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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.




That there were two long contests between the Lacedaemonians and Messenians, and that, in both, the former were completely victorious, is a fact sufficiently attested. And if we could trust the statements in Pausanias—our chief and almost only authority on the subject—we should be in a situation to recount the history of these wars in considerable detail. But unfortunately the incidents narrated in that writer have been gathered from sources which arc, even by his own admission, undeserving of credit—from Rhianus, the poet of Bene in Krete, who had composed an epic poem on Aristomenes and the second Messenian war, about b.c. 220—and fom Myron of Priene, a prose author whose date is not exactly known, but belonging to the Alexandrine age, and not earlier than the third century before the Christian era. From Rhianus we have no right to expect trustworthy information, while the accuracy of Myron is much depreciated by Pausanias himself—on some points even too much, as will presently be shown. But apart from the mental habits cither of the prose writer or the poet, it does not seem that any good means of know ledge were open to either of them, except the poems of Tyrtaeus, which we are by no means sure that they ever consulted. The account of the two wars, extracted from these two authors by Pau­sanias, is a string of tableaux, several of them, indeed, highly poetical, but destitute of historical coherence or sufficiency; and O. Muller has justly observed that “absolutely no reason is given in them for the subjection of Messenia.” They are accounts unworthy of being transcribed in detail into the pages of general history, nor can we pretend to do anything more than verify a few leading facts of the war.

The poet Tyrtaeus was himself engaged on the side of the Spartans in the second War, and it is from him that we learn the few indispu­table facts respecting both the first and the second. If the Messenians had never been re-established in Peloponnesus, we should probably never have heard any further details respecting these early contests. That re-establishment, together with the first foundation of the city called Messene on Mount Ithome, was among the capital wounds inflicted on Sparta by Epaminondas, in the year b.c. 369—between 300 and 250 years after the conclusion of the second Messenian war. The descend mts of the old Messenians, who had remained for so long a period without any fixed position in Greece, were incorporated in the new city, together with various Helots and miscellaneous set­tlers who had no claim to a similar genealogy. The gods and heroes of the Messenian race were reverentially invoked at this great cere­mony, especially the great hero Aristomenes; and the sight of Mount Ithome, the ardor of the newly established citizens, the hatred and apprehension of Sparta, operating as a powerful stimulus to the crea­tion and multiplication of what are called traditions, sufficed to expand the few facts known respecting the struggles of the old Messenians into a variety of details. In almost all these stories we discover a coloring unfavorable to Sparta, contrasting forcibly with the account given by Isokrates in his discourse called Archidamus, wherein we read the view which a Spartan might take of the ancient conquests of his forefathers. But a clear proof that these Messenian stories had no real basis of tradition is shown in the contradictory statements respecting the principal hero Aristomenes, for some place him in the first, others in the second, of the two wars. Diodorus and Myron both placed him in the first; Rhianus in the second. Though Pausanias gives it as his opinion that the account of the latter is preferable, and that Aristomenes really belongs to the second Messe­nian war, it appears to me that the one statement is as much worthy of belief as the other, and that there is no sufficient evidence for deciding between them—a conclusion which is substantially the same with that of Wesseling, who thinks that there were two persons named Aristomenes, one in the first and one in the second war. This inextricable confusion respecting the greatest name in Messenian antiquity show’s how little any genuine stream of tradition can here be recognized.

Pausanias states the first Messenian war as beginning in b.c. 743 and lasting till b.c. 724—the second as beginning in b.c. 685 and last­ing till b.c. 668. Neither of these dates rests upon any assignable positive authority; but the time assigned to the first war seems prob­able, while that of the second is apparently too early. Tyrtaeus authen­ticates both the duration of the first war, twenty years, and the eminent services rendered in it by the Spartan king Theopompus. He says, moreover (speaking during the second war), “the fathers of our fathers conquered Messene;” thus loosely indicating the rela­tive dates of the two.

The Spartans (as we learn from Isokrates, whose words date from a time when the city of Messene was only a recent foundation) pro­fessed to have seized the territory, partly in revenge for the impiety of the Messenians in killing their own king the Herakleid Kresphontes, whose relative had appealed to Sparta for aid—partly by sentence of the Delphian oracle. Such were the causes which had induced them first to invade the country, and they had con­quered it after a struggle of twenty years. The Lacedaemonian explanations, as given in Pausanias, seem for the most part to be counter-statements arranged after the time when the Messenian ver­sion, evidently the interesting and popular account, Lad become cir­culated.

It has already been stated that the Lacedaemonians and Messenians had a joint border temple and sacrifice in honor of Artemis Limnatis, dating from the earliest times of their establishment in Peloponnesus. The site of this temple near the upper course of the river Nedon, in the mountainous territory north-east of Kalamata, hut west of the highest ridge of Tayretus, has recently been exactly verified—and it seems in these early days to have belonged to Sparta. That the quarrel began at one of these border sacrifices was the statement of both parties, Lacedaemonians and Messenians. Accord­ing to the latter, the Lacedaemonian king Teleklus laid a snare for the Messenians, by dressing up some youthful Spartans as virgins and giving them daggers; whereupon a contest ensued, in which the Spartans were worsted and Teleklus slain. That Teleklus was slain at the temple by the Messenians, was also the account of the Spartans—but they affirmed that he was slain in attempting to defend some young Lacedaemonian maidens, who were sacrificing at the temple, against outrageous violence from the Messenian youth. In spite of the death of this king, however, the war did not actually break out until some little time after, when Alkamenes and Theopompus were kings at Sparta, and Antiochus and Androkles, sons of Phintas, kings of Messenia. The immediate cause of it was a private altercation between the Messenian Polychares (victor at the fourth Olympiad, b.c. 764) and the Spartan Euaephnus. Polychares, having been grossly injured by Euaephnus, and his claim for redress having been rejected at Sparta, took revenge by aggressions upon other Lace­daemonians. The Messenians refused to give him up; though one of the two kings, Androkles, strongly insisted upon doing so, and main­tained his opinion so earnestly against the opposite sense of the majority and of his brother Antiochus, that a tumult arose, and he was slain. The Lacedaemonians, now resolving upon war, struck the first blow without any formal declaration, by surprising the border town of Ampheia, and putting its defenders to the sword. They farther overran the Messenian territory, and attacked some other towns, but without success. Euphaes, who had now succeeded his father Antiochus as king of Messenia, summoned the forces of the country and carried on the war against them with energy and bold­ness. For the first four years of the war the Lacedaemonians made no progress, and even incurred the ridicule of the old men of their nation as faint-hearted warriors. In the fifth year, however, they undertook a more vigorous invasion, under their two kings, Theopompus and Polydorus, who were met by Euphaes with the full force of the Messenians. A desperate battle ensued, in which it does not seem that either side gained much advantage: nevertheless the Messenians found themselves so much enfeebled by it, that they were forced to take refuge on the fortified mountain of Ithome, abandoning the rest of the country. In their distress they sent to solicit counsel and protection from Delphi, but their messenger brought back the appalling answer that a virgin of the royal race of Aepytus must be sacrificed for their salvation. At the tragic scene which ensues, Aristodemus puts to death his own daughter, yet without satisfying the exigences of the oracle. The war still continued, and in the thirteenth year of it another hard-fought battle took place, in which the brave Euphaes was slain, but the result was again indecisive. Aristodemus, being elected king in his place, prosecuted the war strenuously. The fifth year of his reign is signalized by a third gen­eral battle, wherein the Corinthians assist the Spartans, and the Arca­dians and Sicyonians are on the side of Messenia; the victory is here decisive on the side of Aristodemus, and the Lacedaemonians are driven back into their own territory. It was now their turn to send envoys and ask advice from the Delphian oracle. The remaining events of the war exhibit a series, partly of stratagems to fulfil the injunctions of the priestess,—partly of prodigies in which the divine wrath is manifested against the Messenians. The king Aristodemus, agonized with the thought that he has slain his own daughter without saving his country, puts an end to his own life. In the twentieth year of the war the Messenians abandoned Ithome, which the Lacedaemonians razed to the ground: the rest of the country being speed­ily conquered, such of the inhabitants as did not flee either to Arcadia or to Eleusis, were reduced to complete submission.

Such is the abridgment of what Pausanias gives as the narrative of the first Messenian war. Most of his details bear the evident stamp of mere late romance; and it will easily be seen that the sequence of events presents no plausible explanation of that which is really indubitable—the result. The twenty years’ war, and the final abandon­ment of Ithome is attested by Tyrtaeus beyond all doubt, as well as the harsh treatment of the conquered, “Like asses worn down by heavy burthens” (says the Spartan poet), “they were compelled to make over to their masters an entire half of the produce of their fields, and to come in the garb of woe to Sparta, themselves and their wives, as mourners at the decease of the kings and principal persons.” The revolt of their descendants, against a yoke so oppressive, goes by the name of the second Messenian war.

Had we possessed the account of the first Messenian war as given by Myron and Diodorus, it would evidently have been very different from the above, because they included Aristomenes in it, and to him the leading parts would be assigned. As the narrative now stands in Pausanias, we are not introduced to that great Messenian hero—the Achilles of the epic of Rhianus—until the second war, in which his gigantic proportions stand prominently forward. He is the great champion of his country in the three battles which are represented as taking place during this war: the first, with indecisive result, at Dene; the second, a signal victory on the part of the Messenians, at the Boar’s Grave; the third, an equally signal defeat, in consequence of the traitorous flight of Aristokrates, king of the Arcadian Orchomenus, who, ostensibly embracing the alliance of the Messenians, had received bribes from Sparta. Thrice did Aristomenes sacrifice to Zeus Ithomates the sacrifice called Hekatomphonia, reserved  for those who had slain with their own hands 100 enemies in battle. At the head of a chosen band he carried his incursions more than once into the heart of the Lacedaemonian territory, surprised Amyklae and Pharis, and even penetrated by night into the unfortified precinct of Sparta itself, where he suspended his shield as a token of defiance in the temple of Athene Chalkioekus. Thrice was he taken prisoner, but on two occasions marvelously escaped before he could be con­veyed to Sparta: the third occasion was more fatal, and he was east hv order of the Spartans into the Keadas, a deep rocky cavity in Mount Taygetus into which it was their habit to precipitate criminals. But even in this emergency the divine aid was not withheld from him. While the fifty Messenians who shared his punishment were all killed by the shock, he alone was both supported by the gods so as to reach the bottom unhurt, and enabled to find an unexpected means of escape. For when, abandoning all hope, he had wrapped himself up in his cloak to die, he perceived a fox creeping about among the dead bodies: waiting until the animal approached him, he grasped its tail, defending himself from its bites as well as he could by means of his cloak; and being thus enabled to find the aperture by which the fox had entered, enlarged it sufficiently for crawling out himself. To the surprise both of friends and enemies he again, appeared alive and vigorous at Eira. That fortified mountain, on the banks of the river Nedon, and near the Ionian sea, had been occupied by the Messenians after the battle in which they had been betrayed by Aristokrates the Arcadian; it was there that they had concentrated their whole force, as in the former war at Ithome, abandoning the rest of the country. Under the conduct of Aristom­enes, assisted by the prophet Theoklus, they maintained this strong position for eleven years. At length they were compelled to abandon it. Yet as in the case of Ithome, the final determining circumstances are represented to have been, not any superiority of bravery or organ­ization on the part of the Lacedaemonians, but treacherous betrayal and stratagem, seconding the fatal decree of the gods. Unable to maintain Eira longer, Aristomenes, with his sons and a body of hu countrymen, forced his way through the assailants and quitted the country—some of them retiring to Arcadia and Elis, and finally migrating to Rhegium. He himself passed the remainder of his days in Rhodes, where he dwelt along with his son-in-law Damagetus, the ancestor of the noble Rhodian family called the Diagorids, celebrated for its numerous Olympic victories.

Such are the main features of what Pausanias calls the second Messenian war, or of what ought rather to be called the Aristomeneis of the poet Rhianus. That after the foundation of Messene, and the recall of the exiles by Epaminondas, favor and credence was found for many tales respecting the prowess of the ancient hero whom they invoked in their libations—tales well calculated to interest the fancy, to vivify the patriotism, and to inflame the anti-Spartan antipathies, of the new inhabitants—there can be little doubt. And the Messenian maidens of that day may well have sung in their public processional sacrifices, how “Aristomenes pursued the flying Lacedaemonians down to the mid-plain of Stenyklerus and up to the very summit of the mountain.” From such stories t(raditions they ought not to be denominated) Rhianus may doubtless have borrowed; but if proof were wanting to show how completely he looked at his materials from the point of view of the poet and not from that of the historian, we should find it in the remarkable fact noticed by Pausanias. Rhianus represented Leotychides as having been king of Sparta during the second Messenian war: now Leotychides (as Pausanias observes) did not reign until near a century and a half afterwards, during the Persian invasion.

To the great champion of Messenia, during this war, we may oppose on the side of Sparta another remarkable person, less striking as a character of romance, but more interesting in many ways to the historian—I mean the poet Tyrtaeus, a native of Aphidnae in Attica, an inestimable ally of the Lacedaemonians during most part of this second struggle. According to a story—which, however, has the air partly of a boast of the later Attic orators—the Spartans, disheartened at the first successes of the Messenians, consulted the Delphian oracle, and were directed to ask for a leader from Athens. The Athenians complied by sending Tyrtaeus, whom Pausanias and Justin repre­sent as a lame man and a schoolmaster, despatched with a view of nominally obeying the oracle, and yet rendering no real assistance. This seems to be a coloring put upon the story by later writers, but the intervention of the Athenians in the matter in any way deserves little credit. It seems more probable that the legendary connection of the Dioskuri with Aphidnae, celebrated at or near that time by the poet Alkman, brought about through the Delphian oracle the presence of the Aphidnaean poet at Sparta. Respecting the Iameness of Tyrtaeus, we can say nothing. But that he was a schoolmaster (if we are constrained to employ an unsuitable term) is highly probable—for in that day, minstrels who composed and sung poems were the only persons from whom the youth received any mental training. Moreover his sway over the youthful mind is particularly noted in the compliment paid to him in after-days by king Leonidas—“Tyrtaeus was an adept in tickling the souls of youth.” We see enough to satisfy us that he was by birth a stranger, though he became a Spartan by the subsequent recompense of citizenship conferred upon him—that he was sent through the Delphian oracle—that he was an impressive and efficacious minstrel—and that he had moreover sagacity enough to employ bis talents for present purposes and diverse needs; being able not merely to reanimate the languishing courage of the baffled warrior, but also to soothe the discontents of the mutinous. That his strains, which long maintained undiminished popularity among the Spartans, contributed much to determine the ultimate issue of this war, there is no reason to doubt; nor is his name the only one to attest the susceptibility of the Spartan mind in that day toward music and poetry. The first establishment of the Karneian festival with its musical competition at Sparta, falls during the period assigned by Pausanias to the second Messenian war: the Lesbian harper Terpander, who gained the first recorded prize at this solemnity, is affirmed to have been sent for by the Spartans pursuant to a mandate from the Delphian oracle, and to have been the means of appeasing a sedition. In like manner, the Kretan Thaletas was invited thither during a pestilence, which his art (as it is pretended) contributed to heal (about 620 b.c.); and Alkman, Xenokritus, Polymnastus, and Sakadas, all foreigners by birth, found favorable reception, and acquired popularity by their music and poetry. With the exception of Sakadas, who is a little later, all these names fall in the same century as Tyrtaeus, between 660 b.c.—610 b.c The fashion which the Spartan music continued for a long time to main­tain, is ascribed chiefly to the genius of Terpander.

The training in which a Spartan passed his life consisted of exer­cises warlike, social, and religious, blended together. While the individual, strengthen by gymnastics, went through his painful lessons of fatigue, endurance, and aggression—the citizens collec­tively were kept in the constant habit of simultaneous and regulated movement in the warlike march, in the religious dance, and in the social procession. Music and song, being constantly employed to direct the measure and keep alive the spirit of these multitudinous movements, became associated with the most powerful feelings which the habitual self-suppression of a Spartan permitted to arise, and especially with those sympathies which are communicated at once to an assembled crowd. Indeed the musician and the minstrel were the only persons who ever addressed themselves to the feelings of a Lacedaemonian assembly. Moreover the simple music of that early day, though destitute of artistical merit and superseded afterwards by more complicated combinations, had nevertheless a pronounced ethical character. It wrought much more powerfully on the impulses and resolutions of the hearers, though it tickled the ear less grate­fully, than the scientific compositions of after-days. Farther, each particular style of music had its own appropriate mental effect—the Phrygian mode imparted a wild and maddening stimulus; the Dorian mode created a settled and deliberate resolution, exempt alike from die desponding and from the impetuous sentiments. What is called the Dorian mode seems to be in reality the old native Greek mode as contradistinguished from the Phrygian and Lydian—these being the three primitive modes, subdivided' and combined only in later times, with which the first Grecian musicians became conversant. It probably acquired its title of Dorian from the musical celebrity of Sparta and Argos, during the seventh and sixth centuries before the Christian era; but it belonged as much to the Arcadians and Achaeans as to the Spartans and Argeians. And the marked ethical effects, produced both by the Dorian and the Phrygian modes in ancient times, are facts perfectly well-attested, however difficult they may be to explain upon any general theory of music.

That the impression produced by Tyrtaeus at Sparta, therefore, with his martial music, and emphatic exhortations to bravery in the field, as well as union at home, should have been very considerable, is per­fectly consistent with the character both of the age and of the people; especially as he is represented to have appeared pursuant to the injunction of the Delphian oracle. From the scanty fragments remain­ing to us of his elegies and anapests, however, we can satisfy our­selves only of two facts—first, that the war was long, obstinately contested, and dangerous to Sparta as well as to the Messenians; next, that other parties in Peloponnesus took part ok both sides, especially on the side of the Messenians. So frequent and harassing were the aggressions of the latter upon the Spartan territory, that a large por­tion of the border land was left uncultivated: scarcity ensued, and the proprietors of the deserted farms, driven to despair, pressed for a redivision of the landed property in the state. It was in appeasing these discontents that the poem of Tyrtaeus called Eunomia, “Legal order,” was found signally beneficial. It seems certain that a con­siderable portion of the Arcadians, together with the Pisatae and the Triphylians, took part with the Messenians; there are also some state­ments numbering the Eleians among their allies, but this appears not probable. The state of the case rather seems to have been that the old quarrel between the Eleians and the Pisatae respecting the right to preside at the Olympic games, which had already burst forth dur­ing the preceding century in the reign of the Argeian Pheidon, still continued. Unwilling dependents of Elis, the Pisatae and Triphylians, took part with the subject Messenians, while the masters at Elis and Sparta made common cause, as they had before done against Phei­don. Pantaleon, king of Pisa, revolting from Elis, acted as com­mander of his countrymen in co-operation with the Messenians; and he is further noted for having, at the period of the 34th Olympiad (644 b.c.), marched a body of troops to Olympia, and thus dispossessed the Eleians, on that occasion, of the presidency: that particular festival — as well as the 8th Olympiad, in which Pheidon interfered—and the 104 Olympiad, in which the Arcadians marched in—were always marked on the Elian register as non-Olympiad or informal celebrations. We may reasonably connect this temporary triumph of the Pisatans with the Messenian war, inasmuch as they were no match for the Eleian single-handed, while the fraternity of Sparta with Elis is in perfect harmony with the scheme of Peloponnesian politics which we have observed is prevalent even before and during the days of Pheidon. The second Messenian war will thus stand as beginning somewhere about the 33d Olympiad, or 645 BC, between seventy and eighty years after the close of the first, and lasting, according to Pausanias, seventeen years; according to Plutarch, more than twenty years.

Many of the Messenians who abandoned their country after this second conquest are said to have found shelter and sympathy among the Arcadians, who admitted them to a new home and gave them their daughters in marriage; and who, moreover, punished secretly the treason of Aristokrates, king of Orchomenus, in abandoning the Messenians at the battle of the Trench. That perfidious leader was put to death and his race dethroned, while the crime as well as the punishment was farther commemorated by an inscription, which was to be seen near the altar of Zeus Lykreus in Arcadia. The inscription doubtless existed in the days of Kallisthenes, in the generation after the restoration of Messene. But whether it had any existence prior to flint event, or what degree of truth there may be in the story about Aristokrates, we are unable to determine; the son of Aristokrates, named Atistodemus, is alleged in another authority to have reigned afterward at Orchomenus. 3 hat which stands strongly marked is the sympathy of Arcadians and Messenians against Sparta—a senti­ment which was in its full vigor at the time of the restoration of Messene.

The second Messenian war was thus terminated by the complete subjugation of the Messenians. Such of them as remained in the country were reduced to a servitude probably not less hard than that which Tyrkeus described them as having endured between the first war and the second. In after-times, the whole territory which figures on the map as Messenia—south of the river Medon, and westward of the summit of Taygetus—appears as subject to Sparta, and as forming the western portion of Laconia; distributed (in what proportion we know not) between Perioekic towns and Helot villages. By what steps, or after what degree of further resistance, the Spartans con­quered this country we have no information; but we are told that they made over Asine to the expelled Dryopes from the Argolic pen­insula, and Mothone to the fugitives from Nauplia. Nor do we hear of any serious revolt from Sparta in this territory until 150 years afterward, subsequent to the Persian invasion—a revolt which Sparta, after serious efforts, succeeded in crushing, so that the territory remained in her power until her defeat at Leuktra, which led to the foundation of Messene by Epaminondas. The fertility of the plains —especially of the central portion near the river Pamisus, so much extolled by observers, modern as well as ancient—rendered it an acquisi­tion highly valuable. At some time or other it must of course have been formally partitioned among the Spartans, but it is probable that different and successive allotments were made, according as the vari­ous portions of territory, both to the east and to the west of Taygetus, were conquered. Of all this we have no information.

Imperfectly as these two Messenian wars are known to us, we may see enough to warrant us in making two remarks. Both were tedious, protracted, and painful, showing how slowly the results of war were then gathered, and adding one additional illustration to prove how much the rapid and instantaneous conquest of Laconia and Messenia by the Dorians, which the Herakleid legend sets forth, is contradicted by historical analogy. Both were characterized by a similar defensive proceeding on the part of the Messenians—the occupation of a moun­tain difficult of access, and the fortification of it for the special pur­pose and resistance—Ithome (which is said to have had already a small town upon it) in the first war, Eira in the second. It is reason­able to infer from hence that neither their principal town, Stenyklerus, nor any other town in their country, was strongly fortified so as to be calculated to stand a siege; that there were no walled towns among them analogous to Myken and Tiryns on the eastern portion of Peloponnesus; and that perhaps what were called towns were, like Sparta itself, clusters of unfortified villages. The subsequent state of Helotism into which they were reduced is in consistency with this dispersed village residence during their period of freedom.

The relations of Pisa and Elis form a suitable counterpart and sequel to those of Messenia and Sparta. Unwilling subjects them­selves, the Pisatans had lent their aid to the Messenians—and their king Pantaleon, one of the leaders of this combined force, had gained so great a temporary success, as to dispossess the Eleians of the agonothesia or administration of the games for one Olympic cere­mony, in the 34th Olympiad. Though again reduced to their con­dition of subjects, they manifested dispositions to renew the revolt at the 48th Olympiad, under Damophon, the son of Pantaleon, and the Eleians marched into their country to put them down, but were per­suaded to retire by protestations of submission. At length, shortly afterward, under Pyrrhus, the brother of Damophon, a serious revolt broke out. The inhabitants of Dyspontium and the other villages in the Pisatid, assisted by those of Makistus, Skillus, and the other towns in Triphylia, took up arms to throw off the yoke of Elis; but their strength was inadequate to the undertaking. They were com­pletely conquered; Dyspontium was dismantled, and the inhabitants of it obliged to flee the country, from whence most of them emigrated to the colonies of Epidamnus and Apollonia in Epirus. The inhabitants of Makiltus and Skillus were also chased from their abodes, while the territory became more thoroughly subject to Elis than it had been before. These incidents seem to have occurred about the 50th Olympiad, or BC 580; and the dominion of Elis over her I’erimkid territory was thus as well assured as that of Sparta. The separate denominations both of Pisa and Triphylia became more and more urged in the sovereign name of Elis: the town of Lepreum alone, in Triphylia, seems to have maintained a separate name and a sort of half-autonomy down to the time of the Peloponnesian war, not with­out perpetual struggles against the Eleians. But toward the period of the Peloponnesian war, the political interests of Lacedaemon had become considerably changed, and it was to her advantage to main­tain the independence of the subordinate states against the superior: accordingly, we find her at that time upholding the autonomy of Lepreum. From what cause the devastation of the Triphylian towns by Elis which Herodotus mentions as having happened in his time, arose, we do not know; the fact seems to indicate a continual yearn­ing for their original independence, which was still con memorated, down to a much later period, by the ancient Amphictyony at Samikum in Triphylia in honor of Poseidon—a common religious festival frequented by all the Triphylian towns and celebrated by the inhabi­tants of Makistus, who sent round proclamation of a formal truce for the holy period. The Lacedaemonians, after the close of the Pelopon­nesian war had left them undisputed heads of Greece, formally upheld the independence of the Triphylian towns against Elis, and seem to have countenanced their endeavors to attach themselves to the Arca­dian aggregate, which however was never fully accomplished. Their dependence on Elis became loose and uncertain, but was never wholly shaken off.





I HAVE described in the last two chapters, as far as our imperfect evidence permits, how Sparta came into possession both of the southern portion of Laconia along the coast of the Eurotas down to its mouth, and of the Messenian territory westward. Her progress towards Arcadia and Argolis is now to be sketched, so as to conduct her to that position which she occupied during the reign of Pisistratus at Athens, or about 560-540 BC, a time when she had reached the maximum of her territorial possessions, and when she was confessedly the commanding state in Hellas.

The central region of Peloponnesus, called Arcadia, had never received any emigrants from without. Its indigenous inhabitants, a strong and hardy race of mountaineers, the most numerous Hellenic tribe in the peninsula, and the constant hive for mercenary troops, were among the rudest and poorest of Greeks, retaining for the longest period their original subdivision into a number of petty hill-villages, each independent of the other; while the union of all who bore the Arcadian name, though they had some common sacrifices, such as the festival of the Lykaean Zeus, of Despoina, daughter of Poseidon and Demeter, and of Artemis Hymnia, was more loose and ineffective than that of Greeks generally, either in or out of Peloponnesus. The Arcadian villagers were usually denominated by the names of regions, coincident with certain ethnical subdivisions, the Azanes, the Parrhasii, the Maenalii (adjoining Mount Maenalus), the Eutresii, the Aegytae, the Skiritae, etc. Some considerable towns, however, there were, aggregations of villages or demes which had been once autonomous. Of these, the principal were Tegea and Mantinea, bordering on Laconia and Argolis, Orchomenus, Pheneus, and Stymphalus, towards the north-east, bordering on Achaia and Phlius, Kleitor and Heraea, westward, where the country is divided from Elis and Triphylia by the woody mountains of Pholoe and Erymanthus, and Phigaleia, on the south-western border near to Messenia. The most powerful of all were Tegea and Mantinea, conterminous towns, nearly equal in force, dividing between them the cold and high plain of Tripolitza, and separated by one of those capricious torrents which only escapes through katabothra. To regulate the efflux of this water was a difficult task, requiring friendly cooperation of both the towns : and when their frequent jealousies brought on a quarrel, the more aggressive of the two inundated the territory of its neighbor as one means of annoyance. The power of Tegea, which had grown up out of nine constituent townships, originally separate, appears to have been more ancient than that of its rival; as we may judge from its splendid heroic pretensions connected with the name of Echemus, and from the post conceded to its hoplites in joint Peloponnesian armaments, which was second in distinction only to that of the Lacedaemonians.

If it be correct, as Strabo asserts, that the incorporation of the town of Mantinea, out of its five separate demes, was brought about by the Argeians, we may conjecture that the latter adopted this proceeding as a means of providing some check upon their powerful neighbors of Tegea. The plain common to Tegea and Mantinea was bounded to the west by the wintry heights of Maenalus, beyond which, as far as the boundaries of Laconia, Messenia, and Triphylia, there was nothing in Arcadia but small and unimportant townships, or villages, without any considerable town, before the important step taken by Epaminondas in founding Megalopolis, a short time after the battle of Leuctra. The mountaineers of these regions, who joined Epaminondas before the battle of Mantinea, at a time when Mantinea and most of the towns of Arcadia were opposed to him, were so inferior to the other Greeks in equipment, that they still carried as their chief weapon, in place of the spear, nothing better than the ancient club.


Both Tegea and Mantinea held several of these smaller Arcadian townships near them in a sort of dependence, and were anxious to extend this empire over others : during the Peloponnesian war, we find the Mantineans establishing and garrisoning a fortress at Kypsela among the Parrhasii, near the site in which Megalopolis was afterwards built. But at this period, Sparta, as the political chief of Hellas, having a strong interest in keeping all the Grecian towns, small and great, as much isolated from each other as possible, and in checking all schemes for the formation of local confederacies, stood forward as the protectress of the autonomy of these smaller Arcadians, and drove back the Mantineans within their own limits. At a somewhat later period, during the acme of her power, a few years before the battle of Leuctra, she even proceeded to the extreme length of breaking up the unity of Mantinea itself, causing the walls to be razed, and the inhabitants to be again parcelled into their five original demes, a violent arrangement, which the turn of political events very soon reversed. It was not until after the battle of Leuctra and the depression of Sparta that any measures were taken for the formation of an Arcadian political confederacy; and even then, the jealousies of the separate cites rendered it incomplete and short-lived. The great permanent change, the establishment of Megalopolis, was accomplished by the ascendency of Epaminondas. Forty petty Arcadian townships, among those situated to the west of Mount Maenalus, were aggregated into the new city: the jealousies of Tegea, Mantinea, and Kleitor, were for a while suspended; and oekists came from all of them, as well as from the districts of the Maenalii and Parrhasii, in order to impart to the new establishment a genuine Pan-Arcadian character. It was thus there arose for the first time a powerful city on the borders of Laconia and Messenia, rescuing the Arcadian townships from their dependence on Sparta, and imparting to them political interests of their own, which rendered them, both a check upon their former chief and a support to the reestablished Messenians.

It has been necessary thus to bring the attention of the reader for one moment to events long posterior in the order of time (Megalopolis was founded in 370 BC), in order that he may understand, by contrast, the general course of those incidents of the earlier time, where direct accounts are wanting. The northern boundary of the Spartan territory was formed by some of the many small Arcadian townships or districts, several of which were successively conquered by the Spartans and incorporated with their dominion, though at what precise time we are unable to say. We are told that Charilaus, the reputed nephew and ward of Lycurgus, took Aegys, and that he also invaded the territory of Tegea, but with singular ill-success, for he was defeated and taken prisoner : we also hear that the Spartans took Phigaleia by surprise in the 30th Olympiad, but were driven out again by the neighboring Arcadian Oresthasians. During the second Messenian war, the Arcadians are represented as cordially seconding the Messenians : and it may seem perhaps singular that, while neither Mantineia nor Tegea are mentioned in this war, the more distant town of Orchomenus, with its Aristocrates, takes the lead. But the facts of the contest come before us with so poetical a coloring, that we cannot venture to draw any positive inference as to the times to which they are referred.

Oenus and Karystus seem to have belonged to the Spartans in the days of Alkman : moreover, the district called Skiritis, bordering on the territory of Tegea, as well as Belemina and Maleatis to the westward, and Karyae to the eastward and southeastward, of Skiritis, forming altogether the entire northern frontier of Sparta, and all occupied by Arcadian inhabitants, had been conquered and made part of the Spartan territory before 600 BC. And Herodotus tells us, that at this period the Spartan kings Leon and Hegesikles contemplated nothing less than the conquest of entire Arcadia, and sent to ask from the Delphian oracle a blessing on their enterprise. The priestess dismissed their wishes as extravagant, in reference to the whole of Arcadia, but encouraged them, though with the usual equivocations of language, to try their fortune against Tegea. Flushed with their course of previous success, not less than by the favorable construction which they put upon the words of the oracle, the Lacedaemonians marched against Tegea with such entire confidence of success, as to carry with them chains for the purpose of binding their expected prisoners. But the result was disappointment and defeat. They were repulsed with loss, and the prisoners whom they left behind, bound in the very chains which their own army had brought, were constrained to servile labor on the plain of Tegea, the words of the oracle being thus literally fulfilled, though in a sense different from that in which the Lacedaemonians had first understood them.

For one whole generation, we are told, they were constantly unsuccessful in their campaigns against the Tegeans, and this strenuous resistance probably prevented them from extending their conquests farther among the petty states of Arcadia.

At length, in the reign of Anaxandrides and Aristo, the successors of Leon and Hegesikles (about 56O BC), the Delphian oracle, in reply to a question from the Spartans, which of the gods they ought to propitiate in order to become victorious, enjoined them to find and carry to Sparta the bones of Orestes, son of Agamemnon. After a vain search, since they did not know where the body of Orestes was to be found, they applied to the oracle for more specific directions, and were told that the son of Agamemnon was buried at Tegea itself, in a place where two blasts were blowing under powerful constraint, where there was stroke and counter-stroke, and destruction upon destruction". These mysterious words were elucidated by a lucky accident.

During a truce with Tegea, Lichas, one of the chiefs of the three hundred Spartan chosen youth, who acted as the movable police of the country under the ephors, visited the place, and entered the forge of a blacksmith, who mentioned to him, in the course of conversation, that, in sinking a well in his outer court, he had recently discovered a coffin containing a body seven cubits long; astounded at the sight, he had left it there undisturbed. It struck Lichas that the gigantic relic of aforetime could be nothing else but the corpse of Orestes, and he felt assured of this, when he reflected how accurately the indications of the oracle were verified; for there were the "two blasts blowing by constraint", in the two bellows of the blacksmith : there was the "stroke and counter-stroke", in his hammer and anvil, as well as the “destruction upon destruction”, in the murderous weapons which he was forging. Lichas said nothing, but returned to Sparta with his discovery, which he communicated to the authorities, who, by a concerted scheme, banished him under a pretended criminal accusation. He then returned again to Tegea, under the guise of an exile, prevailed upon the blacksmith to let to him the premises, and when he found himself in possession, dug up and carried off to Sparta the bones of the venerated hero.

From and after this fortunate acquisition, the character of the contest was changed; the Spartans found themselves constantly victorious over the Tegeans. But it does not seem that these victories led to any positive result, though they might perhaps serve to enforce the practical conviction of Spartan superiority; for the territory of Tegea remained unimpaired, and its autonomy noway restrained. During the Persian invasion, Tegea appears as the willing ally of Lacedaemon, and as the second military power in the Peloponnesus; and we may fairly presume that it was chiefly the strenuous resistance of the Tegeans which prevented the Lacedaemonians from extending their empire over the larger portion of the Arcadian communities. These latter always maintained their independence, though acknowledging Sparta as the presiding power in Peloponnesus, and obeying her orders implicitly as to the disposal of their military force. And the influence which Sparta thus possessed over all Arcadia was one main item in her power, never seriously shaken until the battle of Leuctra; which took away her previous means of insuring success and plunder to her minor followers.


Having thus related the extension of the power of Sparta on her northern or Arcadian frontier, it remains to mention her acquisitions on the eastern and north-eastern side, towards Argos. Originally, as has been before stated, not merely the province of Kynuria and the Thyreatis, but also the whole coast down to the promontory of Malea, had either been part of the territory of Argos or belonged to the Argeian confederacy. We learn from Herodotus, that before the time when the embassy from Croesus, king of Lydia, came to solicit aid in Greece (about 547 BC), the whole of this territory had fallen into the power of Sparta; but how long before, or at what precise epoch, we have no information. A considerable victory is said to have been gained by the Argeians over the Spartans in the 27th Olympiad or 669 BC, at Hysiae, on the road between Argos and Tegea. At that time it does not seem probable that Kynuria could have been in the possession of the Spartans, so that we must refer the acquisition to some period in the following century; though Pausanias places it much earlier, during the reign of Theopompus, and Eusebius connects it with the first establishment of the festival called Gymnopsaedia at Sparta, in 678 BC.

About the year 547 BC, the Argeians made an effort to reconquer Thyrea from Sparta, which led to a combat long memorable in the annals of Grecian heroism. It was agreed between the two powers that the possession of this territory should be determined by a combat of three hundred select champions on each side; the armies of both retiring, in order to leave the field clear. So undaunted and so equal was the valor of these two chosen companies, that the battle terminated by leaving only three of them alive, Alkenor and Chromius among the Argeians. Othryades among the Spartans. The two Argeians warriors hastened home to report their victory, but Othryades remained on the field, carried off the arms of the enemy’s dead into the Spartan camp, and kept his position until he was joined by his countrymen the next morning. Both Argos and Sparta claimed the victory for their respective champions, and the dispute after all was decided by a general conflict, in which the Spartans were the conquerors, though not without much slaughter on both sides. The brave Othryades, ashamed to return home as the single survivor of the three hundred, fell upon his own sword on the field of battle.

This defeat decided the possession of Thyrea, which did not again pass, until a very late period of Grecian history, under (he power of Argos. The preliminary duel of three hundred, with its uncertain issue, though well established as to the general fact, was represented by the Argeians in a manner totally different from the above story, which seems to have been current among the Lacedaemonians. But the most remarkable circumstance is, that more than a century afterwards, when the two powers were negotiating for a renewal of the then expiring truce, the Argeians, still hankering after this their ancient territory, desired the Lacedaemonians to submit the question to arbitration; which being refused, they next stipulated for the privilege of trying the point in dispute by a duel similar to the former, at any time except during the prevalence of war or of epidemic disease. The historian tells us that the Lacedaemonians acquiesced in this proposition, though they thought it absurd, in consequence of their anxiety to keep their relations with Argos at that time smooth and pacific. But there is no reason to imagine that the real duel, in which Othryades contended, was considered as absurd at the time when it took place, or during the age immediately succeeding. It fell in with a sort of chivalrous pugnacity which is noticed among the attributes of the early Greeks, and also with various legendary exploits, such as the single combat of Echemus and Hyllus, of Melanthus and Xanthus, of Menelaus and Paris, etc. Moreover, the heroism of Othryades and his countrymen was a popular theme for poets, not only at the Spartan gymnopaedia, but also elsewhere, and appears to have been frequently celebrated. The absurdity attached to this proposition, then, during the Peloponnesian war, in the minds even of the Spartans, the most old-fashioned and unchanging people in Greece, is to be ascribed to a change in the Grecian political mind, at and after the Persian war. The habit of political calculation had made such decided progress among them, that the leading states especially had become familiarized with something like a statesmanlike view of their resources, their dangers, and their obligations. How lamentably deficient this sort of sagacity was during the Persian invasion, will appear when we come to describe that imminent crisis of Grecian independence : but the events of those days were well calculated to sharpen it for the future, and the Greeks of the Peloponnesian war had become far more refined political schemers than their forefathers. And thus it happened that the proposition to settle a territorial dispute by a duel of chosen champions, admissible and even becoming a century before, came afterwards to be derided as childish.

The inhabitants of Kynuria are stated by Herodotus to have been Ionians, but completely Dorized through their long subjection to Argos, by whom they were governed as Perioeki. Pausanias gives a different account of their race, which he traces to the eponymous hero Kynurus, son of Perseus : but he does not connect them with the Kynurians whom he mentions in another place as a portion of the inhabitants of Arcadia. It is evident that, even in the time of Herodotus, the traces of their primitive descent were nearly effaced. He says they were “Orneates and Perioeki” to Argos; and it appears that the inhabitants of Orneae also, whom Argos had reduced to the same dependent condition, traced their eponymous hero to an Ionic stock, Orneus, the son of the Attic Erechtheus. Strabo seems to have conceived the Kynurians as occupying originally, not only the frontier district of Argolis and Laconia, wherein Thyrea is situated, but also the northwestern portion of Argolis, under the ridge called Lyrkeium, which separates the latter from the Arcadian territory of Stimphalus. This ridge was near the town of Orneae, which lay on the border of Argolis near the confines of Phlius; so that Strabo thus helps to confirm the statement of Herodotus, that the Orneates were a portion of Kynurians, held by Argos along with the other Kynurians in the condition of dependent allies and Perioeki, and very probably also of Ionian origin.


The conquest of Thyrea (a district valuable to the Lacedaemonians, as we may presume from the large booty which the Argeians got from it during the Peloponnesian war) was the last territorial acquisition made by Sparta. She was now possessed of a continuous dominion, comprising the whole southern portion of the Peloponnesus, from the southern bank of the river Nedon on the western coast, to the northern boundary of Thyreatis on the eastern coast. The area of her territory, including as it did both Laconia and Messenia, was equal to two-fifths of the entire peninsula, all governed from the single city, and for the exclusive purpose and benefit of the citizens of Sparta. Within all this wide area there was not a single community pretending to independent agency. The townships of the Perioeki, and the villages of the Helots, were each individually unimportant; nor do we hear of any one of them presuming to treat with a foreign state : both consider themselves as nothing else but subjects of the Spartan ephors and their subordinate officers. They are indeed discontented subjects, hating as well as fearing their masters, and not to be trusted if a favorable opportunity for secure revolt presents itself. But no individual township or district is strong enough to stand up for itself, while combinations among them are prevented by the habitual watchfulness and unscrupulous precautions of the ephors, especially by that jealous secret police called the Krypteia, to which allusion has already been made.

Not only, therefore, was the Spartan territory larger and its population more numerous than that of any other state in Hellas, but its government was also more completely centralized and more strictly obeyed. Its source of weakness was the discontent of its Perioeki and Helots, the latter of whom were not like the slaves of other states imported barbarians from different countries, and speaking a broken Greek, but genuine Hellens, of one dialect and lineage, sympathizing with each other, and as much entitled to the protection of Zeus Hellanius as their masters, from whom, indeed, they stood distinguished by no other line except the perfect training, individual and collective, which was peculiar to the Spartans. During the period on which we are at present dwelling, it does not seem that this discontent comes sensibly into operation; but we shall observe its manifestations very unequivocally after the Persian and during the Peloponnesian war.

To such auxiliary causes of Spartan predominance we must add another, the excellent military position of Sparta, and the unassailable character of Laconia generally. On three sides that territory is washed by the sea, with a coast remarkably dangerous and destitute of harbors; hence Sparta had nothing to apprehend from this quarter until the Persian invasion and its consequences, one of the most remarkable of which was, the astonishing development of the Athenian naval force. The city of Sparta, far removed from the sea, was admirably defended by an almost impassable northern frontier, composed of those districts which we have observed above to have been conquered from Arcadia, Karyatis, Skiritis, Maleatis, and Beleraminatis. The difficulty as well as danger of marching into Laconia by these mountain passes, noticed by Euripides, was keenly felt by every enemy of the Lacedaemonians, and has been powerfully stated by a first-rate modern observer, Colonel Leake. No site could be better chosen for holding the key of all the penetrable passes than that of Sparta. This well-protected frontier was a substitute more than sufficient for fortifications to Sparta itself, which always maintained, down to the times of the despot Nabis, its primitive aspect of a group of adjacent hill-villages rather than a regular city.

When, along with such territorial advantages, we contemplate the personal training peculiar to the Spartan citizens, as yet undiminished in their numbers, combined with the effect of that training upon Grecian sentiment, in inspiring awe and admiration, we shall not be surprised to find that, during the half-century which elapsed between the year 600 BC and the final conquest of Thyreatis from Argos, Sparta had acquired and begun to exercise a recognized ascendency over all the Grecian states. Her military force was at that time superior to that of any of the rest, in a degree much greater than it afterwards came to be; for other states had not yet attained their maximum, and Athens in particular was far short of the height which she afterwards reached. In respect to discipline as well as number, the Spartan military force had even at this early period reached a point which it did not subsequently surpass; while in Athens, Thebes, Argos, Arcadia, and even Elis (as will be hereafter shown), the military training in later days received greater attention, and improved considerably. The Spartans (observes Aristotle) brought to perfection their gymnastic training and their military discipline, at a time when other Greeks neglected both the one and the other : their early superiority was that of the trained men over the untrained, and ceased in after-days, when other states came to subject their citizens to systematic exercises of analogous character or tendency. This fact, the early period at which Sparta attained her maximum of discipline, power, and territory, is important to bear in mind, when we are explaining the general acquiescence which her ascendency met with in Greece, and which her subsequent acts would certainly not have enabled her to earn. That acquiescence first began, and became a habit of the Grecian mind, at a time when Sparta had no rival to come near her, when she had completely shot ahead of Argos, and when the vigor of the Lycurgean discipline had been manifested in a long series of conquests, made during the stationary period of other states, and ending only, to use the somewhat exaggerated phrase of Herodotus, when she had subdued the greater part of Peloponnesus.

Our accounts of the memorable military organization of Sparta are scanty, and insufficient to place the details of it clearly before us. The arms of the Spartans, as to all material points, were not different from those of other Greek hoplites. But one grand peculiarity is observable from the beginning, as an item in the Lycurgean institutions. That lawgiver established military divisions quite distinct from the civil divisions, whereas in the other states of Greece, until a period much later than that which we have now reached, the two were confounded, the hoplites or horsemen of the same tribe or ward being marshaled together on the field of battle. Every Lacedaemonian was bound to military service from the age of twenty to sixty, and the ephors, when they sent forth an expedition, called to arms all the men within some given limit of age. Herodotus tells us that Lycurgus established both the syssitia, or public mess, and the enomoties and triakads, or the military subdivisions peculiar to Sparta.


  The triakads are not mentioned elsewhere, nor can we distinctly make out what they were; but the enomoty was the special characteristic of the system, and the pivot upon which all its arrangements turned. It was a small company of men, the number of whom was variable, being given differently at twenty-five, thirty-two, or thirty-six men, drilled and practised together in military evolutions, and bound to each other by a common oath. Each enomoty had a separate captain, or enomotarch, the strongest and ablest soldier of the company, who always occupied the front rank, and led the enomoty when it marched in single file, giving the order of march, as well as setting the example. If the enomoty was drawn up in three, or four, or six files, the enomotarch usually occupied the front post on the left, and care was taken that both the front-rank men and the rear-rank men, of each file, should be soldiers of particular merit.

It was upon these small companies that the constant and severe Lacedaemonian drilling was brought to act. They were taught to march in concert, to change rapidly from line to file, to wheel right or left in such manner as that the enomotarch and the other protostates, or front-rank men, should always be the persons immediately opposed to the enemy. Their step was regulated by the fife, which played in martial measures peculiar to Sparta, and was employed in actual battle as well as in military practice; and so perfectly were they habituated to the movements of the enomoty, that, if their order was deranged by any adverse accident, scattered soldiers could spontaneously form themselves into the same order, each man knowing perfectly the duties belonging to the place into which chance had thrown him

Above the enomoty were several larger divisions, the pentekostys, the lochus, and the mora, of which latter there seem to have been six in all. Respecting the number of each division, and the proportion of the larger to the smaller, we find statements altogether different, yet each resting upon good authority, so that we are driven to suppose that there was no peremptory standard, and that the enomoty comprised twenty-five, thirtytwo, or thirty-six men; the pentekostys, two or four enomoties; the lochus, two or four pentekosties, and the mora, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, or nine hundred men, at different times, or according to the limits of age which the ephors might prescribe for the men whom they called into the field.

What remains fixed in the system is, first, the small number, though varying within certain limits, of the elementary company called enomoty, trained to act together, and composed of men nearly of the same age, in which every man knew his place; secondly, the scale of divisions and the hierarchy of officers, each rising above the other, the enomotarch, the pentekonter, the lochage, and the polemarch, or commander of the mora, each having the charge of their respective divisions. Orders were transmitted from the king, as commander-in-chief, through the polemarchs to the lochages, from the lochages to the pentekonters, and then from the latter to the enomotarchs, each of whom caused them to be executed by his enomoty. As all these men had been previously trained to the duties of their respective stations, the Spartan infantry possessed the arrangements and aptitudes of a standing army. Originally, they seem to have had no cavalry at all, and when cavalry was at length introduced into their system, it was of a very inferior character, no provision having been made for it in the Lycurgean training. But the military force of the other cities of Greece, even down to the close of the Peloponnesian war, enjoyed little or no special training, having neither any small company like the enomoty, consisting of particular men drilled to act together, no fixed and disciplined officers, nor triple scale of subordination and subdivision.


Gymnastics, and the use of arms, made a part of education everywhere, and it is to be presumed that no Grecian hoplite was entirely without some practice of marching in line and military evolutions, inasmuch as the obligation to serve was universal and often enforced. But such practice was casual and unequal, nor had any individual of Argos or Athens a fixed military place and duty. The citizen took arms among his tribe, under a taxiarch, chosen from it for the occasion, and was placed in a rank or line wherein neither his place nor his immediate neighbors were predetermined. The tribe appears to have been the only military classification known to Athens, and the taxiarch the only tribe officer for infantry, as the phylarch was for cavalry, under the general-in-chief. Moreover, orders from the general were proclaimed to the line collectively by a herald of loud voice, not communicated to the taxiarch so as to make him responsible for the proper execution of them by his division. With an arrangement thus perfunctory and unsystematized, we shall be surprised to find how well the military duties were often performed: but every Greek who contrasted it with the symmetrical structure of the Lacedaemonian armed force, and with the laborious preparation of every Spartan for his appropriate duty, felt an internal sentiment of inferiority, which made him willingly accept the headship of "these professional artists in the business of war", as they are often denominated.

It was through the concurrence of these various circumstances that the willing acknowledgment of Sparta as the leading state of Hellas became a part of Grecian habitual sentiment, during the interval between about 600 BC and 547 BC. During this period too, chiefly, Greece and her colonies were ripening into a sort of recognized and active partnership. The common religious assemblies, which bound the parts together, not only acquired greater formality and more extended development, but also became more numerous and frequent, while the Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games were exalted into a national importance, approaching to that of the Olympic. The recognized superiority of Sparta thus formed part and parcel of the first historical aggregation of the Grecian states. It was about the year 547 BC, that Croesus of Lydia, when pressed by Cyrus and the Persians, solicited aid from Greece, addressing himself to the Spartans as confessed presidents of the whole Hellenic body. And the tendencies then at work, towards a certain degree of increased intercourse and cooperation among the dispersed members of the Hellenic name, were doubtless assisted by the existence of a state recognized by all as the first, a state whose superiority was the more readily acquiesced in, because it was earned by a painful and laborious discipline, which sill admired, but none chose to copy.

Whether it be true, as O. Müller and other learned men conceive, that the Homeric mode of fighting was the general practice in Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece anterior to the invasion of the Dorians, and that the latter first introduced the habit of fighting with close ranks and protended spears, is a point which cannot be determined. Throughout all our historical knowledge of Greece, a close rank among the hoplites, charging with spears always in hand, is the prevailing practice; though there are cases of exception, in which the spear is hurled, when troops seem afraid of coming to close quarters. Nor is it by any means certain, that the Homeric manner of fighting ever really prevailed in Peloponnesus, which is a country eminently inconvenient for the use of war-chariots. The descriptions of the bard may perhaps have been founded chiefly upon what he and his auditors witnessed on the coast of Asia Minor, where chariots were more employed, and where the country was much more favorable to them. We have no historical knowledge of any military practice in Peloponnesus anterior to the hoplites with close ranks and protended spears.


One Peloponnesian state there was, and one alone, which disdained to acknowledge the superiority or headship of Lacedaemon. Argos never forgot that she had once been the chief power in the peninsula, and her feeling towards Sparta was that of a jealous, but impotent, competitor. By what steps the decline of her power had taken place, we are unable to make out, nor can we trace the succession of her kings subsequent to Pheidon. It has been already stated that, about 669 BC, the Argeians gained a victory over the Spartans at Hysiae, and that they expelled from the port of Nauplia its preexisting inhabitants, who found shelter, by favor of the Lacedaemonians, at the port of Mothone, in Messenia. Damokratidas was then king of Argos. Pausanias tells us that Meltas, the son of Lakides, was the last descendant of Temenus who succeeded to this dignity; he being condemned and deposed by the people. Plutarch, however, states that the family of the Herakleids died out, and that another king, named Aegon, was chosen by the people at the indication of the Delphian oracle. Of this story, Pausanias appears to have known nothing. His language implies that the kingly dignity ceased with Meltas, wherein he is undoubtedly mistaken, since the title existed, though probably with very limited functions, at the time of the Persian war. Moreover, there is some ground for presuming that the king of Argos was even at that time a Herakleid, since the Spartans offered to him a third part of the command of the Hellenic force, conjointly with their own two kings.

The conquest of Thyreatis by the Spartans deprived the Argeians of a valuable portion of their Perioekis, or dependent territory; but Orneae, and the remaining portion of Kynuria, still continued to belong to them; the plain round their city was very productive; and except Sparta, there was no other power in Peloponnesus superior to them. Mycenae and Tiryns, nevertheless, seem both to have been independent states at the time of the Persian war, since both sent contingents to the battle of Plataea, at a time when Argos held aloof and rather favored the Persians. At what time Kleonae became the ally, or dependent, of Argos, we cannot distinctly make out. During the Peloponnesian war, it is numbered in that character along with Orneae; but it seems not to have lost its autonomy about the year 470 BC, at which period Pindar represents the Kleonaeans as presiding and distributing prizes at the Nemean games. The grove of Nemea was less than two miles from their town, and they were the original presidents of this great festival, a function of which they were subsequently robbed by the Argeians. in the same manner as the Pisatans had been treated by the Eleians with reference to the Olympic Agon. The extinction of the autonomy of Kleonae and the acquisition of the presidency of the Nemean festival by Argos, were doubtless simultaneous, but we are unable to mark the exact time; for the statement of Eusebius, that the Argeians celebrated the Nemean festival as early as the 53d Olympiad, or 568 BC, is contradicted by the more valuable evidence of Pindar.


Of Corinth and Sicyon it will be more convenient to speak when we survey what is called the Age of the Tyrants, or Despots; and of the inhabitants of Achaia (who occupied the southern coast of the Corinthian gulf, westward of Sicyon, as far as Cape Araxus, the north-western point of Peloponnesus), a few words exhaust our whole knowledge, down to the time at which we are arrived. These Achaeans are given to us as representing the ante-Dorian inhabitants of Laconia, whom the legend affirms to have retired under Tisamenus to the northern parts of Peloponnesus, from whence they expelled the preexisting Ionians and occupied the country. The race of their kings is said to have lasted from Tisamenus down to Ogygus, how long we do not know. After the death of the latter, the Achaean towns formed each a separate republic, but with periodical festivals and sacrifice at the temple of Zeus Homarius, affording opportunity of settling differences and arranging their common concerns. Of these towns, twelve are known from Herodotus and Strabo, Pellene, Aegira, Aegas, Bura, Helike, Aegium, Rhypes, Patrae, Pharae, Olenus, Dyme, Tritaea. But there must originally have been some other autonomous towns besides these twelve; for in the 23d Olympiad, Ikarus of Hyperesia was proclaimed as victor, and there seems good reason to believe that Hyperesia, an old town of the Homeric Catalogue, was in Achaia.

It is affirmed that, before the Achaean occupation of the country, the Ionians had dwelt in independent villages, several of which were subsequently aggregated into towns thus Patrae was formed by a coalescence of seven villages, Dyme from eight (one of which was named Teuthea), and Aegium also from seven or eight. But all these towns were small, and some of them underwent a farther junction one with the other; thus Aegae was joined with Aegeira, and Olenus with Dyme. All the authors seem disposed to recognize twelve cities, and no more, in Achaia; for Polybius, still adhering to that number, substitutes Leontium and Keryneia in place of Aegae and Rhypes; Pausanias gives Keryneia in place of Patrae. We hear of no facts respecting these Achaean towns until a short time before the Peloponnesian war, and even then their part was inconsiderable.

The greater portion of the territory comprised under the name of Achaia was mountain, forming the northern descent of those high ranges, passable only through very difficult gorges, which separate the country from Arcadia to the south, and which throw out various spurs approaching closely to the gulf of Corinth. A strip of flat land, with white clayey soil, often very fertile, between these mountains and the sea, formed the plain of each of the Achaean towns, which were situated for the most part upon steep outlying eminences overhanging it. From the mountains between Achaia and Arcadia, numerous streams flow into the Corinthian gulf, but few of them are perennial, and the whole length of coast is represented as harborless.





THE preceding volume brought down the history of Sparta to the period marked by the reign of Pisistratus at Athens; at which time she had attained her maximum of territory, was confessedly the most powerful state in Greece, and enjoyed a proportionate degree of deference from the rest. I now proceed to touch upon the three Dorian cities on and near to the Isthmus, Corinth, Sicyon, and Megara, as they existed at this same period.

Even amidst the scanty information which has reached us, we trace the marks of considerable maritime energy and commerce among the Corinthians, as far back as the eighth century BC. The foundation of Corcyra and Syracuse, in the llth Olympiad, or 734 BC (of which I shall speak farther in connection with Grecian colonization generally), by expeditions from Corinth, affords a good proof that they knew how to turn to account the excellent situation which connected them with the sea on both sides of Peloponnesus : and Thucydides, while he notices them as the chief liberators of the sea, in early times, from pirates, also tells us that the first great improvement in ship-building, (the construction of the trireme, or ship of war, with a full deck and triple banks for the rowers), was the fruit of Corinthian ingenuity. It was in the year 703 BC, that the Corinthian Ameinokles built four triremes for the Samians, the first which those islanders had ever possessed : the notice of this fact attests as well the importance attached to the new invention, as the humble scale on which the naval force in those early days was equipped. And it is a fact of not less moment, in proof of the maritime vigor of Corinth in the seventh century BC, that the earliest naval battle known to Thucydides was one which took place between the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans, BC 664.

It has already been stated, in the preceding volume, that the line of Herakleid kings in Corinth subsides gradually, through a series of empty names, into the oligarchy denominated Bacchiadae, or Bacchiads, under whom our first historical knowledge of the city begins. The persons so named were all accounted descendants of Heracles, and formed the governing caste in the city; intermarrying usually among themselves, and choosing from their own number an annual prytanis, or president, for the administration of affairs. Of their internal government we have no accounts, except the tale respecting Archias the founder of Syracuse, one of their number, who had made himself so detested by an act of brutal violence terminating in the death of the beautiful youth Aktaeon, as to be forced to expatriate. That such a man should have been placed in the distinguished post of oekist of the colony of Syracuse, gives us no favorable idea of the Bacchiad oligarchy : we do not, however, know upon what original authority the story depends, nor can we be sure that it is accurately recounted. But Corinth, under their government, was already a powerful commercial and maritime city, as has already been stated.

Megara, the last Dorian state in this direction eastward, and conterminous with Attica at the point where the mountains called Kerata descend to Eleusis and the Thracian plain, is affirmed to have been originally settled by the Dorians of Corinth, and to have remained for some time a dependency of that city. It is farther said to have been at first merely one of five separate villages, Megara, Herraa, Peirnea, Kynosura, Tripodiskus, inhabited by a kindred population, and generally on friendly terms, yet sometimes distracted by quarrels, and on those occasions carrying on war with a degree of lenity and chivalrous confidence which reverses the proverbial affirmation respecting the sanguinary character of enmities between kindred. Both these two statements are transmitted to us (we know not from what primitive source) as explanatory of certain current phrases : the author of the latter cannot have agreed with the author of the former in considering the Corinthians as masters of the Megarid, because he represents them as fomenting wars among these five villages for the purpose of acquiring that territory. Whatever may be the truth respecting this alleged early subjection of Megara, we know it in the historical age, and that too as early as the 14th Olympiad, only as an independent Dorian city, maintaining the integrity of its territory under its leader Orsippus, the famous Olympic runner, against some powerful enemies, probably the Corinthians. It was of no mean consideration, possessing a territory which extended across Mount Geraneia to the Corinthian gulf, on which the fortified town and port of Pegae, belonging to the Megarians, was situated; it was mother of early and distant colonies, and competent, during the time of Solon, to carry on a protracted contest with the Athenians, for the possession of Salamis, wherein, although the latter were at last victorious, it was not without an intermediate period of ill-success and despair.

Of the early history of Sicyon, from the period when it became Dorian down to the seventh century BC, we know nothing. Our first information respecting it, concerns the establishment of the despotism of Orthagoras, about 680-670 BC. And it is a point deserving of notice, that all the three above-mentioned towns, Corinth, Sicyon, and Megara, underwent during the course of this same century a similar change of government. In each of them a despot established himself; Orthagoras in Sicyon; Kypselus in Corinth; Theagenes in Megara.

Unfortunately, we have too little evidence as to the state of things by which this change of government was preceded and brought about, to be able to appreciate fully its bearing. But what draws our attention to it more particularly is, that the like phenomenon seems to have occurred contemporaneously throughout a large number of cities, continental, insular, and colonial, in many different parts of the Grecian world. The period between 650 and 500 BC, witnessed the rise and downfall of many despots and despotic dynasties, each in its own separate city. During the succeeding interval between 500 and 350 BC, new despots, though occasionally springing up, become more rare; political dispute takes another turn, and the question is raised directly and ostensibly between the many and the few, the people and the oligarchy. But in the still later times which follow the battle of Chaeronea, in proportion as Greece, declining in civic not less than in military spirit, is driven to the constant employment of mercenary troops, and humbled by the overruling interference of foreigners, the despot with his standing foreign body-guard becomes again a characteristic of the time; a tendency partially counteracted, but never wholly subdued, by Aratus, and the Achaean league of the third century BC.

It would have been instructive if we had possessed a faithful record of these changes of government in some of the more considerable of the Grecian towns; but in the absence of such evidence we can do little more than collect the brief sentences of Aristotle and others respecting the causes which produced them. For as the like change of government was common, near about the same time, to cities very different in locality, in race of inhabitants, in tastes and habits, and in wealth, it must partly have depended upon certain general causes which admit of being assigned and explained.


In the preceding volume, I tried to elucidate the heroic government of Greece, so far as it could be known from the epic poems, a government founded (if we may employ modern phraseology) upon divine right as opposed to the sovereignty of the people, but requiring, as an essential condition, that the king shall possess force, both of body and mind, not unworthy of the exalted breed to which he belongs. In this government, the authority which pervades the whole society, all resides in the king; but on important occasions it is exercised through the forms of publicity; he consults, and even discusses, with the council of chiefs or elders, he communicates after such consultation with the assembled agora, who hear and approve, perhaps hear and murmur, but are not understood to exercise an option or to reject.

In giving an account of the Lycurgean system, I remarked that the old primitive Rhetrae, or charters of compact, indicated the existence of these same elements; a king of superhuman lineage (in this particular case two coordinate kings), a senate of twenty-eight old men, besides the kings who sat in it, and an ekklesia, or public assembly of citizens, convened for the purpose of approving or rejecting propositions submitted to them, with little or no liberty of discussion. The elements of the heroic government of Greece are thus found to be substantially the same as those existing in the primitive Lycurgean constitution : in both cases the predominant force residing in the kings, and the functions of the senate, still more those of the public assembly, being comparatively narrow and restricted; in both cases the regal authority being upheld by a certain religious sentiment, which tended to exclude rivalry and to insure submission in the people up to a certain point, in spite of misconduct or deficiency in the reigning individual. Among the principal Epirotic tribes, this government subsisted down to the third century BC, though some of them had passed out of it, and were in the habit of electing annually a president out of the gens to which the king belonged.

Starting from these points, common to the Grecian heroic government, and to the original Lycurgean system, we find that in the Grecian cities generally, the king is replaced by an oligarchy, consisting of a limited number of families, while at Sparta, the kingly authority, though greatly curtailed, is never abolished. And the different turn of events at Sparta admits of being partially explained. It so happened that, for five centuries, neither of the two coordinate lines of Spartan kings was ever without some male representatives, so that the sentiment of divine right, upon which their preeminence was founded, always proceeded in an undeviating channel. That sentiment never wholly died out in the tenacious mind of Sparta, but it became sufficiently enfeebled to occasion a demand for guarantees against abuse. If the senate had been a more numerous body, composed of a few principal families, and comprising men of all ages, it might, perhaps, have extended its powers so much as to absorb those of the king : but a council of twenty-eight very old men, chosen indiscriminately from all Spartan families, was essentially an adjunct and secondary force. It was insufficient even as a restraint upon the king, still less was it competent to become his rival; and it served indirectly even as a support to him, by preventing the formation of any other privileged order powerful enough to be an overmatch for his authority. This insufficiency on the part of the senate was one of the causes which occasioned the formation of the annually-renewed Council of Five, called the Ephors; originally a defensive board, like the Roman Tribunes, intended as a restraint upon abuse of power in the kings, but afterwards expanding into a paramount and unresponsible Executive Directory. Assisted by endless dissensions between the two coordinate kings, the ephors encroached upon their power on every side, limited them to certain special functions, and even rendered them accountable and liable to punishment, but never aspired to abolish the dignity. That which the regal authority lost in extent (to borrow the just remark of king Theopompus) it gained in durability: the descendants of the twins Eurysthenes and Prokles continued in possession of their double scepter from the earliest historical times down to the revolutions of Agis the Third, and Cleomenes the Third, generals of the military force, growing richer and richer, and reverenced as well as influential in the state, though the directory of ephors were their superiors. And the ephors became, in time, quite as despotic, in reference to internal affairs, as the kings could ever have been before them; for the Spartan mind, deeply possessed with the feelings of command and obedience, remained comparatively insensible to the ideas of control and responsibility, and even averse to that open discussion and censure of public measures, or officers, which such ideas imply. We must recollect that the Spartan political constitution was both simplified in its character, and aided in its working, by the comprehensive range of the Lycurgean discipline, with its rigorous equal pressure upon rich and poor, which averted many of the causes elsewhere productive of sedition, habituating the proudest and most refractory citizen to a life of undeviating obedience, satisfying such demand as existed for system and regularity, rendering Spartan personal habits of life much more equal than even democratical Athens could parallel; but contributing, at the same time, to engender a contempt for talkers, and a dislike of methodical and prolonged speech, which of itself sufficed to exclude all regular interference of the collective citizens, either in political or judicial affairs.

Such were the facts at Sparta; but in the rest of Greece the primitive heroic government was modified in a very different manner : the people outgrew, much more decidedly, that feeling of divine right and personal reverence which originally gave authority to the king. Willing submission ceased on the part of the people, and still more on the part of the inferior chiefs, and with it ceased the heroic royalty. Something like a system or constitution came to be demanded.


Of this discontinuance of kingship, so universal in the political march of Hellas, the prime cause is, doubtless, to be sought in the smallness and concentrated residence of each distinct Hellenic society. A single chief, perpetual and unresponsible, was no way essential for the maintenance of union. In modern Europe, for the most part, the different political societies which grew up out of the extinction of the Roman empire embraced each a considerable population and a wide extent of territory and the monarchical form presented itself as the only known means of union between the parts : the only visible and imposing symbol of a national identity. Both the military character of the Teutonic invaders, as well as the traditions of the Roman empire which they dismembered, tended towards the establishment of a monarchical chief, the abolition of whose dignity would have been looked upon as equivalent, and would really have been equivalent, to the breaking up of the nation, since the maintenance of a collective union by means of general assemblies was so burdensome, that the kings themselves vainly tried to exact it by force, and representative government was then unknown.

The history of the Middle Ages, though exhibiting constant resistance on the part of powerful subjects, frequent deposition of individual kings, and occasional changes of dynasty, contains few instances of any attempt to maintain a large political aggregate united without a king, either hereditary or elective. Even towards the close of the last century, at the period when the federal constitution of the United States of America was first formed, many reasoners regarded as an impossibility the application of any other system than the monarchical to a territory of large size and population, so as to combine union of the whole with equal privileges and securities to each of the parts, and it might, perhaps, be a real impossibility among any rude people, with strong local peculiarities, difficult means of communication, and habits of representative government not yet acquired.

Hence, throughout all the larger nations of mediaeval and modern Europe, with few exceptions, the prevailing sentiment has been favorable to monarchy; but wherever any single city, or district, or cluster of villages, whether in the plains of Lombardy, or in the mountains of Switzerland, has acquired independence, wherever any small fraction has severed itself from the aggregate, the opposite sentiment has been found, and the natural tendency has been towards some modification of republican government out of which, indeed, as in Greece, a despot has often been engendered, but always through some unnatural mixture of force and fraud. The feudal system, evolved out of the disordered state of Europe between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, always presumed a permanent suzerain, vested with large rights of a mixed personal and proprietary character over his vassals, though subject, also, to certain obligations towards them; the immediate vassals of the king had subordinate vassals of their own, to whom they stood in the same relation : and in this hierarchy of power, property, and territory blended together, the rights of the chief, whether king, duke, or baron, were always conceived as constituting a status apart, and neither conferred originally by the grant, nor revocable at the pleasure, of those over whom they were exercised.


This view of the essential nature of political authority was a point in which the three great elements of modern European society, the Teutonic, the Roman, and the Christian, all concurred, though each in a different way and with different modifications; and the result was, a variety of attempts on the part of subjects to compromise with their chief, without any idea of substituting a delegated executive in his place. On particular points of these feudal monarchies there grew up, gradually, towns with a concentrated population, among whom was seen the remarkable combination of a republican feeling, demanding collective and responsible management in their own local affairs, with a necessity of union and subordination towards the great monarchical whole; and hence again arose a new force tending both to maintain the form, and to predetermine the march, of kingly government. And it has been found in practice possible to attain this latter object, to combine regal government with fixity of administration, equal law impartially executed, security to person and property, and freedom of discussion under representative forms, in a degree which the wisest ancient Greek would have deemed hopeless. Such an improvement in the practical working of this species of government, speaking always comparatively with the kings of ancient times in Syria, Egypt, Judea, the Grecian cities, and Rome, coupled with the increased force of all established routine, and the greater durability of all institutions and creeds which have once obtained footing throughout any wide extent of territory and people, has caused the monarchical sentiment to remain predominant in the European mind, though not without vigorous occasional dissent, throughout the increased knowledge and the enlarged political experience of the last two centuries.

It is important to show that the monarchical institutions and monarchical tendencies prevalent throughout mediaeval and modern Europe have been both generated and perpetuated by causes peculiar to those societies, whilst in Hellenic societies such causes had no place, in order that we may approach Hellenic phenomena in the proper spirit, and with an impartial estimate of the feeling universal among Greeks towards the idea of a king. The primitive sentiment entertained towards the heroic king died out, passing first into indifference, next, after experience of the despots, into determined antipathy.

To an historian like Mr. Mitford, full of English ideas respecting government, this anti-monarchical feeling appears of the nature of insanity, and the Grecian communities like madmen without a keeper: while the greatest of all benefactors is the hereditary king, who conquers them from without, the second best is the home-despot, who seizes the acropolis and puts his fellow-citizens under coercion. There cannot be a more certain way of misinterpreting and distorting Grecian phenomena than to read them in this spirit, which reverses the maxims both of prudence and morality current in the ancient world. The hatred of kings as it stood among the Greeks, whatever may be thought about a similar feeling now, was a preeminent virtue, flowing directly from the noblest and wisest part of their nature : it was a consequence of their deep conviction of the necessity of universal legal restraint it was a direct expression of that regulated sociality which required the control of individual passion from every one without exception, and most of all from him to whom power was confided. The conception which the Greeks formed of an unresponsible One, or of a king who could do no wrong, may be expressed in the pregnant words of Herodotus : “He subverts the customs of the country : he violates women : he puts men to death without trial”. No other conception of the probable tendencies of kingship was justified either by a general knowledge of human nature, or by political experience as it stood from Solon downward : no other feeling than abhorrence could be entertained for the character so conceived : no other than a man of unprincipled ambition would ever seek to invest himself with it.

Our larger political experience has taught us to modify this opinion by showing that, under the conditions of monarchy in the best governments of modern Europe, the enormities described by Herodotus do not take place, and that it is possible, by means of representative constitutions acting under a certain force of manners, customs, and historical recollection, to obviate many of the mischiefs likely to flow from proclaiming the duty of peremptory obedience to an hereditary and irresponsible king, who cannot be changed without extra constitutional force. But such larger observation was not open to Aristotle, the wisest as well as the most cautious of ancient theorists; nor if it had been open, could he have applied with assurance its lessons to the governments of the single cities of Greece. The theory of a constitutional king, especially as it exists in England, would have appeared to him impracticable : to establish a king who will reign without governing, in whose name all government is carried on, yet whose personal will is in practice of little or no effect, exempt from all responsibility, without making use of the exemption, receiving from every one unmeasured demonstrations of homage, which are never translated into act except within the bounds of a known law, surrounded with all the paraphernalia of power, yet acting as a passive instrument in the hands of ministers marked out for his choice by indications which he is not at liberty to resist. This remarkable combination of the fiction of superhuman grandeur and license with the reality of an invisible strait-waistcoat, is what an Englishman has in his mind when he speaks of a constitutional king : the events of our history have brought it to pass in England, amidst an aristocracy the most powerful that the world has yet seen, but we have still to learn whether it can be made to exist elsewhere, or whether the occurrence of a single king, at once able, aggressive, and resolute, may not suffice to break it up. To Aristotle, certainly, it could not have appeared otherwise than unintelligible and impracticable : not likely even in a single case, but altogether inconceivable as a permanent system and with all the diversities of temper inherent in the successive members of an hereditary dynasty.

When the Greeks thought of a man exempt from legal responsibility, they conceived him as really and truly such, in deed as well as in name, with a defenseless community exposed to his oppressions; and their fear and hatred of him was measured by their reverence for a government of equal law and free speech, with the ascendency of which their whole hopes of security were associated, in the democracy of Athens more perhaps than in any other portion of Greece. And this feeling, as it was one of the best in the Greek mind, so it was also one of the most widely spread, a point of unanimity highly valuable amidst so many points of dissension. We cannot construe or criticize it by reference to the feelings of modern Europe, still less to the very peculiar feelings of England, respecting kingship : and it is the application, sometimes explicit and sometimes tacit, of this unsuitable standard, which renders Mr. Mitford’s appreciation of Greek politics so often incorrect and unfair.

When we try to explain the course of Grecian affairs, not from the circumstances of other societies, but from those of the Greeks themselves, we shall see good reason for the discontinuance as well as for the dislike of kingship. Had the Greek mind been as stationary and unimproving as that of the Orientals, the discontent with individual kings might have led to no other change than the deposition of a bad king in favor of one who promised to be better, without ever extending the views of the people to any higher conception than that of a personal government. But the Greek mind was of a progressive character, capable of conceiving and gradually of realizing amended social combinations. Moreover, it is in the nature of things that any government, regal, oligarchical, or democratical, which comprises only a single city, is far less stable than if it embraced a wider surface and a larger population : and when that semi-religious and mechanical submission, which made up for the personal deficiencies of the heroic king, became too feeble to serve as a working principle, the petty prince was in too close contact with his people, and too humbly furnished out in every way, to get up a prestige or delusion of any other kind : he had no means of overawing their imaginations by that combination of pomp, seclusion, and mystery, which Herodotus and Xenophon so well appreciate among the artifices of kingcraft.


As there was no new feeling upon which a perpetual chief could rest his power, so there was nothing in the circumstances of the community which rendered the maintenance of such a dignity necessary for visible and effective union: in a single city, and a small circumjacent community, collective deliberation and general rules, with temporary and responsible magistrates, were practicable without difficulty. To maintain an irresponsible king, and then to contrive accompaniments which shall extract from him the benefits of responsible government, is in reality a highly complicated system, though, as has been remarked, we have become familiar with it in modern Europe : the more simple and obvious change is, to substitute one or more temporary and responsible magistrates in place of the king himself. Such was the course which affairs took in Greece. The inferior chiefs, who had originally served as council to the king, found it possible to supersede him, and to alternate the functions of administration among themselves; retaining probably the occasional convocation of the general assembly, as it had existed before, and with as little practical efficacy. Such was in substance the character of that mutation which occurred generally throughout the Grecian states, with the exception of Sparta : kingship was abolished, and an oligarchy took its place, a council deliberating collectively, deciding general matters by the majority of voices, and selecting some individuals of their own body as temporary and accountable administrators. It was always an oligarchy which arose on the defeasance of the heroic kingdom : the age of democratical movement was yet far distant, and the condition of the people the general body of freemen was not immediately altered, either for better or worse, by the revolution; the small number of privileged persons, among whom the kingly attributes were distributed and put in rotation, being those nearest in rank to the king himself, perhaps members of the same large gens with him, and pretending to a common divine or heroic descent. As far as we can make out, this change seems to have taken place in the natural course of events and without violence. Sometimes the kingly lineage died out and was not replaced; sometimes, on the death of a king, his son and successor was acknowledged only as archon, or perhaps set aside altogether to make room for a prytanis, or president, out of the men of rank around.

At Athens, we are told that Kodrus was the last king, and that his descendants were recognized only as archons for life; after some years, the archons for life were replaced by archons for ten years, taken from the body of Eupatridas, or nobles; subsequently, the duration of the archonship was farther shortened to one year. At Corinth, the ancient kings are said to have passed in like manner into the oligarchy of the Bacchiadae, out of whom an annual prytanis was chosen. We are only able to make out the general fact of such a change, without knowing how it was brought about, our first historical acquaintance with the Grecian cities beginning with these oligarchies.


Such oligarchical governments, varying in their details but analogous in general features, were common throughout the cities of Greece proper as well as of the colonies, throughout the seventh century BC. Though they had little immediate tendency to benefit the mass of the freemen, yet when we compare them with the antecedent heroic government, they indicate an important advance, the first adoption of a deliberate and preconceived system in the management of public affairs. They exhibit the first evidences of new and important political ideas in the Greek mind, the separation of legislative and executive powers; the former vested in a collective body, not merely deliberating but also finally deciding, while the latter is confided to temporary individual magistrates, responsible to that body at the end of their period of office. We are first introduced to a community of citizens, according to the definition of Aristotle, men qualified, and thinking themselves qualified, to take turns in command and obedience : the collective sovereign, called The City, is thus constituted. It is true that this first community of citizens comprised only a small proportion of the men personally free, but the ideas upon which it was founded began gradually to dawn upon the minds of all. Political power had lost its heaven-appointed character, and had become an attribute legally communicable as well as determined to certain definite ends; and the ground was thus laid for those thousand questions which agitated so many of the Grecian cities during the ensuing three centuries, partly respecting its apportionment, partly respecting its employment, questions sometimes raised among the members of the privileged oligarchy itself, sometimes between that order as a whole and the non-privileged Many. The seeds of those popular movements, which called forth so much profound emotion, so much bitter antipathy, so much energy and talent, throughout the Grecian world, with different modifications in each particular city, may thus be traced back to that early revolution which erected the primitive oligarchy upon the ruins of the heroic kingdom.

How these first oligarchies were administered we have no direct information; but the narrow and anti-popular interests naturally belonging to a privileged few, together with the general violence of private manners and passions, leave us no ground for presuming favorably respecting either their prudence or their good feeling; and the facts which we learn respecting the condition of Attica prior to the Solonian legislation (to be recounted in the next chapter) raise inferences all of an unfavorable character.


The first shock which they received, and by which so many of them were subverted, arose from the usurpers called Despots, who employed the prevalent discontents both as pretexts and as aids for their own personal ambition, while their very frequent success seems to imply that such discontents were wide-spread as well as serious. These despots arose out of the bosom of the oligarchies, but not all in the same manner. Sometimes the executive magistrate, upon whom the oligarchy themselves had devolved important administrative powers for a certain temporary period, became unfaithful to his choosers, and acquired sufficient ascendency to retain his dignity permanently in spite of them, perhaps even to transmit it to his son. In other places, and seemingly more often, there arose that noted character called the Demagogue, of whom historians both ancient and modern commonly draw so repulsive a picture : a man of energy and ambition, sometimes even a member of the oligarchy itself, who stood forward as champion of the grievances and sufferings of the non-privileged Many, acquired their favor, and employed their strength so effectively as to put down the oligarchy by force, and constitute himself despot. A third form of despot, some presumptuous wealthy man, like Kylon at Athens, without even the pretense of popularity, was occasionally emboldened by the success of similar adventures in other places to hire a troop of retainers and seize the acropolis; and there were examples, though rare, of a fourth variety, the lineal descendant of the ancient kings, who, instead of suffering himself to be restricted or placed under control by the oligarchy, found means to subjugate them, and to extort by force an ascendency as great as that which his forefathers had enjoyed by consent. To these must be added, in several Grecian states, the Aesymnete, or Dictator, a citizen formally invested with supreme and unresponsible power, placed in command of the military force, and armed with a standing body-guard, but only for a time named, and in order to deal with some urgent peril or ruinous internal dissension. The person thus exalted, always enjoying a large measure of confidence, and generally a man of ability, was sometimes so successful, or made himself so essential to the community, that the term of his office was prolonged, and he became practically despot for life; or, even if the community were not disposed to concede to him this permanent ascendency, he was often strong enough to keep it against their will.

Such were the different modes in which the numerous Greek despots of the seventh and sixth centuries BC acquired their power. Though we know thus much in general terms from the brief statements of Aristotle, yet, unhappily, we have no contemporary picture of any one of these communities, so as to give us the means of appreciating the change in detail. Of those persons who, possessing inherited kingly dignity, stretched their paternal power so far as to become despots, Aristotle gives us Pheidon of Argos as an example, whose reign has been already narrated in the preceding volume : of those who made themselves despots by means of official power previously held under an oligarchy, he names Phalaris, at Agrigentum, and the despots at Miletus and other cities of the Ionic Greeks : of those who raised themselves by becoming demagogues, he specifies Panaetius in the Sicilian town of Leontini, Kypselus at Corinth, and Pisistratus at Athens; of Aesymnetes, or chosen despots, Pittakus of Mitylene is the prominent instance. The military and aggressive demagogue, subverting an oligarchy which had degraded and ill-used him, governing as a cruel despot for several years, and at last dethroned and slain, is farther depicted by Dionysius of Halikarnassus, in the history of Aristodemus of the Italian Cumae.

From the general statement of Thucydides as well as of Aristotle, we learn that the seventh and sixth centuries BC were centuries of progress for the Greek cities generally, in wealth, in power, and in population; and the numerous colonies founded during this period, of which I shall speak in a future chapter, will furnish farther illustration of such progressive tendencies. Now the changes just mentioned in the Grecian governments, imperfectly as we know them, are on the whole decided evidences of advancing citizenship. For the heroic government, with which Grecian communities begin, is the rudest and most infantine of all governments; destitute even of the pretense of system or security, incapable of being in any way foreknown, and depending only upon the accidental variations in the character of the reigning individual, who, in most cases, far from serving as a protection to the poor against the rich and great, was likely to indulge his passions in the same unrestrained way as the latter, and with still greater impunity.


The despots, who in so many towns succeeded and supplanted this oligarchical government, though they governed on principles usually narrow and selfish, and often oppressively cruel, “taking no thought”, to use the emphatic words of Thucydides, “except for their own body and their own family”, yet since they were not strong enough to crush the Greek mind, imprinted upon it a painful but improving political lesson, and contributed much to enlarge the range of experience as well as to determine the subsequent cast of feeling.

They partly broke down the wall of distinction between the people properly so called, the general mass of freemen and the oligarchy; indeed, the demagogue-despots are interesting, as the first evidence of the growing importance of the people in political affairs. The demagogue stood forward as representing the feelings and interests of the people against the governing few, probably availing himself of some special cases of ill-usage, and taking pains to be conciliatory and generous in his own personal behavior; and when the people, by their armed aid, had enabled him to overthrow the existing rulers, they had thus the satisfaction of seeing their own chief in possession of the supreme power, but they acquired no political rights and no increased securities for themselves. What measure of positive advantage they may have reaped, beyond that of seeing their previous oppressors humiliated, we know too little to determine; but even the worst of despots was more formidable to the rich than to the poor, and the latter may perhaps have gained by the change, in comparative importance, notwithstanding their share in the rigors and exactions of a government which had no other permanent foundation than naked fear.

A remark made by Aristotle deserves especial notice here, as illustrating the political advance and education of the Grecian communities. He draws a marked distinction between the early demagogue of the seventh and sixth centuries, and the later demagogue, such as he himself and the generations immediately preceding had witnessed : the former was a military chief, daring and full of resource, who took arms at the head of a body of popular insurgents, put down the government by force, and made himself the master both of those whom he deposed and of those by whose aid he deposed them; while the latter was a speaker, possessed of all the talents necessary for moving an audience, but neither inclined to, nor qualified for, armed attack, accomplishing all his purposes by pacific and constitutional methods. This valuable change, substituting discussion and the vote of an assembly in place of an appeal to arms, and procuring for the pronounced decision of the assembly such an influence over men’s minds as to render it final and respected even by dissentients, arose from the continued practical working of democratical institutions.

I shall have occasion, at a later period of this history, to estimate the value of that unmeasured obloquy which has been heaped on the Athenian demagogues of the Peloponnesian war, Cleon and Hyperbolus; but, assuming the whole to be well-founded, it will not be the less true that these men were a material improvement on the earlier demagogues, such as Kypselus and Pisistratus, who employed the armed agency of the people for the purpose of subverting the established government and acquiring despotic authority for themselves.

The demagogue was essentially a leader of opposition, who gained his influence by denouncing the men in real ascendency, and in actual executive functions. Now, under the early oligarchies, his opposition could be shown only by armed insurrection, and it conducted him either to personal sovereignty or to destruction; but the growth of democratical institutions insured both to him and to his political opponents full liberty of speech, and a paramount assembly to determine between them; whilst it both limited the range of his ambition, and set aside the appeal to armed force. The railing demagogue of Athens, at the time of the Peloponnesian war (even if we accept literally the representations of his worst enemies), was thus a far less mischievous and dangerous person than the fighting demagogue of the earlier centuries ; and the “growth of habits of public speaking”, to use Aristotle’s expression, was the cause of the difference : the opposition of the tongue was a beneficial substitute for the opposition of the sword.

The rise of these despots on the ruins of the previous oligarchies was, in appearance, a return to the principles of the heroic age, the restoration of a government of personal will in place of that systematic arrangement known as the City. But the Greek mind had so far outgrown those early principles, that no new government founded thereupon could meet with willing acquiescence, except under some temporary excitement. At first, doubtless, the popularity of the usurper, combined with the fervor of his partisans and the expulsion or intimidation of opponents, and farther enhanced by the punishment of rich oppressors, was sufficient to procure for him obedience; and prudence on his part might prolong this undisputed rule for a considerable period, perhaps even throughout his whole life. But Aristotle intimates that these governments, even when they began well, had a constant tendency to become worse and worse, discontent manifested itself, and was aggravated rather than repressed by the violence employed against it, until at length the despot became a prey to mistrustful and malevolent anxiety, losing any measure of equity or benevolent sympathy which might once have animated him. If he was fortunate enough to bequeath his authority to his son, the latter, educated in a corrupt atmosphere and surrounded by parasites, contracted disposition yet more noxious and unsocial : his youthful appetites were more ungovernable, while he was deficient in the prudence and vigor which had been indispensable to the self-accomplished rise of his father. For such a position, mercenary guards and a fortified acropolis were the only stay, guards fed at the expense of the citizens, and thus requiring constant exactions on behalf of that which was nothing better than a hostile garrison. It was essential to the security of the despot that he should keep down the spirit of the free people whom he governed; that he should isolate them from each other, and prevent those meetings and mutual communications which Grecian cities habitually presented in the school, the lesche, or the palaestra; that he should strike off the overtopping ears of corn in the field (to use the Greek locution) or crush the exalted and enterprising minds. Nay, he had even to a certain extent an interest in degrading and impoverishing them, or at least in debarring them from the acquisition either of wealth or leisure : and the extensive constructions undertaken by Polycrates at Samos, as well as the rich donations of Periander to the temple at Olympia, are considered by Aristotle to have been extorted by these despots with the express view of engrossing the time and exhausting the means of their subjects.

It is not to be imagined that all were alike cruel or unprincipled; but the perpetual supremacy of one man and one family had become so offensive to the jealousy of those who felt themselves to be his equals, and to the general feeling of the people, that repression and severity were inevitable, whether originally intended or not. And even if an usurper, having once entered upon this career of violence, grew sick and averse to its continuance, abdication only left him in imminent peril, exposed to the vengeance of those whom he had injured, unless, indeed, he could clothe himself with the mantle of religion, and stipulate with the people to become priest of some temple and deity; in which case his new function protected him, just as the tonsure and the monastery sheltered a dethroned prince in the Middle Ages. Several of the despots were patrons of music and poetry, and courted the good-will of contemporary intellectual men by invitation as well as by reward; and there were some cases, such as that of Pisistratus and his sons at Athens, in which an attempt was made (analogous to that of Augustus at Rome) to reconcile the reality of personal omnipotence with a certain respect for preexisting forms. In such instances the administration, though not unstained by guilt, never otherwise than unpopular, and carried on by means of foreign mercenaries, was doubtless practically milder. But cases of this character were rare, and the maxims usual with Grecian despots were personified in Periander, the Kypselid of Corinth, a harsh and brutal person, but not destitute either of vigor or intelligence.


The position of a Grecian despot, as depicted by Plato, by Xenophon and by Aristotle, and farther sustained by the indications in Herodotus, Thucydides, and Isocrates, though always coveted by ambitious men, reveals clearly enough “those wounds and lacerations of mind”, whereby the internal Erinnys avenged the community upon the usurper who trampled them down. Far from considering success in usurpation as a justification of the attempt (according to the theories now prevalent respecting Cromwell and Bonaparte, who are often blamed because they kept out a legitimate king, but never because they seized an unauthorized power over the people), these philosophers regard the despot as among the greatest of criminals : the man who assassinated him was an object of public honor and reward, and a virtuous Greek would seldom have scrupled to carry his sword concealed in myrtle branches, like Harmodius and Aristogeiton, for the execution of the deed. A station which overtopped the restraints and obligations involved in citizenship, was understood at the same time to forfeit all title to the common sympathy and protection, so that it was unsafe for the despot to visit in person those great Pan-Hellenic games in which his own chariot might perhaps have gained the prize, and in which the theors, or sacred envoys, whom he sent as representatives of his Hellenic city, appeared with ostentatious pomp. A government carried on under these unpropitious circumstances could never be otherwise than short-lived. Though the individual daring enough to seize it, often found means to preserve it for the term of his own life, yet the sight of a despot living to old age was rare, and the transmission of his power to his son still more so.

Amidst the numerous points of contention in Grecian political morality, this rooted antipathy to a permanent hereditary ruler stood apart as a sentiment almost unanimous, in which the thirst for preeminence felt by the wealthy few, and the love of equal freedom in the bosoms of the many, alike concurred. It first began among the oligarchies of the seventh and sixth centuries BC, a complete reversal of that pronounced monarchical sentiment which we now read in the Iliad; and it was transmitted by them to the democracies, which did not arise until a later period.

The conflict between oligarchy and despotism preceded that between oligarchy and democracy, the Lacedaemonians standing forward actively on both occasions to uphold the oligarchical principle : a mingled sentiment of fear and repugnance led them to put down despotism in several cities of Greece during the sixth century BC, just as, during their contest with Athens in the following century, they assisted the oligarchical party, wherever they could, to overthrow democracy. And it was thus that the demagogue-despot of these earlier times, bringing out the name of the people as a pretext, and the arms of the people as a means of accomplishment, for his own ambitious designs, served as a preface to the reality of democracy, which manifested itself at Athens a short time before the Persian war, as a development of the seed planted by Solon.


As far as our imperfect information enables us to trace, the early oligarchies of the Grecian states, against which the first usurping despots contended, contained in themselves far more repulsive elements of inequality, and more mischievous barriers between the component parts of the population, than the oligarchies of later days. What was true of Hellas as an aggregate, was true, though in a less degree, of each separate community which went to compose that aggregate : each included a variety of clans, orders, religious brotherhoods, and local or professional sections, which were very imperfectly cemented together: and the oligarchy was not, like the government so denominated in subsequent times, the government of a rich few over the less rich and the poor, but that of a peculiar order, sometimes a patrician order, over all the remaining society. In such a case, the subject Many might number opulent and substantial proprietors as well as the governing Few; but these subject Many would themselves be broken into different heterogeneous fractions, not heartily sympathizing with each other, perhaps not intermarrying together, nor partaking of the same religious rites. The country-population, or villagers, who tilled the land, seem in these early times to have been held to a painful dependence on the proprietors who lived in the fortified town, and to have been distinguished by a dress and habits of their own, which often drew upon them an unfriendly nickname. These town proprietors seem to have often composed the governing class in early Grecian states, while their subjects consisted, 1. Of the dependent cultivators living in the district around, by whom their lands were tilled. 2. Of a certain number of small self-working proprietors, whose possessions were too scanty to maintain more than themselves by the labor of their own hands on their own plot of ground residing either in the country or the town, as the case might be. 3. Of those who lived in the town, having no land but exercising handicraft, arts, or commerce.

The governing proprietors went by the name of the Gamori, or Geomori, according as the Doric or Ionic dialect might be used in describing them, since they were found in states belonging to one race as well as to the other. They appear to have instituted a close order, transmitting their privileges to their children, but admitting no new members to a participation, for the principle called by Greek thinkers a timocracy, the appointment of political rights and privileges according to comparative property, appears to have been little, if at all, applied in the earlier times, and we know no example of it earlier than Solon. So that, by the natural multiplication of families and mutation of property, there would come to be many individual gamori possessing no land at all, and perhaps worse off than those small freeholders who did not belong to the order; while some of these latter freeholders, and some of the artisans and traders in the towns, might at the same time be rising in wealth and importance.

Under a political classification such as this, of which the repulsive inequality was aggravated by a rude state of manners, and which had no flexibility to meet the changes in relative position amongst individual inhabitants, discontent and outbreaks were unavoidable, and the earliest despot, usually a wealthy man of the disfranchised class, became champion and leader of the malcontents. However oppressive his rule might be, at least it was an oppression which bore with indiscriminate severity upon all the fractions of the population; and when the hour of reaction against him or against his successor arrived, so that the common enemy was expelled by the united efforts of all, it was hardly possible to revive the preexisting system of exclusion and inequality without some considerable abatements.


As a general rule, every Greek city-community included in its population, independent of bought slaves, the three elements above noticed, considerable land proprietors with rustic dependents, small self-working proprietors, and town-artisans, the three elements being found everywhere in different proportions. But the progress of events in Greece, from the seventh century BC downwards, tended continually to elevate the comparative importance of the two latter, while in those early days the ascendency of the former was at its maximum, and altered only to decline. The military force of most of the cities was at first in the hands of the great proprietors, and formed by them; it consisted of cavalry, themselves and their retainers, with horses fed upon their lands. Such was the primitive oligarchical militia, as it was constituted in the seventh and sixth centuries BC, at Chalcis and Eretria in Euboea, as well as at Kolophon and other cities in Ionia, and as it continued in Thessaly down to the fourth century BC; but the gradual rise of the small proprietors and town-artisans was marked by the substitution of heavy-armed infantry in place of cavalry; and a farther change not less important took place when the resistance to Persia led to the great multiplication of Grecian ships of war, manned by a host of seamen who dwelt congregated in the maritime towns. All the changes which we are able to trace in the Grecian communities tended to break up the close and exclusive oligarchies with which our first historical knowledge commences, and to conduct them either to oligarchies rather more open, embracing all men of a certain amount of property, or else to democracies. But the transition in both cases was usually attained through the interlude of the despot.

In enumerating the distinct and unharmonious elements of which the population of these early Grecian communities was made up, we must not forget one farther element which was to be found in the Dorian states generally, men of Dorian, as contrasted with men of non-Dorian race. The Dorians were in all cases emigrants and conquerors, establishing themselves along with and at the expense of the prior inhabitants. Upon what terms the cohabitation was established, and in what proportions invaders and invaded came together, we are without information; and important as this circumstance is in the history of these Dorian communities, we know it only as a general fact, and are unable to follow its results in detail. But we see enough to satisfy ourselves that in those revolutions which overthrew the oligarchies both at Corinth and Sicyon, perhaps also at Megara, the Dorian and non-Dorian elements of the community came into conflict more or less direct.

The despots of Sicyon are the earliest of whom we have any distinct mention : their dynasty lasted one hundred years, a longer period than any other Grecian despots known to Aristotle; they are said, moreover, to have governed with mildness and with much practical respect to the preexisting laws. Orthagoras, the beginner of the dynasty, raised himself to the position of despot about 676 BC, subverting the preexisting Dorian oligarchy; but the cause and circumstances of this revolution are not preserved. He is said to have been originally a cook. In his line of successors we find mention of Andreas, Myron, Aristonymus, and Cleisthenes; but we know nothing of any of them until the last, except that Myron gained a chariot victory at Olympia in the 33d Olympiad (648 BC), and built, at the same holy place, a thesaurus containing two ornamented alcoves of copper for the reception of commemorative offerings from himself and his family.


Respecting Cleisthenes (whose age must be placed between 600-560 BC, but can hardly be determined accurately) some facts are reported to us highly curious, but of a nature not altogether easy to follow or verify. We learn from the narrative of Herodotus that the tribe to which Cleisthenes himself (and of course his progenitors Orthagoras and the other Orthagoridae also) belonged, was distinct from the three Dorian tribes, who have been already named in my previous chapter respecting the Lycurgean constitution at Sparta, the Hylleis, Pamphyli, and Dymanes. We also learn that these tribes were common to the Sicyonians and the Argeians; and Cleisthenes, being in a state of bitter hostility with Argos, tried in several ways to abolish the points of community between the two. Sicyon originally Dorized by settlers from Argos, was included in the “lot of Temenus”, or among the towns of the Argeian confederacy : the coherence of this confederacy had become weaker and weaker, partly without doubt through the influence of the predecessors of Cleisthenes; but the Argeians may perhaps have tried to revive it, thus placing themselves in a state of war with the latter, and inducing him to disconnect, palpably and violently, Sicyon from Argos. There were two anchors by which the connection held, first, legendary and religious sympathy; next, the civil rites and denomination current among the Sicyonian Dorians : both of them were torn up by Cleisthenes. He changed the names both of the three Dorian tribes, and of that non-Dorian tribe to which he himself belonged : the last he called by the complimentary title of archelai (commanders of the people); the first three he styled by the insulting names of hyatae, oneatae, and choereatae, from the three Greek words signifying a boar, an ass, and a little pig. The extreme bitterness of this insult can only be appreciated when we fancy to ourselves the reverence with which the tribes in a Grecian city regarded the hero from whom their name was borrowed. That these new denominations, given by Cleisthenes, involved an intentional degradation of the Dorian tribes as well as an assumption of superiority for his own, is affirmed by Herodotus, and seems well-deserving of credit.

But the violence of which Cleisthenes was capable in his anti-Argeian antipathy, is manifested still more plainly in his proceedings with respect to the hero Adrastus and to the legendary sentiment of the people. Something has already been said, in my former volume, about this remarkable incident, which must, however, be here again briefly noticed. The hero Adrastus, whose chapel Herodotus himself saw in the Sicyonian agora, was common both to Argos and to Sicyon, and was the object of special reverence at both : he figures in the legend as king of Argos, and as the grandson and heir of Polybus, king of Sicyon. He was the unhappy leader of the two sieges of Thebes, so famous in the ancient epic, and the Sicyonians listened with delight both to the exploits of the Argeians against Thebes, as celebrated in the recitations of the epical rhapsodes, and to the mournful tale of Adrastus and his family misfortunes, as sung in the tragic chorus. Cleisthenes not only forbade the rhapsodes to come to Sicyon, but farther resolved to expel Adrastus himself from the country, such is the literal Greek expression, the hero himself being believed to be actually present and domiciled among the people. He first applied to the Delphian oracle for permission to carry this banishment into direct effect, but the Pythian priestess returned an answer of indignant refusal, “Adrastus is king of the Sicyonians, but thou art a ruffian”. Thus baffled, he put in practice a stratagem calculated to induce Adrastus to depart of his own accord. He send to Thebes to beg that he might be allowed to introduce into Sicyon the hero Melanippus, and the permission was granted. Now Melanippus was celebrated in the legend as the puissant champion of Thebes against Adrastus and the Argeian besiegers, and as having slain both Mekisteus the brother, and Tydeus the son-in-law, of Adrastus; and he was therefore preeminently odious to the latter. Cleisthenes brought this anti-national hero into Sicyon, assigning to him consecrated ground in the prytaneium, or government-house, and even in that part which was most strongly fortified (for it seems that Adrastus was conceived as likely to assail and do battle with the intruder); moreover, he took away both the tragic choruses and the sacrifice from Adrastus, assigning the former to the god Dionysus, and the latter to Melanippus.

The religious manifestations of Sicyon being thus transferred from Adrastus to his mortal foe, and from the cause of the Argeians in the siege of Thebes to that of the Thebans, Adrastus was presumed to have voluntarily retired from the place, and the purpose which Cleisthenes contemplated, of breaking the community of feeling between Sicyon and Argos, was in part accomplished.

A ruler who could do such violence to the religious and legendary sentiment of his community may well be supposed capable of inflicting that deliberate insult upon the Dorian tribes which is implied in their new appellations. As we are uninformed, however, of the state of things which preceded, we know not how far it might have been a retaliation for previous insult in the opposite direction. It is plain that the Dorians of Sicyon maintained themselves and their ancient tribes quite apart from the remaining community, though what the other constituent portions of the population were, or in what relation they stood to these Dorians, we are not enabled to make out. We hear, indeed, of a dependent rural population in the territory of Sicyon, as well as in that of Argos and Epidaurus, analogous to the Helots in Laconia. In Sicyon, this class was termed the Korynephori (club men), or the Katonakophori, from the thick woollen mantle which they wore, with a sheepskin sewn on to the skirt : in Argos, they were called Gymnesii, from their not possessing the military panoply or the use of regular arms : in Epidaurus, Konipodes, or the dustyfooted. We may conclude that a similar class existed in Corinth, in Megara, and in each of the Dorian towns of the Argolid Akte. But besides the Dorian tribes and these rustics, there must probably have existed non-Dorian proprietors and town residents, and upon them we may suppose that the power of the Orthagoridae and of Cleisthenes was founded, perhaps more friendly and indulgent to the rustic serfs than that of the Dorians had been previously. The moderation, which Aristotle ascribes to the Orthagoridae generally, is belied by the proceedings of Cleisthenes : but we may probably believe that his predecessors, content with maintaining the real predominance of the non-Dorian over the Dorian population, meddled very little with the separate position and civil habits of the latter, while Cleisthenes, provoked or alarmed by some attempt on their part to strengthen alliance with the Argeians, resorted both to repressive measures and to that offensive nomenclature which has been above cited.

The preservation of the power of Cleisthenes was due to his military energy (according to Aristotle) even more than to his moderation and popular conduct; it was aided, probably, by his magnificent displays at the public games, for he was victor in the chariot-race at the Pythian games 582 BC, as well as at the Olympic games besides. Moreover, he was in fact the last of the race, nor did he transmit his power to any successor.


The reigns of the early Orthagoridae, then, may be considered as marking a predominance, newly acquired but quietly exercised of the non-Dorians over the Dorians in Sicyon : the reign of Cleisthenes, as displaying a strong explosion of antipathy from the former towards the latter; and though this antipathy and the application of those opprobrious tribe-names in which it was conveyed stand ascribed to Cleisthenes personally, we may see that the non-Dorians in Sicyon shared it generally, because these same tribe-names continued to be applied not only during the reign of that despot, but also for sixty years longer, after his death. Of course, it is needless to remark that such denominations could never have been acknowledged or employed among the Dorians themselves. After the lapse of sixty years from the death of Cleisthenes, the Sicyonians came to an amicable adjustment of the feud, and placed the tribe-names on a footing satisfactory to all parties; the old Dorian denominations (Hylleis, Pamphyli, and Dymanes) were reestablished, and the name of the fourth tribe, or non-Dorians, was changed from Archelai to Aegialeis, Aegialeus son of Adrastus being constituted their eponymus. This choice of the son of Adrastus for an eponymus, seems to show that the worship of Adrastus himself was then revived in Sicyon, since it existed in the time of Herodotus.

Of the war which Cleisthenes helped to conduct against Kirrha, for the protection of the Delphian temple, I shall speak in another place. His death and the cessation of his dynasty seem to have occurred about 650 BC, as far as the chronology can be made out. That he was put down by the Spartans, as K. F. Hermann, O. Müller, and Dr. Thirlwall suppose, can be hardly admitted consistently with the narrative of Herodotus, who mentions the continuance of the insulting names imposed by him upon the Dorian tribes for many years after his death. Now, had the Spartans forcibly interfered for the suppression of his dynasty, we may reasonably presume that, even if they did not restore the decided preponderance of the Dorians in Sicyon, they would at least have rescued the Dorian tribes from this obvious ignominy.

But it seems doubtful whether Cleisthenes had any son : and the extraordinary importance attached to the marriage of his daughter, Agariste, whom he bestowed upon the Athenian Megacles of the great family of Alkmaeonidae, seems rather to evince that she was an heiress, not to his power, but to his wealth. There can be no doubt as to the fact of that marriage, from which was born the Athenian leader Cleisthenes, afterwards the author of the great democratical revolution at Athens after the expulsion of the Pisistratidae; but the lively and amusing details with which Herodotus has surrounded it, bear much more the stamp of romance than of reality. Dressed up, apparently, by some ingenious Athenian, as a compliment to the Alkmaeonid lineage of his city, which comprised both Cleisthenes and Pericles, the narrative commemorates a marriage-rivalry between that lineage and another noble Athenian house, and at the same time gives a mythical explanation of a phrase seemingly proverbial at Athens “Hippokleides don’t care”.

Plutarch numbers Aeschines of Sicyon among the despots put down by Sparta : at what period this took place, or how it is to be connected with the history of Cleisthenes as given in Herodotus, we are unable to say.


Contemporaneous with the Orthagoridae at Sicyon, but beginning a little later and closing somewhat earlier, we find the despots Kypselus and Periander at Corinth. The former appears as the subverter of the oligarchy called the Bacchiadae. Of the manner in which he accomplished his object we find no information : and this historical blank is inadequately filled up by various religious prognostics and oracles, foreshadowing the rise, the harsh rule, and the dethronement, after two generations, of these powerful despots.

According to an idea deeply seated in the Greek mind, the destruction of a great prince or of a great power is usually signaled to him by the gods beforehand, though either through hardness of heart or inadvertence, no heed is taken of the warning. In reference to Kypselus and the Bacchiadae, we are informed that Melas, the ancestor of the former, was one of the original settlers at Corinth who accompanied the first Dorian chief Aletes, and that Aletes was in vain warned by an oracle not to admit him; again, too, immediately before Kypselus was born, the Bacchiadae received notice that his mother was about to give birth to one who would prove their ruin : the dangerous infant escaped destruction only by a hair’s breadth, being preserved from the intent of his destroyers by lucky concealment in a chest. Labba, the mother of Kypselus, was daughter of Amphion, who belonged to the gens, or sept, of the Bacchiadae; but she was lame, and none of the gens would consent to marry her with that deformity. Eetion, son of Echekrates, who became her husband, belonged to a different, yet hardly less distinguished heroic genealogy : he was of the Lapithae, descended from Kaeneus, and dwelling in the Corinthian deme called Petra. We see thus that Kypselus was not only a high-born man in the city, but a Bacchiad by half-birth; both of these circumstances were likely to make exclusion from the government intolerable to him. He rendered himself highly popular with the people, and by their aid overthrew and expelled the Bacchiadae, continuing as despot at Corinth for thirty years until his death (BC 655-620). According to Aristotle, he maintained throughout life the same conciliatory behavior by which his power had first been acquired; and his popularity was so effectually sustained that he had never any occasion for a body-guard. But the Corinthian oligarchy of the century of Herodotus, whose tale that historian has embodied in the oration of the Corinthian envoy Sosikles to the Spartans, gave a very different description, and depicted Kypselus as a cruel ruler, who banished, robbed, and murdered by wholesale.


His son and successor Periander, though energetic as a warrior, distinguished as an encourager of poetry and music, and even numbered by some among the seven wise men of Greece, is, nevertheless, uniformly represented as oppressive and inhuman in his treatment of subjects. The revolting stories which are told respecting his private life, and his relations with his mother and his wife, may for the most part be regarded as calumnies suggested by odious associations with his memory; but there seems good reason for imputing to him tyranny of the worst character, and the sanguinary maxims of precaution so often acted upon by Grecian despots were traced back in ordinary belief to Periander, and his contemporary Thrasybulus, despot of Miletus. He maintained a powerful body-guard, shed much blood, and was exorbitant in his exactions, a part of which was employed in votive offerings at Olympia; and this munificence to the gods was considered by Aristotle and others as part of a deliberate system, with the view of keeping his subjects both hard at work and poor.

On one occasion, we are told that he invited the women of Corinth to assemble for the celebration of a religious festival, and then stripped them of their rich attire and ornaments. By some later writers, he is painted as the stern foe of everything like luxury and dissolute habits, enforcing industry, compelling every man to render account of his means of livelihood, and causing the procuresses of Corinth to be thrown into the sea. Though the general features of his character, his cruel tyranny no less than his vigor and ability, may be sufficiently relied on, yet the particular incidents connected with his name are all extremely dubious : the most credible of all seems to be the tale of his inexpiable quarrel with his son, and his brutal treatment of many noble Corcyraean youths, as related in Herodotus.

Periander is said to have put to death his wife, Melissa, daughter of Prokles, despot of Epidaurus; and his son Lykophron, informed of this deed, contracted an incurable antipathy against him. After vainly trying, both by rigor and by conciliation, to conquer this feeling on the part of his son, Periander sent him to reside at Corcyra, then dependent upon his rule; but when he found himself growing old and disabled, he recalled him to Corinth, in order to insure the continuance of the dynasty. Lykophron still obstinately declined all personal communication with his father, upon which the latter desired him to come to Corinth, and engaged himself to go over to Corcyra. So terrified were the Corcyraeans at the idea of a visit from this formidable old man, that they put Lykophron to death, a deed which Periander avenged by seizing three hundred youths of their noblest families, and sending them over to the Lydian king, Alyattes at Sardis, in order that they might be castrated and made to serve as eunuchs. The Corinthian vessels in which the youths were dispatched fortunately touched at Samos in the way; where the Samians and Cnidians, shocked at a proceeding which outraged all Hellenic sentiment, contrived to rescue the youths from the miserable fate intended for them, and, after the death of Periander, sent them back to their native island.


While we turn with displeasure from the political life of this man, we are at the same time made acquainted with the great extent of his power, greater than that which was ever possessed by Corinth after the extinction of his dynasty. Corcyra, Ambracia, Leukas, and Anaktorium, all Corinthian colonies, but in the next century independent states, appear in his time dependencies of Corinth. Ambracia is said to have been under the rule of another despot named Periander, probably also a Kypselid by birth. It seems, indeed, that the towns of Anaktorium, Leukas, and Apollonia in the Ionian gulf, were either founded by the Kypselids, or received reinforcements of Corinthian colonists, during their dynasty, though Corcyra was established considerably earlier.

The reign of Periander lasted for forty rears (BC 625-585) : Psammetichus son of Gordius, who succeeded him, reigned three years, and the Kypselid dynasty is then said to have closed, after having continued for seventy-three years. In respect of power, magnificent display, and widespread connections both in Asia and in Italy, they evidently stood high among the Greeks of their time. Their offerings consecrated at Olympia excited great admiration, especially the gilt colossal statue of Zeus, and the large chest of cedar-wood dedicated in the temple of Here, overlaid with various figures in gold and ivory : the figures were borrowed from mythical and legendary story, and the chest was a commemoration both of the name of Kypselus and of the tale of his marvelous preservation in infancy. If Plutarch is correct, this powerful dynasty is to be numbered among the despots put down by Sparta; yet such intervention of the Spartans, granting it to have been matter of fact, can hardly have been known to Herodotus.

Coincident in point of lime with the commencement of Periander’s reign at Corinth, we find Theagenes despot at Megara, who is also said to have acquired his power by demagogic arts, as well as by violent aggressions against the rich proprietors, whose cattle he destroyed in their pastures by the side of the river. We are not told by what previous conduct on the part of the rich this hatred of the people had been earned, but Theagenes carried the popular feeling completely along with him, obtained by public vote a body of guards ostensibly for his personal safety, and employed them to overthrow the oligarchy. But he did not maintain his power, even for his own life : a second revolution dethroned and expelled him; on which occasion, after a short interval of temperate government, the people are said to have renewed in a still more marked way their antipathies against the rich; banishing some of them with confiscation of property, intruding into the houses of others with demands for forced hospitality, and even passing a formal palintokia, or decree, to require from the rich who had lent money on interest, the refunding of all past interest paid to them by their debtors. To appreciate correctly such a demand, we must recollect that the practice of taking interest for money lent was regarded by a large proportion of early ancient society with feelings of unqualified reprobation; and it will be seen, when we come to the legislation of Solon, how much such violent reactionary feeling against the creditor was provoked by the antecedent working of the harsh law determining his rights.


We hear in general terms of more than one revolution in the government of Megara, a disorderly democracy, subverted by returning oligarchical exiles, and these again unable long to maintain themselves; but we are alike uninformed as to dates and details. And in respect to one of these struggles, we are admitted to the outpourings of a contemporary and a sufferer, the Megarian poet Theognis. Unfortunately, his elegiac verses, as we possess them, are in a state so broken, incoherent, and interpolated, that we make out no distinct conception of the events which call them forth, still less, can we discover in the verses of Theognis that strength and peculiarity of pure Dorian feeling, which, since the publication of O. Müller’s History of the Dorians, it has been the fashion to look for so extensively. But we see that the poet was connected with an oligarchy, of birth and not of wealth, which had recently been subverted by the breaking in of the rustic population previously subject and degraded, that these subjects were contented to submit to a single-headed despot, in order to escape from their former rulers, and that Theognis had himself been betrayed by his own friends and companions, stripped of his property, and exiled, through the wrong doing “of enemies whose blood he hopes one day to be permitted to drink”.

The condition of the subject cultivators previous to this revolution he depicts in sad colors; they “dwelt without the city, clad in goatskins, and ignorant of judicial sanctions or laws”, after it, they had become citizens, and their importance had been immensely enhanced. And thus, according to his impression, the vile breed has trodden down the noble, the bad have become masters, and the good are no longer of any account. The bitterness and humiliation which attend upon poverty, and the undue ascendency which wealth confers even upon the most worthless of mankind, are among the prominent subjects of his complaint, and his keen personal feeling on this point would be alone sufficient to show that the recent revolution had no way overthrown the influence of property; in contradiction to the opinion of Welcker, who infers without ground, from a passage of uncertain meaning, that the land of the state had been formally redivided.

The Megarian revolution, so far as we apprehend it from Theognis, appears to have improved materially the condition of the cultivators around the town, and to have strengthened a certain class whom he considers “the bad rich”, while it extinguished the privileges of that governing order, to which he himself belonged, denominated in his language “the good and the virtuous”, with ruinous effect upon his own individual fortunes.

How far this governing order was exclusively Dorian, we have no means of determining. The political change by which Theognis suffered, and the new despot whom he indicates as either actually installed or nearly impending, must have come considerably after the despotism of Theagenes; for the life of the poet seems to fall between 570-490 BC, while Theagenes must have ruled about 630-600 BC. From the unfavorable picture, therefore, which the poet gives as his own early experience of the condition of the rural cultivators, it is evident that the despot Theagenes had neither conferred upon them any permanent benefit, nor given them access to the judicial protection of the city.

It is thus that the despots of Corinth, Sicyon, and Megara serve as samples of those revolutionary influences, which towards the beginning of the sixth century BC, seem to have shaken or overturned the oligarchical governments in very many cities throughout the Grecian world. There existed a certain sympathy and alliance between the despots of Corinth and Sicyon : How far such feeling was farther extended to Megara, we do not know. The latter city seems evidently to have been more populous and powerful during the seventh and sixth centuries BC, than we shall afterwards find her throughout the two brilliant centuries of Grecian history : her colonies, found as far distant as Bithynia and the Thracian Bosphorus on one side, and as Sicily on the other, argue an extent of trade as well as naval force once not inferior to Athens : so that we shall be the less surprised when we approach the life of Solon, to find her in possession of the island of Salamis, and long maintaining it, at one time with every promise of triumph, against the entire force of the Athenians.





HAVING traced in the preceding chapters the scanty stream of Peloponnesian history, from the first commencement of an authentic chronology in 776 BC to the maximum of Spartan territorial acquisition, and the general acknowledgment of Spartan primacy, prior to 547 BC, I proceed to state as much as can be made out respecting the Ionic portion of Hellas during the same period. This portion comprehends Athens and Euboea, the Cyclades Islands, and the Ionic cities on the coast of Asia Minor, with their different colonies. 

In the case of Peloponnesus, we have been enabled to discern something like an order of real facts in the period alluded to,—Sparta makes great strides, while Argos falls. In the case of Athens, unfortunately, our materials are less instructive. The number of historical facts, anterior to the Solonian legislation, is very few indeed; the interval between 776 BC and 624 BC, the epoch of Drako’s legislation a short time prior to Kylon’s attempted usurpation, gives us merely a list of archons, denuded of all incident.

In compliment to the heroism of Kodrus, who had sacrificed his life for the safety of his country, we are told that no person after him was permitted to bear the title of king, his son Medon, and twelve successors, Akastus, Archippus, Thersippus, Phorhas, Megakles, Diognetus, Pherekles, Ariphron, Thespieus, Agamestor, Aeschylus, and Alkmaeon, were all archons for life. In the second year of Alkmaeon (752 BC), the dignity of archon was restricted to a duration of ten years : and seven of these decennial archons are numbered, Charops, Aesimides, Kleidikus, Hippomenes, Leokrates, Apsandrus, Eryxias. With Kreon who succeeded Eryxias, the archonship was not only made annual, but put into commission and distributed among nine persons and these nine archons, annually changed, continue throughout all the historical period, interrupted only by the few intervals of political disturbance and foreign compression. Down to Kleidikus and Hippomenes (714 BC), the dignity of archon had continued to belong exclusively to the Medontidae or descendants of Mean and Kodrus : at that period it was thrown open to all the Eupatrids, or order of nobility in the state.

Such is the series of names by which we step down from the level of legend to that of history. All our historical knowledge of Athens is confined to the period of the annual archons; which series of eponymous archons, from Kreon downwards, is perfectly trustworthy. Above 683 BC, the Attic antiquaries have provided us with a string of names, which we must take as we find them, without being able either to warrant the whole or to separate the false from the true. There is no reason to doubt the general fact, that Athens, like so many other communities of Greece, was in its primitive times governed by an hereditary line of kings, and that it passed from that form of government into a commonwealth, first oligarchical, afterwards democratical.


We are in no condition to determine the civil classification and political constitution of Attica, even at the period of the archonship of Kreon, 683 BC, when authentic Athenian chronology first commences, much less can we pretend to any knowledge of the anterior centuries. Great political changes were introduced first by Solon (about 594 BC), next by Cleisthenes (509 BC), afterwards by Aristides, Pericles, and Ephialtes, between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars: so that the old ante-Solonian,— nay, even the real Solonian, — polity was thus put more and more out of date and out of knowledge. But all the information which we possess respecting that old polity, is derived from authors who lived after all or most of these great changes,— and who, finding no records, nor anything better than current legends, explained the foretime as well as they could by guesses more or less ingenious, generally attached to the dominant legendary names. They were sometimes able to found their conclusions upon religious usages, periodical ceremonies, or common sacrifices, still subsisting in their own time; and these were doubtless the best evidences to be found respecting Athenian antiquity, since such practices often continued unaltered throughout all the political changes. It is in this way alone that we arrive at some partial knowledge of the ante-Solonian condition of Attica, though as a whole it still remains dark and unintelligible, even after the many illustrations of modern commentators.

Philochorus, writing in the third century before the Christian era, stated that Cecrops had originally distributed Attica into twelve districts,— Cecropia, Tetrapolis, Epakria, Dekeleia, Eleusis, Aphidnae, Thorikus, Brauron, Kytherus, Sphettus, Kephisia, Phalerus, — and that these twelve were consolidated into one political society by Theseus. This partition does not comprise the Megarid, which, according to other statements, is represented as united with Attica, and as having formed part of the distribution made by king Pandion among his four sons, Nisus, Aegeus, Pallas, and Lykus, — a story as old as Sophocles, at least. In other accounts, again, a quadruple division is applied to the tribes, which are stated to have been four in number, beginning from Cecrops, called in his time Kekropis, Autochthon, Aktaea, and Paralia. Under king Kranaus, these tribes, we are told, received the names of Kranais, Atthis, Mesogaea, and Diakria, —under Erichthonius, those of Dias, Athenais, Poseidonias, Hephaestias : at last, shortly after Erechtheus, they were denominated after the four sons of Ion (son of Kreusa, daughter of Erechtheus, by Apollo), Geleontes, Hopletes, Aegikoreis, Argadeis. The four Attic or Ionic tribes, under these last-mentioned names, continued to form the classification of the citizens until the revolution of Cleisthenes in 509 BC, by which the ten tribes were introduced, as we find them down to the period of Macedonian ascendency.

It is affirmed, and with some etymological plausibility, that the denominations of these four tribes must originally have had reference to the occupations of those who bore them,—the Hopletes being the warrior-class, the Aegikoreis goatherds, the Argadeis artisans, and the Geleontes (Teleontes, or Gedeontes) cultivators : and hence some authors have ascribed to the ancient inhabitants of Attica an actual primitive distribution into hereditary professions, or castes, similar to that which prevailed in India and Egypt. If we should even grant that such a division into castes might originally have prevailed, it must have grown obsolete long before the time of Solon: but there seem no sufficient grounds for believing that it ever did prevail. The names of the tribes may have been originally borrowed from certain professions, but it does not necessarily follow that the reality corresponded to this derivation, or that every individual who belonged to any tribe was a member of the profession from whence the name had originally been derived. From the etymology of the names, be it ever so clear, we cannot safely assume the historical reality of a classification according to professions. And this objection (which would be weighty, even if the etymology had been clear) becomes irresistible, when we add that even the etymology is not beyond dispute; that the names themselves are written with a diversity which cannot be reconciled : and that the four professions named by Strabo omit the goatherds and include the priests; while those specified by Plutarch leave out the latter and include the former.

All that seems certain is, that these were the four ancient Ionic tribes — analogous to the Hylleis, Pamphyli, and Dymanes among the Dorians — which prevailed not only at Athens, but among several of the Ionic cities derived from Athens. The Geleontes are mentioned in inscriptions now remaining belonging to Teos in Ionia, and all the four are named in those of Kyzikus in the Propontis, which was a foundation from the Ionic Miletus. The four tribes, and the four names (allowing for some variations of reading), are therefore historically verified; but neither the time of their introduction nor their primitive import are ascertainable matters, nor can any faith be put in the various constructions of the legends of Ion, Erechtheus, and Cecrops, by modern commentators.


These four tribes may be looked at either as religious and social aggregates, in which capacity each of them comprised three phratries and ninety gentes; or as political aggregates, in which point of view each included three trittyes and twelve naukraries. Each phratry contained thirty gentes; each trittys comprised four naukraries : the total numbers were thus three hundred and sixty gentes and forty-eight naukraries. Moreover, each gens is said to have contained thirty heads of families, of whom therefore there would be a total of ten thousand eight hundred.

Comparing these two distributions one with the other, we may remark that they are distinct in their nature and proceed in opposite directions. The trittys and the naukrary are essentially fractional subdivisions of the tribe, and resting upon the tribe as their higher unity; the naukrary is a local circumscription, composed of the naukrars, or principal householders (so the etymology seems to indicate), who levy in each respective district the quota of public contributions which belongs to it, and superintend the disbursement,— provide the military force incumbent upon the district, being for each naukrary two horsemen and one ship, — and furnish the chief district-officers, the prytanes of the naukrari. A certain number of foot soldiers, varying according to the demand, must probably be understood as accompanying these horsemen, but the quota is not specified, as it was perhaps thought unnecessary to limit precisely the obligations of any except the wealthier men who served on horseback, — at a period when oligarchical ascendency was Paramount, and when the bulk of the people was in a state of comparative subjection. The forty-eight naukraries are thus a systematic subdivision of the four tribes, embracing altogether the whole territory, population; contributions, and military force of Attica, — a subdivision framed exclusively for purposes connected with the entire state.

But the phratries and gentes are a distribution completely different from this. They seem aggregations of small primitive unities into larger; they are independent of, and do not presuppose, the tribe; they arise separately and spontaneously, without preconcerted uniformity, and without reference to a common political purpose; the legislator finds them preexisting, and adapts or modifies them to answer some national scheme. We must distinguish the general fact of the classification, and the successive subordination in the scale, of the families to the gens, of the gentes to the phratry, and of the phratries to the tribe,— from the precise numerical symmetry with which this subordination is invested, as we read it, —thirty families to a gens, thirty gentes to a phratry, three phratries to each tribe. If such nice equality of numbers could ever have been procured, by legislative constraint operating upon preexistent natural elements, the proportions could not have been permanently maintained. But we may reasonably doubt whether it did ever so exist: it appears more like the fancy of an author who pleased himself by supposing an original systematic creation in times anterior to records, by multiplying together the number of days in the month and of months in the year. That every phratry contained an equal number of gentes, and every gens an equal number of families, is a supposition hardly admissible without better evidence than we possess. But apart from this questionable precision of numerical scale, the phratries and gentes themselves were real, ancient, and durable associations among the Athenian people, highly important to be understood. The basis of the whole was the house, hearth, or family, — a number of which, greater or less, composed the gens, or genos. This gens was therefore a clan, sept, or enlarged, and partly factitious, brotherhood, bound together by, —

1. Common religious ceremonies, and exclusive privilege of priesthood, in honor of the same god, supposed to be the primitive ancestor, and characterized by a special surname.

2. By a common burial-place.

3. By mutual rights of succession to property.

4. By reciprocal obligations of help, defence, and redress of injuries.

5. By mutual right and obligation to intermarry in certain determinate cases, especially where there was an orphan daughter or heiress.

6. By possession, in some cases at least, of common property, an archon and a treasurer of their own.

Such were the rights and obligations characterizing the gentile union: the phratric union, binding together several gentes, was less intimate, but still included some mutual rights and obligations of an analogous character, and especially a communion of particular sacred rites and mutual privileges of prosecution in the event of a phrator being slain. Each phratry was considered as belonging to one of the four tribes, and all the phratries of the same tribe enjoyed a certain periodical communion of sacred rites, under the presidency of a magistrate called the phylo-basileus, or tribe-king, selected from the Eupatrids; Zeus Geleon was in this manner the patron-god of the tribe Geleontes. Lastly, all the four tribes were linked together by the common worship of Apollo Patrons, as their divine father and guardian; for Apollo was the father of Ion, and the eponyms of all the four tribes were reputed sons of Ion.

Such was the primitive religious and social union of the population of Attica in its gradually ascending scale, —as distinguished from the political union, probably of later introduction, represented at first by the trittyes and naukraries, and in after times by the ten Kleisthenean tribes, subdivided into trittyes and demes. The religious and family bond of aggregation is the earlier of the two: but the political bond, though beginning later, will be found to acquire constantly increasing influence throughout the greater part of this history. In the former, personal relation is the essential and predominant characteristic,— local relation being subordinate: in the latter, property and residence become the chief considerations, and the personal element counts only as measured by these accompaniments. All these phratric and gentile associations, the larger as well as the smaller, were founded upon the same principles and tendencies of the Grecian mind, — a coalescence of the idea of worship with that of ancestry, or of communion in certain special religious rites with communion of blood, real or supposed. The god, or hero, to whom the assembled members offered their sacrifices, was conceived as the primitive ancestor, to whom they owed their origin; often through a long list of intermediate names, as in the case of the Milesian Hekataeus, so often before adverted to. Each family had its own sacred rites and funereal commemoration of ancestors, celebrated by the master of the house, to which none but members of the family were admissible : the extinction of a family, carrying with it the suspension of these religious rites, was held by the Greeks to be a misfortune, not merely from the loss of the citizens composing it, but also because the family gods and the manes of deceased citizens were thus deprived of their honors, and might visit the country with displeasure. The larger associations, called gens, phratry, tribe, were formed by an extension of the same principle,—of the family considered as a religious brotherhood, worshipping some common god or hero with an appropriate surname, and recognizing him as their joint ancestor; and the festivals Theoenia and Apaturia— the first Attic, the second common to all the Ionic race, — annually brought together the members of these phratries and gentes for worship, festivity, and maintenance of special sympathies; thus strengthening the larger ties without effacing the smaller.

Such were the manifestations of Grecian sociality, as we read them in the early constitution, not merely of Attica, but of other Grecian states besides. To Aristotle and Dikaearchus, it was an interesting inquiry to trace back all political society into certain assumed elementary atoms, and to show by what motives and means the original families, each having its separate mealbin and fireplace, had been brought together into larger aggregates. But the historian must accept as an ultimate fact the earliest state of things which his witnesses make known to him; and in the case now before us, the gentile and phratric unions are matters into the beginning of which we cannot pretend to penetrate.

Pollux —probably from Aristotle’s last work on the Constitutions of Greece — informs us, distinctly, that the members of the same gens at Athens were not commonly related by blood, and even without any express testimony we might have concluded such to be fact: to what extent the gens, at the unknown epoch of its first formation, was based upon actual relationship, we have no means of determining, either with regard to the Athenian or the Roman gentes, which were in all main points analogous. Gentilism is a tie by itself; distinct from the family ties, but presupposing their existence and extending them by an artificial analogy, partly founded on religious belief and partly on positive compact, so as to comprehend strangers in blood. All the members of one gens, or even of one phratry, believed themselves to be sprung, not, indeed, from the same grandfather or great­grandfather, but from the same divine or heroic ancestor: all the contemporary members of the phratry of Hekataeus had a common god for their ancestor in the sixteenth degree; and this fundamental belief, into which the Greek mind passed with so much facility, was adopted and converted by positive compact into the gentile and phratric principle of union. It is because such a transfusion, not recognized by Christianity, is at variance with modern habits of thought, and because we do not readily understand how such a legal and religious fiction can have sunk deep into the Greek feelings, that the phratries and gentes appear to us mysterious : but they are in harmony with all the legendary genealogies which have been set forth in the preceding volume. Doubtless Niebuhr, in his valuable discussion of the ancient Roman gentes, is right in supposing that they were not real families, procreated from any common historical ancestor : but it is not the less true, though he seems to suppose otherwise, that the idea of the gens involved the belief in a common first father, divine or heroic, — a genealogy which we may properly call fabulous, but which was consecrated and accredited among the members of the gens itself, and served as one important bond of union between them. And though an analytical mind like Aristotle might discern the difference between the gens and the family, so as to distinguish the former as the offspring of some special compact, still, this is no fair test of the feelings usual among early Greeks; nor is it certain that Aristotle himself, son of the physician Nikomachus, who belonged to the gens of the Asklepiads, would have consented to disallow the procreative origin of all these religious families without any exception. The natural families of course changed from generation to generation, some extending themselves while others diminished or died out; but the gens received no alterations, except through the procreation, extinction, or subdivision of these component families; accordingly, the relations of the families with the gens were in perpetual course of fluctuation, and the gentile ancestorial genealogy, adapted as it doubtless was to the early condition of the gens, became in process of time partially obsolete and unsuitable. We hear of this genealogy but rarely, because it is only brought before the public in certain cases preeminent and venerable. But the humbler gentes had their common rites, and common superhuman ancestor and genealogy, as well as the more celebrated : the scheme and ideal basis was the same in all.

Analogies, borrowed from very different people and parts of the world, prove how readily these enlarged and factitious family unions assort with the ideas of an early stage of society. The Highland clan, the Irish sept, the ancient legally constituted families in Friesland and Dithmarsch, the phis, or phara, among the Albanians, are examples of a similar practice : and the adoption of prisoners by the North American Indians, as well as the universal prevalence and efficacy of the ceremony of adoption in the Grecian and Roman world, exhibit to us a solemn formality under certain circumstances, originating an union and affections similar to those of kindred. Of this same nature were the phratries and gentes at Athens, the curiae and gentes at Rome, but they were peculiarly modified by the religious imagination of the ancient world, which always traced back the past time to gods and heroes : and religion thus supplied both the common genealogy as their basis, and the privileged communion of special sacred rites as means of commemoration and perpetuity. The gentes, both at Athens and in other parts of Greece, bore a patronymic name, the stamp of their believed common paternity : we find the Asklepiadae in many parts of Greece, the Aleuadae in Thessaly, the Midylidae, Psalychidae, Blepsiadae, Euxenidae, at Aegina, the Branchidae at Miletus, the Nebridae at Kos, the Iamidae and Klytiadae at Olympia, the Akestoridae at Argos, — the Kinyradae in Cyprus, — the Penthilidae at Mitylene, the Talthybiadae at Sparta, not less than the Kodridae, Eumolpidae, Phytalidae, Lykomedae, Butadae, Euneidae, Hesychidae, Brytiadae, &c., in Attica. To each of these corresponded a mythical ancestor more or less known, and passing for the first father as well as the eponymous hero of the gens, — Kodrus, Eumolpus, Butes, Phytalus, Hesychus, &c.


The revolution of Cleisthenes in 509 BC abolished the old tribes for civil purposes, and created ten new tribes, leaving the phratries and gentes unaltered, but introducing the local distribution according to demes, or cantons, as the foundation of his new political tribes. A certain number of demes belonged to each of the ten Cleisthenean tribes (the demes in the same tribes were not usually contiguous, so that the tribe was not coincident with a definite circumscription), and the deme, in which every individual was then registered, continued to be that in which his descendants were also registered. But the gentes had no connection, as such, with these new tribes, and the members of the same gens might belong to demes. It deserves to be remarked, however, that to a certain extent, in the old arrangement of Attica, the division into gentes coincided with the division into demes; that is, it happened not unfrequently that the gennetes or members of the same gens lived in the same canton, so that the name of the gens and the name of the deme was the same : moreover, it seems that Cleisthenes recognized a certain number of new demes, to which he gave names derived from some important gens resident near the spot. It is thus that we are to explain the large number of the Cleisthenean demes which bear patronymic names.

There is one remarkable difference between the Roman and the Grecian gens, arising from the different practice in regard to naming. A Roman patrician bore habitually three names, —the gentile name, with one name following it to denote his family, and another preceding it peculiar to himself in that family. But in Athens, at least after the revolution of Cleisthenes, the gentile name was not employed : a man was described by his own single name, followed first by the name of his father, and next by that of the deme to which he belonged,— as Aeschine’s, son of Atrometus, a Kothókid. Such a difference in the habitual system of naming, tended to make the gentile tie more present to every one’s mind at Rome than in the Greek cities.

Before the pecuniary classification of the Atticans introduced by Solon, the phratries and gentes, and the trittyes and naukraries, were the only recognized bonds among them, and the only basis of legal rights and obligations, over and above the natural family. The gens constituted a close incorporation, both as to property and as to persons. Until the time of Solon, no man had any power of testamentary disposition : if he died without children, his gennetes succeeded to his property, and so they continued to do even after Solon, if he died intestate. An orphan girl might be claimed in marriage of right by any member of the gens, the nearest agnates being preferred if she was poor, and he did not choose to marry her himself, the law of Solon compelled him to provide her with a dowry proportional to his enrolled scale of property, and to give her out in marriage to another; and the magnitude of the dowry required to be given, — large, even as fixed by Solon, and afterwards doubled, — seems a proof that the lawgiver intended indirectly to enforce actual marriage. If a man was murdered, first his near relations, next his gennetes and phrators, were both allowed and required to prosecute the crime at law; his fellow demots, or inhabitants of the same deme, did not possess the like right of prosecuting. All that we hear of the most ancient Athenian laws is based upon the gentile and phratric divisions, which are treated throughout as extensions of the family. It is to be observed that this division is completely independent of any property qualification, — rich men as well as poor being comprehended in the same gens. Moreover, the different gentes were very unequal in dignity, arising chiefly from the religious ceremonies of which each possessed the hereditary and exclusive administration, and which, being in some cases considered as of preeminent sanctity in reference to the whole city, were therefore nationalized. Thus the Eumolpidae and Kerykes, who supplied the Hierophant, and superintended the mysteries of the Eleusinian Demeter, — and the Butadae, who furnished the priestess of Athene Polias as well as the priest of Poseidon Erechtheus in the acropolis, — seem to have been reverenced above all the other gentes. When the name Butadae was adopted in the Cleisthenean arrangement as the name of a deme, the holy gens so called adopted the distinctive denomination of Eteobutadae, or “The True Butadae”.

A great many of the ancient gentes of Attica are known to us by name; but there is only one phratry (the Achniadae) whose title has come down to us. These phratries and gentes probably never at any time included the whole population of the country, —and the proportion not included in them tended to become larger and larger, in the times anterior to Cleisthenes, as well as afterwards. They remained, under his constitution, and throughout the subsequent history, as religious quasi-families, or corporations, conferring rights and imposing liabilities which were enforced in the regular dikasteries, but not directly connected with the citizenship or with political functions : a man might be a citizen without being enrolled in any gens. The forty-eight naukraries ceased to exist, for any important purposes, under his constitution : the deme, instead of the naukrary, became the elementary political division, for military and financial objects, and the demarch became the working local president, in place of the chief of the naukrars. The deme, however, was not coincident with a naukrary, nor the demarch with the previous chief of the naukrary, though they were analogous and constituted for the like purpose. While the naukraries had been only forty-eight in number, the demes formed smaller subdivisions, and, in later times at least, amounted to a hundred and seventy-four.

But though this early quadruple division into tribes is tolerably intelligible in itself; there is much difficulty in reconciling it with that severally of government which we learn to have originally prevailed among the inhabitants of Attica. From Cecrops down to Theseus, says Thucydides, there were many different cities in Attica, each of them autonomous and self-governing, with its own prytaneium and its own archons; and it was only on occasions of some common danger that these distinct communities took counsel together under the authority of the Athenian kings, whose city at that time comprised merely the holy rock of Athene on the plain,— afterwards so conspicuous as the acropolis of the enlarged Athens,— together with a narrow area under it on the southern side. It was Theseus, he states, who effected that great revolution whereby the whole of Attica was consolidated into one government, all the local magistracies and councils being made to center in the prytaneium and senate of Athens: his combined sagacity and power enforced upon all the inhabitants of Attica the necessity of recognizing Athens as the one city in the country, and of occupying their own abodes simply as constituent portions of Athenian territory. This important move, which naturally produced a great extension of the central city, was commemorated throughout the historical times by the Athenians in the periodical festival called Synoekia, in honor of the goddess Athene.


Such is the account which Thucydide’s gives of the original severalty and subsequent consolidation of the different portions of Attica. Of the general fact there is no reason to doubt, though the operative cause assigned by the historian, the power and sagacity of Theseus, belongs to legend and not to history. Nor can we pretend to determine either the real steps by which such a change was brought about, or its date, or the number of portions which went to constitute the full-grown Athens,— farther enlarged at some early period, though we do not know when, by voluntary junction of the Boeotian, or semi-Boeotian, town Eleutherae, situated among the valleys of Kithaeron between Eleusis and Plataea. It was the standing habit of the population of Attica, even down to the Peloponnesian war, to reside in their several cantons, where their ancient festivals and temples yet continued as relics of a state of previous autonomy: their visits to the city were made only at special times, for purposes religious or political, and they yet looked upon the country residence as their real home. How deep-seated this cantonal feeling was among them, we may see by the fact that it survived the temporary exile forced upon them by the Persian invasion, and was resumed when the expulsion of that destroying host enabled them to rebuild their ruined dwellings in Attica.

How many of the demes recognized by Cleisthenes had originally separate governments, or in what local aggregates they stood combined, we cannot now make out; it will be recollected that the city of Athens itself contained several demes, and Piraeus also formed a deme apart. Some of the twelve divisions, which Philochorus ascribes to Cecrops, present probable marks of an ancient substantive existence,— Cecropia, or the region surrounding and including the city and acropolis; the tetrapolis, composed of Oenoe, Trikorythus, Probalinthus, and Marathon; Eleusis; Aphidnae and Dekeleia, both distinguished by their peculiar mythical connection with Sparta and the Dioskuri. But it is difficult to imagine that Phalerum, which is one of the separate divisions named by Philochorus, can over have enjoyed an autonomy apart from Athens. Moreover, we find among some of the domes which Philochorus does not notice, evidences of standing antipathies, and prohibitions of intermarriage, which might seem to indicate that these had once been separate little states. Though in most cases we can infer little from the legends and religious ceremonies which nearly every deme had peculiar to itself, yet those of Eleusis are so remarkable, as to establish the probable autonomy of that township down to a comparatively late period. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, recounting the visit, of that goddess to Eleusis after the abduction of her daughter, and the first establishment of the Eleusinian ceremonies, specifies the eponymous prince Eleusis, and the various chiefs of the place, — Keleos, Triptolemus, Diokles, and Eumolpus; it also notices the Rharian plain in the neighborhood of Eleusis, but not the least allusion is made to Athens or to any concern of the Athenians in the presence or worship of the goddess. There is reason to believe that at the time when this Hymn was composed, Eleusis was an independent town: what that time was we have no means of settling, though Voss puts it as low as the 30th Olympiad. And the proof hence derived is so much the more valuable, because the Hymn to Demeter presents a coloring strictly special and local; moreover, the story told by Solon to Croesus, respecting Tellus the Athenian, who perished in battle against the neighboring townsmen of Eleusis, assumes, in like manner, the independence of the latter in earlier times. Nor is it unimportant to notice that, even so low as 300 BC, the observant visitor Dikaearchus professes to detect a difference between the native Athenians and the Atticans, as well in physiognomy as in character and taste.

In the history set forth to us of the proceedings of Theseus, no mention is made of these four Ionic tribes; but another and a totally different distribution of the people into eupatridae, geomori, and demiurgi, which he is said to have first introduced, is brought to our notice; Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives only a double division, — eupatridae and dependent cultivators; corresponding to his idea of the patricians and clients in early Rome: As far as we can understand this triple distinction, it seems to be disparate and unconnected with the four tribes above mentioned. The eupatridae are the wealthy and powerful men, belonging to the most distinguished families in all the various gentes, and principally living in the city of Athens, after the consolidation of Attica: from them are distinguished the middling and lower people, roughly classified into husbandmen and artisans. To the eupatridae, is ascribed a religious as well as a political and social ascendency; they are represented as the source of all authority on matters both sacred and profane; they doubtless comprised those gentes, such as the Butadae, whose sacred ceremonies were looked upon with the greatest reverence by the people : and we may conceive Eumolpus, Keleos, Diokles, etc., as they are described in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in the character of eupatridae of Eleusis. The humbler gentes, and the humbler members of each gens, would appear in this classification confounded with that portion of the people who belonged to no gens at all.


From these eupatridae exclusively, and doubtless by their selection, the nine annual archons — probably also the prytanes of the naukrari —were taken. That the senate of areopagus was formed of members of the same order, we may naturally presume : the nine archons all passed into it at the expiration of their year of office, subject only to the condition of having duly passed the test of accountability; and they remained members for life. These are the only political authorities of whom we hear in the earliest imperfectly known period of the Athenian government, after the discontinuance of the king, and the adoption of the annual change of archons. The senate of areopagus seems to represent the Homeric council of old men; and there were doubtless, on particular occasions, general assemblies of the people, with the same formal and passive character as the Homeric agora,— at least, we shall observe traces of such assent bliss anterior to the Solonian legislation. Some of the writers of antiquity ascribed the first establishment of the senate of areopagus to Solon, just as there were also some who considered Lycurgus as having first brought together the Spartan gerusia. But there can be little doubt that this is a mistake, and that the senate of areopagus is a primordial institution, of immemorial antiquity, though its constitution as well as its functions underwent many changes. It stood at first alone as a permanent and collegiate authority, originally by the side of the kings and afterwards by the side of the archons: it would then of course be known by the title of The Boulé, — The Senate, or council; its distinctive title, “Senate of Areopagus”, borrowed from the place where its sittings were held, would not be bestowed until the formation by Solon of the second senate, or council, from which there was need to discriminate it.

This seems to explain the reason why it was never mentioned in the ordinances of Drako, whose silence supplied one argument in favor of the opinion that it did not exist in his time, and that it was first constituted by Solon. We hear of the senate of areopagus chiefly as a judicial tribunal, because it acted in this character constantly throughout Athenian history, and because the orators have most frequent occasion to allude to its decisions on matters of trial. But its functions were originally of the widest senatorial character, directive generally as well as judicial. And although the gradual increase of democracy at Athens, as will be hereafter explained, both abridged its powers and contributed still farther comparatively to lower it, by enlarging the direct working of the people in assembly and judicature, as well as that of the senate of Five Hundred, which was a permanent adjunct and adminicle of the public assembly, — yet it seems to have been, even down to the time of Pericles, the most important body in the state. And after it had been cast into the background by the political reforms of that great man, we still find it on particular occasions stepping forward to reassert its ancient powers, and to assume for the moment that undefined interference which it had enjoyed without dispute in antiquity. The attachment of the Athenians to their ancient institutions gave to the senate of areopagus a constant and powerful hold on their minds, and this feeling was rather strengthened than weakened when it ceased to be an object of popular jealousy, — when it could no longer be employed as an auxiliary of oligarchical pretensions.

Of the nine archons, whose number continued unaltered from 638 BC to the end of the free democracy, three bore special titles, — the archon eponymus, from whose name the designation of the year was derived, and who was spoken of as The Archon; the archon basileus (king), or more frequently, the basileus; and the polemarch. The remaining six passed by the general title of Thesmothetae. Of the first three, each possessed exclusive judicial competence in regard to certain special matters : the thesmothetae were in this respect all on a par, acting sometimes as a board, sometimes individually. The archon eponymus determined all disputes relative to the family, the gentile, and the phratric relations : he was the legal protector of orphans and widows. The archon basileus, or king archon, enjoyed competence in complaints respecting offences against the religious sentiment and respecting homicide. The polemarch, speaking of times anterior to Cleisthenes, was the leader of the military force and judge in disputes between citizens and non-citizens. Moreover, each of these three archons had particular religious festivals assigned to him, which it was his duty to superintend and conduct. The six thesmothetae seem to have been judges in disputes and complaints, generally, against citizens, saving the special matters reserved for the cognizance of the first two archons. According to the proper sense of the word thesmothetae, all the nine archons were entitled to be so called, though the first three had especial designations of their own : the word thesmoi, analogous to the themistes of Homer, includes in its meaning both general laws and particular sentences, —the two ideas not being yet discriminated, and the general law being conceived only in its application to some particular case. Drako was the first thesmothet who was called upon to set down his thesmoi in writing, and thus to invest them essentially with a character of more or less generality.

In the later and better-known times of Athenian law, we find these archons deprived in great measure of their powers of judging and deciding, and restricted to the task of first hearing the parties and collecting the evidence, next, of introducing the matter for trial into the appropriate dikastery, over which they presided. Originally, there was no separation of powers : the archons both judged and administered, sharing among themselves those privileges which had once been united in the hands of the king, and probably accountable at the end of their year of office to the senate of areopagus. It is probable also, that the functions of that senate, and those of the prytanes of the naukrars, were of the same double and confused nature. All of these functionaries belonged to the eupatrids, and all of them doubtless acted more or less in the narrow interest of their order : moreover, there was ample room for favoritism, in the way of connivance as well as antipathy, on the part of the archons. That such was decidedly the case, and that discontent began to be serious, we may infer from the duty imposed on the thesmothet Drako, BC 624, to put in writing the thesmoi, or ordinances, so that they might be “shown publicly”, and known beforehand. He did not meddle with the political constitution, and in his ordinances Aristotle finds little worthy of remark except the extreme severity of the punishments awarded: petty thefts, or even proved idleness of life, being visited with death or disfranchisement.


But we are not to construe this remark as demonstrating any special inhumanity in the character of Drako, who was not invested with the large power which Solon afterwards enjoyed, and cannot be imagined to have imposed upon the community severe laws of his own invention. Himself of course an eupatrid, he set forth in writing such ordinances as the eupatrid archons had before been accustomed to enforce without writing, in the particular cases which came before them; and the general spirit of penal legislation had become so much milder, during the two centuries which followed, that these old ordinances appeared to Aristotle intolerably rigorous. Probably neither Drako, nor the Lokrian Zaleukus, who somewhat preceded him in date, were more rigorous than the sentiment of the age : indeed, the few fragments of the Drakonian tables which have reached us, far from exhibiting indiscriminate cruelty, introduce, for the first time, into the Athenian law, mitigating distinctions in respect to homicide; founded on the variety of concomitant circumstances. He is said to have constituted the judges called Ephetae, fifty-one elders belonging to some respected gens or possessing an exalted position, who held their sittings for trial of homicide in three different spots, according to the difference of the cases submitted to them. If the accused party, admitting the fact, denied any culpable intention and pleaded accident, the case was tried at the place called the palladium; when found guilty of accidental homicide, he was condemned to a temporary exile, unless he could appease the relatives of the deceased, but his property was left untouched. If, again, admitting the fact, he defended himself by some valid ground of justification, such as self-defence, or flagrant adultery with his wife on the part of the deceased, the trial took place on ground consecrated to Apollo and Artemis, called the Delphinium. A particular spot called the Phreattys, close to the seashore, was also named for the trial of a person, who, while under sentence of exile for an unintentional homicide, might be charged with a second homicide, committed of course without the limits of the territory : being considered as impure from the effects of the former sentence, he was not permitted to set foot on the soil, but stood his trial on a boat hauled close in shore. At the prytaneium, or government-house itself, sittings were held by the four phylo-basileis, or tribe-kings, to try any inanimate object (a piece of wood or stone, etc.) which had caused death to any one, without the proved intervention of a human hand : the wood or stone, when the fact was verified, was formally cast beyond the border. All these distinctions of course imply the preliminary investigation of the case, called anakrisis, by the king-archon, in order that it might be known what was the issue, and where the sittings of the ephetae were to be held.

So intimately was the mode of dealing with homicide connected with the religious feelings of the Athenians, that these old regulations were never formally abrogated throughout the historical times, and were read engraved on their column by the contemporaries of Demosthenes. The areopagus continued in judicial operation, and the ephetae are spoken of as if they were so, even through the age of Demosthenes; though their functions were tacitly usurped or narrowed, and their dignity impaired, by the more popular dikasteries afterwards created. It is in this way that they have become known to us, while the other Drakonian institutions have perished : but there is much obscurity respecting them, particularly in regard to the relation between the ephetae and the areopagites. Indeed, so little was known on the subject, even by the historical inquirers of Athens, that most of them supposed the council of areopagus to have received its first origin from Solon : and even Aristotle, though he contradicts this view, expresses himself in no very positive language. That judges sat at the areopagus for the trial of homicide, previous to Drako, seems implied in the arrangements of that lawgiver respecting the ephetae, inasmuch as he makes no new provision for trying the direct issue of intentional homicide, which, according to all accounts, fell within the cognizance of the areopagus: but whether the ephetae and the areopagites were the same persons, wholly or partially, our information is not sufficient to discover. Before Drako, there existed no tribunal for trying homicide, except the senate, sitting at the areopagus, and we may conjecture that there was something connected with that spot, —legends, ceremonies, or religious feelings, — which compelled judges there sitting to condemn every man proved guilty of homicide, and forbade them to take account of extenuating or justifying circumstances. Drako appointed the ephetae to sit at different places; and these places are so pointedly marked, and were so unalterably maintained, that we may see in how peculiar a manner those special issues, of homicide under particular circumstances, which he assigned to each, were adapted, in Athenian belief, to the new sacred localities chosen, each having its own distinct ceremonial and procedure appointed by the gods themselves. That the religious feelings of the Greeks were associated in the most intimate manner with particular localities, has already been often remarked; and Drako proceeded agreeably to them in his arrangements for mitigating the indiscriminate condemnation of every man found guilty of homicide, which was unavoidable so long as the areopagus remained the only place of trial. The man who either confessed, or was proved to have shed the blood of another, could not be acquitted, or condemned to less than the full penalty (of death or perpetual exile, with confiscation of property) by the judges on the hill of Ares, whatever excuse he might have to offer: but the judges at the palladium and del phinium might hear him, and even admit his plea, without contracting the taint of irreligion. Drako did not directly meddle with, nor indeed ever mention, the judges sitting in areopagus.

In respect to homicide, then, the Drakonian ordinances were partly a reform of the narrowness, partly a mitigation of the rigor, of the old procedure; and these are all that come down to us, having been preserved unchanged from the religious respect of the Athenians for antiquity on this peculiar matter. The rest of his ordinances are said to have been repealed by Solon, on account of their intolerable severity. So they doubtless appeared, to the Athenians of a later day, who had come to measure offences by a different scale; and even to Solon, who had to calm the wrath of a suffering people in actual mutiny

That under this eupatrid oligarchy and severe legislation the people of Attica were sufficiently miserable, we shall presently see, when I recount the proceedings of Solon : but the age of democracy had not yet begun, and the government received its first shock from the hands of an ambitious eupatrid who aspired to the despotism. Such was the phase, as has been remarked in the preceding chapter, through which, during the century now under consideration, a large proportion of the Grecian governments passed.


Kylon, an Athenian patrician, who superadded to a great family position the personal celebrity of a victory at Olympia, as runner in the double stadium, conceived the design of seizing the acropolis and constituting himself despot. Whether any special event had occurred at home to stimulate this project, we do not know: but he obtained both encouragement and valuable aid from his father-in-law Theagenes of Megara, who, by means of his popularity with the people, had already subverted the Megarian oligarchy, and become despot of his native city. Previous to so hazardous an attempt, however, Kylon consulted the Delphian oracle, and was advised by the god in reply, to take the opportunity of “the greatest festival of Zeus” for seizing the acropolis. Such expressions, in the natural interpretation put upon them by every Greek, designated the Olympic games in Peloponnesus, — to Kylon, moreover himself an Olympic victor, that interpretation came recommended by an apparent peculiar propriety. But Thucydides, not indifferent to the credit of the oracle, reminds his readers that no question was asked nor any express direction given, where the intended “greatest festival of Zeus” was to be sought,—whether in Attica or elsewhere, —and that the, public festival of the Diasia, celebrated periodically and solemnly in the neighborhood of Athens, was also denominated the “greatest festival of Zeus Meilichius”. Probably no such exegetical scruples presented themselves to any one, until after the miserable failure of the conspiracy; least of all to Kylon himself, who, at the recurrence of the next ensuing Olympic games, put himself at the head of a force, partly furnished by Theagenes, partly composed of his friends at home, and took sudden possession of the sacred rock of Athens. But the attempt excited general indignation among the Athenian people, who crowded in from the country to assist the archons and the prytanes of the naukrari in putting it down. Kylon and his companions were blockaded in the acropolis, where they soon found themselves in straits for want of water and provisions; and though many of the Athenians went back to their homes, a sufficient besieging force was left to reduce the conspirators to the last extremity. After Kylon himself had escaped by stealth, and several of his companions had died of hunger, the remainder, renouncing all hope of defence, sat down as suppliants at the altar. The archon Megakles, on regaining the citadel, found these suppliants on the point of expiring with hunger on the sacred ground, and to prevent such a pollution, engaged them to quit the spot by a promise of sparing their lives. No sooner, however, had they been removed into profane ground, than the promise was violated and they were put to death: some even, who, seeing the fate with which they were menaced, contrived to throw themselves upon the altar of the venerable goddesses, or eumenides, near the areopagus, received their death-wounds in spite of that inviolable protection.

Though the conspiracy was thus put down, and the government upheld, these deplorable incidents left behind them a long train of calamity, profound religious remorse mingled with exasperated political antipathies. There still remained, if not a considerable Kyionian party, at least a large body of persons who resented the way in which the Kylonians had been put to death, and who became in consequence bitter enemies of Megakles the archon, and of the great family of the Alkmaeonidae, to which he belonged. Not only Megakles himself and his personal assistants were denounced as smitten with a curse, but the taint was supposed to be transmitted to his descendants, and we shall hereafter find the wound reopened, not only in the second and third generation, but also two centuries after the original event. When we see that the impression left by the proceeding was so very serious, even after the length of time which had elapsed, we may well believe that it was sufficient, immediately afterwards, to poison altogether the tranquility of the state. The Alkmaeonids and their partisans long defied their opponents, resisting any public trial, — and the dissensions continued without hope of termination, until Solon, then enjoying a lofty reputation for sagacity and patriotism, as well as for bravery, persuaded them to submit to judicial cognizance, — at a moment so far distant from the event, that several of the actors were dead. They were accordingly tried before a special judicature of three hundred eupatrids, Myron, of the demo Phlyeis, being their accuser. In defending themselves against the charge that they had sinned against the reverence due to the gods and the consecrated right of asylum, they alleged that the Kylonian suppliants, when persuaded to quit the holy ground, had tied a cord round the statue of the goddess and clung to it for protection in their march; but on approaching the altar of the eumenides, the cord accidentally broke, and this critical event, so the accused persons argued, proved that the goddess had herself withdrawn from them her protecting band and abandoned them to their fate. Their argument, remarkable as an illustration of the feelings of the time, was not, however, accepted as an excuse: they were found guilty, and while such of them as were alive retired into banishment, those who had already died were disinterred and cast beyond the borders. Yet their exile, continuing as it did only for a time, was not held sufficient to expiate the impiety for which they had been condemned. The Alkmaeonids, one of the most powerful families in Attica, long continued to be looked upon as a tainted race, and in cases of public calamity were liable, to be singled out as having by their sacrilege drawn down the judgment of the gods upon their Countrymen.

Nor was the banishment of the guilty parties adequate in other respects to restore tranquility. Not only did pestilential disorders prevail, but the religious susceptibilities and apprehensions of the Athenian community also remained deplorably excited: they were oppressed with sorrow and despondency, saw phantoms and heard supernatural menaces, and felt the curse of the gods upon them without abatement. In particular, it appears that the minds of the women—whose religious impulses were recognized generally by the ancient legislators as requiring watchful control — were thus disturbed and frantic. The sacrifices offered at Athens did not succeed in dissipating the epidemic, nor could the prophets at home, though they recognized that special purifications were required, discover what were the new ceremonies capable of appeasing the divine wrath. The Delphian oracle directed them to invite a higher spiritual influence from abroad, and this produced the memorable visit of the Cretan prophet and sage Epimenides to Athens.


The century between 620 and 500 BC appears to have been remarkable for the first diffusion and potent influence of distinct religious brotherhoods, mystic rites, and expiatory ceremonies, none of which, as I have remarked in a former chapter, find any recognition in the Homeric epic. To this age belong Thaletas, Aristeas, Abaris, Pythagoras, Onomakritus, and the earliest provable agency of the Orphic sect. Of the class of men here noticed, Epimenides, a native of Phaestus or Knossos in Crete, was one of the most celebrated,— and the old legendary connection between Athens and Crete, which shows itself in the tales of Theseus and Minos, is here again manifested in the recourse which the Athenians had to this island to supply their spiritual need. Epimenides seems to have been connected with the worship of the Cretan Zeus, in whose favor he stood so high as to receive the denomination of the new Kurete—the Kurete having been the primitive ministers and organizers of that wor­ship. He was said to be the son of the nymph Balte; to be supplied by the nymphs with constant food, since he was never seen to eat; to have fallen asleep in his youth in a cave, and to have continued in this state without interruption for fifty-seven years; though some asserted that he remained all this time a wanderer in the mountains, collecting and studying medicinal botany in the vocation of an Iatromantis, or leech and prophet combined. Such narratives mark the idea entertained by antiquity of Epimenides, the Purifier, who was now called in to heal both the epidemic and the mental affliction prevalent among the Athenian people, in the same manner as his countryman and contemporary Thaletas had been, a few years before, invited to Sparta to appease a pestilence by the effect of his music and religious hymns. The favor of Epimenides with the gods, his knowledge of propitiatory ceremonies, and his power of working upon the religious feeling, was completely successful in restoring both health and mental tranquility at Athens. He is said to have turned out some black and white sheep on the areopagus, directing attendants to follow and watch them, and to erect new altars to the appropriate local deities on the spots where the animals lay down. He founded new chapels and established various lustral ceremonies; and more especially, he regulated the worship paid by the women, in such a manner as to calm the violent impulses which had before agitated them. We know hardly anything of the details of his proceeding, but the general fact of his visit, and the salutary effects produced in removing the religious despondency which oppressed the Athenians, are well attested: consoling assurances and new ritual precepts, from the lips of a person supposed to stand high in the favor of Zeus, were the remedy which this unhappy disorder required. Moreover, Epimenides had the prudence to associate himself with Solon, and while he thus doubtless obtained much valuable advice, he assisted indirectly in exalting the reputation of Solon himself, whose career of constitutional reform was now fast approaching. He remained long enough at Athens to restore completely a more comfortable tone of religious feeling, and then departed, carrying with him universal gratitude and admiration, but refusing all other reward, except a branch from the sacred olive-tree in the acropolis. His life is said to have been prolonged to the unusual period of one hundred and fifty-four years, according to a statement which was current during the time of his younger contemporary Xenophanes of Kolophon; and the Cretans even ventured to affirm that he lived three hundred years. They extolled him not merely as a sage and a spiritual purifier, but also as a poet,—very long compositions on religious and mythical subjects being ascribed to him; according to some accounts, they even worshipped him as a god. Both Plato and Cicero considered Epimenides in the same light in which he was regarded by his contemporaries, as a prophet divinely inspired, and foretelling the future under fits of temporary ecstasy : but according to Aristotle, Epimenides himself professed to have received from the gods no higher gift than that of divining the unknown phenomena of the past.

The religious mission of Epimenides to Athens, and its efficacious as well as healing influence on the public mind, deserve notice as characteristics of the age in which they occurred. If we transport ourselves two centuries forward, to the Peloponnesian war, when rational influences and positive habits of thought had acquired a durable hold upon the superior minds, and when practical discussions on political and judicial matters were familiar to every Athenian citizen, no such uncontrollable religious misery could well have subdued the entire public; and if it had, no living man could have drawn to himself such universal veneration as to be capable of effecting a cure. Plato, admitting the real healing influence of rites and ceremonies, fully believed in Epimenides as an inspired prophet during the past; but towards those who preferred claims to supernatural power in his own day, he was not so easy of faith. He, as well as Euripides and Theophrastus, treated with indifference, and even with contempt, the orpheotelestae of the later times, who advertised themselves as possessing the same patent knowledge of ceremonial rites, and the same means of guiding the will of the gods, as Epimenides had wielded before them. These orpheotelestae unquestionably numbered a considerable tribe of believers, and speculated with great effect, as well as with profit to themselves, upon the timorous consciences of rich men : but they enjoyed no respect with the general public, or with those to whose authority the public habitually looked up. Degenerate as they were, however, they were the legitimate representatives of the prophet and purifier from Knossos, to whose presence the Athenians had been so much indebted two centuries before: and their altered position was owing less to any falling off in themselves, than to an improvement in the mass upon whom they sought to operate. Had Epimenides himself come to Athens in those days, his visit would probably have been as much inoperative to all public purposes as a repetition of the stratagem of Phye, clothed and equipped as the goddess Athene, which had succeeded so completely in the days of Peisistratus,— a stratagem which even Herodotus treats as incredibly absurd, although, a century before his time, both the city of Athens and the demes of Attica had obeyed, as a divine mandate, the orders of this magnificent and stately woman, to restore Peisistratus.