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LYCURGUS AND HIS LITTLE NEPHEW
 THE Dorians were a brave and sturdy race, braver, perhaps, than
any other of the Greek tribes. Apollo, the Sun-God, one of
the noblest of the Olympians, was the god they held in
A band of these Dorians came from the north and settled in
the valley of Laconia, through which flows the river
Eurotas. Here they built villages and called themselves
Before long five of these villages joined together to form a
city, which was named Sparta. Sparta became the capital or
chief city in Laconia.
At first the new city was weak, scarcely able to hold her
own against the neighbouring tribes, and much less able to
add to her dominion. She was indeed hardly able to keep
order within her own borders.
Sparta was ruled not by one king but by two, and so you
might perhaps think that she would be governed better than
any other city or state, but this was not so.
The first kings were twin brothers, for an oracle had bidden
the Spartans "to take both as kings, but to give greater
honour to the elder."
Instead of helping each other to improve their country, the
two kings often disagreed, and then spent their days in
quarrelling. The people were content that they should do
so, for while the kings quarrelled they had no time to frame
stricter laws or to punish those who disturbed the peace of
 It soon became clear that if Sparta was to grow great and
prosperous a strong man must be found to guide the kings as
well as the people. This strong man was found in Lycurgus
the famous lawgiver.
History tells little about the life of the lawgiver, but
many legends cluster around his name. It is told that
Lycurgus belonged to one of the royal houses, and that when
his elder brother died he became for a short time one of the
kings of Sparta.
The queen-mother was an ambitious woman, and she wished still to
sit on the throne as she had done while her husband was
alive. So she said to Lycurgus that she would kill her tiny
baby boy who would one day be king, if he would marry her.
But the lawgiver was angry, and rebuked the queen-mother for
wishing to do such a wicked deed.
One night as he sat at supper with the chief men of
Sparta, Lycurgus ordered his little nephew to be brought to
When the child was carried into the room he took him in his
arms and holding him up for all to see, he cried, "Men of
Sparta, here is a king born unto us." Before them all he
placed the babe on the throne, and as the child had not yet
been named, he called him Charilaus, the joy of the people.
From that time Lycurgus became the guardian of his little
nephew and the regent of the kingdom. So upright were his
ways, so honest his words, that he was reverenced by the
people as greatly as when he was king.
Meanwhile the queen-mother had not forgiven Lycurgus for thwarting
her ambition, and she determined to punish him. So she
spread a report among the people that Lycurgus meant to put
his nephew to death that he might again become king.
Before long the rumour
spread by the queen-mother reached the ears of Lycurgus, and he
at once made up his mind to leave Sparta until Charilaus was
old enough to reign. As he journeyed from place to place
Lycurgus studied the laws and manners of the different
 that when he returned to Sparta he might be
able to improve the laws of his own land.
In Ionia he is said not only to have read the works of
Homer, but to have met the poet himself. So wise were many
of the customs described in the poet's books that he set to
work to reframe those that he thought would be of most use
in his own country.
Some stories tell that Lycurgus made a copy of part of the
poet's works, for it is thought that the Greeks at this time
(about 800 or 900 B.C.) already knew how to write. It was
thus Lycurgus who made the works of Homer well known to his
But in all his travels what interested Lycurgus most was the
way the soldiers were trained in Egypt. In other countries
he had seen men who ploughed their fields or plied their
trade, leave their work to fight when war broke out, but the
Egyptian soldiers were soldiers and nothing else all the
Lycurgus determined that he would train the youths of Sparta
as strictly as the soldiers in Egypt were trained. They
should be neither ploughmen nor merchants, but the best
soldiers the world had ever seen.