Page images
PDF
EPUB

Apollo answered, that his laws were perfect; and that so long as Sparta should observe them, it would be the most glorious city in the world, and enjoy entire felicity. Lycurgus sent this answer to Sparta, and judging his ministry accomplished, he died voluntarily at Delphos, by abstaining from food. He was of opinion, that the death of great men and ministers should not be insignificant or useless to the commonwealth, but a consequence of their adıninistration, one of their most considerable actions, and as honourable, if not more so, than all the rest of their lives. He thought therefore, to die in this manner would be confirming and crowning all the services he had done his fellow-citizens during his life, as his death would oblige them to observe his ordinances for ever, which they bad sworn to observe inviolably till his return.

The heathen were generally of opinion, that every man had a right to put himself to death, whensoever he pleased.

REFLECTIONS UPON THE GOVERNMENT OF SPARTA, AND THE LAWS OF LYCURGUS.

I. THINGS LAUDABLE IN THE LAWS OF LYCURGUS.

Weke we to judge only by the event, there must have been a large fund of wisdom and prudence in the laws of Lycurgus, since so long as they were observed at Sparta, which was for above five hundred years, that city was so powerful and flourishing. They were, says [s] Plutarch, speaking of the laws of Sparta, less a form of government and civil administration, than the conduct and rules of a wise man, who passes his whole life in the exercises of virtue. Or rather, adds the same author, as the poets feign of Hercules, that with his lion's skin and club only he ran through the world, and purged it of robbers and tyrants; so [s] ου πόλεως και Σπάρτη πολιτίαν, άλλ' ανδρός ασκητού και σοφού βίον έχασα.

Sparta Sparta with a [1] simple roll of parchment and a sorry cloak, gave law to all Greece, which willingly submitted to their empire, threw down tyrannies and usurpations, put an end to wars at their pleasure, and calmed seditions, most frequently without taking up arms, and by the dispatch of a single embassador, who no sooner appeared, than all the states in subjection ranged theniselves around him, like bees about their king; so great an awe and reverence had the justice and good government of that city imprinted on all mankind.

1. The Nature of the Spartan Government. There is a reflection in Plutarch at the close of the life of Lycurgus, which is itself a great eulogium upon this wise legislator. He says that Plato, Diogenes, Zeno, and all the rest, who have undertaken to treat of the establishment of civil government, have formed their scheines upon Lycurgus's plan; with this difference, that they went no farther than mere description, whereas Lycurgus, without stopping at ideas and projects, reduced his inimitable designs to practice, and formed a whole city of philosophers.

To succeed the better, and to establish a republic as perfect as possible, he in a manner blended together whatever was to be found in any kind of government, that seemed most conducive to the interest of the republic, by qualifying one with the other, and balancing the inconveniences of each in particular by the advantages arising from the union of all together. Sparta was in some respects monarchical, from the authority of their kings; the council of the thirty, or senate, was a true aristocracy; and the power the people had of nominating the senators, and giving a sanction to the laws, was a branch of democratical government. The institution of the ephori afterwards corrected what was amiss in the first regulations, and supplied whatever could be wanting. Plato, in more than one passage admires the wisdom of Lycurgus in the establishment of the senate, which was equally beneficial to the kings and people; as by this means the law became the measure of the regal power, and the people's obedience. Or as Plato

[t] This was what the Lacedæ- a staff, whereon the orders of the monians called scytale, a roll of public to the generals were written leather or parchment turned round as it were in cypher.

corrected

says

in the note at bottom; the laws became the sovereigns of men, and not men the tyrants of the laws [u].

2. The equal Division of Lands, and Prohibition of

Gold and Silver Money. The design of Lycurgus in making an equal distribution of lands amongst the citizens, and banishing luxury, avarice, quarrels, and dissentions from Sparta, at the same time that he prohibited the use of gold and silver, would appear to us a fine scheme of a republic, but impossible to be executed, if we did not learn from history that Sparta subsisted in this state for several ages. Could we conceive, that he could ever have prevailed upon the rich and opulent to give up all teir stores and revenues, to blend themselves with the poor in every circumstance, to submit to a painful and severe regimen of life, and in a word, to forbear the use of every thing they considered before as essential to the ease and happiness of life? And yet this Lycurgus brought about.

Such an establishment would be the less surprising, if it had subsisted only during the life of the legislator; but we know it survived himn many ages. Xenophon in the panegyric he has left upon Agesilaus, and Tully in one of his orations, takes notice that the Lacedænionians were the only people in the world, who made no alterations in their discipline and laws for the course of so many ages. Soli, says he, speaking of the Lacedæmonians, toto orbe terrarum septingentos jum annos amplius unis moribus & nunquam mutatis legibus vi

[u] Νόμος επειδή κύριο» εγένετο βασιλεύς των ανθρώπων αλλ' εκ άνθρωποι τύραννος vójwy, Plat. Epist. 8.

vunt.

*

[ocr errors]

vunt. There is good reason to believe, that in Tully's time the discipline of Sparta, as well as its power, was very much enfeebled and diminished : but all historians agree, that it was kept up in its full force till the reign of Agis, under whom Lysander, who, though incapable himself of being dazzled or corrupted by gold, introduced luxury into his country and a fondness for riches, by carrying thither the immense sums of gold and silver he had gained by his victories, and thereby subverting the laws of Lycurgus. This event well deserves here to be taken notice of.

[.2] Lysander having got great spoils at the taking of Athens, sent all the gold and silver to Lacedæmon. They held a council to debate wiiether or not they should receive it; a rare and excellent deliberation, and the only instance of the kind to be met with in history! The wisest and most understanding men of Sparta, adhering strictly to the law, were of opinion [y] that this gold and silver should be thrown out of the city with horror and execration, as a fatal plague and a dangerous allurement to all kinds of mischief. But others, and the far greater number, proposed a middle way, and the expedient was followed. They ordered the gold and silver to be retained, but to be only employed in the public treasury, and affairs of state; and that if any private man should be found to have any of it, he should immediately be put to death. [z] They were imprudent and blind enough to imagine, says Plutarch, that it was sufficient to hin- · der gold and silver from entering into their houses, by placing the law and the fear of punishinent as a centinel at their doors; whilst they left the hearts of their citizens open to the admiration and desire of riches, and introduced a strong passion for accumu

[x] Plut. in Lysand.

φόβον έπέςησαν φύλακα και τον νόμον αυτάς [9] 'Αποδιοπομείσθαι σαν το αργύριον δε τας ψυχάς ανεκπλήκτους και απαθείς και το χρύσιον, ώσπερ κήρας επαγωγίμες. προς αργύριον ου διετήρησαν, εμβαλόντες εις

[-] Οι δε ταϊς μεν οικίαις των πολιτών, ζήλον, ως σεμνού δή τίνος και μεγάλου, του όπως και πάρεισιν εις αυτάς νόμισμα, τον πλατείν άπαντας,

lating them, by making it to be considered as great and honourable to become rich.

But the introduction of gold and silver money was not the first woand the Lacedæmonians gave to the laws of their legislator. It was the consequence of the violation of another more fundamental law. Ainbition paved the way to avarice. The desire of conquest drew after it a desire of riches, without which they could no longer think of extending their dominion. The principal end of Lycurgus in the institution of his laws, and especially in the prohibition of gold and silver, was, as Polybius and Plutarch have judiciously observed, to bridle and restrain the ambition of the citizens, to disable them from making any conquests, and to force them in some measure to confine them. selves within the narrow precincts of their own country, without carrying their views or pretensions any farther. In short, the government he had established sufficed to defend the frontiers of Sparta, but was insufficient to give her dominion over other cities.

The design of Lycurgus was not to make conquerors. To take away all such thoughts from his citizens, though they dwelt in a country surrounded by the sea, [a] he expressly forbad them the use of navigation, the having a fleet, or fighting by sea. hibition they religiously observed for near five hundred years, till after the defeat of Xerxes. Upon that occasion they resolved to make themselves masters by sea, to keep so formidable an enemy at a distance. But soon perceiving, that these remote and maritime offices of command corrupted the manners of their generals, they readily gave them up, as we have already observed in the case of king Pausanias.

Lycurgus armed his citizens with 'bucklers and lances, only for their own defence, not to enable them to commit wrongs with the greater impunity. [6] He

And this pro

made

[a] Απείρητο δε αυτούς ναύταις είναι xui rauphaxsiy, Plu!: in Moribus Laced.

[6] ου μήν του τότε Λυκέργω κεφάλαιον ήν τότε αλείςων ηγεμένην απολιπείν την

wódove

« EelmineJätka »