Two new titles every week when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE MESSENIAN WAR
 NOT very far from Sparta, and next to Laconia, was a
country called Messenia, which was much more
fertile, and had long been occupied by a kindred race
descended from Lelex, brother of Lacedæmon.
When the Spartans found out that the Messenian fields were more fruitful than their own, they longed
to have them, and anxiously watched for some excuse to
make war against the Messenians and win their land. It
was not long before they found one.
There was a temple on the boundary of Messenia and
Laconia, where the people of both countries used to
assemble on certain days to offer up sacrifices to the
gods. The Messenian lads, seeing the beauty of the
Spartan girls, and longing to have such strong,
handsome, and intelligent wives, once carried off a few
of them into their own country, and refused to give
them up again. The Spartans, indignant at this
conduct, flew to arms, and one night, led by their
king, attacked the Messenian town of Amphea.
As no one expected them, they soon became masters of
the place, and in their anger killed all the
inhabitants. The other Messenians, hearing of this
cruel deed, quickly made ready to fight, and bravely
began the struggle which is known as the First
Although very brave, the Messenians had not been as
well trained as the Spartans, and could not drive them
back. On the contrary, they were themselves driven
from place to place, until they were forced to take
 in the fortified city of Ithome. Here they were shut
in with their king, Aristodemus, who was a proud and
Ithome was built high up on a rock, so steep that the
Spartan soldiers could not climb it, and so high that
they could not even shoot their arrows into the town.
The Messenians, hoping to keep this place of refuge,
kept a sharp lookout, and, whenever the Spartans made
any attempt to climb the rocks, they rolled great
blocks of stone down upon them.
All went well as long as the food lasted, but the time
came when the Messenians in Ithome had nothing to eat.
Some of their bravest men tried to go down into the
valley in search of provisions; but, as they were
attacked by the Spartans, they could not bring the
hungry people much to eat.
When Aristodemus saw that the people would all die of
hunger unless some way were found to get food, he
consulted an oracle, in order to find out what it was
best for him to do. The oracle answered that a battle
should be fought, and promised the victory to the king
who offered his daughter in sacrifice to the gods.
When Aristodemus heard this answer, he shuddered with
fear; for, although he knew that his ancestors had
offered up human victims on their altars, he loved his
only daughter too well to give her up.
For some time longer, therefore, he resisted every
attack, and tried to think of some other way to save
his people. At last, however, seeing that they would
all die unless something were done, he sacrificed the
child he loved so well.
 The Messenians were touched by his generosity, and by
his readiness to do all in his power to save them.
They felt sure that the gods would now give them the
victory, and rushed out of the town and into the
Spartan camp. Their attack was so sudden, and they
fought with such fury, that they soon killed three
hundred Spartans and one of their kings.
This battle did not, as they had hoped, end the war,
which went on for several years. At last Aristodemus,
despairing of victory, went to his beloved daughter's
tomb, and there killed himself.
When he was dead, the city of Ithome fell into the
hands of the Spartans. They treated the conquered
Messenians with great cruelty, made them all slaves,
and were as unkind to them as they had been to the