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 WHEN Lycurgus made a law compelling soldiers to eat their meals
in the barracks, some of the wealthier citizens were
They did not wish to sit at table with their fellow-soldiers
in batches of fifteen; they would rather have gone to their
homes and taken their meals with their families.
Nor did they enjoy the plain fare on which Lycurgus
insisted, a share of which each citizen was forced to send
to the mess table month by month.
The most usual food in Laconia was black broth, which was
not a palatable soup. When someone ventured to grumble at
the broth, the cook answered, "It is nothing without the
seasoning of fatigue and hunger." This black broth, with
barley meal, cheese, and figs, was the Spartan's daily fare.
Meat was a luxury which they enjoyed only on special
So great was the indignation against Lycurgus that a crowd
assembled in the market-place to complain of his laws, and
to speak harshly of his conduct.
When they saw the great lawgiver coming toward the
market-place they were so angry that they picked up stones
to throw at him, and he was forced to fly for his life.
His enemies followed him, but he outstripped them all save
Alexander. As he turned to see who pursued him so closely,
Alexander struck his face with a stick and put out one of
As others hastened up, Lycurgus showed them what
had done, and they, ashamed of his violence, told the
lawgiver to take the rash youth and punish him as he would.
They then went with him to his house, to show that they were
sorry for what had happened.
When they reached the door Lycurgus sent them all away save
his prisoner. Then going into his dining-room, he dismissed
his attendants and bade Alexander wait upon him. During the
meal he uttered no word of reproach, although the boy had
done him so great an injury.
Alexander lived with Lycurgus until he learned not only to
admire but to imitate the industry and the gentleness of his
host. And so Lycurgus had the pleasure of seeing a rash and
wilful lad become a grave and sensible citizen.
Each Spartan had a portion or "lot" of land given to him, on
the produce of which he and his family had to live. But
citizen soldiers had no time to dig the ground, to sow, to
reap, for all the days were spent in drill and military
exercises. So their land was cultivated for them by the
Helots, who had owned Laconia before the Spartans conquered
them and took possession of their land.
The Helots were treated very much as slaves, although they
had no taskmasters to drive them to their work. They were
even allowed to own property. But they had many hardships
to endure, and were always ready to rebel against their
One of their greatest hardships was that their lives were
never safe. For while the Spartans were being trained, they
were often sent into the country with orders to kill any
Helot who was suspected of wishing to rebel.
In time of war the Helots fought as light-armed troops. If
they showed themselves brave and loyal in the service of the
State, they were sometimes rewarded by being made free.
Once during the great Peloponnesian War between Sparta and
Athens, of which you will read in this story, the Spartans
believed that the Helots had plotted to rise against them.
They determined that the rising should never take place,
to prevent it they did a cruel deed. For they chose two
thousand of the bravest Helots, set them free, and gave them
a great feast to celebrate the event. Then when the feast
was over and the Helots had gone away to their homes,
suspecting nothing, the Spartans ordered each of the two
thousand freed men to be put to death. When the bravest
were killed the others were not likely to rebel.
The Spartan army became strong as Lycurgus had foreseen it
would, if it were trained according to his strict methods.
It conquered Peloponnesus, and for a time Sparta was the
chief city in that land.
But there was one strange thing about these soldiers. Well
as they had been trained, they could never learn how to
attack or to take a town that was fortified.
"Wall-fighting," as the Greeks called it, was beyond their
power. Even an ordinary wall or fence would stop them in
their victorious course. At sea too they were not nearly so
successful as on land.
Sparta itself was not, like other Greek cities, surrounded
by a wall. For when the citizens once sent to ask Lycurgus
if it were necessary to enclose their city with a wall, his
answer was, "The city is well fortified which hath a wall of
men instead of brick."
When, after many years, Lycurgus had finished his code of
laws, he called the people together and told them that he
was going to Delphi to consult the oracle on an important
matter which concerned the State.
Before he set out he begged them, and also the two kings and
the Senate, to take an oath to keep his laws unaltered until
his return. This they gladly promised to do.
Then Lycurgus journeyed to Delphi, and after offering
sacrifices to Apollo, he asked the god if the laws he had
made for his country were good laws.
The oracle answered that the laws were good, and that as
long as the people kept them their fame would endure.
Lycurgus sent this answer in writing to Sparta. Then,
the Spartans might not be set free from their oath he
determined never to go back to the city. Yet it seemed that
he could not live away from her, and so, for the welfare of
the State, as he believed, the lawgiver starved himself to
The Spartans kept the oath that they had taken, and when
they died their sons and their sons' sons observed it. For
five hundred years, during the reigns of fourteen kings, the
laws of Lycurgus were unaltered and strictly followed.
After his death Lycurgus was worshipped as a god, and a
temple was built for him in Sparta, where sacrifices were
offered to him every year.