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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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LYCURGUS RETURNS TO SPARTA

[79] 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 the world.

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 into [80] 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 prosperous.

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 laws."

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 [81] 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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