) Other reasons alleged for this view are contained in the divine honours paid to Lycurgus at Sparta, and the significant name of Eunomus, his father, nephew, or brother, according to different accounts. We are not inclined to go all the length of this argument; we allow with the soberest modern historians the reality of Lycurgus, but in order to limit the exaggerations of the ancients, we adduce the following considerations, which tend to show that by far the greater part of the regulations which are commonly ascribed to Lycurgus arose, independently of him, by the spontaneous development of the commonwealth of Sparta.
1. It is a general and obvious remark, that people have a propensity to ascribe to prominent individuals the savings and doings of a great many less celebrated persons, and to make these individuals the representatives of whole ages.
This propensity is more especially peculiar to an age of primitive simplicity, ignorance, and poetry.
A prosaical, analysing, scientific research, dispels such delusions. We no longer imagine that Romulus selected out of his motley crowd of fugitives some few whom he made patricians, nor that he devised the division of the people into tribes and curiae, nor that Nuina invented religious rites wholly anomalous with the existing institutions; we know now that the twelve tables of the decemvirs contained little, if anything, that was new, and only reduced to a concise, fixed form the laws which were formerly only partially and imperfectly written down. If we lived in an age similar to the early period of Grecian history, there can be no doubt that the Code Napoleon would soon be regarded in the same light in which the ancients regarded the legislation of Lycurgus.
It would be considered to have entirely emanated front one individual mind, without having any connection with previous institutions. Such being the case, we naturally hesitate before we admit all that we hear about the legislation of Lycurgus.
2. Our doubts will be reasonably confirmed by the observation, that the chief part of that reform which is ascribed to Lycurgus consists not in definite regulations concerning the functions of the various magistrates, the administration, criminal or civil law, in short, the purely political organisation of the state; but in the peculiar direction he is said to have given to the nature of private life, to the manners and customs, modes of thinking and feeling of his countrymen. Now it is evident that the power of any individual lawgiver must in this point be very limited, since these things are only the outward appearance of a nation's character, which it would be just as easy to alter by legal enactments as a negro lawgiver might by the same means change the black colour of his countrymen or their woolly hair. No power on earth could induce the population of any town or village in modern Europe to adopt the manner of life of the ancient Spartans, granting that this were otherwise possible; and we are equally positive in asserting that the influence of Lycurgus on the character or his countrymen, however great it may have been, could never materially alter their peculiar mode of life.
3. The difficulty of influencing a political community in almost every concern of public and private life by legal enactments is still further increased, if we consider the means at the disposal of a lawgiver in the time of Lycurgus. We know well the difficulty there is in putting in force a single new law. What could Lycurgus have done without all the means of modern times, without a nicely arranged administration, without even the art of writing?
This art, although existing at that time, was not used for fixing and preserving the laws of Lycurgus.
A particular rhetra forbade the use of it. (Plut. Lyc. 13
The laws were transmitted by word of mouth, and existed only in the memory and hearts of the citizens. Is it possible that a great number of them could originate at once ? We know a few of the rhetrae ascribed to Lycurgus. They lay down simply the broad fundamental features of the constitution. All the detail, it appears, was left to be regulated by the prevailing sentiment among the Spartans.
4. What we have said with regard to the tendency of all the institutions of Sparta, viz. that their object was to keep down a large subject population, and that they were necessary for this purpose, is at the same time an argument for doubting the influence of Lycurgus. Sparta assumed from the time of the invasion of Peloponnesus the attitude of a conqueror. The Helots existed before the time of Lycurgus, and consequently also the contrivances of the Spartan state to keep them in subjection.
The only thing that we can allow is, that before the time of Lycurgus these institutions were in a state of development, and varying at various times and occasions; and that they were finally settled in the reform which the whole state underwent through Lycurgus. We hear of disorders that prevailed at Sparta, of quarrels between the community (people) and the king (Plut. Lyc. 2
), of the tyranny of king Charilaus (Arist. Pol.
5.10.3), which was put an end to by the establishment of an aristocracy; at the same time we read of an equal division of land, so opposed to the spirit of aristocracy.
The easiest explanation of these traditions is that given by bishop Thirlwall (Hist. of Gr.
vol. i. p. 297), that the quarrels were not among the Spartans themselves, but between them and the Laconian provincials, many of whom were only recently subjected, or still independent. " It seems not improbable that it was reserved for Lycurgus finally to settle the relative position of the several classes " (p. 300).
This theory appears the more correct, as it is evident from the comparison of other Dorian states in Peloponnesus and Crete, that the peculiar character of the Dorian race developed itself purely only in those countries where, as in Crete, the Dorians were prevented from mixing with other races.
In proportion as they amalgamated with the conquered the Dorian character disappeared, as, for instance, in Corinth, Argos, and Messenia. If therefore Sparta owed to Lycurgus the confirmation of her political ascendency over her subjects, and was thus enabled to preserve and develope the original Dorian character, it is explained how Lycurgus could be regarded as the originator of things which in reality he was only accessory in upholding.
5. There is one consideration more to corroborate the view which we take of Lycurgus. We have just mentioned, that the institutions of Sparta were originally not peculiar to her alone, but were common to the whole Dorian race. Müller, in his Dorians,
has proved this point beyond all doubt.
He adduces Pindar (3.1.7), who mentions (Pyth.
1.61) that Hieron the Syracusan wished to establish the new city of Aetna upon the genuine Doric principles.
He founded it "with heavenbuilt freedom, according to the laws of the Hyllean model,
" i. e. after the example of the Spartan constitution; "for the descendants of Pamphilus and of the Heracleidae, who dwell under the brow of Taygetus, wish always to retain the Doric institutions of Aegimius.
" This passage is as decisive as can be to prove that the laws of Sparta were considered the true Doric institutions. (Comp. Hermann, Pol. Ant.
§ 20, 1.) Müller has enlarged upon this subject by tracing remnants of the same Doric institutions in other Doric states, where, as we have seen, they are found effaced more or less, through the admission of strangers to the right of citizenship.
But in Crete these institutions were preserved in their full purity to such an extent, that the ancients unanimously made Lycurgus borrow part of his laws from his Cretan kinsmen. (Strab. x. p.737
a.; Hoeck, Kreta,
iii. p. 11.)
There existed in that island Helots (called ἀφαμιῶται
), subject provincials (ὑπήκοοι
), syssitia, all nearly on the same principles as in Sparta. The Cretan education resembled that of Sparta in every feature, in short, the whole aspect of political, and still more that of social life, was the same in both countries, whence Plato called their laws ἀδελφοὺσνόμους
. (Plat. de Leg.
iii.p. 683a.; comp. Arist. Pol.
2.7. § I.)
But, far from discovering in this circumstance a proof that Sparta borrowed her laws from Crete, we recognise in those of the latter country only another independent development of the Doric institutions (Herm. Pol. Ant.
§ 20, 10), without however denying that of which we have no positive proof, that Lycurgus in his reform may have had in view the similar organisation of the kindred tribe. (Müll. Dor.
3.1.8.) For this purpose it can be indifferent to us whether, as Miller thinks, the Dorians migrated into Crete from the district of mount Olympus long before the Trojan war, so that Minos would be a Dorian, and his legislation founded on Doric principles (Müll. 3.1. 9), or whether the Dorians only came into Crete sixty or eighty years after their conquest of Peloponnesus under Pollis and Althaemenes (Diod. 4.60
), according to Hoeck (Kreta,
ii. p. 15).
To sum up our opinion in a few words, we would say that, although we do not deny the historical reality of Lycurgus, or his character as a legislator of Sparta, yet we consider that every thing essential in the Spartan constitution is in its origin independent of Lycurgus. His merit consists partly in fixing the institutions he found, or in reestablishing older regulations, which began to give way, partly in restoring peace by his personal influence, and aiding in establishing or restoring that equal division of property, and that subjection of the conquered under the conquerors, which were essential for preserving the Doric character in its purity.
The ancient literature on Lycurgus is chiefly contained in Plutarch's Lycurgus
and Instituta Laconica;
Xenophon, de Republica Lacedaemonior.
(excellent edition by Fr. Haase, 1833); Aristotle's Politics,
2.6. Comprehensive collections of all the materials are those of Nic. Cragius (de Republ. Lacedaem.
Genev. 1593), and T. Meursius (Miscellanea Laconica,
Amst. 1661, and De Regno Laconico,
Ultraj. 1687; also in Gronov. Thesaur
). Of more recent date are Arnold's 2nd appendix to his Thucydides, on the Spartan Constitution;
a review of this by G. C. Lewis, in the Philological Museum,
vol. ii.; Manso's Sparta,
1800; Müller's Dorians;
Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth.
§ 55; Hermann's Political Antiq.,
where, § 23, the whole literature is given at full length; and Grote's History of Greece,