Page images

ment. He began with the isle of Crete, which was famous for its rigid and severe laws; from thence he passed into Asia, where the opposite extreme prevailed; and lastly, he went into Egypt, the seat of the sciences, wisdom, and good counsel.

His long absence served only to make him the more desired by his citizens; and the kings themselves pressed him to return, as being sensible they stood in need of his authority to keep the people within the bounds of duty and obedience. At his return to Sparta, he took pains to change the whole form of the government, upon a persuasion that some particular laws would produce no great effect. He began with gaining over the principal men of the city, to whom he communicated his views; and being fully assured of their concurrence, he came into the public assembly, attended by a body of soldiers, to terrify and intimidate all such as should oppose his design.

The new form of government he introduced at Lacedaemon, may be reduced to three principal institutions.


The Senate.

The greatest and most considerable of all the new institutions of Lycurgus was that of the Senate, which as Plato observes, tempering the too absolute power

of the kings by an authority equal to theirs, was the principal cause of the safety of the state. For whereas before it was always tottering, sometimes inclining towards tyranny through the violence of their kings, and sometimes to a democracy through the too absolute power of the people; the senate served as a counterpoise to keep it in equilibrium, and give it a firm and certain situation ; [a] the eight and twenty senators, of which it was composed, adhering to the kings, when the people were for assuming too much power; and going over on the other hand to the side [a] This council consisted of thirty persons, including the two kings.


of the people, whenever the kings attempted to carry their authority too high.

Lycurgus having thus qualified the government, those who came after him found the power of the thirty, who composed the senate, still too strong and powerful; for which reason they gave it a curb, by opposing the authority of the [6] ephori to it above an hundred and thirty years after Lycurgus. The ephori were fivc in number, and continued but one year in office. They had a right to arrest the kings, and commit them to prison, as happened in the case of Pau. sanias. These ephori were first instituted under king Theopompus. And as his wife reproached him with leaving his children a far less authority than he had received, No, [c] says he, I shall leute them a much greater, as it will be more lasting.


The Division of the Lands, and Prohibition of Gold

and Silver Money. The second institution of Lycurgus, and the boldest of all, was the division of the lands. He judged it absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace and good order in the republic. Most of the inhabitants of the country were so poor, that they had not an inch of ground belonging to them, and all the wealth lay in the hands of a few private persons. That he might therefore banish insolence, envy, fraud, and luxury, from the government, with two other evils, still greater and of longer standing than these, I mean indigence and excessive riches; he persuaded all the citizens to give up their lands in common, and to make a new distribution of them, that they might live together in a perfect equality, without any other pre-eminence and honour than what was given to virtue and merit. [b] That is, comptrollers, inspec. [c] Μείζω μεν όν, (είπεν.) όση

χρωνεώτερον. .


[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

This was immediately done. He divided the lands of Laconia into thirty thousand parts, which he distributed amongst the people of the country; and nade nine thousand parts of the territory of Sparta, which he distributed among so many citizens. It is said, that some years after, as Lycurgus was returning from a long journey, and crossing the lands of Laconia, which had just been reaped, observing the heaps of the sheaves to be perfectly equal, he turned towards those that followed him, and said to them smiling, Is not Laconiu like the inheritance of several brethren, who have just divided it among them?

After he had thus divided their immoveable estates, he endeavoured to make them also divide their other wealth, that there might be no kind of inequality among them. But finding he should meet with more ditficulty in this, if he attempted it openly, he went another way to work, by sapping the very foundations of avarice. For, first of all he prohibited all gold and silver money, and ordered that only iron money

should be in use; and this he made so heavy, and of so little value, that a man must have a cart with two oxen to carry the sum of ten [d] mince, and a whole chamber to lock it up in.

Further, he drove all useless and superfluous arts from Sparta, which indeed, if he had not done, most of them must have dropt of themselves, and been lost with the old money; for the artificers would not have known what to have done with their work; and this iron money was not current in the other parts of Greece, where instead of setting a value upon it, they only laughed at it, and made it the subject of their raillery.


Public Meals. Lycurgus, resolving to make a still more vigorous war upon softness and luxury, and entirely to root up the love of riches, made a third institution, relating to [d] Five hundred livres.


meals. That he might banish thence all costliness and magnificence, he ordered that the citizens should all dine together upon the same victuals which were prescribed by the law; and expressly prohibited them from eating in their own private houses.

By this institution of common meals, and a frugal simplicity in diet; we may say that he changed in a manner the nature of riches, [e] by leaving nothing in them to make them desirable, or likely to be stolen, or even capable of enriching those who possessed them; for there was no longer any opportunity of using or enjoying their wealth, nor even of making a shew of it, since the poor and rich were to eat together in the same place; and no one was allowed to come into the common halls, after having satisfied his hunger with cther food; for whoever refused to eat and drink, was carefully marked out, and reproached with his intemperance or too great delicacy, which induced him to despise these public meals.

The rich were extremely incensed at this institution, and it was on this occasion, in a popular insurrection, that a young man named Alcander, struck out one of Lycurgus's eyes with a cudgel. The people enraged at such a violence, gave up the young man, into Lycurgus's hand, who well knew how to be revenged of him, for he treated him with so nzuch mild, ness and good-nature, that from being very hot and passionate, he soon brought him to be very calm and discreet.

The tables contained each about fifteen persons, and before any one could be admitted, he must be agreeable to the rest of the company. Every one sent in monthly a bushel of meal, eight measures of wine, five pounds of cheese, two pounds and a half of figs, and some small matter of their money for the dressing and seasoning of the provisions. Everyone was obliged to be present at the public meal, and king Agis a long while after, returning from a glorious ex[c] Τον πλούτον, άσυλον, μάλλον δε άζηλον, και άπλετον άπειργάσατο. Ρlut.


ways left off.

pedition, and dispensing with himself from doing so, that he might dine with the queen his wife, was reprimanded and punished. Children were allowed also to be present at these meals, and were brought thither as to a school of wisdom and temperance. There they heard grave discourses upon government, and saw nothing but what was instructive. The conversation was often enlivened by refined wit and raillery, but such as was never low or shocking; and as soon as any one was perceived to grow uneasy at it, they al

Here also they learned to keep a secret; and when a young man entered the hall, the eldest would say to him, pointing to the door, Nothing of what is said here, goes out there.

The most elegant part of their food was what they called the black broth, and the old men preferred it to whatever else was served up at table. [f] Dionysius the tyrant, being invited to one of these entertain. ments, seemed to think quite otherwise of it, and thought it a very insipid ragout. I do not wonder at that, says the person who made it, for there wanted the seasoning. What seasoning ? replies the tyrant. The chace, sweat, fatigue, hunger, and thirst. For with these, adds the cook, we season our provisions.

IV. OTHER INSTITUTIONS. Lycurgus looked upon the education of children as the most important concern of a legislator. It was his great principle that they belonged more properly to the state than their parents ; and for this reason he would not suffer them to be brought up as they pleased, but obliged the public to take care of their education, that they might be formed upon constant and uniform principles, and early inspired with the love of virtue and their country.

[f] Ubi cùm tyrannus cenavis- dèm, inquit ille? Labor in venati, set, Dionysius, negavit se jure illo sudor, cursus ab Eurota, fames, nigro, quod cena-caput erat, de- sitis. His enim rebus Lacedæmolectatum. Tum is, qui illa coxe- niorum epulæ condiuntur. Tuscul. rat, minimè mirum, inquit; con- Quæst. 5, n. 98, climesta enim defuerunt. Quæ tan.

« EelmineJätka »