| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
 ABOUT eighty years after the Trojan War the descendants of
Hercules with a large band of followers invaded the
Peloponnesus, or southern part of Greece, where
Agamemnon and Menelaus had once lived. They captured
Sparta and made it their capital and after that called
The Spartans made slaves of people who were already living
in the country and called them Helots or captives. The
conquerors divided the land among themselves and made the
Helots work their farms.
After about three hundred years had passed it seems that
some of the Spartans had grown rich, while others had lost
their land and slaves and become poor.
The Spartans who had lost their property were not willing to
work like the slaves, and sometimes, when they had no bread
for their children, bands of them marched through the
streets of Sparta, broke into the houses of the rich and
took whatever they could lay their hands on.
 During one of these riots, one of the two kings,—for the
Spartans always had two kings with equal power,—went out of
his palace to stop it. He tried to persuade the people to go
quietly home, but they paid no attention to him and a
butcher in the crowd rushed up and stabbed him.
The murdered king left two sons. The elder became king, but
soon died. The younger was one of the wisest and best men
that ever lived in Greece. His name was Lycurgus and
after his brother's death every one wished him to become
king. But an infant child of the late king was the rightful
heir, and Lycurgus refused to be anything more than regent.
For a while he ruled in the young king's name, but some
people accused him of wishing to make himself king. So he
gave up the regency and went traveling. He visited many
lands and studied their plans of government. After being
absent several years he came back to Sparta. There he found
that the rich were richer and the poor were poorer and more
unhappy than when he went away. Everyone turned to him as
the only man from whom help could come.
He persuaded the people to let him make new laws for Sparta.
The first change that he made was to give every Spartan a
vote. There was a Senate of
 Thirty which might propose laws, but all the citizens were
called together to pass or reject them.
Next he persuaded the rich people to divide their land
fairly among all the citizens. So now no one had more than
he needed, but every one had a farm large enough to raise
wheat or barley, olive oil and wine for his family for a
year. No Spartan was permitted to work or to engage in any
trade, but the slaves were divided, so that every Spartan
had slaves to work for him.
Besides the Spartans and the slaves there was another class
of men living on the lands of Sparta who were not slaves
like the Helots, and yet not citizens like the Spartans.
These men were farmers, traders and mechanics. They had to
pay taxes and fight when called upon, but neither they nor
the Helots had anything to say about the government. There
were about 10,000 pure Spartans and about 140,000 in the two
lower classes, so you will see that the political power in
Sparta was in the hands of a very few men. Their government
was what we call an "oligarchy," which means a government by
LYCURGUS did not wish the Spartans to become traders and grow rich,
and it is said that he ordered
 their money to be made of iron. This iron money was
worthless outside of Sparta, so the traders of other
countries would not take it in payment for their goods and
sold nothing to Spartans.
In those days soldiers fought chiefly with swords and
spears; therefore no matter how brave men were, they had to
have physical strength to win a victory. Lycurgus made laws
that the men and boys of Sparta should be trained in
running, boxing, wrestling, throwing quoits, hurling
javelins, and shooting with bows and arrows. The girls had
nearly the same training.
GREEK GIRLS PLAYING BALL
The feeble and deformed were thought by Lycurgus to be
useless. Infants were therefore examined
 and those that were weak or deformed were not allowed to
live. A strong, well-formed infant was handed back to its
parents with the order, "Bring up this child for Sparta."
Boys remained at home until they were seven years old. Then
they were taken in charge by the State to be trained. The
clothing given them was scanty. They went about with their
heads and feet bare, and slept on hard beds, or even on
floors, with rushes instead of a mattress.
To teach the boys temperance Helots were sometimes purposely
made drunk. Thus the boys saw how foolish men become when
they drink too much.
YOUNG SPARTANS LEARNING A LESSON FROM DRUNKEN HELOTS
One lesson that every Spartan boy had to learn was to endure
pain without flinching. Another was that in battle a man
might die, but must not surrender. When the young Spartan
was leaving home for the field of battle his mother would
hand him his shield and say, "Come back with this, or upon
Lycurgus was opposed to all expensive ways of living. He
thought that luxury was a waste of money and made men weak
and effeminate. He made a law that the men should not take
their meals at home but in a public dining hall; and there
only the simplest kind of food was set before them—bread,
cheese, olive oil, and a kind of black
 broth that was probably made of black beans. Figs and
grapes served for dessert. It is said that some rich people
were very angry because they had to eat at the public tables
and that one young man stoned Lycurgus.
A great change came over the Spartans after they had adopted
the new laws and ways of living. Instead of being a nation
of idlers they became so strong and brave that when there
was talk of building a wall round the city, Lycurgus said,
"Sparta's citizens are her walls."
When Lycurgus saw what improvement had been made he told the
people that he was going on a long journey. He made them
promise that they would not change his laws until he
He never returned. When the Spartans felt sure that he was
dead they built a temple in his honor and worshiped him as a
god. He left Sparta about 825 B.C. and his laws were not
changed for several hundred years. They made Sparta the
greatest military state in Greece.
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