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The principal duties of the private citizen were to be discharged, not in the popular assembly, but in the field of battle: his chief pleasures were those which he derived from the society of his equals; and the main end of the institutions which regulated his private life was to prepare him for the one, and to afford him the amplest opportunities of enjoying the other, The most important feature in the Cretan mode of life is the usage of the Syssitia, or public meals, of which all the citizens partook, without distinction of rank or age. The origin of this institution cannot be traced : we learn, however, from Aristotle, that it was not peculiar to the Greeks, but existed still earlier in the south of Italy among the OEnotrians.” The Cretan usage, in common with all the rest, he attributes to Minos. This, however, must be considered rather as the philosopher's opinion than as an historical tradition. But as we have no such reason for questioning his authority with regard to the Italian custom, and as the institution itself bears all the marks of high antiquity, it would seem probable enough that the Peloponnesian colonies might have found it in Crete, even if no people of the same race had before settled in the island. That they introduced it there could only be proved by showing that it existed in Sparta before the time of Lycurgus, or in other Dorian states, and of this there does not seem to be sufficient evidence. Its analogy with the public banquets of the Homeric heroes is too slight to authorize us to consider it as an old Hellenic usage,t unless, indeed, we go back to the patriarchal communities in the infancy of society;f but we then want an historical deduction to carry it down to the period in which we find it really existing. Still, its uniform prevalence in the Dorian colonies in Crete is a strong argument for believing that they did not adopt it from the mother-country. It may have obtained among the Dorians before the invasion of Peloponnesus, and may have been retained by the Spartans, because it was adapted to the wants of their peculiar situation, while it soon fell into disuse among their brethren. In most of the Cretan cities the expense of the public meals was defrayed by the state, out of the revenue of the domain lands and the tribute they received from their subjects, so that no distinction could arise between the rich and the poor. Each individual received his separate share, out of which he paid his contributions to one of the public tables and Fo for the females of his household.) In ..yctus a different system seems to have prevailed: the citizen devoted a tithe of the fruits of his own land to the same purposes;s but perhaps there, as elsewhere, the poor were supported from the public stock. These social
- Pol., vii. 9.
* Hoeck, Kreta, iii., p. 121, refers to Il, iv., 257, which seems to prove nothing, nor does a passage of Athenuous ov., p. to. to which he appeals in support of his position, that the usage of the syssotia existed among the Arcadians, appear to have anything to do with the subject. It evidently relates to an entertainment given at the public expense in Phugalea to two choruses, on the occasion of some fes
tival. 1 Huellmann (Anfaenge der Griechischen Geschichte, p 149, thinks that the syssotta arose out of the occasional social repasis, by which the unwn of infant communities was cemented, but he is, of course, unable to trare the connexion, retween them. w Aristot. Pol, in , 10. * Losiades in Athen... iv., r *
meals derived their Cretan appellation from the men who partook of them,” who were divided into companies, originally, perhaps, corresponding to some relations of kindred, but afterward associated by mutual inclination and free choice. The management of the table was committed to a woman, undoubtedly of free birth, who openly selected the choicest part of the fare for the persons most distinguished for valour or prudence. One regulation, peculiar to the Cretan system, is remarkably characteristic of the friendly intercourse which prevailed, at least in early times, among the Dorian cities of the island. In every town were two public buildings, destined, the one for the lodging of strangers, the other for the meals of the citizens; and in the banqueting-room, two tables were set apart for the foreign guests. The temperate repast was followed by conversation, which was first made to turn on the affairs of the state; and it cannot be doubted that the freedom of discussion allowed at the festive board made no slight amends for the restrictions imposed on the deliberations of the public assembly. After this, the discourse fell on valiant deeds and illustrious men, whose praises might rouse the younger hearers to generous emulation. Whatever may have been the origin of this institution, it manifestly answered several important ends besides that for which it was immediately designed. On the one hand, it maintained a stricter separation between the ruling and the subject classes; it kept alive in the former the sull consciousness of their superior station and their national character: on the other hand, it bound the citizens together by ties of the most endearing intimacy, taught them to look on each other as members of one family, and gave an efficacy to the power of public opinion which must have nearly superseded the necessity of any penal laws. To this we may add, that it provided a main part of the education of the young. Till they had reached their eighteenth year, the sons accompanied their fathers to the public hall with the orphans of the deceased. The younger waited at the table; the rest, seated beside the men on a lower bench, received a portion suited to their age, of plainer fare, and listened to the conversation of their elders. They were here under the eye of an officer publicly appointed to superintend them.t. How far, in other respects, the state assumed a direct control over their education, does not appear; but it seems highly probable that the same officer who watched over their behaviour in public, also enforced the other branches of discipline to which they were subject. They were early inured to hardship and laborious exercises: the same coarse garment served them for summer and winter; and their strength and spirit were proved by frequent combats between rival companies. The intervals of leisure left by this species of training were filled up by some simple lessons in poetry and music, and, in later times at least, in the rudiments of letters. The songs which they learned contained the precepts and maxims enforced by the laws, hymns to the gods, and the praises of the illustrious dead. From the beginning of their eighteenth
year they were subjected to a stricter rule. They were now divided into troops," each headed by a youth of some noble family, whose pride it was to collect the greatest number he could under his command. He was himself placed under the control of some elder person, generally his father, who directed the exercises of the troop in the chase, the course, and the wrestling-school. On stated days the rival troops engaged in a mimic fight, with movements measured by the flute and the lyre; and the blows they exchanged on these occasions were dealt not merely with the hand and with clubs, but with iron weapons, probably with a view of putting their skill, patience, and self-command, as well as their strength, to the trial, by the necessity of defending themselves without inflicting a dangerous wound. How long the youths remained in these troops we are not informed. As soon as they quitted them to enter into the society of the men, the law compelled each to choose a bride, who, however, was not permitted, it is said, to undertake the duties of a matron until she was found capable of discharging them; that is, probably, she continued for some time to live under the roof of her parents. The Cretan institutions sanctioned, and even enforced, a close intimacy between the men and the youths, which was undoubtedly designed to revive that generous friendship of the heroic ages which was so celebrated in song, and to add a new motive to the love of glory in the noblest spirits. But the usage, which was singularly regulated by the law,t degenerated in later times into a frightful license, which was often mistaken for its primitive form, and consequently attributed to political views, which, if they had even existed, would have been equally odious and absurd.:
We now return to the Dorians of Peloponnesus, whose history, scanty as is the information transmitted to us concerning its earlier ages, is still somewhat less obscure, and much more interesting than that of the other Greek tribes during the same period. Our attention will for some time be fixed on the steps by which Sparta rose to a supremacy above the rest of the Dorian states, which was finally extended over the whole of Greece. This is the most momentous event of the period intervening between the return of the Heracleids and the Persian wars. It was, in part, an effect of the great addition which Sparta made to her territory by swallowing up that of her western neighbour. But this conquest may itself be regarded as a result of those peculiar institutions which, once firmly established, decided her character and destiny to the end of her political existence, and which are in themselves one of the most interesting subjects that engage the attention of the statesman and the philosopher in the history of Greece.
Before we attempt to describe the Spartan Constitution, it will be necessary to notice the
different opinions that have been entertained as to its origin and its author. It has been usual, both with ancient and modern writers, to consider it as the work of a single man—as the fruit of the happy genius, or of the commanding character of Lycurgus, who has generally been supposed to have had the merit, if not of inventing it, yet of introducing and establishing it among his countrymen. Viewed in this light, it has justly excited not only admiration, but astonishment; it appears a prodigy of art, on which we gaze as on an Egyptian pyramid—a structure wonderful in its execution, but mysterious in its design. We admire the power which the legislator has exerted over his fellow-men; but while we are amazed at his boldness and success, we can scarcely refrain from suspecting that he must have been partly swayed by the desire of raising an extraordinary monument to his own fame. According to the opposite view of the subject, it was not an artificial fabric, but the spontaneohs growth of a peculiar nature, which at the utmost required only a few slight touches from the hand of man, and the agency of Lycurgus shrinks into so narrow a compass that even his personal existence becomes a question of much doubt and of little moment. The truth will, perhaps, be found to lie midway between these two extremes. The reasons which prevent us from unreservedly adopting either opinion will be best understood if we consider, first, the history of Lycurgus himself, as transmitted to us by the general consent of the ancients, and then the mode in which they describe the scope and character of his institutions. Experience proves that scarcely any amount of variation as to the time and circumstances of a fact, in the authors who record it, can ever be a sufficient ground for doubting its reality. But the chronological discrepancies in the accounts of Lycurgus, which struck Plutarch as singularly great, on closer inspection do not appear very considerable. Xenophon, indeed, in a passage where it is his object to magnify the antiquity of the laws of Sparta, mentions a tradition or opinion that Lycurgus was a contemporary of the Heracleids." This, however, ought not, perhaps, to be interpreted more literally than the language of Aristotle, in one of his extant works, where he might seem to suppose that the lawgiver lived after the close of the Messenian wars.f The great mass of evidence, including that of Aristotle and of Thucydides, fixes his legislation in the ninth century before our era; and the variations within this period, if not merely apparent, are unimportant. There was also a disagreement, indicating some uncertainty, as to his parentage. We have already seen, that after the death of Aristodemus, the throne of Sparta was shared by his two sons, Eurysthenes and Procles. The kingly office continued to be hereditary in their lines, which were equal in power, though a certain precedence or dignity was allowed to that of Eurysthenes, grounded on his supposed priority of birth. It was not, however, from these remote ancestors that the two royal families derived their distinguishing appellations. The elder house was called the Agids, after Agis, son of
* Rep. Lac., x., 8. t Pol., ii., 9.
, tarch, put his virtue to a severer test.
Eurystmenes; the minor, the Eurypontids, from Eurypon, the successor of Sous, son of Procles: a remarkable fact, not very satisfactorily explained from the martial renown of these princes, and perhaps indicating a concealed break in each series. Agis was followed by Echestratus and Labotas; and, according to Herodotus, it was during the minority of the latter that Lycurgus, his guardian,” governing as regent, employed the power thus accidentally placed in his hands to establish his institutions. This, however, contradicts both the received chronology and the better attested tradition, that the lawgiver belonged to the Eurypontid line. He was commonly believed to have been the son of Eunomus, the grandson of Eurypon; though the poet Simonides, following a different genealogy, called him the son of Prytanis, who is generally supposed to have been the father of Eunomus, and the immediate successor of Eurypon. Eunomus is said to have been killed in a fray which he was endeavouring to quell, and was succeeded by his eldest son Polydectes, who shortly after dying childless, left Lycurgus apparently entitled to the crown. But as his brother's widow was soon discovered to be pregnant, he declared his purpose of resigning his dignity if she should give birth to an heir. The ambitious queen, however, if we may believe a piece of court scandal reported by PluShe secretly sent proposals to him of securing him on the throne on condition of sharing it with him, by destroying the embryo hopes of Sparta. Stifling his indignation, he affected to embrace her offer, but, as if tender of her health, bade her do no violence to the course of nature: “The infant, when born, might be easily despatched." As the time drew near, he placed trusty attendants round her person, with orders, if she should be delivered of a son, to bring the child immediately to him. He happened to be sitting at table with the magistrates when his servants came in with a new-born prince. Taking the infant from their arms, he placed it on the royal seat, and in the presence of the company proclaimed it King of Sparta, and named it Charilaus, to express the joy which the event diffused among the people. Though proofagainst such temptation, Lycurgus had the weakness, it seems, to shrink from a vile suspicion. Alarmed lest the calumnies propagated by the incensed queen-mother and her kinsmen, who charged him with a design against the life of his nephew, might chance to be seemingly confirmed by the untimely death of Charilaus, he determined, instead of staying to exercise his authority for the benefit of the young king and of the state, to withdraw beyond the reach of slander till the maturity of his ward and the birth of an heir should have removed every pretext for such imputations. Thus the prime of his life, notwithstanding the regret and the repeated invitations of his countrymen, was spent in voluntary exile; which, however, he employed in maturing a plan already conceived for remedying the evils under which Sparta had long laboured, by a great change in its constitution and laws. With this view he visited many foreign lands, observed
* Dionysius Hal., ii., 49, names Eunomus as the ward.
their institutions and manners, and conversed with their sages. Crete and the laws of Minos are said to have been the main object of his study, and a Cretan poet one of his instructers in the art of legislation; but the Egyptian priests likewise claimed him as their disciple; and reports were not wanting among the later Spartans that he had penetrated as far as India, and had sat at the feet of the Bramins. On his return, he found the disorders of the state aggravated, and the need of a reform more generally felt. Having strengthened his authority with the sanction of the Delphic oracle, which declared his wisdom to transcend the common level of humanity, and having secured the aid of a numerous party among the leading men, who took up arms to support him, he successively procured the enactment of a series of solemn ordinances or compacts (Rhetras), by which the civil and military constitution of the commonwealth, the distribution of property, the education of the citizens, the rules of their daily intercourse and of their domestic life, were to be fixed on a hallowed and immutable basis. Many of these regulations roused a violent opposition, which even threatened the life of Lycurgus ; but his fortitude and patience finally triumphed over all obstacles, and he lived to see his great idea, unfolded in all its beauty, begin its steady course, bearing on its front the marks of immortal vigour. His last action was to sacrifice himself to the perpetuity of his work. He set out on a journey to Delphi, after having bound his countrymen by an oath to make no change in his laws before his return. When the last seal had been set to his institutions by the oracle, which foretold that Sparta should flourish as long as she adhered to them, having transmitted this prediction to his fellow-citizens, he resolved, in order that they might never be discharged from their oath, to die in a foreign land. The place and manner of his death are veiled in an obscurity befitting the character of the hero; the sacred soils of Delphi, of Crete, and of Elis, all claimed his tomb; the Spartans honoured him, to the latest times, with a temple and yearly sacrifices, as a god. Such are the outlines of a story which is too familiar to be cast away as an empty fiction, even if it should be admitted that no part of it can bear the scrutiny of a rigorous criticism. But the main question is whether the view it presents of the character of Lycurgus as a statesman is substantially correct; and in this respect we should certainly be led to regard him in a very different light, if it should appear that the institutions which he is here supposed to have collected with so much labour, and to have founded with so much difficulty, were in existence long before his birth; and not only in Crete, but at Sparta, nor at Sparta only, but in other Grecian states. And this we believe to have been the case with every important part of these institutions. As to most of those, indeed, which were common to Crete and Sparta, it seems scarcely to admit of a doubt, and is equally evident, whether we acknowledge or deny that some settlements of the Dorians in Crete preceded the conquest of Peloponnesus. It was at Lyctus, a Laconian colony, as Aristotle informs us, that the institutions which Lycurgus was supposed to have taken for his model, flourished longest in their original purity; and hence some of the ancients contended that they were transferred from Laconia to Crete; an argument which Ephorus thought to consute, by remarking that Lycurgus lived five generations later than Athaemenes, who founded one of the Dorian colonies in the island. But unless we imagine that each of these colonies produced its Minos or its Lycurgus, we must conclude that they merely retained what they brought with them from the mother-country. Whether they found the same system already established in Crete, depends on the question whether a part of its population was already Dorian. On any other view, the general adoption of the laws of Minos in the Dorian cities of Crete, and the tenacity with which Lyctus adhered to them, are facts unexplained and difficult to understand. We suspect, indeed, that the contrary opinion rests on a false notion of the omnipotence of human legislators, which has been always prevalent among philosophers, but has never been confirmed by experience. It may be reasonably doubted whether the history of the world surnishes any instance of a political creation such as that attributed to Minos or Lycurgus. No parallel is afforded by a legislation in which, as in that of Moses, religion is not merely the basis, but the main element of the system. Without some such extraordinary aid, that union of absolute power and consummate prudence which Plato thought necessary for the foundation of his commonwealth, might still be found incapable of moulding and transforming a people at the will of an individual. We lay no stress, however, on these general grounds; it is the contemplation of the Spartan institutions themselves that seems to justify the conclusion that they were not so much a work of human art and forethought as a form of society originally congenial to the character of the Dorian people, and to the situation in which they were placed by their new conquests; and in its leading features not even peculiar to this, or to any single branch of the Hellenic nation. This view of the subject may seem scarcely to leave room for the intervention of Lycurgus, and to throw some doubt on his individual existence; so that Hellanicus, who made no mention of him, and referred his institutions to Eurysthenes and Procles, would appear to have been much more correctly informed, or to have had a much clearer insight into the truth, than the later historians, who ascribed everything Spartan to the more celebrated lawgiver. But, remarkable as this variation is, it cannot be allowed to outweigh the concurrent testimony of the other ancient writers, from which we must, at least, conclude that Lycurgus was not an imaginary or symbolical person, but one whose name marks an important epoch in the history of his country. Through all the conflicting accounts of his life, we may distinguish one fact, which is unanimously attested, and seems independent of all minuter discrepancies—that by him Sparta was delivered from the evils of anarchy or misrule, and that from this date she began a long period of tranquillity and order. But the origin and the precise nature of the disorders which he sound existing, and, consequently, the real aim and spirit of the remedies
which he applied to them, are nowhere distinctly described, and can only be gathered by a difficult and uncertain process of combination and inference. Herodotus and Thucydides use only very general and vague language in describing the state of Sparta previous to the legislation of Lycurgus. The former says that it was the worst-ordered country in Greece, both as regarded the mutual relations of the citizens, and their inhospitable treatment of foreigners; a singular remark, since in her best times Sparta was most celebrated for the jealousy with which she excluded foreigners from her territory. Thucydides speaks of a long period of civil discord which had preceded the establishment of the good government existing in his own day. Aristotle gives a somewhat more definite, though a very obscure hint, when he observes, that in the reign of Charilaus the Spartan government changed from a tyranny to an aristocracy.” Plutarch, indeed, is much more explicit, but he seems to have been unable to form a clear conception of the subject. According to him, the root of the evil lay in the relaxation of the royal authority, which had begun in the reign of Eurypon, and had increased until, in the time of Lycurgus, the kingly power was reduced to a shadow; and this he thinks the lawgiver designed to correct, by instituting a council which should at once support and restrain the kings, and should maintain an equipoise between them and the people. The next main cause of disorder described by Plutarch was the excessive disproportion in the distribution of private property; and he informs us that for this Lycurgus provided an immediate remedy in a new partition of the land, which was not confined to the Spartans, but extended to all the inhabitants of Laconia; and that he then proceeded to attack the disease in its inmost seat, by a series of regulations tending to abolish all distinctions, and to exclude all enjoyments which could supply fuel to private cupidity. Plutarch does not attempt to point out any connexion between these two measures, which, indeed, are directly opposite in their tendency; the first checking popular license by an aristocratical institution, while the second levels all advantages of rank and property. Accordingly, in carrying the former, Lycurgus, it is said, was seconded by the leading men; while in the latter, he was opposed by the wealthy class with a fury which threatened his life. There is still greater difficulty in reconciling this account with Aristotle's remark, that the tyranny of Charilaus was followed by an aristocratical government. This, indeed, reminds us of what Plutarch relates, that the first tumult occasioned by the measures of Lycurgus alarmed Charilaus so much, that, fancying a conspiracy formed against himself, he took refuge in the sanctuary of the Brazen House, where Lycurgus himself was afterward forced to take shelter.f. We read, however, that his fears were quieted, and that he even actively joined in promoting the new reform. If we admit the fact that a revolution of some kind was really effected by Lycurgus, it seems necessary, in order to understand the various descriptions given of it, to suppose that its objects were not precisely such as the language
* Pol., v., 12. t Plut., Ap. Lac, 7.
of the ancient writers at first sight suggests. subsequently submitted to Sparta may have af.
So long as we confine our view to the Dorians of Sparta, we are at a loss to explain the growing ascendency of a commonalty, which finally tramples on the royal prerogatives, and which it is found necessary to balance by an aristocratical institution ; while, in the same state, a small class preponderates over the rest by its overgrown possessions, to a degree which drives the legislator to the democratical expe. dient of a general repartition. It is true that such extremes may often be found combined in a stage of society immediately preceding a great political convulsion: but if such a convulsion ensues, and the wealthy class is forced to yield, the result will surely not be a rigid and steady aristocratical government; and it would be attributing, not wisdom, but magic, to Lycurgus, to suppose that he extracted such a constitution out of such elements. It seems impossible to cotoprehend the nature of his reform, unless we may be allowed to think that it determined not merely the relations of the Dorians among one another or to their kings, but that in which they stood to their subjects, the provincials of Laconia; and that this is not a wholly unauthorized conjecture appears from the tradition that Lycurgus extended his agrarian regulation over the whole country. Those authors, indeed, who represent the conquest of Laconia as completed some generations sooner, would lead us to conclude that the relation between the conquerors and their subjects had been long before fixed on its ultimate footing But as we have seen reason to suspect that the conquest itself was much more gradual, so it seems not improbable that it was reserved for Lycurgus finally to settle the relative position of the several classes. And it must be remembered, that among them, besides the conquered Achaeans, were other foreigners who had aided the Dorians in their enterprise, and might therefore seem to have stronger claims to an equality of political rights. It would be natural, and in accordance with the policy which we find actually pursued by the Dorian kings of Messenia, if these claims had been favoured by one of the royal houses at Sparta; and it would be no uncommon mistake or perversion of language if this was the fact indicated by Eurypon's ambition of popularity, by the death of Eunomus, and by the tyranny of Charilaus. Eurypon would be a demagogue, and Charilaus a tyrant, in the same sense in which Cresphontes might have been called so by his Dorians, whom he wished to reduce to the same level with his other subjects; and it may have been in a like struggle that Eunomus also lost his life. The gradual progress of the conquest may, perhaps, also serve to explain the inequality of property among the Dorians, which must be considered not as an effect of the original distribution, nor of successive casual transfers, but of encroachment and usurpation; and which, therefore, though tolerated for a time, would excite discontent and division among the conquerors. Though at the first irruption a division of land probably took place in that part of the territory which was immediately occupied by the Dorian arms—and if so, may have been conducted on principles of equality—the subjugation of the several towns and districts which
forded some of the leading men opportunities of enriching themselves at the expense of the ancient land-owners, and to the exclusion of their less fortunate brethren, who might thus be disposed to favour the pretensions of the Laconian provincials. If this supposition at all corresponds to the state of things which Lycurgus found existing, it will not be difficult to understand the double aspect which his legislation presents. He must have had two main objects in view: one, to maintain the sovereignty of Sparta over the rest of Laconia; the other—a necessary condition of the former—to unite the Spartans by the closest ties among themselves The manner in which he accomplished this twofold purpose may not have been the less admirable because he found all the instruments he required ready to his hand, and was seconded by the general wishes of the people. Nothing more, indeed, seems to have been necessary for securing the harmony and the internal strength of Sparta than that she should return into the ancient track, from which she appears for a time to have been drawn partially aside; that her citizens, where they had cast off the habits of their forefathers, should resume them; and, sacrificing all artificial distinctions and newly-acquired inclinations, should live together after the old fashion, as brothers in arms, under the rigid but equal discipline of a camp. This mode of life was undoubtedly not only familiar to the Spartans before the time of Lycurgus, but can never have sunk into very general disuse: it had probably been most neglected by those whose possessions raised them above the common level, and when this inequality was removed, came again almost spontaneously into force. The occasion, however, required that what had hitherto been no more than lax and undefined usage, should henceforth be made to assume the character of strict law, solemnly enacted, and consecrated by the sanction of religion. If Lycurgus did no more than this, af. ter having surmounted the obstacles which interest and passion threw in his way, he will indeed lose the glory of a marvellous triumph over nature, but he will retain the honour of having judiciously and successfully applied the simplest and most efficacious means which nature afforded to a great and arduous end. While, therefore, we do not wish the reader to forget that this is no more than a hypothesis, which must give way as soon as another more probable shall have been proposed, we believe that we come nearest to the truth in supposing that the occasion that called forth the legislation of Lycurgus was the danger which threatened the Spartan Dorians, while divided among themselves, of losing the privileges which raised them above their subjects—the common freemen of Laconia: that, consequently, the basis of all his regulations was a new distribution of property, which removed the principal causes of discord, and facilitated the correction of other abuses; that this was accompanied by a more precise determination of political rights; and, finally, that this same opportunity was taken to enforce and to widen all those distinctions of education and habits, which, while they separated the citizens from the subjects, bound the