|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
LYCURGUS RETURNS TO SPARTA
 WHILE Lycurgus was journeying from country to country, Sparta was
ruled more badly than before. The laws were not obeyed, and
no one punished those who disobeyed them.
The citizens who cared for the welfare of the State longed
for the return of Lycurgus and even sent messengers to bid
him come home.
"Kings, indeed, we have," they said, "who wear the marks and
assume the titles of royalty, but as for the qualities of
their minds they have nothing by which they are to be
distinguished from their subjects. You alone have a nature
made to rule and a genius to gain obedience."
Lycurgus was at length persuaded to return to Sparta, but
before he would attempt to reform the laws of his country he
went to Delphi to ask the help and advice of Apollo.
The oracle encouraged the future lawgiver, for it told him
that he was beloved of the gods, who heard his prayers, and
that his laws would make Sparta the most famous kingdom in
Then Lycurgus hesitated no more. He went back to Sparta
determined to spend his life for the good of his country.
His first act was to call together thirty of the chief men
of Sparta and tell them his plans. When they had promised
to support him he bade them assemble armed, at the
market-place at break of day, for he wished to strike terror
 the hearts of those who were ready to resist any change
in the laws of the land.
On the day appointed, the market-place was crowded with the
followers of Lycurgus and the mob who had come to see what
was going to be done.
King Charilaus hearing the tramp of armed men was so
frightened that he fled to the temple of Athene for
sanctuary, or, as we should say, for safety. He believed
that a plot had been formed against him and that his life
was in danger.
But Lycurgus soon allayed the king's fears, sending a
messenger to tell him that all he wished to do was to give
better laws to the State, so that it might grow strong and
King Charilaus was a kind and gentle prince.
His brother-king, who knew him well, said,
"Who can say he is anything but good.
He is so even to the bad."
When he had been reassured by his uncle, Charilaus left the
temple of Athene, and going to the market-place he joined
Lycurgus and his thirty followers.
Lycurgus began his reforms by limiting the power of the
kings, for he decreed that on all important matters of State
they should consult the Senate or Council of Elders.
The plans of the Senate were laid before the assembly of the
people, the members saying, "Yes" if they agreed to them,
"No" if they disagreed. Nor were they allowed to talk
together over the matter before they gave their answer.
Long after the death of the lawgiver, five new rulers,
called ephors or overseers, were chosen from the people.
At first the ephors shared their power with the kings, but
little by little they succeeded in getting more power into
their own hands. They began their duties with this strange
order to the people, "Shave your upper lip and obey the
Although the kings lost some of their power through the laws
that were made by Lycurgus, yet they kept their right as
priests to offer each month solemn sacrifices to Apollo for
the safety of the city. Before the army marched to battle
 it was usual, too, for the kings to pray to the gods to give
them victory. But there were other priests in Sparta as
well as those who belonged to the royal houses.
The supreme command of the army belonged to the kings, who
might go to war with any country as they pleased. If a
noble or one of the people tried to interfere with their
decision, he was punished. A bodyguard of a hundred always
attended the royal commanders.
But as the years passed, a new law was made declaring that
only one of the kings should go to battle at the head of the
army, and that one was forced to account to the people for
the way in which he carried on the war.
In still later times the power of the king on the
battlefield was checked by the presence of two ephors.
Sometimes a king was glad of their presence, and would even
appeal to them to make the soldiers obey the royal commands.
When a king died, no public work was done until ten days
after the funeral. Herodotus, a great Greek historian,
tells us how the news of the royal death was made known.
"Horsemen carry round the tidings of the event throughout
Laconia, and in the city women go about beating a caldron.
And at this sign, two free persons of each house, a man and
a woman, must put on mourning garb (that is sackcloth and
ashes), and if any fail to do this great pains are imposed."
Lycurgus not only made laws to lessen the power of the
kings. He tried also to alter the extravagant customs of
the people. Gold and silver money was banished from the
country, and large bars of iron were used in its place.
These bars were so heavy, and took up so much room, that is
was impossible to hoard them.
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