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PLUTARCH begins his biography of Lycurgus with the following ominous words :

“Concerning the lawgiver Lycurgus, we can assert absolutely nothing which is not controverted : there are different stories in respect to his birth, his travels, his death, and also his mode of proceeding, political as well as legislative : least of all is the time in which he lived agreed upon“.

And this exordium is but too well borne out by the unsatisfactory nature of the accounts which we read, not only in Plutarch himself, but in those other authors out of whom we are obliged to make up our idea of the memorable Lycurgean system. If we examine the sources from which Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus is deduced, it will appear that—excepting the poets Alkman, Tyrtaeus, and Simonides, from whom he has borrowed less than we could have wished—he has no authorities older than Xenophon and Plato: Aristotle is cited several times, and is unquestionably the best of his witnesses, but the greater number of them belong to the century subsequent to that philosopher. Neither Herodotus nor Ephorus are named, though the former furnishes some brief, but interesting particulars, —and the latter also (as far as we can judge from the fragments remaining) entered at large into the proceedings of the Spartan lawgiver.

Lycurgus is described by Herodotus as uncle and guardian to king Labotas, of the Eurystheneid or Agid line of Spartan kings; and this would place him, according to the received chronology, about 220 years before the first recorded Olympiad (about BC 996). All the other accounts, on the contrary, seem to represent him as a younger brother, belonging to the other or Prokleid line of Spartan kings, though they do not perfectly agree respecting his parentage. While Simonides stated him to be the son of Prytanis, Dieutychidas described him as grandson of Prytanis, son of Eunomus, brother of Polydektes, and uncle as well as guardian to Charilaus, thus making him eleventh in descent from Heracles. This latter account was adopted by Aristotle, coinciding, according to the received chronology, with the date of Iphitus the Eleian, and the first celebration of the Olympic games by Lycurgus and Iphitus conjointly, which Aristotle accepted as a fact. Lycurgus, on the hypothesis here mentioned, would stand about BC 880, a century before the recorded Olympiads. Eratosthenes and Apollodorus placed him “not a few years earlier than the first Olympiad.” If they meant hereby the epoch commonly assigned as the Olympiad of Iphitus, their date would coincide pretty nearly with that of Herodotus : if, on the other hand, they meant the first recorded Olympiad (BC 776), they would be found not much removed from the opinion of Aristotle. An unequivocal proof of the inextricable confusion in ancient times respecting the epoch of the great Spartan law­giver is indirectly afforded by Timaeus, who supposed that there had existed two persons named Lycurgus, and that the acts of both had been ascribed to one. It is plain from hence that there was no certainty attainable, even in the third century before the Christian era, respecting the date or parentage of Lycurgus.

Thucydides, without mentioning the name of Lycurgus, informs us that it was “400 years and somewhat more” anterior to the close of the Peloponnesian war, when the Spartans emerged from their previous state of desperate internal disorder, and entered upon “their present polity”. We may fairly presume that this alludes to the Lycurgean discipline and constitution, which Thucydides must thus have conceived as introduced about BC 830-820,— coinciding with something near the commencement of the reign of king Teleklus. In so far as it is possible to form an opinion, amidst evidence at once so scanty and so discordant, I incline to adopt the opinion of Thucydides as to the time at which the Lycurgean constitution was introduced at Sparta. The state of “eunomy” and good order which that constitution brought about, — combined with the healing of great previous internal sedition, which had tended much to enfeeble them,— is represented (and with great plausibility) as the grand cause of the victorious career beginning with king Teleklus, the conqueror of Amyklae, Pharis, and Geronthrae. Therefore it would seem, in the absence of better evidence, that a date, connecting the fresh stimulus of the new discipline with the reign of Teleklus, is more probable than any epoch either later or earlier.


O. Müller, after glancing at the strange and improbable circumstances handed down to us respecting Lycurgus, observes, “that we have absolutely no account of him as an individual person”. This remark is perfectly just : but another remark, made by the same distinguished author, respecting the Lycurgean system of laws, appears to me erroneous,—and requires more especially to be noticed, inasmuch as the corollaries deduced from it pervade a large portion of his valuable History of the Dorians. He affirms that the laws of Sparta were considered the true Doric institutions, and that their origin was identical with that of the people : Sparta is, in his view, the full type of Dorian principles, tendencies, and sentiments, — and is so treated throughout his entire work. But such an opinion is at once gratuitous (for the passage of Pindar cited in support of it is scarcely of any value) and contrary to the whole tenor of ancient evidence. The institutions of Sparta were not Dorian, but peculiar to herself; distinguishing her not less from Argos, Corinth, Megara, Epidaurus, Sicyon, Corcyra, or Cnidus, than from Athens or Thebes. Crete was the only other portion of Greece in which there prevailed institutions in many respects analogous, yet still dissimilar in those two attributes which form the real mark and pinch of Spartan legislation, namely, the military discipline and the rigorous private training. There were doubtless Dorians in Crete, but we have no proof that these peculiar institutions belonged to them more than to the other inhabitants of the island. That the Spartans had an original organization, and tendencies common to them with the other Dorians, we may readily concede; but the Lycurgean constitution impressed upon them a peculiar tendency, which took them out of the general march, and rendered them the least fit of all states to be cited as an example of the class-attributes of Dorism. One of the essential causes, which made the Spartan institutions work so impressively upon the Grecian mind, was their perfect singularity, combined with the conspicuous ascendency of the state in which they were manifested; while the Cretan communities, even admitting their partial resemblance (which was chiefly in the institution of the Syssitia, and was altogether more in form than in spirit) to Sparta, were too insignificant to attract notice except from speculative observers. It is therefore a mistake on the part of 0. Muller, to treat Sparta as the type and representative of Dorians generally, and very many of the positions advanced in his History of the Dorians require to be modified when this mistake is pointed out.


The first capital fact to notice respecting the institutions ascribed to Lycurgus, is the very early period at which they had their commencement : it seems impossible to place this period later than 825 BC. We do not find, nor have we a right to expect, trustworthy history in reference to events so early. If we have one foot on historical ground, inasmuch as the institutions themselves are real,—the other foot still floats in the unfaithful region of myth, when we strive to comprehend the generating causes : the mist yet prevails which hinders us from distinguishing between the god and the man. The light in which Lycurgus appeared, to an intelligent Greek of the fifth century before the Christian era, is so clearly, yet briefly depicted, in the following passage of Herodotus’, that I cannot do better than translate it : —

“In the very early times (Herodotus observes) the Spartans were among themselves the most lawless of all Greeks, and unapproachable by foreigners. Their transition to good legal order took place in the following manner. When Lycurgus, a Spartan of consideration, visited Delphi to consult the oracle, the instant that he entered the sanctuary, the Pythian priestess exclaimed,

Thou art come, Lycurgus, to my fat shrine, beloved by Zeus, and by all the Olympic gods. Is it as god or as man that I am to address thee in the spirit? I hesitate, — and yet, Lycurgus, I incline more to call thee a god”.

So spoke the Pythian priestess. “Moreover, in addition to these words, some affirm that the Pythia revealed to him the order of things now established among the Spartans. But the Lacedaemonians themselves say, that Lycurgus, when guardian of his nephew Labotas, king of the Spartans, introduced these institutions out of Crete. No sooner had he obtained this guardianship, than he changed all the institutions into their present form, and took security against any transgression of it. Next, he constituted the military divisions, the Enomoties and the Triakads, as well as the Syssitia, or public mess : he also, farther, appointed the ephors and the senate. By this means the Spartans passed from bad to good order : to Lycurgus, after his death, they built a temple, and they still worship him reverentially. And as might naturally be expected in a productive soil, and with no inconsiderable numbers of men, they immediately took a start forward, and flourished so much that they could not be content to remain tranquil within their own limits”, etc.

Such is our oldest statement (coming from Herodotus) respecting Lycurgus, ascribing to him that entire order of things which the writer witnessed at Sparta. Thucydides also, though not mentioning Lycurgus, agrees in stating that the system among the Lacedaemonians, as he saw it, had been adopted by them four centuries previously,—had rescued them from the most intolerable disorders, and had immediately conducted them to prosperity and success. Hellanikus, whose writings a little preceded those of Herodotus, not only did not (any more than Thucydides) make mention of Lycurgus, but can hardly be thought to have attached any importance to the name; since he attributed the constitution of Sparta to the first kings, Eurysthenes and Prokles.

But those later writers, from whom Plutarch chiefly compiled his biography, profess to be far better informed on the subject of Lycurgus, and enter more into detail. His father, we are told, was assassinated during the preceding state of lawlessness; his elder brother Polydektes died early, leaving a pregnant widow, who made to Lycurgus propositions that he should marry bet and become king. But Lycurgus, repudiating the offer with indignation, awaited the birth of his young nephew Charilaus, held up the child publicly in the agora, as the future king of Sparta, and immediately relinquished the authority which he had provisionally exercised. However, the widow and her brother Leonidas raised slanderous accusations against him of designs menacing to the life of the infant king,—accusations which he deemed it proper to obviate, by a temporary absence. Accordingly, he left Sparta and went to Crete, where he studied the polity and customs of the different cities; next, he visited Ionia and Egypt, and (as some authors affirmed) Libya, Iberia, and even India. While in Ionia, he is reported to have obtained from the descendants of Creophylus a copy of the Homeric poems, which had not up to that time become known in Peloponnesus : there were not wanting authors, indeed, who said that he had conversed with Homer himself.

Meanwhile, the young king Charilaus grew up and assumed the scepter, as representing the Prokleid or Eurypontyd family. But the reins of government had become more relaxed, and the disorders worse than ever, when Lycurgus returned. Finding that die two kings as well as the people were weary of so disastrous a condition, he set himself to the task of applying a corrective, and with this view consulted the Delphian oracle; from which he received strong assurances of the divine encouragement, together with one or more special injunctions (the primitive Rhetrae of the constitution), which he brought with him to Sparta. He then suddenly presented himself in the agora, with thirty of the most distinguished Spartans, all in arms, as his guards and partisans. King Charilaus, though at first terrified, when informed of the designs of his uncle, stood forward willingly to second them; while the bulk of the Spartans respectfully submitted to the venerable Herakleid, who came as reformer and missionary from Delphi. Such were the steps by which Lycurgus acquired his ascendency : we have now to see how he employed it.


His first proceeding, pursuant to the Rhetra or Compact brought from Delphi, was to constitute the Spartan senate, consisting of twenty-eight ancient men; making an aggregate of thirty in conjunction with the two kings, who sat and voted in it. With this were combined periodical assemblies of the Spartan people, in the open air, between the river Knakion and the bridge Babyka. Yet no discussion was permitted in these assemblies,— their functions were limited to the simple acceptance or rejection, of that which had previously been determined in the senate. Such was the Spartan political constitution as fixed by Lycurgus; but a century afterwards (so Plutarch’s account runs), under the kings Polydorus and Theopompus, two important alterations were made. A rider was then attached to the old Lycurgean Rhetra, by which it was provided that, “in case the people decided crookedly, the senate, with the kings, should reverse their decisions” : while another change, perhaps intended as a sort of compensation for this bridle on the popular assembly, introduced into the constitution a new executive Directory of five men, called Ephors. This Board—annually chosen, by some capricious method, the result of which could not well be foreseen, and open to be filled by every Spartan citizen — either originally received, or gradually drew to itself, functions so extensive and commanding, in regard to internal administration and police, as to limit the authority of the kings to little more than the exclusive command of the military force. Herodotus was informed, at Sparta, that the ephors as well as the senate had been constituted by Lycurgus; but the authority of Aristotle, as well as the internal probability of the case, sanctions the belief that they were subsequently added.

Taking the political constitution of Sparta ascribed to Lycurgus, it appears not to have differed materially from the rude organization exhibited in the Homeric poems, where we always find a council of chiefs or old men, and occasional meetings of a listening agora. It is hard to suppose that the Spartan kings can ever have governed without some formalities of this sort; so that the innovation (if innovation there really wag) ascribed to Lycurgus, must have consisted in some new details respecting the senate and the agora, — in fixing the number thirty, and the life-tenure of the former,— and the special place of meeting of the latter, as well as the extent of privilege which it was to exercise; consecrating the whole by the erection of the temples of Zeus Hellanius and Athene Hellania. The view of the subject presented by Plutarch as well as by Plato, as if the senate were an entire novelty, does not consist with the pictures of the old epic. Hence we may more naturally imagine that the Lycurgean political constitution, apart from the ephors who were afterwards tacked to it, presents only the old features of the heroic government of Greece, defined and regularized in a particular manner. The presence of two coexistent and coordinate kings, indeed, succeeding in hereditary descent, and both belonging to the gens of Herakleids, is something peculiar to Sparta, the origin of which receives no other explanation than a reference to the twin sons of Aristodemus, Eurysthenes and Prokles. These two primitive ancestors are a type of the two lines of Spartan kings; for they are said to have passed their lives in perpetual dissensions, which was the habitual state of the two contemporaneous kings at Sparta. While the coexistence of the pair of kings, equal in power and constantly thwarting each other, had often a baneful effect upon the course of public measures, it was, nevertheless, a security to the state against successful violence, ending in the establishment of a despotism, on the part of any ambitious individual among the regal line.


During five successive centuries of Spartan history, from Polydorus and Theopompus downward, no such violence was attempted by any of the kings, until the times of Agis the Third and Cleomenes the Third,—240 BC to 220 BC. The importance of Greece had at this last mentioned period irretrievably declined, and the independent political action which she once possessed had become subordinate to the more powerful force either of the Aetolian mountaineers (the rudest among her own sons) or to Epirotic, Macedonian, and Asiatic foreigners, preparatory to the final absorption by the Romans. But amongst all the Grecian states, Sparta had declined the most; her ascendency was totally gone, and her peculiar training and discipline (to which she had chiefly owed it) had degenerated in every way. Under these untoward circumstances, two young kings, Agis and Cleomenes, the former a generous enthusiast, the latter more violent and ambitious, conceived the design of restoring the Lycurgean constitution in its supposed pristine purity, with the hope of reviving both the spirit of the people and the ascendency of the state. But the Lycurgean constitution had been, even in the time of Xenophon, in part, an idéal not fully realized in practice — much less was it a reality in the days of Cleomenes and Agis moreover, it was an idéal which admitted of being colored according to the fancy or feelings of those reformers who professed, and probably believed, that they were aiming at its genuine restoration. What the reforming kings found most in their way, was the uncontrolled authority, and the conservative dispositions, of the ephors, which they naturally contrasted with the original fullness of the kingly power, when kings and senate stood alone. Among the various ways in which men’s ideas of what the primitive constitution had been, were modified by the feelings of their own time (we shall presently see some other instances of this), is probably to be reckoned the assertion of Cleomenes respecting the first appointment of the ephors. Cleomenes affirmed that the ephors had originally been nothing more than subordinates and deputies of the kings, chosen by the latter to perform for a time their duties during the long absence of the Messenian war. Starting from this humble position, and profiting by the dissensions of the two kings, they had in process of time, especially by the ambition of the ephor Asteropus, found means first to constitute themselves an independent board, then to “usurp to themselves more and more of the kingly authority, until they at last reduced the kings to a state of intolerable humiliation and impotence”. As a proof of the primitive relation between the kings and the ephors, he alluded to that which was the custom at Sparta in his own time. When the ephors sent for either of the kings, the latter had a right to refuse obedience to two successive summonses, but the third summons he was bound to obey.


It is obvious that the fact here adduced by Cleomenes (a curious point in Spartan manners) contributes little to prove the conclusion which he deduced from it, of the original nomination of the ephors as mere deputies by the kings. That they were first appointed at the time of the Messenian war is probable, and coincides with the tale that king Theopompus was a consenting party to the measure, that their functions were at first competitively circumscribed, and extended by successive encroachments, is also probable; but they seem to have been from the beginning a board of specially popular origin, in contraposition to the kings and the senate. One proof of this is to be found in the ancient oath, which was every month interchanged between the kings and the ephors; the king swearing for himself, that he would exercise his regal functions according to the established laws, the ephors swearing on behalf of the city, that his authority should on that condition remain unshaken. This mutual compact, which probably formed a part of the ceremony during the monthly sacrifices offered by the king, continued down to a time when it must have become a pure form, and when the kings had long been subordinate in power to the ephors. But it evidently began first as a reality, when the king was predominant and effective chief of the state, and when the ephors, clothed with functions chiefly defensive, served as guarantees to the people against abuse of the regal authority. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, all interpret the original institution of the ephors as designed to protect the people and restrain the kings : the latter assimilates them to the tribunes at Rome.

Such were the relations which had once subsisted between the kings and the ephors : though in later times these relations had been so completely reversed, that Polybius considers the former as essentially subordinate to the latter, reckoning it as a point of duty in the kings to respect the ephors “as their fathers”. And such is decidedly the state of things throughout all the better-known period of history which we shall hereafter traverse. The ephors are the general directors of public affairs and the supreme controlling board, holding in check every other authority in the state, without any assignable limit to their powers. The extraordinary ascendency of these magistrates is particularly manifested in the fact stated by Aristotle, that they exempted themselves from the public discipline, so that their self-indulgent year of office stood in marked contrast with the toilsome exercises and sober mess common to rich and poor alike. The kings are reduced to a certain number of special functions, combined with privileges partly religious, partly honorary : their most important political attribute is, that they are ex officio generals of the military force on foreign expeditions. But even here, we trace the sensible decline of their power. For whereas Herodotus was informed, and it probably had been the old privilege, that the king could levy war against whomsoever he chose, and that no Spartan could impede him on pain of committing sacrilege,— we shall see, throughout the best-known periods of this history, that it is usually the ephors (with or without the senate and public assembly) who determine upon war, — the king only takes the command when the army is put on the march. Aristotle seems to treat the Spartan king as a sort of hereditary general; but even in this privilege, shackles were put upon him, for two, out of the five ephors, accompanied the army, and their power seems to have been not seldom invoked to insure obedience to his orders.


The direct political powers of the kings were thus greatly curtailed; yet importance, in many ways, was still left to them. They possessed large royal domains, in many of the townships of the Perioeki : they received frequent occasional presents, and when victims were offered to the gods, the skins and other portions belonged to them as perquisites : they had their votes in the senate, which, if they were absent, were given on their behalf, by such of the other senators as were most nearly related to them: the adoption of children received its formal accomplishment in their presence, and conflicting claims at law, for the hand of an unbequeathed orphan heiress, were adjudicated by them. But above all, their root was deep in the religious feelings of the people. Their preeminent lineage connected the entire state with a divine paternity. They, the chiefs of the Herakleids, were the special grantees of the soil of Sparta from the gods, the occupation of the Dorians being only sanctified and blest by Zeus for the purpose of establishing the children of Heracles in the valley of the Eurotas. They represented the state in its relations with the gods, being by right priests of Zeus Lacedaemon, (the ideas of the god and the country coalescing into one), and of Zeus Uranius, and offering the monthly sacrifices necessary to insure divine protection to the people. Though individual persons might sometimes be put aside, nothing short of a new divine revelation could induce the Spartans to step out of the genuine lineage of Eurysthenes and Prokles. Moreover, the remarkable mourning ceremony, which took place at the death of every king, seems to indicate that the two kingly families which counted themselves Achaean, not Dorian, were considered as the great common bond of union between the three component parts of the population of Laconia, Spartans, Perioeki, and Helots. Not merely was it required, on this occasion, that two members of every house in Sparta should appear in sackcloth and ashes, but the death of the king was formally made known throughout every part of Laconia, and deputies from the townships of the Perioeki, and the villages of the Helots, to the number of several thousand, were summoned to Sparta to take their share in the profuse and public demonstrations of sorrow, which lasted for ten days, and which imparted to the funeral obsequies a superhuman solemnity. Nor ought we to forget, in enumerating the privileges of the Spartan king, that he (conjointly with two officers called Pythii, nominated by him,) carried on the communications between the state and the temple of Delphi, and had the custody of oracles and prophecies generally. In most of the Grecian states, such inspired declarations were treasured up, and consulted in cases of public emergency : but the intercourse of Sparta with the Delphian oracle was peculiarly frequent and intimate, and the responses of the Pythian priestess met with more reverential attention from the Spartans than from any other Greeks. So much the more important were the king’s functions, as the medium of this intercourse : the oracle always upheld his dignity, and often even seconded his underhand personal schemes.

Sustained by so great a force of traditional reverence, a Spartan king, of military talent and individual energy, like Agesilaus, exercised great ascendency; but such cases were very rare, and we shall find the king throughout the historical period only a secondary force, available on special occasions. For real political orders, in the greatest eases as well as the least, the Spartan looks to the council of ephors, to whom obedience is paid with a degree of precision which nothing short of the Spartan discipline could have brought about,— by the most powerful citizens not less than by the meanest). Both the internal police and the foreign affairs of the state are in the hands of the ephors, who exercise an authority approaching to despotism, and altogether without accountability. They appoint and direct the body of three hundred young and active citizens, who performed the immediate police service of Laconia: they cashier at pleasure any subordinate functionary, and inflict fine or arrest at their own discretion : they assemble the military force, on occasion of foreign war, and determine its destination, though the king has the actual command of it: they imprison on suspicion even the regent or the king himself : they sit as judges, sometimes individually and sometimes as a board, upon causes and complaints of great moment, and they judge without the restraint of written laws, the use of which was peremptorily forbidden by a special Rhetra, erroneously connected with Lycurgus himself, but at any rate ancient. On certain occasions of peculiar moment, they take the sense of the senate and the public assembly, — such seems to have been the habit on questions of war and peace. It appears, however, that persons charged with homicide, treason, or capital offences generally, were tried before the senate. We read of several instances in which the kings were tried and severely fined, and in which their houses were condemned to be razed to the ground, probably by the senate, on the proposition of the ephors : in one instance, it seems that the ephors inflicted by their own authority a fine even upon Agesilaus.


War and peace appear to have been submitted, on most, if not on all occasions, to the senate and the public assembly; no matter could reach the latter until it had passed through the former. And we find some few occasions on which the decision of the public assembly was a real expression of opinion, and operative as to the result, as, for example, the assembly which immediately preceded and resolved upon the Peloponnesian war. Here, in addition to the serious hazard of the case, and the general caution of a Spartan temperament, there was the great personal weight and experience of king Archidamus opposed to the war, though the ephors were favorable to it. The public assembly, under such peculiar circumstances, really manifested an opinion and came to a division. But, for the most part, it seems to have been little better than an inoperative formality. The general rule permitted no open discussion, nor could any private citizen speak except by special leave from the magistrates. Perhaps even the general liberty to discuss, if given, might have been of no avail, for not only was there no power of public speaking, but no habit of canvassing public measures, at Sparta; nothing was more characteristic of the government than the extreme secrecy of its proceedings. The propositions brought forward by the magistrates were either accepted or rejected, without any license of amending. There could be no attraction to invite the citizen to be present at such an assembly: and we may gather from the language of Xenophon that, in his time, it consisted only of a certain number of notables specially summoned in addition to the senate, which latter body is itself called “the lesser Ekklesia”. Indeed, the constant and formidable diminution in the number of qualified citizens was alone sufficient to thin the attendance of the assembly, as well as to break down any imposing force which it might once have possessed.

An assembly thus circumstanced, though always retained as a formality, and though its consent on considerable matters and for the passing of laws (which, however, seems to have been a rare occurrence at Sparta) was indispensable, could be very little of a practical check upon the administration of the ephors. The senate, a permanent body, with the kings included in it, was the only real check upon them, and must have been to a certain extent a concurrent body in the government, though the large and imposing language in which its political supremacy is spoken of by Demosthenes and Isocrates exceeds greatly the reality of the case. Its most important function was that of a court of criminal justice, before whom every man put on trial for his life was arraigned. But both in this and in their other duties, we find the senators as well as the kings and the ephors charged with corruption and venality. As they were not appointed until sixty years of age, and then held their offices for life, we may readily believe that some of them continued to act after the period of extreme and disqualifying senility, which, though the extraordinary respect of the Lacedaemonians for old age would doubtless tolerate it, could not fail to impair the influence of the body as a concurrent element of government.


The brief sketch here given of the Spartan government will show that, though Greek theorists found a difficulty in determining under what class they should arrange it, it was in substance a close, unscrupulous, and well-obeyed oligarchy, including within it, as subordinate, those portions which had once been dominant, the kings and the senate, and softening the odium, without abating the mischief, of the system, by its annual change of the ruling ephors. We must at the same time distinguish the government from the Lycurgean discipline and education, which doubtless tended much to equalize rich and poor, in respect to practical life, habits, and enjoyments. Herodotus (and seemingly, also, Xenophon) thought that the form just described was that which the government had originally received from the hand of Lycurgus. Now, though there is good reason for supposing otherwise, and for believing the ephors to be a subsequent addition, yet, the mere fact that Herodotus was so informed at Sparta, points our attention to one important attribute of the Spartan polity, which it is proper to bring into view. This attribute is, its unparalleled steadiness, for four or five successive centuries, in the midst of governments like the Grecian, all of which had undergone more or less of fluctuation. No considerable revolution—not even any palpable or formal change—occurred in it, from the days of the Messenian war, down to those of Agis the Third : in spite of the irreparable blow which the power and territory of the state sustained from Epaminondas and the Thebans, the form of government, nevertheless, remained unchanged. It was the only government in Greece which could trace an unbroken, peaceable descent from a high antiquity, and from its real or supposed founder. Now this was one of the main circumstances (among others which will hereafter be mentioned) of the astonishing ascendency which the Spartans acquired over the Hellenic mind, and which they will not be found at all to deserve by any superior ability in the conduct of affairs. The steadiness of their political sympathies, exhibited at one time, by putting down the tyrants, or despots, at another, by overthrowing the democracies, stood in the place of ability; and even the recognized failings of their government were often covered by the sentiment of respect for its early commencement and uninterrupted continuance. If such a feeling acted on the Greeks generally, much more powerful was its action upon the Spartans themselves, in inflaming that haughty exclusiveness for which they stood distinguished. And it is to be observed that the Spartan mind continued to be cast on the old-fashioned scale, and unsusceptible of modernizing influences, longer than that of most other people of Greece. The ancient legendary faith, and devoted submission to the Delphian oracle, remained among them unabated, at a time when various influences had considerably undermined it among their fellow-Hellens and neighbors. But though the unchanged title and forms of the government thus contributed to its imposing effect, both at home and abroad, the causes of internal degeneracy were not the less really at work, in undermining its efficiency. It has been already stated, that the number of qualified citizens went on continually diminishing, and even of this diminished number a larger proportion than before were needy, since the landed property tended constantly to concentrate itself in fewer hands. There grew up in this way a body of discontent, which had not originally existed, both among the poorer citizens, and among those who had lost their franchise as citizens; thus aggravating the danger arising from Perioeki and Helots, who will be presently noticed.

We pass from the political constitution of Sparta to the civil ranks and distribution, economical relations, and lastly, the peculiar system of habits, education, and discipline, said to have been established among the Lacedaemonians by Lycurgus. Here, again, we shall find ourselves imperfectly informed as to the existing institutions, and surrounded by confusion when we try to explain how those institutions arose.


It seems, however, ascertained that the Dorians, in all their settlements, were divided into three tribes,—the Hylleis, the Pamphyli, and the Dymanes : in all Dorian cities, moreover, there were distinguished Herakleid families, from whom oekists were chosen when new colonies were formed. These three tribes can be traced at Argos, Sicyon, Epidaurus, Troezen, Megara, Corcyra, and seemingly, also, at Sparta. The Hylleis recognized, as their eponym and progenitor, Hyllus, the son of Heracles, and were therefore, in their own belief, descended from Heracles himself: we may suppose the Herakleids, specially so called, comprising the two regal families, to have been the elder brethren of the tribe of Hylleis, the whole of whom are sometimes spoken of as Herakleids, or descendants of Heracles. But there seem to have been also at Sparta, as in other Dorian towns, non-Dorian inhabitants, apart from these three tribes, and embodied in tribes of their own. One of these, the Aegeids, said to have come from Thebes as allies of the Dorian invaders, is named by Aristotle, Pindar, and Herodotus—while the Aegialeis at Sicyon, the tribe Hyrnethia at Argos and Epidaurus, and others, whose titles we do not know, at Corinth, represent, in like manner, the non-Dorian portions of their respective communities. At Corinth, the total number of tribes is said to have been eight. But at Sparta, though we seem to make out the existence of the three Dorian tribes, we do not know how many tribes there were in all : still less do we know what relation the Obae, or Obes, another subordinate distribution of the people, bore to the tribes. In the ancient Rhetra of Lycurgus, the Tribes and Obes are directed to be maintained unaltered: but the statement of O. Müller and Boeckh —that there were thirty obes in all, ten to each tribe — rests upon no other evidence than a peculiar punctuation of this Rhetra, which various other critics reject; and seemingly, with good reason. We are thus left without any information respecting the Obe, though we know that it was an old, peculiar, and lasting division among the Spartan people, since it occurs in the oldest Rhetra of Lycurgus, as well as in late inscriptions of the date of the Roman empire. In similar inscriptions, and in the account of Pausanias, there is, however, recognized a classification of Spartans distinct from and independent of the three old Dorian tribes, and founded upon the different quarters of the city,—Limnae, Mesoa, Pitane, and Cynosura; from one of these four was derived the usual description of a Spartan in the days of Herodotus. There is reason to suppose that the old Dorian tribes became antiquated at Sparta, (as the four old Ionian tribes did at Athens,) and that the topical classification derived from the quarters of the city superseded it, these quarters having been originally the separate villages, of the aggregate of which Sparta was composed. That the number of the old senators, thirty, was connected with the three Dorian tribes, deriving ten members from each, is probable enough, though there is no proof of it.

Of the population of Laconia, three main divisions are recognized,—Spartans, Perioeki, and Helots. The first of the three were the full qualified citizens, who lived in Sparta itself, fulfilled all the exigencies of the Lycurgean discipline, paid their quota to the Syssitia, or public mess, and were alone eligible to honors, or public offices. These men had neither time, nor taste even, for cultivation of the land, still less for trade or handicraft : such occupations were inconsistent with the prescribed training, even if they had not been positively interdicted. They were maintained from the lands round the city, and from the large proportion of Laconia which belonged to them; the land being tilled for them by Helots, who seem to have paid over to them a fixed proportion of the produce; in some cases, at least, as much as one half. Each Spartan retained his qualification, and transmitted it to his children, on two conditions, first, that of submitting to the prescribed discipline; next, that of paying, each, his stipulated quota to the public mess, which was only maintained by these individual contributions. The multiplication of children in the poorer families, after acquisitions of new territory ceased, continually augmented both the number and the proportion of citizens who were unable to fulfill the second of these conditions, and who therefore lost their franchise : so that there arose towards the close of the Peloponnesian war, a distinction, among the Spartans themselves, unknown to the earlier times, — the reduced number of fully qualified citizens being called The Equals, or Peers, — the disfranchised poor, The Inferiors. The latter, disfranchised as they were, nevertheless, did not become Perioeki : it was probably still competent to them to resume their qualification, should any favorable accident enable them to make their contributions to the public mess.


The Perioekus was also a freeman and a citizen, not of Sparta, but of some one of the hundred townships of Laconia. Both he and the community to which he belonged received their orders only from Sparta, having no political sphere of their own, and no share in determining the movements of the Spartan authorities. In the island of Cythera, which formed one of the Perioekic townships, a Spartan bailiff resided as administrator. But whether the same was the case with others, we cannot affirm : nor is it safe to reason from one of these townships to all, there may have been considerable differences in the mode of dealing with one and another. For they were spread through the whole of Laconia, some near and some distant from Sparta : the free inhabitants of Amyklae must have been Perioeki, as well as those of Cythera, Thuria, Aetheia, or Aulon : nor can we presume that the feeling on the part of the Spartan authorities towards all of them was the same. Between the Spartans and their neighbors, the numerous Perioeki of Amyklae, there must have subsisted a degree of intercourse and mutual relation in which the more distant Perioeki did not partake,— besides, that both the religious edifices and the festivals of Amyklae were most reverentially adopted by the Spartans and exalted into a national dignity : and we seem to perceive, on some occasions, a degree of consideration manifested for the Amyklaean hoplites, such as perhaps other Perioeki might not have obtained. The class-name, Perioeki,— circum-residents, or dwellers around the city, — usually denoted native inhabitants of inferior political condition as contrasted with the full-privileged burghers who lived in the city, but it did not mark any precise or uniform degree of inferiority. It is sometimes so used by Aristotle as to imply a condition no better than that of the Helots, so that, in a large sense, all the inhabitants of Laconia (Helots as well as the rest) might have been included in it. But when used in reference to Laconia, it bears a technical sense, whereby it is placed in contraposition with the Spartan on one side, and with the Helot on the other : it means, native free­men and proprietors, grouped in subordinate communities with more or less power of local management, but (like the subject towns belonging to Bern, Zurich, and most of the old thirteen cantons or Switzerland) embodied in the Lacedaemonian aggregate, which was governed exclusively by the kings, senate, and citizens of Sparta.

When we come to describe the democracy of Athens after the revolution of Cleisthenes, we shall find the demes, or local townships and villages of Attica, incorporated as equal and constituent fractions of the integer called The Deme (or The City) of Athens, so that a demot of Acharnae or Sphettus is at the same time a full Athenian citizen. But the relation of the Perioekic townships to Sparta is one of inequality and obedience, though both belong to the same political aggregate, and make up together the free Lacedaemonian community. In like manner, Orneae and other places were townships of men personally free, but politically dependent on Argos : Akraephiae on Thebes, Chaeronea on Orchomenus, and various Thessalian towns on Pharsalus and Larissa. Such, moreover, was, in the main, the state into which Athens would have brought her allies, and Thebes the free Boeotian communities, if the policy of either of these cities had permanently prospered. This condition carried with it a sentiment of degradation, and a painful negation of that autonomy for which every Grecian community thirsted; while being maintained through superior force, it had a natural tendency, perhaps without the deliberate wish of the reigning city, to degenerate into practical oppression. But in addition to this general tendency, the peculiar education of a Spartan, while it imparted force, fortitude, and regimental precision, was at the same time so rigorously peculiar, that it rendered him harsh, unaccommodating, and incapable of sympathizing with the ordinary march of Grecian feeling, — not to mention the rapacity and love of money, which is attested, by good evidence, as belonging to the Spartan character, and which we should hardly have expected to find in the pupils of Lycurgus. As Harmosts out of their native city, and in relations with inferiors, the Spartans seem to have been more unpopular than other Greeks, and we may presume that a similar haughty roughness pervaded their dealings with their own Perioeki; who were bound to them certainly by no tie of affection, and who for the most part revolted after the battle of Leuctra, as soon as the invasion of Laconia by Epaminondas enabled them to do so with safety.

Isocrates, taking his point of departure from the old Herakleid legend, with its instantaneous conquest and triple partition of all Dorian Peloponnesus, among the three Herakleid brethren, deduces the first origin of the Perioekic townships from internal seditions among the conquerors of Sparta. According to him, the period immediately succeeding the conquest was one of fierce intestine warfare in newly-conquered Sparta, between the Few and the Many, — the oligarchy and the demos. The former being victorious, two important measures were the consequences of their victory. They banished the defeated Many from Sparta into Laconia, retaining the residence in Sparta exclusively for themselves; they assigned to them the smallest and least fertile half of Laconia, monopolizing the larger and better for themselves; and they disseminated them into many very small townships, or subordinate little communities, while they concentrated themselves entirely at Sparta. To these precautions for insuring dominion, they added another not less important. They established among their own Spartan citizens equality of legal privilege and democratical government, so as to take the greatest securities for internal harmony; which harmony, according to the judgment of Isocrates, had been but too effectually perpetuated, enabling the Spartans to achieve their dominion over oppressed Greece, —like the accord of pirates for the spoliation of the peaceful. The Perioekic townships, he tell us, while deprived of all the privileges of freemen, were exposed to all the toils, as well as to an unfair share of the dangers, of war. The Spartan authorities put them in situations and upon enterprises which they deemed too dangerous for their own citizens; and, what was still worse, the ephors possessed the power of putting to death, without any form of preliminary trial, as many Perioeki as they pleased.

The statement here delivered by Isocrates, respecting the first origin of the distinction of Spartans and Perioeki, is nothing better than a conjecture, nor is it even a probable conjecture, since it is based on the historical truth of the old Herakleid legend, and transports the disputes of his own time, between the oligarchy and the demus, into an early period, to which such disputes do not belong. Nor is there anything, so fir as our knowledge of Grecian history extends, to bear out his assertion, that the Spartans took to themselves the least dangerous post in the field, and threw undue peril upon their Perioeki. Such dastardly temper was not among the sins of Sparta; but it is undoubtedly true that, as the number of citizens continually diminished, so the Perioeki came to constitute, in the later times, a larger and larger proportion of the Spartan force. Yet the power which Isocrates represents to have been vested in the ephors, of putting to death Perioeki without preliminary trial, we may fully believe to be zeal, and to have been exercised as often as the occasion seemed to call for it. We shall notice, presently, the way in which these magistrates dealt with the Helots, and shall see ample reason from thence to draw the conclusion that, whenever the ephors believed any man to be dangerous to the public peace, — whether an inferior Spartan, a Perioekus, or a Helot, — the most summary mode of getting rid of him would be considered as the best. Towards Spartans of rank and consideration, they were doubtless careful and measured in their application of punishment, but the same necessity for circumspection did not exist with regard to the inferior classes : moreover, the feeling that the exigencies of justice required a fair trial before punishment was inflicted, belongs to Athenian associations much more than to Spartan. How often any such summary executions may have taken place, we have no information.

We may remark that the account which Isocrates has here given of the origin of the Laconian Perioeki is not essentially irreconcilable with that of Ephorus, who recounted that Eurysthenes and Prokles, on first conquering Laconia, had granted to the preexisting population equal rights with the Dorians,—but that Agis, son of Eurysthenes, had deprived them of this equal position, and degraded them into dependent subjects of the latter. At least, the two narratives both agree in presuming that the Perioeki had once enjoyed a better position, from which they had been extruded by violence. And the policy which Isocrates ascribes to the victorious Spartan oligarchs,—of driving out the demus from concentrated residence in the city to disseminated residence in many separate and insignificant townships, —seems to be the expression of that proceeding which in his time was numbered among the most efficient precautions against refractory subjects,—the Dioekisis, or breaking up of a town-aggregate into villages. We cannot assign to the statement any historical authority. Moreover, the division of Laconia into six districts, together with its distribution into townships (or the distribution of settlers into preexisting townships), which Ephorus ascribed to the first Dorian kings, are all deductions from the primitive legendary account, which described the Dorian conquest as achieved by one stroke, and must all be dismissed, if we suppose it to have been achieved gradually. This gradual conquest is admitted by 0. Muller, and by many of the ablest subsequent inquirers, who, nevertheless, seem to have the contrary supposition involuntarily present to their minds when they criticize the early Spartan history, and always unconsciously imagine the Spartans as masters of all Laconia. We cannot even assert that Laconia was ever under one government before the consummation of the successive conquests of Sparta.

Of the assertion of O. Müller—repeated by Schömann — “that the difference of races was strictly preserved, and that the Perioeki were always considered as Achaeans”,— I find no proof, and I believe it to be erroneous. Respecting Pharis, Geronthrae, and Amyklae, three Perioeki towns, Pausanias gives us to understand that the preexisting inhabitants either retired or were expelled on the Dorian conquest, and that a Dorian population replaced them. Without placing great faith in this statement, for which Pausanias could hardly have any good authority, we may yet accept it as representing the probabilities of the case, and as counterbalancing the unsupported hypothesis of Muller. The Perioekic townships were probably composed either of Dorians entirely, or of Dorians incorporated in greater or less proportion with the preexisting inhabitants. But whatever difference of race there may once have been, it was effaced before the historical times, during which we find no proof of Achaeans, known as such, in Laconia. The Herakleids, the Aegeids, and the Talthybiads, all of whom belong to Sparta, seem to be the only examples of separate races, partially distinguishable from Dorians, known after the beginning of authentic history. The Spartans and the Perioeki constitute one political aggregate, and that too so completely melted together in the general opinion (speaking of the times before the battle of Leuktra), that the peace of Antalcidas, which guaranteed autonomy to every separate Grecian city, was never so construed as to divorce the Perioekic towns from Sparta. Both are known as Laconians, or Lacedaemonians, and Sparta is regarded by Herodotus only as the first and bravest among the many and brave Lacedaemonian cities. The victors at Olympia are proclaimed, not as Spartans, but as Laconians, a title alike borne by the Perioeki. And many of the numerous winners, whose names we read in the Olympic lists as Laconians, may probably have belonged to Amyklae or other Perioekic towns.

The Perioekic hoplites constituted always a large — in later times a preponderant — numerical proportion of the Lacedaemonian army, and must undoubtedly have been trained, more or less perfectly, in the peculiar military tactics of Sparta; since they were called upon to obey the same orders as the Spartans in the field, and to perform the same evolutions. Some cases appear, though rare, in which a Perioekus has high command in a foreign expedition. In the time of Aristotle, the larger proportion of Laconia (then meaning only the country eastward of Taygetus, since the foundation of Messene by Epaminondas had been consummated) belonged to Spartan citizens, but the remaining smaller half must have been the property of the Perioeki, who must besides have carried on most of the commerce of export and import, — the metallurgic enterprise, and the distribution of internal produce, — which the territory exhibited; since no Spartan ever meddled in such occupations. And thus the peculiar training of Lycurgus, by throwing all these employments into the hands of the Perioeki, opened to them a new source of importance, which the dependent townships of Argos, of Thebes, or of Orchomenus, would not enjoy.


The Helots of Laconia were Coloni, or serfs, bound to the soil, who tilled it for the benefit of the Spartan proprietors certainly, probably, of Perioekic proprietors also. They were the rustic population of the country, who dwelt, not in towns, but either in small villages or in detached farms, both in the district immediately surrounding Sparta, and round the Perioekic Laconian towns also. Of course, there were also Helots who lived in Sparta and other towns, and did the work of domestic slaves, but such was not the general character of the class. We cannot doubt that the Dorian conquest from Sparta found this class in the condition of villagers and detached rustics; but whether they were dependent upon preexisting Achaean proprietors, or independent, like much of the Arcadian village population, is a question which we cannot answer. In either case, however, it is easy to conceive that the village lands (with the cultivators upon them) were the most easy to appropriate for the benefit of masters resident at Sparta; while the towns, with the district immediately around them, furnished both dwelling and maintenance to the outgoing detachments of Dorians. If the Spartans had succeeded in their attempt to enlarge their territory by the conquest of Arcadia, they might very probably have converted Tegea and Mantinea into Perioekic towns, with a diminished territory inhabited (either wholly or in part) by Dorian settlers, while they would have made over to proprietors in Sparta much of the village lands of the Maenalii, Azanes, and Parrhasii, Helotizing the inhabitants. The distinction between a town and a village population seems the main ground of the different treatment of Helots and Perioeki in Laconia. A considerable proportion of the Helots were of genuine Dorian race, being the Dorian Messenians west of Mount Taygetus, subsequently conquered and aggregated to this class of dependent cultivators, who, as a class, must have begun to exist from the very first establishment of the invading Dorians in the district round Sparta. From whence the name of Helots arose, we do not clearly make out : Ephorus deduced it from the town of Helus, on the southern coast, which the Spartans are said to have taken after a resistance so obstinate as to provoke them to deal very rigorously with the captives. There are many reasons for rejecting this story, and another etymology has been proposed, according to which Helot is synonymous with captive: this is more plausible, yet still not convincing. The Helots lived in the rural villages, as adscripti glebae, cultivating their lands and paying over their rent to the master at Sparta, but enjoying their homes, wives, families, and mutual neighborly feelings, apart from the master’s view. They were never sold out of the country, and probably never sold at all; belonging, not so much to the master as to the state, which constantly called upon them for military service, and recompensed their bravery or activity with a grant of freedom. Meno, the Thessalian of Pharsalus, took out three hundred Penestae of his own, to aid the Athenians against Amphipolis: these Thessalian Penestae were in many points analogous to the Helots, but no individual Spartan possessed the like power over the latter. The Helots were thus a part of the state, having their domestic and social sympathies developed, a certain power of acquiring property, and the consciousness of Grecian lineage and dialect,—points of marked superiority over the foreigners who formed the slave population of Athens or Chios. They seem to have been no way inferior to any village population of Greece; while the Grecian observer sympathized with them more strongly than with the bought slaves of other states, not to mention that their homogeneous aspect, their numbers, and their employment in military service, rendered them more conspicuous to the eye.

The service in the Spartan house was all performed by members of the Helot class; for there seem to have been few, if any, other slaves in the country. The various anecdotes which are told respecting their treatment at Sparta, betoken less of cruelty than of ostentatious scorn,— a sentiment which we are no way surprised to discover among the citizens at the mess-table. But the great mass of the Helots, who dwelt in the country, were objects of a very different sentiment on the part of the Spartan ephors, who knew their bravery, energy, and standing discontent, and yet were forced to employ them as an essential portion of the state army. The helots commonly served as light-armed, in which capacity the Spartan hoplites could not dispense with their attendance. At the battle of Plataea, every Spartan hoplite had seven Helots, and every Perioekic hoplite one Helot, to attend him : but, even in camp, the Spartan arrangements were framed to guard against any sudden mutiny of these light-armed companions, while, at home, the citizen habitually kept his shield disjoined from its holding-ring, to prevent the possibility of its being snatched for the like purpose. Sometimes, select Helots were clothed in heavy armor, and thus served in the ranks, receiving manumission from the state as the reward of distinguished bravery.


But Sparta, even at the maximum of her power, was more than once endangered by the reality, and always beset with the apprehension, of Helotic revolt. To prevent or suppress it, the ephors submitted to insert express stipulations for aid in their treaties with Athens, to invite Athenian troops into the heart of Laconia, and to practice combinations of cunning and atrocity which even yet stand without parallel in the long list of precautions for fortifying unjust dominion. It was in the eighth year of the Peloponnesian war, after the Helots had been called upon for signal military efforts in various ways, and when the Athenians and Messenians were in possession of Pylus, that the ephors felt especially apprehensive of an outbreak. Anxious to single out the most forward and daring Helots, as the men from whom they had most to dread, they issued proclamation that every member of that class who had rendered distinguished services should make his claims known at Sparta, promising liberty to the most deserving. A large number of Helots came forward to claim the boon : not less than two thousand of them were approved, formally manumitted, and led in solemn procession round the temples, with garlands on their heads, as an inauguration to their coming life of freedom. But the treacherous garland only marked them out as victims for the sacrifice: every man of them forthwith disappeared, the manner of their death was an untold mystery.

For this dark and bloody deed, Thucydides is our witness, and Thucydides describing a contemporary matter into which he had inquired. Upon any less evidence we should have hesitated to believe the statement; but standing as it thus does above all suspicion, it speaks volumes as to the inhuman character of the Lacedaemonian government, while it lays open to us at the same time the intensity of their fears from the Helots. In the assassination of this fated regiment of brave men, a large number of auxiliaries and instruments must have been concerned: yet Thucydides, with all his inquiries, could not find out how any of them perished : he tells us, that no man knew. We see here a fact which demonstrates unequivocally the impenetrable mystery in which the proceedings of the Spartan government were wrapped, the absence not only of public discussion, but of public curiosity, and the perfection with which the ephors reigned over the will, the hands, and the tongues, of their Spartan subjects. The Venetian Council of Ten, with all the facilities for nocturnal drowning which their city presented, could hardly have accomplished so vast a coup-d'êtat with such invisible means. And we may judge from hence, even if we had no other evidence, how little the habits of a public assembly could have suited either the temper of mind or the march of government at Sparta.

Other proceedings, ascribed to the ephors against the Helots, are conceived in the same spirit as the incident just recounted from Thucydides, though they do not carry with them the same certain attestation. It was a part of the institutions of Lycurgus (according to a statement which Plutarch professes to have borrowed from Aristotle) that the ephors should every year declare war against the Helots, in order that the murder of them might be rendered innocent; and that active young Spartans should be armed with daggers and sent about Laconia, in order that they might, either in solitude or at night, assassinate such of the Helots as were considered formidable. This last measure passes by the name of the Krypteia, yet we find some difficulty in determining to what extent it was ever realized. That the ephors, indeed, would not be restrained by any scruples of justice or humanity, is plainly shown by the murder of the two thousand helots above noticed; but this latter incident really answered its purpose, while a standing practice, such as that of the Krypteia, and a formal notice of war given beforehand, would provoke the reaction of despair rather than enforce tranquility. There seems, indeed, good evidence that the Krypteia was a real practice, that the ephors kept up a system of police or espionage throughout Laconia, by the employment of active young citizens, who lived a hard and solitary life, and suffered their motions to be as little detected as possible. The ephors might naturally enough take this method of keeping watch both over the Perioekic town­ships and the Helot villages, and the assassination of individual Helots by these police-men, or Krypts, would probably pass unnoticed. But it is impossible to believe in any standing murderous order, or deliberate annual assassination of Helots, for the purpose of intimidation, as Aristotle is alleged to have represented, for we may well doubt whether he really did make such a representation, when we see that he takes no notice of this measure in his Politics, where he speaks at some length both of the Spartan constitution and of the Helots. The well-known hatred and fear, entertained by the Spartans towards their Helots, has probably colored Plutarch’s description of the Krypteia, so as to exaggerate those unpunished murders which occasionally happened into a constant phenomenon with express design. A similar deduction is to be made from the statement of Myron of Priene, who alleged that they were beaten every year without any special fault, in order to put them in mind of their slavery, and that those Helots, whose superior beauty or stature placed them above the visible stamp of their condition, were put to death; while such masters as neglected to keep down the spirit of their vigorous Helots were, punished. That secrecy, for which the ephors were so remarkable, seems enough of itself to refute the assertion that they publicly proclaimed war against the Helots; though we may well believe that this unhappy class of men may have been noticed as objects for jealous observation in the annual ephoric oath of office. Whatever may have been the treatment of the Helots in later times, it is at all events hardly to be supposed that any regulation hostile to them can have emanated from Lycurgus. For the dangers arising from that source did not become serious until after the Messenian war, nor, indeed, until after the gradual diminution of the number of Spartan citizens had made itself felt.

The manumitted Helots did not pass into the class of Perioeki, for this purpose a special grant, of the freedom of some Perioekic township, would probably be required, but constituted a class apart, known at the time of the Peloponnesian was by the name of Neodamodes. Being persons who had earned their liberty by signal bravery, they were of course regarded by the ephors with peculiar apprehension, and, if possible, employed on foreign service, or planted on some foreign soil as settlers. In what manner these freedmen employed themselves, we find no distinct information; but we can hardly doubt that they quitted the Helot village and field, together with the rural costume (the leather cap and sheepskin) which the Helot commonly wore, and the change of which exposed him to suspicion, if not to punishment, from his jealous masters. Probably they, as well as the disfranchised Spartan citizens (called Hypomeiones, or Inferiors), became congregated at Sparta, and found employ went either in various trades or in the service of the government.


It has been necessary to give this short sketch of the orders of men who inhabited Laconia, in order to enable us to understand the statements given about the legislation of Lycurgus. The arrangements ascribed to that lawgiver, in the way that Plutarch describes them, presuppose, and do not create, the three orders of Spartans, Perioeki, and Helots. We are told by Plutarch that the disorders which Lycurgus found existing in the state arose in a great measure from the gross inequality of property, and from the luxurious indulgence and unprincipled rapacity of the rich, who had drawn to themselves the greater proportion of the lands in the country, leaving a large body of poor, without any lot of land, in hopeless misery and degradation. To this inequality (according to Plutarch) the reforming legislator applied at once a stringent remedy. He redistributed the whole territory belonging to Sparta, as well as the remainder of Laconia; the former, in nine thousand equal lots, one to each Spartan citizen; the latter, in thirty thousand equal lots, one to each Perioekus: of this alleged distribution, I shall speak farther presently. Moreover, he banished the use of gold and silver money, tolerating nothing in the shape of circulating medium but pieces of iron, heavy and scarcely portable; and he forbade to the Spartan citizen every species of industrious or money-seeking occupation, agriculture included. He farther constituted, —though not without strenuous opposition, during the course of which his eye is said to have been knocked out by a violent youth, named Alkander—, the Syssitia, or public mess. A certain number of joint tables were provided, and every citizen was required to belong to some one of them, and habitually to take his meals at it,— no new member being admissible without an unanimous ballot in his favor by the previous occupants. Each provided from his lot of land a specified quota of barley-meal, wine, cheese, and figs, and a small contribution of money for condiments : game was obtained in addition by hunting in the public forests of the state, while everyone who sacrificed to the gods, sent to his mess-table a part of the victim killed. From boyhood to old age, every Spartan citizen took his sober meals at this public mess, where all shared alike; nor was distinction of any kind allowed, except on signal occasions of service rendered by an individual to the state.

These public Syssitia, under the management of the Polemarchs, were connected with the military distribution, the constant gymnastic training, and the rigorous discipline of detail, enforced by Lycurgus. From the early age of seven years, throughout his whole life, as youth and man no less than as boy, the Spartan citizen lived habitually in public, always either himself under drill, gymnastic and military, or a critic and spectator of others, always under the fetters and observances of a rule partly military, partly monastic, estranged from the independence of a separate home, seeing his wife, during the first years after marriage, only by stealth, and maintaining little peculiar relation with his children. The supervision, not only of his fellow-citizens, but also of authorized censors, or captains nominated by the state, was perpetually acting upon him: his day was passed in public exercises and meals, his nights in the public barrack to which he belonged. Besides the particular military drill, whereby the complicated movements required from a body of Lacedaemonian hoplites in the field, were made familiar to him from his youth, he also became subject to severe bodily discipline of other kinds, calculated to impart strength, activity, and endurance. To manifest a daring and pugnacious spirit, to sustain the greatest bodily torture unmoved, to endure hunger and thirst, heat, cold, and fatigue, to tread the worst ground barefoot, to wear the same garment winter and summer, to suppress external manifestations of feeling, and to exhibit in public, when action was not called for, a bearing shy, silent, and motionless as a statue, all these were the virtues of the accomplished Spartan youth. Two squadrons were often matched against each other to contend (without arms) in the little insular circumscription called the Platanistus, and these contests were carried on, under the eye of the authorities, with the utmost extremity of fury. Nor was the competition among them less obstinate, to bear without murmuring the cruel scourgings inflicted before the altar of Artemis Orthia, supposed to be highly acceptable to the goddess, though they sometimes terminated even in the death of the uncomplaining sufferer. Besides the various descriptions of gymnastic contests, the youths were instructed in the choric dances employed in festivals of the gods, which contributed to impart to them methodized and harmonious movements. Hunting in the woods and mountains of Laconia was encouraged, as a means of inuring them to fatigue and privation. The nourishment supplied to the youthful Spartans was purposely kept insufficient, but they were allowed to make up the deficiency not only by hunting, but even by stealing whatever they could lay hands upon, provided they could do so without being detected in the fact; in which latter case they were severely chastised. In reference simply to bodily results, the training at Sparta was excellent, combining strength and agility with universal aptitude and endurance, and steering clear of that mistake by which Thebes and other cities impaired the effect of their gymnastics, the attempt to create an athletic habit, suited for the games, but suited for nothing else.


Of all the attributes of this remarkable community, there is none more difficult to make out clearly than the condition and character of the Spartan women. Aristotle asserts that, in his time, they were imperious and unruly, without being really so brave and useful in moments of danger as other Grecian females; that they possessed great influence over the men, and even exercised much ascendency over the course of public affairs; and that nearly half the landed property of Laconia had come to belong to them. The exemption of the women from all control, formed, in his eye, a pointed contrast with the rigorous discipline imposed upon the men, and a contrast hardly less pointed with the condition of women in other Grecian cities, where they were habitually confined to the interior of the house, and seldom appeared in public. While the Spartan husband went through the hard details of his ascetic life, and dined on the plainest fare at the Pheidition, or mess, the wife (it appears) maintained an ample and luxurious establishment at home; and the desire to provide for such outlay was one of the causes of that love of money which prevailed among men forbidden to enjoy it in the ordinary ways. To explain this antithesis between the treatment of the two sexes at Sparta, Aristotle was informed that Lycurgus had tried to bring the women no less than the men under a system of discipline, but that they made so obstinate a resistance as to compel him to desist.

The view here given by the philosopher, and deserving of course careful attention, is not easy to reconcile with that of Xenophon and Plutarch, who look upon the Spartan women from a different side, and represent them as worthy and homogeneous companions to the men. The Lycurgean system (as these authors describe it) considering the women as a part of the state, and not as a part of the house, placed them under training hardly less than the men. Its grand purpose, the maintenance of a vigorous breed of citizens, determined both the treatment of the younger women, and the regulations as to the intercourse of the sexes. “Female slaves are good enough (Lycurgus thought) to sit at home spinning and weaving,— but who can expect a splendid offspring, the appropriate mission and duty of a free Spartan woman towards her country, from mothers brought up in such occupations?”. Pursuant to these views, the Spartan damsels underwent a bodily training analogous to that of the Spartan youth, being formally exercised, and contending with each other in running, wrestling, and boxing, agreeably to the forms of the Grecian agones. They seem to have worn a light tunic, cut open at the skirts, so as to leave the limbs both free and exposed to view,—hence Plutarch speaks of them as completely uncovered, while other critics, in different quarters of Greece, heaped similar reproach upon the practice, as if it had been perfect nakedness. The presence of the Spartan youths, and even of the kings and the body of citizens, at these exercises, lent animation to the scene. In like manner, the young women marched in the religious processions, sang and danced at particular festivals, and witnessed as spectators the exercises and contentions of the youths; so that the two sexes were perpetually intermingled with each other in public, in a way foreign to the habits, as well as repugnant to the feelings, of other Grecian states. We may well conceive that such an education imparted to the women both a demonstrative character and an eager interest in masculine accomplishments, so that the expression of their praise was the strongest stimulus, and that of their reproach the bitterest humiliation, to the youthful troop who heard it.


The age of marriage (which in some of the unrestricted cities of Greece was so early as to deteriorate visibly the breed of citizens) was deferred by the Spartan law, both in women and men, until the period supposed to be most consistent with the perfection of the offspring. And when we read the restriction which Spartan custom imposed upon the intercourse even between married persons, we shall conclude without hesitation that the public intermixture of the sexes, in the way just described, led to no such liberties, between persons not married, as might be likely to arise from it under other circumstances.

Marriage was almost universal among the citizens, enforced by general opinion at least, if not by law. The young Spartan carried away his bride by a simulated abduction, but she still seems, for some time at least, to have continued to reside with her family, visiting her husband in his barrack in the disguise of male attire, and on short and stolen occasions. To some married couples, according to Plutarch, it happened, that they had been married long enough to have two or three children, while they had scarcely seen each other apart by daylight. Secret intrigue on the part of married women was unknown at Sparta; but to bring together the finest couples was regarded by the citizens as desirable, and by the lawgiver as a duty. No personal feeling or jealousy on the part of the husband found sympathy from any one, and he permitted without difficulty, sometimes actively encouraged, compliances on the part of his wife, consistent with this generally acknowledged object. So far was such toleration carried, that there were some married women who were recognized mistresses of two houses, and mothers of two distinct families, a sort of bigamy strictly forbidden to the men, and never permitted, except in the remarkable case of king Anaxandrides, when the royal Herakleidan line of Eurysthenes was in danger of becoming extinct. The wife of Anaxandrides being childless, the ephors strongly urged him, on grounds of public necessity, to repudiate her and marry another. But he refused to dismiss a wife who had given him no cause of complaint; upon which, when they found him inexorable, they desired him to retain her, but to marry another wife besides, in order that at any rate there might be issue “to the Eurystheneid line”. He thus (says Herodotus) married two wives, and inhabited two family-hearths, a proceeding unknown at Sparta; yet the same privilege which, according to Xenophon, some Spartan women enjoyed without reproach from any one, and with perfect harmony between the inmates of both their houses. O. Müller remarks — and the evidence, as far as we know it, bears him out — that love-marriages and genuine affection towards a wife were more familiar to Sparta than to Athens; though in the former, marital jealousy was a sentiment neither indulged nor recognized,—while in the latter, it was intense and universa1.

To reconcile the careful gymnastic training, which Xenophon and Plutarch mention, with that uncontrolled luxury and relaxation which Aristotle condemns in the Spartan women, we may perhaps suppose that, in the time of the latter, the women of high position and wealth had contrived to emancipate themselves from the general obligation, and that it is of such particular cases that he chiefly speaks. He dwells especially upon the increasing tendency to accumulate property in the hands of the women, which seems to have been still more conspicuous a century afterwards, in the reign of Agis the Third. And we may readily imagine that one of the employments of wealth thus acquired would be to purchase exemption from laborious training,—an object more easy to accomplish in their case than in that of the men, whose services were required by the state as soldiers. By what steps so large a proportion as two-fifths of the landed property of the state came to be possessed by women, he partially explains to us. There were (he says) many sole heiresses, —the dowries given by fathers to their daughters were very large, —and the father had unlimited power of testamentary bequest, which he was disposed to use to the advantage of his daughter over his son. In conjunction with this last circumstance, we have to notice that peculiar sympathy and yielding disposition towards women in the Spartan mind, of which Aristotle also speaks, and which he ascribes to the warlike temper both of the citizen and the state,—Ares bearing the yoke of Aphrodite. But, apart from such a consideration, if we suppose, on the part of a wealthy Spartan father, the simple disposition to treat sons and daughters alike as to bequest, —nearly one half of the inherited mass of property would naturally be found in the hands of the daughters, since on an average of families the number of the two sexes born is nearly equal. In most societies, it is the men who make new acquisitions : but this seldom or never happened with Spartan men, who disdained all money-getting occupations.

Xenophon, a warm panegyrist of Spartan manners, points with some pride to the tall and vigorous breed of citizens which the Lycurgic institutions had produced. The beauty of the Lacedaemonian women was notorious throughout Greece, and Lampito, the Lacedaemonian woman introduced in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, is made to receive from the Athenian women the loudest compliments upon her fine shape and masculine vigor. We may remark that, on this as well as on the other points, Xenophon emphatically insists on the peculiarity of Spartan institutions, contradicting thus the views of those who regard them merely as something a little hyper-Dorian. Indeed, such peculiarity seems never to have been questioned in antiquity, either by the enemies or by the admirers of Sparta. And those who censured the public masculine exercises of the Spartan maidens, as well as the liberty tolerated in married women, allowed at the same time that the feelings of both were actively identified with the state to a degree hardly known in Greece; that the patriotism of the men greatly depended upon the sympathy of the other sex, which manifested itself publicly, in a manner not compatible with the recluse life of Grecian women generally, to the exaltation of the brave as well as to the abasement of the recreant; and that the dignified bearing of the Spartan matrons under private family loss seriously assisted the state in the task of bearing up against public reverses. “Return either with your shield or upon it”, was their exhortation to their sons when departing for foreign service: and after the fatal day of Leuctra, those mothers who had to welcome home their surviving sons in dishonor and defeat, were the bitter sufferers; while those whose sons had perished, maintained a bearing comparatively cheerful.


Such were the leading points of the memorable Spartan discipline, strengthened in its effect on the mind by the absence of communication with strangers. For no Spartan could go abroad without leave, nor were strangers permitted to stay at Sparta; they came thither, it seems, by a sort of sufferance, but the un courteous process called xenelasy was always available to re move them, nor could there arise in Sparta that class of resident metics or aliens who constituted a large part of the population of Athens, and seem to have been found in most other Grecian towns. It is in this universal schooling, training, and drilling, imposed alike upon boys and men, youths and virgins, rich and poor, that the distinctive attribute of Sparta is to be sought,—not in her laws or political constitution.

Lycurgus (or the individual to whom this system is owing, whoever he was) is the founder of a warlike brotherhood rather than the lawgiver of a political community; his brethren live together like bees in a hive (to borrow a simile from Plutarch), with all their feelings implicated in the commonwealth, and divorced from house and home. Far from contemplating the society as a whole, with its multifarious wants and liabilities, he interdicts beforehand, by one of the three primitive Rhetrae, all written laws, that is to say, all formal and premeditated enactments on any special subject. When disputes are to be settled or judicial interference is required, the magistrate is to decide from his own sense of equity; that the magistrate will not depart from the established customs and recognized purposes of the city, is presumed from the personal discipline which he and the select body to whom he belongs, have undergone. It is this select body, maintained by the labor of others, over whom Lycurgus exclusively watches, with the provident eye of a trainer, for the purpose of disciplining them into a state of regimental preparation, single-minded obedience, and bodily efficiency and endurance, so that they may be always fit and ready for defense, for conquest and for dominion. The parallel of the Lycurgean institutions is to be found in the Republic of Plato, who approves the Spartan principle of select guardians carefully trained and administering the community at discretion; with this momentous difference, indeed, that the Spartan character formed by Lycurgus is of a low type, rendered savage and fierce by exclusive and overdone bodily discipline,— destitute even of the elements of letters, — immersed in their own narrow specialties, and taught to despise all that lay beyond,—possessing all the qualities requisite to procure dominion, but none of those calculated to render dominion popular or salutary to the subject; while the habits and attributes of the guardians, as shadowed forth by Plato, are enlarged as well as philanthropic, qualifying them not simply to govern, but to govern for purposes protective, conciliatory, and exalted. Both Plato and Aristotle conceive as the perfection of society something of the Spartan type, — a select body of equally privileged citizens, disengaged from industrious pursuits, and subjected to public and uniform training. Both admit (with Lycurgus) that the citizen belongs neither to himself nor to his family, but to his city; both at the same time note with regret, that the Spartan training was turned only to one portion of human virtue, that which is called forth in a state of war; the citizens being converted into a sort of garrison, always under drill, and always ready to be called forth either against Helots at home or against enemies abroad. Such exclusive tendency will appear less astonishing if we consider the very early and insecure period at which the Lycurgean institutions arose, when none of those guarantees which afterwards maintained the peace of the Hellenic world had as yet become effective, — no constant habits of intercourse, no custom of meeting in Amphiktyony from the distant parts of Greece, no common or largely frequented festivals, no multiplication of proxenies (or standing tickets of hospitality) between the important cities, no pacific or industrious habits anywhere. When we contemplate the general insecurity of Grecian life in the ninth or eighth century before the Christian era, and especially the precarious condition of a small band of Dorian conquerors in Sparta and its district, with subdued Helots on their own lands and Achaeans unsubdued all around them, — we shall not be surprised that the language which Brasidas in the Peloponnesian war addresses to his army in reference to the original Spartan settlement, was still more powerfully present to the mind of Lycurgus four centuries earlier —“We are a few in the midst of many enemies; we can only maintain ourselves by fighting and conquering”.

Under such circumstances, the exclusive aim which Lycurgus proposed to himself is easily understood; but what is truly surprising, is the violence of his means and the success of the result. He realized his project of creating, in the eight thousand or nine thousand Spartan citizens, unrivalled habits of obedience, hardihood, self-denial, and military aptitude, — complete subjection on the part of each individual to the local public opinion, and preference of death to the abandonment of Spartan maxims, intense ambition on the part of every one to distinguish himself within the prescribed sphere of duties, with little ambition for anything else. In what manner so rigorous a system of individual training can have been first brought to bear upon any community, mastering the course of the thoughts and actions from boyhood to old age,—a work far more difficult than any political revolution,—we are not permitted to discover. Nor does the influence of an earnest and energetic Herakleidaean, —seconded by the still more powerful working of the Delphian god behind, upon the strong pious susceptibilities of the Spartan mind, —sufficiently explain a phenomenon so remarkable in the history of mankind, unless we suppose them aided by some combination of cooperating circumstances which history has not transmitted to us, and preceded by disorders so exaggerated as to render the citizens glad to escape from them at any price.

Respecting the ante-Lycurgean Sparta we possess no positive information whatever. But although this unfortunate gap cannot be filled up, we may yet master the negative probabilities of the case sufficiently to see that, in what Plutarch has told us (and from Plutarch the modern views have, until lately, been derived), there is indeed a basis of reality, but there is also a large superstructure of romance, —in not a few particulars essentially misleading. For example, Plutarch treats Lycurgus as introducing his reforms at a time when Sparta was mistress of Laconia, and distributing the whole of that territory among the Perioeki. Now we know that Laconia was not then in possession of Sparta, and that the partition of Lycurgus (assuming it to be real) could only have been applied to the land in the immediate vicinity of the latter. For even Amyklae, Pharis, and Geronthrae, were not conquered until the reign of Teleklus, posterior to any period which we can reasonably assign to Lycurgus : nor can any such distribution of Laconia have really occurred. Farther, we are told that Lycurgus banished from Sparta coined gold and silver, useless professions and frivolities, eager pursuit of gain, and ostentatious display. Without dwelling upon the improbability that any one of these anti-Spartan characteristics should have existed at so early a period as the ninth century before the Christian era, we may at least be certain that coined silver was not then to be found, since it was first introduced into Greece by Pheidon of Argos in the succeeding century, as has been stated in the preceding section.


But amongst all the points stated by Plutarch, the most suspicious by far, and the most misleading, because endless calculations have been built upon it, is the alleged redivision of landed property. He tells us that Lycurgus found fearful inequality in the landed possessions of the Spartans; nearly all the land in the hands of a few, and a great multitude without any land; that he rectified this evil by a redivision of the Spartan district into nine thousand equal lots, and the rest of Laconia into thirty thousand, giving to each citizen as much as would produce a given quota of barley, etc.; and that he wished, moreover, to have divided the movable property upon similar principles of equality, but was deterred by the difficulties of carrying his design into execution.

Now we shall find on consideration that this new and equal partition of lands by Lycurgus is still more at variance with fact and probability than the two former alleged proceedings. All the historical evidences exhibit decided inequalities of property among the Spartans, inequalities which tended constantly to increase; moreover, the earlier authors do not conceive this evil as having grown up by way of abuse out of a primeval system of perfect equality, nor do they know anything of the original equal redivision by Lycurgus. Even as early as the poet Alkaeus (BC 600-580) we find bitter complaints of the oppressive ascendency of wealth, and the degradation of the poor man, cited as having been pronounced by Aristodemus at Sparta: “Wealth (said he) makes the man,— no poor person is either accounted good or honored”. Next, the historian Hellanikus certainly knew nothing of the Lycurgean redivision,—for he ascribed the whole Spartan polity to Eurysthenes and Prokles, the original founders, and hardly noticed Lycurgus at all. Again, in the brief, but impressive description of the Spartan lawgiver by Herodotus, several other institutions are alluded to, but nothing is said about a redivision of the lands; and this latter point is in itself of such transcendent moment, and was so recognized among all Grecian thinkers, that the omission is almost a demonstration of ignorance. Thucydides certainly could not have believed that equality of property was an original feature in the Lycurgean system; for he says that, at Lacedaemon, “the rich men assimilated themselves greatly in respect of clothing and general habits of life to the simplicity of the poor, and thus set an example which was partially followed in the rest of Greece”: a remark which both implies the existence of unequal property, and gives a just appreciation of the real working of Lycurgic institutions. The like is the sentiment of Xenophon : he observes that the rich at Sparta gained little by their wealth in point of superior comfort; but he never glances at any original measure carried into effect by Lycurgus for equalizing possessions. Plato too, while he touches upon the great advantage possessed by the Dorians, immediately after their conquest of Peloponnesus, in being able to apportion land suitably to all, never hints that this original distribution had degenerated into an abuse, and that an entire subsequent redivision had been resorted to by Lycurgus: moreover, he is himself deeply sensible of the hazards of that formidable proceeding. Lastly, Aristotle clearly did not believe that Lycurgus had redivided the soil. For he informs us first, that, “both in Lacedaemon and in Crete, the legislator had rendered the enjoyment of property common through the establishment of the Syssitia, or public mess”. Now this remark (if read in the chapter of which it forms a part, a refutation of the scheme of Communism for the select guardians in the Platonic Republic) will be seen to tell little for its point, if we assume that Lycurgus at the same time equalized all individual possessions. Had Aristotle known that fact, he could not have failed to notice it : nor could he have assimilated the legislators in Lacedaemon and Crete, seeing that in the latter no one pretends that any such equalization was ever brought about. Next, not only does Aristotle dwell upon the actual inequality of property at Sparta as a serious public evil, but he nowhere treats this as having grown out of a system of absolute equality once enacted by the law­giver as a part of the primitive constitution: he expressly notices inequality of property so far back as the second Messenian war. Moreover, in that valuable chapter of his Politics, where the scheme of equality of possessions is discussed, Phaleas of Chalcedon is expressly mentioned as the first author of it, thus indirectly excluding Lycurgus. The mere silence of Aristotle is in this discussion a negative argument of the greatest weight. Isocrates, too, speaks much about Sparta for good and for evil, mentions Lycurgus as having established a political constitution much like that of the earliest days of Athens, praises the gymnasia and the discipline, and compliments the Spartans upon the many centuries which they have gone through without violent sedition, extinction of debts, and redivision of the land, those “monstrous evils”, as he terms them. Had he conceived Lycurgus as being himself the author of a complete redivision of land, he could hardly have avoided some allusion to it.

It appears, then, that none of the authors down to Aristotle ascribe to Lycurgus a redivision of the lands, either of Sparta or of Laconia. The statement to this effect in Plutarch, given in great detail and with precise specification of number and produce, must have been borrowed from some author later than Aristotle; and I think we may trace the source of it, when we study Plutarch’s biography of Lycurgus in conjunction with that of Agis and Kleomenes. The statement is taken from authors of the century after Aristotle, either in, or shortly before, the age when both those kings tried extreme measures to renovate the sinking state : the former by a thorough change of system and property, yet proposed and accepted according to constitutional forms; the latter by projects substantially similar, with violence to enforce them. The accumulation of landed property in few hands, the multiplication of poor, and the decline in the number of citizens, which are depicted as grave mischiefs by Aristotle, had become greatly aggravated during the century between him and Agis. The number of citizens, reckoned by Herodotus in the time of the Persian invasion at eight thousand, had dwindled down in the time of Aristotle to one thousand, and in that of Agis to seven hundred, out of which latter number one hundred alone possessed most of the landed property of the state. Now, by the ancient rule of Lycurgus, the qualification for citizenship was the ability to furnish the prescribed quota, incumbent on each individual, at the public mess : so soon as a citizen became too poor to answer to this requisition, he lost his franchise and his eligibility to offices. The smaller lots of land, though it was held discreditable either to buy or sell them, and though some have asserted (without ground, I think) that it was forbidden to divide them, became insufficient for numerous families, and seem to have been alienated in some indirect manner to the rich; while every industrious occupation being both interdicted to a Spartan citizen and really inconsistent with his rigorous personal discipline, no other means of furnishing his quota, except the lot of land, was open to him. The difficulty felt with regard to these smaller lots of land may be judged of from the fact stated by Polybius, that three or four Spartan brothers had often one and the same wife, the paternal land being just sufficient to furnish contributions for all to the public mess, and thus to keep alive the citizen-rights of all the sons. The tendency to diminution in the number of Spartan citizens seems to have gone on uninterruptedly from the time of the Persian war, and must have been aggravated by the foundation of Messene, with its independent territory around, after the battle of Leuctra, an event which robbed the Spartans of a large portion of their property. Apart from these special causes, moreover, it has been observed often as a statistical fact, that a close corporation of citizens, or any small number of families, intermarrying habitually among one another, and not reinforced from without, have usually a tendency to diminish.


The present is not the occasion to enter at length into that combination of causes which partly sapped, partly overthrew, both the institutions of Lycurgus and the power of Sparta. But taking the condition of that city as it stood in the time of Agis the Third (say about 250 BC), we know that its citizens had become few in number, the bulk of them miserably poor, and all the land in a small number of bands. The old discipline and the public mess (as far as the rich were concerned) had degenerated into mere forms, a numerous body of strangers or non-citizens (the old xenelasy, or prohibition of resident strangers, being long dis continued) were domiciled in the town, forming a powerful moneyed interest; and lastly, the dignity and ascendency of the state amongst its neighbors were altogether ruined. It was insupportable to a young enthusiast like king Agis, as well as to many ardent spirits among his contemporaries, to contrast this degradation with the previous glories of their country : nor did they see any other way of reconstructing the old Sparta except by again admitting the disfranchised poor citizens, redividing the lands, cancelling all debts, and restoring the public mess and military training in all their strictness. Agis endeavored to carry through these subversive measures, (such as no demagogue in the extreme democracy of Athens would ever have ventured to glance at,) with the consent of the senate and public assembly, and the acquiescence of the rich. His sincerity is attested by the fact, that his own property, and that of his female relatives, among the largest in the state, was cast as the first sacrifice into the common stock. But he became the dupe of unprincipled coadjutors, and perished in the unavailing attempt to realize his scheme by persuasion. His successor, Cleomenes, afterwards accomplished by violence a change substantially similar, though the intervention of foreign arms speedily overthrew both himself and his institutions.

Now it was under the state of public feeling which gave birth to these projects of Agis and Cleomenes at Sparta, that the historic fancy, unknown to Aristotle and his predecessors, first gained ground, of the absolute equality of property as a primitive institution of Lycurgus. How much such a belief would favor the schemes of innovation is too obvious to require notice; and without supposing any deliberate imposture, we cannot be astonished that the predispositions of enthusiastic patriots interpreted, according to their own partialities, an old unrecorded legislation from which they were separated by more than five centuries. The Lycurgean discipline tended forcibly to suggest to men’s minds the idea of equality among the citizens, that is, the negation of all inequality not founded on some personal attribute, —inasmuch as it assimilated the habits, enjoyments, and capacities of the rich to those of the poor; and the equality thus existing in idea and tendency, which seemed to proclaim the wish of the founder, was strained by the later reformers into a positive institution which he had at first realized, but from which his degenerate followers had receded. It was thus that the fancies, longings, and indirect suggestions of the present assumed the character of recollections out of the early, obscure, and extinct historical past. Perhaps the philosopher Sphaerus of Borysthenes (friend and companion of Cleomenes, disciple of Zeno the Stoic, and author of works now lost, both on Lycurgus and Socrates, and on the constitution of Sparta) may have been one of those who gave currency to such an hypothesis. And we shall readily believe that, if advanced, it would find easy and sincere credence, when we recollect how many similar delusions have obtained vogue in modern times, far more favorable to historical accuracy, — how much false coloring has been attached by the political feeling of recent days to matters of ancient history, such as the Saxon Witenagemote, the Great Charter, the rise and growth of the English House of Commons, or even the Poor Law of Elizabeth.

When we read the division of lands really proposed by king Agis, it is found to be a very close copy of the original division ascribed to Lycurgus. He parcels the lands bounded by the four limits of Pellene, Sellasia, Malea, and Taygetus, into four thousand five hundred lots, one to every Spartan; and the lands beyond these limits into fifteen thousand lots, one to each Perioekus; and he proposes to constitute in Sparta fifteen pheiditia, or public mess-tables, some including four hundred individuals, others two hundred, thus providing a place for each of his four thousand five hundred Spartans. With respect to the division originally ascribed to Lycurgus, different accounts were given. Some considered it to have set out nine thousand lots for the district of Sparta, and thirty thousand for the rest of Laconia; others affirmed that six thousand lots had been given by Lycurgus, and three thousand added afterwards by king Polydorus; a third tale was, that Lycurgus had assigned four thousand five hundred lots, and king Polydorus as many more. This last scheme is much the same as what was really proposed by Agis.

In the preceding argument respecting the redivision of land ascribed to Lycurgus, I have taken that measure as it is described by Plutarch. But there has been a tendency, in some able modern writers, while admitting the general fact of such redivision, to reject the account given by Plutarch in some of its main circumstances. That, for instance, which is the capital feature in Plutarch’s narrative, and which gives soul and meaning to his picture of the lawgiver —the equality of partition—is now rejected by many as incorrect, and it is supposed that Lycurgus made some new agrarian regulations tending towards a general equality of landed property, but not an entirely new partition; that he may have resumed from the wealthy men lands which they had unjustly taken from the conquered Achaeans, and thus provided allotments both for the poorer citizens and for the subject Laconians. Such is the opinion of Dr. Thirlwall, who at the same time admits that the exact proportion of the Lycurgean distribution can hardly be ascertained.


I cannot but take a different view of the statement made by Plutarch. The moment that we depart from that rule of equality, which stands so prominently marked in his biography of Lycurgus, we step into a boundless field of possibility, in which there is nothing to determine us to one point more than to another. The surmise started by Dr. Thirlwall, of lands unjustly taken from the conquered Achaeans by wealthy Spartan proprietors, is altogether gratuitous; and granting it to be correct, we have still to explain how it happened that this correction of a partial injustice came to be transformed into the comprehensive and systematic measure which Plutarch describes; and to explain, farther, from whence it arose that none of the authors earlier than Plutarch take any notice of Lycurgus as an agrarian equalizer. These two difficulties will still remain, even if we overlook the gratuitous nature of Dr. Thirlwall’s supposition, or of any other supposition which can be proposed respecting the real Lycurgean measure which Plutarch is affirmed to have misrepresented.

It appears to me that these difficulties are best obviated by adopting a different canon of historical interpretation. We cannot accept as real the Lycurgean land division described in the life of the lawgiver; but treating this account as a fiction, two modes of proceeding are open to us. We may either consider the fiction, as it now stands, to be the exaggeration and distortion of some small fact, and then try to guess, without any assistance, what the small fact was. Or we may regard it as fiction from first to last, the expression of some large idea and sentiment so powerful in its action on men’s minds at a given time, as to induce them to make a place for it among the realities of the past. Now the latter supposition, applied to the times of Agis the Third, best meets the case before us. The eighth chapter of the life of Lycurgus by Plutarch, in recounting the partition of land, describes the dream of king Agis, whose mind is full of two sentiments,—grief and shame for the actual condition of his country,— together with reverence for its past glories, as well as for the lawgiver from whose institutions those glories had emanated. Absorbed with this double feeling, the reveries of Agis go back to the old ante-Lykurgean Sparta, as it stood more than five centuries before, he sees, in the spirit, the same mischiefs and disorders as those which afflict his waking eye, — gross inequalities of property, with a few insolent and luxurious rich, a crowd of mutinous and suffering poor, and nothing but fierce antipathy reigning between the two. Into the midst of this froward, lawless; and distempered community, steps the venerable missionary from Delphi, — breathes into men’s minds new impulses, and an impatience to shake off the old social and political Adam, — and persuades the rich, voluntarily abnegating their temporal advantages, to welcome with satisfaction a new system, wherein no distinction shall be recognized, except that of good or evil desert. Having thus regenerated the national mind, he parcels out the territory of Laconia into equal lots, leaving no superiority to anyone. Fraternal harmony becomes the reigning sentiment, while the coming harvests present the gratifying spectacle of a paternal inheritance recently distributed, with the brotherhood contented, modest, and docile. Such is the picture with which “mischievous Oneirus” cheats the fancy of the patriotic Agis, whispering the treacherous message that the gods have promised him success in a similar attempt, and thus seducing him into that fatal revolutionary course, which is destined to bring himself, his wife, and his aged mother, to the dungeon and the hangman’s rope.

That the golden dream just described was dreamed by some. Spartan patriots is certain, because it stands recorded in Plutarch; that it was not dreamed by the authors of centuries preceding Agis, I have already endeavored to show; that the earnest feelings, of sickness of the present and yearning for a better future under the colors of a restored past, which filled the soul of this king and his brother-reformers, — combined with the leveling tendency between rich and poor which really was inherent in the Lycurgean discipline, — were amply sufficient to beget such a dream, and to procure for it a place among the great deed of the old lawgiver, so much venerated and so little known, —this too I hold to be unquestionable. Had there been any evidence that Lycurgus had interfered with private property, to the limited extent which Dr. Thirlwall and other able critics imagine, —that he had resumed certain lands unjustly taken by the rich from the Achaeans, — I should have been glad to record it; but, finding no such evidence, I cannot think it necessary to presume the fact, simply in order to account for the story in Plutarch.


The various items in that story all hang together, and must be understood as forming parts of the same comprehensive fact, or comprehensive fancy. The fixed total of nine thousand Spartan, and thirty thousand Laconian lots, the equality between them, and the rent accruing from each, represented by a given quantity of moist and dry produce, — all these particulars are alike true or alike uncertified. Upon the various numbers here given, many authors have raised calculations as to the population and produce of Laconia, which appear to me destitute of any trustworthy foundation. Those who accept the history, that Lycurgus constituted the above-mentioned numbers both of citizens and of lots of land, and that he contemplated the maintenance of both numbers in unchangeable proportion, are perplexed to assign the means whereby this adjustment was kept undisturbed. Nor are they much assisted in the solution of this embarrassing problem by the statement of Plutarch, who tells us that the number remained fixed of itself, and that the succession ran on from father to son, without either consolidation or multiplication of parcels, down to the period when foreign wealth flowed into Sparta, as a consequence of the successful conclusion of the Peloponnesian war. Shortly after that period (he tells us) a citizen named Epitadeus became ephor, a vindictive and malignant man, who, having had a quarrel with his son, and wishing to oust him from the succession, introduced and obtained sanction to a new Rhetra, whereby power was granted to every father of a family either to make over during life, or to bequeath after death, his house and his estate to any one whom he chose. But it is plain that this story (whatever be the truth about the family quarrel of Epitadeus) does not help us out of the difficulty. From the time of Lycurgus to that of this disinheriting ephor, more than four centuries must be reckoned: now, had there been real causes at work sufficient to maintain inviolate the identical number of lots and families during this long period, we see no reason why his new law, simply permissive and nothing more, should have overthrown it. We are not told by Plutarch what was the law of succession prior to Epitadeus. If the whole estate went by law to one son in the family, what became of the other sons, to whom industrious acquisition in any shape was repulsive as well as interdicted? If, on the other hand, the estate was divided between the sons equally (as it was by the law of succession at Athens), how can we defend the maintenance of an unchanged aggregate number of parcels?

Dr. Thirlwall, after having admitted a modified interference with private property by Lycurgus, so as to exact from the wealthy a certain sacrifice in order to create lots for the poor, and to bring about something approaching to equi-producing lots for all, observes: “The average amount of the rent, paid by the cultivating Helots from each lot, seems to have been no more than was required for the frugal maintenance of a family with six persons. The right of transfer was as strictly confined as that of enjoyment; the patrimony was indivisible, inalienable, and descended to the eldest son; in default of a male heir, to the eldest daughter. The object seems to have been, after the number of the allotments became fixed, that each should be constantly represented by one head of a household. But the nature of the means employed for this end is one of the most obscure points of the Spartan system ... In the better times of the commonwealth, this seems to have been principally effected by adoptions and marriages with heiresses, which provided for the marriages of younger sons in families too numerous to be supported on their own hereditary property. It was then probably seldom necessary for the state to interfere, in order to direct the childless owner of an estate, or the father of a rich heiress, to a proper choice. But as all adoption required the sanction of the kings, and they had also the disposal of the hand of orphan heiresses, there can be little doubt that the magistrate had the power of interposing on such occasions, even in opposition to the wishes of individuals, to relieve poverty and check the accumulation of wealth”.

I cannot concur in the view which Dr. Thirlwall here takes of the state of property, or the arrangements respecting its transmission, in ancient Sparta. Neither the equal modesty of possession which he supposes, nor the precautions for perpetuating it, can be shown to have ever existed among the pupils of Lycurgus. Our earliest information intimates the existence of rich men at Sparta: the story of king Aristo and Agetus, in Herodotus, exhibits to us the latter as a man who cannot be supposed to have had only just “enough to maintain six persons frugally”,—while his beautiful wife, whom Aristo coveted and entrapped from him, is expressly described as the daughter of opulent parents. Sperthies and Bulis, the Talthybiads, are designated as belonging to a distinguished race, and among the wealthiest men in Sparta. Demaratus was the only king of Sparta, in the days of Herodotus, who had ever gained a chariot-victory in the Olympic games; but we know by the case of Lichas, during the Peloponnesian war, Evagoras, and others, that private Spartans were equally successful; and for one Spartan who won the prize, there must of course have been many who bred their horses and started their chariots unsuccessfully. It need hardly he remarked, that chariot-competition at Olympia was one of the most significant evidences of a wealthy house : nor were there wanting Spartans who kept horses and dogs without any exclusive view to the games. We know from Xenophon that, at the time of the battle of Leuctra, “the very rich Spartans” provided the horses to be mounted for the state-cavalry. These and other proofs, of the existence of rich men at Sparta, are inconsistent with the idea of a body of citizens each possessing what was about enough for the frugal maintenance of six persons, and no more.


As we do not find that such was in practice the state of property in the Spartan community, so neither can we discover that the lawgiver ever tried either to make or to keep it so. What he did was to impose a rigorous public discipline, with simple clothing and fare, incumbent alike upon the rich and the poor (this was his special present to Greece, according to Thucydides, and his great point of contact with democracy, according to Aristotle); but he took no pains either to restrain the enrichment of the former, or to prevent the impoverishment of the latter. He meddled little with the distribution of property, and such neglect is one of the capital deficiencies for which Aristotle censures him That philosopher tells us, indeed, that the Spartan law had made it dishonorable (he does not say, peremptorily forbidden) to buy or sell landed property, but that there was the fullest liberty both of donation and bequest : and the same results, he justly observes, ensued from the practice tolerated as would have ensued from the practice discountenanced,—since it was easy to disguise a real sale under an ostensible donation. He notices pointedly the tendency of property at Sparta to concentrate itself in fewer hands, unopposed by any legal hindrances : the fathers married their daughters to whomsoever they chose, and gave dowries according to their own discretion, generally very large : the rich families, moreover, intermarried among one another habitually, and without restriction. Now all these are indicated by Aristotle as cases in which the law might have interfered, and ought to have interfered, but did not, —for the great purpose of disseminating the benefits of landed property as much as possible among the mass of the citizens. Again, he tells us that the law encouraged the multiplication of progeny, and granted exemptions to such citizens as had three or four children, — but took no thought how the numerous families of poorer citizens were to live, or to maintain their qualification at the public tables, most of the lands of the state being in the hands of the rich. His notice, and condemnation, of that law, which made the franchise of the Spartan citizen dependent upon his continuing to furnish his quota to the public table,—has been already adverted to; as well as the potent love of money which he notes in the Spartan character, and which must have tended continually to keep together the richer families among themselves : while amongst a community where industry was unknown, no poor citizen could ever become rich.

If we duly weigh these evidences, we shall see that equality of possessions neither existed in fact, nor ever entered into the scheme and tendencies of the lawgiver at Sparta. And the picture which Dr. Thirlwall has drawn of a body of citizens each possessing a lot of land about adequate to the frugal maintenance of six persons,— of adoptions and marriages of heiresses arranged with a deliberate view of providing for the younger children of numerous families,—of interference on the part of the kings to insure this object, — of a fixed number of lots of land, each represented by one head of a household, — this picture is one, of which the reality must not be sought on the banks of the Eurotas. The “better times of the commonwealth”, to which he refers, may have existed in the glowing retrospect of Agis, but are not acknowledged in the sober appreciation of Aristotle. That the citizens were far more numerous in early times, the philosopher tells us, and that the community bad in his day greatly declined in power, we also know : in this sense, the times of Sparta had doubtless once been better. We may even concede that during the three centuries succeeding Lycurgus, when they were continually acquiring new territory, and when Aristotle had been told that they had occasionally admitted new citizens, so that the aggregate number of citizens had once been ten thousand, — we may concede that in these previous centuries the distribution of land had been less unequal, so that the disproportion between the great size of the territory and the small number of citizens was not so marked as it had become at the period which the philosopher personally witnessed; for the causes tending to augmented inequality were constant and uninterrupted in their working. But this admission will still leave us far removed from the sketch drawn by Dr. Thirlwall, which depicts the Lycurgean Sparta as starting from a new agrarian scheme not far removed from equality of landed property, — the citizens as spontaneously disposed to uphold this equality, by giving to unprovided men the benefit of adoptions and heiress-marriages, — and the magistrate as interfering to enforce this latter purpose, even in cases where the citizens were themselves unwilling. All our evidence exhibits to us both decided inequality of possessions and inclinations on the part of rich men, the reverse of those which Dr. Thirlwall indicates; nor will the powers of interference which he ascribes to the magistrate be found sustained by the chapter Herodotus on which he seems to rest them.

To conceive correctly, then, the Lycurgean system, as far as obscurity and want of evidence will permit, it seems to me that there are two current misconceptions which it is essential to discard. One of these is, that the system included a repartition of landed property, upon principles of exact or approximative equality (distinct from that appropriation which belonged to the Dorian conquest and settlement), and provisions for perpetuating the number of distinct and equal lots. The other is, that it was first brought to bear when the Spartans were masters of all Laconia. The illusions created by the old legend, — which depicts Laconia as all one country, and all conquered at one stroke, — yet survive after the legend itself has been set aside as bad evidence : we cannot conceive Sparta as subsisting by itself without dominion over Laconia ; nor Amyklae, Pharis, and Geronthrae, as really and truly independent of Sparta. Yet, if these towns were independent in the time of Lycurgus, much more confidently may the same independence be affirmed of the portions of Laconia which lie lower than Amyklae down the valley of the Eurotas, as well as of the eastern coast, which Herodotus expressly states to have been originally connected with Argos.

Discarding, then, these two suppositions, we have to consider the Lycurgean system as brought to bear upon Sparta and its immediate circumjacent district, apart from the rest of Laconia, and as not meddling systematically with the partition of property, whatever that may have been, which the Dorian conquerors established at their original settlement. Lycurgus does not try to make the poor rich, nor the rich poor; but he imposes upon both the same subjugating drill, —the same habits of life, gentlemanlike idleness, and unlettered strength, —the same fare, clothing, labors, privations, endurance, punishments, and subordination. It is a lesson instructive at least, however unsatisfactory, to political students, — that, with all this equality of dealing, he ends in creating a community in whom not merely the love of preeminence, but even the love of money, stands powerfully and specially developed.


How far the peculiar of the primitive Sparta extended we have no means of determining; but its limits down the valley of the Eurotas were certainly narrow, inasmuch as it did not reach so far as Amyklae. Nor can we tell what principles the Dorian conquerors may have followed in the original allotment of lands within the limits of that peculiar. Equal apportionment is not probable, because all the individuals of a conquering band are seldom regarded as possessing equal claims; but whatever the original apportionment may have been, it remained without any general or avowed disturbance until the days of Agis the Third, and Cleomenes the Third. Here, then, we have the primitive Sparta, including Dorian warriors with their Helot subjects, but no Perioeki. And it is upon these Spartans separately, perhaps after the period of aggravated disorder and lawlessness noticed by Herodotus and Thucydides, that the painful but invigorating discipline, above sketched, must have been originally brought to bear.

The gradual conquest of Laconia, with the acquisition of additional lands and new helots, and the formation of the order of Perioeki, both of which were a consequence of it, — is to be considered as posterior to the introduction of the Lycurgean system at Sparta, and as resulting partly from the increased force which that system imparted. The career of conquest went on, beginning from Teleklus, for nearly three centuries, —with some interruptions, indeed, and in the case of the Messenian war, with a desperate and even precarious struggle, — so that in the time of Thucydides, and for some time previously, the Spartans possessed two-fifths of Peloponnesus. And this series of new acquisitions and victories disguised the really weak point of the Spartan system, by rendering it possible either to plant the poorer citizens as Perioeki in a conquered township, or to supply them with lots of land, of which they could receive the produce without leaving the city, — so that their numbers and their military strength were prevented from declining. It is even affirmed by Aristotle, that during these early times they augmented the numbers of their citizens by fresh admissions, which of course implies the acquisition of additional lots of land. But successful war, to use an expression substantially borrowed from the same philosopher, was necessary to their salvation: the establishment of their ascendency, and of their maximum of territory, was followed, after no very long interval, by symptoms of decline. It will hereafter be seen that, at the period of the conspiracy of Kinadon (395 BC),the full citizens (called Homoioi, or Peers) were considerably inferior in number to the Hypomeiones, or Spartans, who could no longer furnish their qualification, and had become disfranchised. And the loss thus sustained was very imperfectly repaired by the admitted practice, sometimes resorted to by rich men, of associating with their own children the children of poorer citizens, and paying the contribution for these latter to the public tables, so as to enable them to go through the prescribed course of education and discipline,— whereby they became (under the title or sobriquet of Mothakes) citizens, with a certain taint of inferiority, yet were sometimes appointed to honorable commands.

Laconia, the state and territory of the Lacedaemonians, was affirmed, at the time of its greatest extension, to have comprehended a hundred cities, —this after the conquest of Messenia; so that it would include all the southern portion of Peloponnesus, from Thyrea, on the Argolic gulf, to the southern bank of the river Nedon, in its course into the Ionian sea. But Laconia, more strictly so called, was distinguished from Messenia, and was understood to designate the portion of the above-mentioned territory which lay to the east of Mount Taygetus. The conquest of Messenia by the Spartans we shall presently touch upon; but that of Laconia proper is very imperfectly narrated to us. Down to the reign of Teleklus, as has been before remarked, Amyklae, Pharis, and Geronthrae, were still Achaean in the reign of that prince they were first conquered, and the Achaeans either expelled or subjugated. It cannot be doubted that Amyklae had been previously a place of consequence : in point of heroic antiquity and memorials, this city, as well as Therapnae, seems to have surpassed Sparta. And the war of the Spartans against it is represented as a struggle of some moment,— indeed, in those times, the capture of any walled city was tedious and difficult. Timomachus, an Aegeid from Thebes, at the head of a body of his countrymen, is said to have rendered essential service to the Spartans in the conquest of the Achaeans of Amyklae; and the brave resistance of the latter was commemorated by a monument erected to Zeus Tropaeus, at Sparta, which was still to be seen in the time of Pausanias. The Achaeans of Pharis and Geronthrae, alarmed by the fate of Amyklae, are said to have surrendered their towns with little or no resistance : after which the inhabitants of all the three cities, either wholly or in part, went into exile beyond sea, giving place to colonists from Sparta. From this time forward, according to Pausanias, Amyklae continued as a village. But as the Amyklaean hoplites constituted a valuable portion of the Spartan army, it must have been numbered among the cities of the Perioeki, as one of the hundred; the distinction between a dependent city and a village not being very strictly drawn. The festival of the Hyacinthia, celebrated at the great temple of the Amyklaean Apollo, was among the most solemn and venerated in the Spartan calendar.

It was in the time of Alkamenes, the son of Teleklus, that the Spartans conquered Helus, a maritime town on the left bank of the Eurotas, and reduced its inhabitants to bondage, — from whose name, according to various authors, the general title Helots, belonging to all the serfs of Laconia, was derived. But of the conquest of the other towns of Laconia,— Gytheium, Akriae, Therapnae, etc., — or of the eastern land on the coast of the Argolic gulf, including Brasiae and Epidaurus Limera, or the island of Cythera, all which at one time belonged to the Argeian confederacy, we have no accounts.

Scanty as our information is, it just enables us to make out a progressive increase of force and dominion on the part of the Spartans, resulting from the organization of Lycurgus. Of this progress, a farther manifestation is found, besides the conquest of the Achaeans in the south by Teleklus and Alkamenes, in their successful opposition to the great power of Pheidon the Argeian, related in a previous chapter. We now approach the long and arduous efforts by which they accomplished the subjugation of their brethren the Messenian Dorians.