Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsAthens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 6
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 6 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Nonfictions Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1207

Click below to download : Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 6 (Format : PDF)

Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 6


Return of the Heraclidae.--The Spartan Constitution and Habits.--The first and second Messenian War.

I. We have already seen, that while the Dorians remained in Thessaly, the Achaeans possessed the greater part of the Peloponnesus. But, under the title of the Return of the Heraclidae (or the descendants of Hercules), an important and lasting revolution established the Dorians in the kingdoms of Agamemnon and Menelaus. The true nature of this revolution has only been rendered more obscure by modern ingenuity, which has abandoned the popular accounts for suppositions still more improbable and romantic. The popular accounts run thus:--Persecuted by Eurystheus, king of Argos, the sons of Hercules, with their friends and followers, are compelled to take refuge in Attica. Assisted by the Athenians, they defeat and slay Eurystheus, and regain the Peloponnesus. A pestilence, regarded as an ominous messenger from offended heaven, drives them again into Attica. An oracle declares that they shall succeed after the third fruit by the narrow passage at sea. Wrongly interpreting the oracle, in the third year they make for the Corinthian Isthmus. At the entrance of the Peloponnesus they are met by the assembled arms of the Achaeans, Ionians, and Arcadians. Hyllus, the eldest son of Hercules, proposes the issue of a single combat. Echemus, king of Tegea, is selected by the Peloponnesians. He meets and slays Hyllus, and the Heraclidae engage not to renew the invasion for one hundred years. Nevertheless, Cleodaeus, the son, and Aristomachus, the grandson, of Hyllus, successively attempt to renew the enterprise, and in vain. The three sons of Aristomachus (Aristodemus, Temenus, and Cresphontes), receive from Apollo himself the rightful interpretation of the oracle. It was by the Straits of Rhium, across a channel which rendered the distance between the opposing shores only five stadia, that they were ordained to pass; and by the Return of the third fruit, the third generation was denoted. The time had now arrived:--with the assistance of the Dorians, the Aetolians, and the Locrians, the descendants of Hercules crossed the strait, and established their settlement in Peloponnesus (B. C. 1048).

II. Whether in the previous expeditions the Dorians had assisted the Heraclidae, is a matter of dispute--it is not a matter of importance. Whether these Heraclidae were really descendants of the Achaean prince, and the rightful heritors of a Peloponnesian throne, is a point equally contested and equally frivolous. It is probable enough that the bold and warlike tribe of Thessaly might have been easily allured, by the pretext of reinstating the true royal line, into an enterprise which might plant them in safer and more wide domains, and that while the prince got the throne, the confederates obtained the country (125). All of consequence to establish is, that the Dorians shared in the expedition, which was successful--that by time and valour they obtained nearly the whole of the Peloponnesus--that they transplanted the Doric character and institutions to their new possessions, and that the Return of the Heraclidae is, in fact, the popular name for the conquest of the Dorians. Whatever distinction existed between the Achaean Heraclidae and the Doric race, had probably been much effaced during the long absence of the former among foreign tribes, and after their establishment in the Peloponnesus it soon became entirely lost. But still the legend that assigned the blood of Hercules to the royalty of Sparta received early and implicit credence, and Cleomenes, king of that state, some centuries afterward, declared himself not Doric, but Achaean.

Of the time employed in consummating the conquest of the invaders we are unable to determine--but, by degrees, Sparta, Argos, Corinth, and Messene, became possessed by the Dorians; the Aetolian confederates obtained Elis. Some of the Achaeans expelled the Ionians from the territory they held in the Peloponnesus, and gave to it the name it afterward retained, of Achaia. The expelled Ionians took refuge with the Athenians, their kindred race.

The fated house of Pelops swept away by this irruption, Sparta fell to the lot of Procles and Eurysthenes (126), sons of Aristodemus, fifth in descent from Hercules; between these princes the royal power was divided, so that the constitution always acknowledged two kings--one from each of the Heracleid families. The elder house was called the Agids, or descendants of Agis, son of Eurysthenes; the latter, the Eurypontids, from Eurypon, descendant of Procles. Although Sparta, under the new dynasty, appears to have soon arrogated the pre-eminence over the other states of the Peloponnesus, it was long before she achieved the conquest even of the cities in her immediate neighbourhood. The Achaeans retained the possession of Amyclae, built upon a steep rock, and less than three miles from Sparta, for more than two centuries and a half after the first invasion of the Dorians. And here the Achaeans guarded the venerable tombs of Cassandra and Agamemnon.

III. The consequences of the Dorian invasion, if slowly developed, were great and lasting. That revolution not only changed the character of the Peloponnesus--it not only called into existence the iron race of Sparta--but the migrations which it caused made the origin of the Grecian colonies in Asia Minor. It developed also those seeds of latent republicanism which belonged to the Dorian aristocracies, and which finally supplanted the monarchical government--through nearly the whole of civilized Greece. The revolution once peacefully consummated, migrations no longer disturbed to any extent the continent of Greece, and the various tribes became settled in their historic homes.

IV. The history of Sparta, till the time of Lycurgus, is that of a state maintaining itself with difficulty amid surrounding and hostile neighbours; the power of the chiefs diminished the authority of the kings; and while all without was danger, all within was turbulence. Still the very evils to which the Spartans were subjected--their paucity of numbers--their dissensions with their neighbours--their pent up and encompassed situation in their mountainous confines--even the preponderating power of the warlike chiefs, among whom the unequal divisions of property produced constant feuds--served to keep alive the elements of the great Doric character; and left it the task of the first legislative genius rather to restore and to harmonize, than to invent and create.

As I am writing the history, not of Greece, but of Athens, I do not consider it necessary that I should detail the legendary life of Lycurgus. Modern writers have doubted his existence, but without sufficient reason:--such assaults on our belief are but the amusements of skepticism. All the popular accounts of Lycurgus agree in this-- that he was the uncle of the king (Charilaus, an infant), and held the rank of protector--that unable successfully to confront a powerful faction raised against him, he left Sparta and travelled into Crete, where all the ancient Doric laws and manners were yet preserved, vigorous and unadulterated. There studying the institutions of Minos, he beheld the model for those of Sparta. Thence he is said to have passed into Asia Minor, and to have been the first who collected and transported to Greece the poems of Homer (127), hitherto only partially known in that country. According to some writers, he travelled also into Egypt; and could we credit one authority, which does not satisfy even the credulous Plutarch, he penetrated into Spain and Libya, and held converse with the Gymnosophists of India.

Returned to Sparta, after many solicitations, he found the state in disorder: no definite constitution appears to have existed; no laws were written. The division of the regal authority between two kings must have produced jealousy--and jealousy, faction. And the power so divided weakened the monarchic energy without adding to the liberties of the people. A turbulent nobility--rude, haughty mountain chiefs-- made the only part of the community that could benefit by the weakness of the crown, and feuds among themselves prevented their power from becoming the regular and organized authority of a government (128). Such disorders induced prince and people to desire a reform; the interference of Lycurgus was solicited; his rank and his travels gave him importance; and he had the wisdom to increase it by obtaining from Delphi (the object of the implicit reverence of the Dorians) an oracle in his favour.

Thus called upon and thus encouraged, Lycurgus commenced his task. I enter not into the discussion whether he framed an entirely new constitution, or whether he restored the spirit of one common to his race and not unfamiliar to Sparta. Common sense seems to me sufficient to assure us of the latter. Let those who please believe that one man, without the intervention of arms--not as a conqueror, but a friend--could succeed in establishing a constitution, resting not upon laws, but manners--not upon force, but usage--utterly hostile to all the tastes, desires, and affections of human nature: moulding every the minutest detail of social life into one system--that system offering no temptation to sense, to ambition, to the desire of pleasure, or the love of gain, or the propensity to ease--but painful, hard, steril, and unjoyous;--let those who please believe that a system so created could at once be received, be popularly embraced, and last uninterrupted, unbroken, and without exciting even the desire of change for four hundred years, without having had any previous foundation in the habits of a people--without being previously rooted by time, custom, superstition, and character into their breasts. For my part, I know that all history furnishes no other such example; and I believe that no man was ever so miraculously endowed with the power to conquer nature. (129)

But we have not the smallest reason, the slightest excuse, for so pliant a credulity. We look to Crete, in which, previous to Lycurgus, the Dorians had established their laws and customs, and we see at once the resemblance to the leading features of the institutions of Lycurgus; we come with Aristotle to the natural conclusion, that what was familiar to the Dorian Crete was not unknown to the Dorian Sparta, and that Lycurgus did not innovate, but restore and develop, the laws and the manners which, under domestic dissensions, might have undergone a temporary and superficial change, but which were deeply implanted in the national character and the Doric habits. That the regulations of Lycurgus were not regarded as peculiar to Sparta, but as the most perfect development of the Dorian constitution, we learn from Pindar (130), when he tells us that "the descendants of Pamphylus and of the Heraclidae wish always to retain the Doric institutions of Aegimius." Thus regarded, the legislation of Lycurgus loses its miraculous and improbable character, while we still acknowledge Lycurgus himself as a great and profound statesman, adopting the only theory by which reform can be permanently wrought, and suiting the spirit of his laws to the spirit of the people they were to govern. When we know that his laws were not written, that he preferred engraving them only on the hearts of his countrymen, we know at once that he must have legislated in strict conformity to their early prepossessions and favourite notions. That the laws were unwritten would alone be a proof how little he introduced of what was alien and unknown.

V. I proceed to give a brief, but I trust a sufficient outline, of the Spartan constitution, social and political, without entering into prolix and frivolous discussions as to what was effected or restored by Lycurgus--what by a later policy.

There was at Sparta a public assembly of the people (called alia), as common to other Doric states, which usually met every full moon--upon great occasions more often. The decision of peace and war--the final ratification of all treaties with foreign powers--the appointment to the office of counsellor, and other important dignities--the imposition of new laws--a disputed succession to the throne,--were among those matters which required the assent of the people. Thus there was the show and semblance of a democracy, but we shall find that the intention and origin of the constitution were far from democratic. "If the people should opine perversely, the elders and the princes shall dissent." Such was an addition to the Rhetra of Lycurgus. The popular assembly ratified laws, but it could propose none--it could not even alter or amend the decrees that were laid before it. It appears that only the princes, the magistrates, and foreign ambassadors had the privilege to address it.

The main business of the state was prepared by the Gerusia, or council of elders, a senate consisting of thirty members, inclusive of the two kings, who had each but a simple vote in the assembly. This council was in its outline like the assemblies common to every Dorian state. Each senator was required to have reached the age of sixty; he was chosen by the popular assembly, not by vote, but by acclamation. The mode of election was curious. The candidates presented themselves successively before the assembly, while certain judges were enclosed in an adjacent room where they could hear the clamour of the people without seeing the person, of the candidate. On him whom they adjudged to have been most applauded the election fell. A mode of election open to every species of fraud, and justly condemned by Aristotle as frivolous and puerile (131). Once elected, the senator retained his dignity for life: he was even removed from all responsibility to the people. That Mueller should consider this an admirable institution, "a splendid monument of early Grecian customs," seems to me not a little extraordinary. I can conceive no elective council less practically good than one to which election is for life, and in which power is irresponsible. That the institution was felt to be faulty is apparent, not because it was abolished, but because its more important functions became gradually invaded and superseded by a third legislative power, of which I shall speak presently.

The original duties of the Gerusia were to prepare the decrees and business to be submitted to the people; they had the power of inflicting death or degradation without written laws, they interpreted custom, and were intended to preserve and transmit it. The power of the kings may be divided into two heads--power at home--power abroad: power as a prince--power as a general. In the first it was limited and inconsiderable. Although the kings presided over a separate tribunal, the cases brought before their court related only to repairs of roads, to the superintendence of the intercourse with other states, and to questions of inheritance and adoption.

When present at the council they officiated as presidents, but without any power of dictation; and, if absent, their place seems easily to have been supplied. They united the priestly with the regal character; and to the descendants of a demigod a certain sanctity was attached, visible in the ceremonies both at demise and at the accession to the throne, which appeared to Herodotus to savour rather of Oriental than Hellenic origin. But the respect which the Spartan monarch received neither endowed him with luxury nor exempted him from control. He was undistinguished by his garb--his mode of life, from the rest of the citizens. He was subjected to other authorities, could be reprimanded, fined, suspended, exiled, put to death. If he went as ambassador to foreign states, spies were not unfrequently sent with him, and colleagues the most avowedly hostile to his person associated in the mission. Thus curbed and thus confined was his authority at home, and his prerogative as a king. But by law he was the leader of the Spartan armies. He assumed the command--he crossed the boundaries, and the limited magistrate became at once an imperial despot! (132) No man could question--no law circumscribed his power. He raised armies, collected money in foreign states, and condemned to death without even the formality of a trial. Nothing, in short, curbed his authority, save his responsibility on return. He might be a tyrant as a general; but he was to account for the tyranny when he relapsed into a king. But this distinction was one of the wisest parts of the Spartan system; for war requires in a leader all the license of a despot; and triumph, decision, and energy can only be secured by the unfettered exercise of a single will. Nor did early Rome owe the extent of her conquests to any cause more effective than the unlicensed discretion reposed by the senate in the general. (133)

VI. We have now to examine the most active and efficient part of the government, viz., the Institution of the Ephors. Like the other components of the Spartan constitution, the name and the office of ephor were familiar to other states in the great Dorian family; but in Sparta the institution soon assumed peculiar features, or rather, while the inherent principles of the monarchy and the gerusia remained stationary, those of the ephors became expanded and developed. It is clear that the later authority of the ephors was never designed by Lycurgus or the earlier legislators. It is entirely at variance with the confined aristocracy which was the aim of the Spartan, and of nearly every genuine Doric (134) constitution. It made a democracy as it were by stealth. This powerful body consisted of five persons, chosen annually by the people. In fact, they may be called the representatives of the popular will--the committee, as it were, of the popular council. Their original power seems to have been imperfectly designed; it soon became extensive and encroaching. At first the ephoralty was a tribunal for civil, as the gerusia was for criminal, causes; it exercised a jurisdiction over the Helots and Perioeci, over the public market, and the public revenue. But its character consisted in this:--it was strictly a popular body, chosen by the people for the maintenance of their interests. Agreeably to this character, it soon appears arrogating the privilege of instituting an inquiry into the conduct of all officials except the counsellors. Every eighth year, selecting a dark night when the moon withheld her light, the ephors watched the aspect of the heavens, and if any shooting star were visible in the expanse, the kings were adjudged to have offended the Deity and were suspended from their office until acquitted of their guilt by the oracle of Delphi or the priests at Olympia. Nor was this prerogative of adjudging the descendants of Hercules confined to a superstitious practice: they summoned the king before them, no less than the meanest of the magistrates, to account for imputed crimes. In a court composed of the counsellors (or gerusia), and various other magistrates, they appeared at once as accusers and judges; and, dispensing with appeal to a popular assembly, subjected even royalty to a trial of life and death. Before the Persian war they sat in judgment on the King Cleomenes for an accusation of bribery;--just after the Persian war, they resolved upon the execution of the Regent Pausanias. In lesser offences they acted without the formality of this council, and fined or reprimanded their kings for the affability of their manners, or the size (135) of their wives. Over education--over social habits-over the regulations relative to ambassadors and strangers--over even the marshalling of armies and the number of troops, they extended their inquisitorial jurisdiction. They became, in fact, the actual government of the state.

It is easy to perceive that it was in the nature of things that the institution of the ephors should thus encroach until it became the prevalent power. Its influence was the result of the vicious constitution of the gerusia, or council. Had that assembly been properly constituted, there would have been no occasion for the ephors. The gerusia was evidently meant, by the policy of Lycurgus, and by its popular mode of election, for the only representative assembly. But the absurdity of election for life, with irresponsible powers, was sufficient to limit its acceptation among the people. Of two assemblies--the ephors and the gerusia--we see the one elected annually, the other for life--the one responsible to the people, the other not--the one composed of men, busy, stirring, ambitious, in the vigour of life--the other of veterans, past the ordinary stimulus of exertion, and regarding the dignity of office rather as the reward of a life than the opening to ambition. Of two such assemblies it is easy to foretell which would lose, and which would augment, authority. It is also easy to see, that as the ephors increased in importance, they, and not the gerusia, would become the check to the kingly authority. To whom was the king accountable? To the people:--the ephors were the people's representatives! This part of the Spartan constitution has not, I think, been sufficiently considered in what seems to me its true light; namely, that of a representative government. The ephoralty was the focus of the popular power. Like an American Congress or an English House of Commons, it prevented the action of the people by acting in behalf of the people. To representatives annually chosen, the multitude cheerfully left the management of their interests (136). Thus it was true that the ephors prevented the encroachments of the popular assembly;--but how? by encroaching themselves, and in the name of the people! When we are told that Sparta was free from those democratic innovations constant in Ionian states, we are not told truly. The Spartan populace was constantly innovating, not openly, as in the noisy Agora of Athens, but silently and ceaselessly, through their delegated ephors. And these dread and tyrant FIVE--an oligarchy constructed upon principles the most liberal--went on increasing their authority, as civilization, itself increasing, rendered the public business more extensive and multifarious, until they at length became the agents of that fate which makes the principle of change at once the vital and the consuming element of states. The ephors gradually destroyed the constitution of Sparta; but, without the ephors, it may be reasonably doubted whether the constitution would have survived half as long. Aristotle (whose mighty intellect is never more luminously displayed than when adjudging the practical workings of various forms of government) paints the evils of the ephoral magistrature, but acknowledges that it gave strength and durability to the state. "For," (137) he says, "the people were contented on account of their ephors, who were chosen from the whole body." He might have added, that men so chosen, rarely too selected from the chiefs, but often from the lower ranks, were the ablest and most active of the community, and that the fewness of their numbers gave energy and unity to their councils. Had the other part of the Spartan constitution (absurdly panegyrized) been so formed as to harmonize with, even in checking, the power of the ephors; and, above all, had it not been for the lamentable errors of a social system, which, by seeking to exclude the desire of gain, created a terrible reaction, and made the Spartan magistrature the most venal and corrupt in Greece--the ephors might have sufficed to develop all the best principles of government. For they went nearly to recognise the soundest philosophy of the representative system, being the smallest number of representatives chosen, without restriction, from the greatest number of electors, for short periods, and under strong responsibilities. (138)

I pass now to the social system of the Spartans.

VII. If we consider the situation of the Spartans at the time of Lycurgus, and during a long subsequent period, we see at once that to enable them to live at all, they must be accustomed to the life of a camp;--they were a little colony of soldiers, supporting themselves, hand and foot, in a hostile country, over a population that detested them. In such a situation certain qualities were not praiseworthy alone--they were necessary. To be always prepared for a foe--to be constitutionally averse to indolence--to be brave, temperate, and hardy, were the only means by which to escape the sword of the Messenian and to master the hatred of the Helot. Sentinels they were, and they required the virtues of sentinels: fortunately, these necessary qualities were inherent in the bold mountain tribes that had long roved among the crags of Thessaly, and wrestled for life with the martial Lapithae. But it now remained to mould these qualities into a system, and to educate each individual in the habits which could best preserve the community. Accordingly the child was reared, from the earliest age, to a life of hardship, discipline, and privation; he was starved into abstinence;--he was beaten into fortitude;--he was punished without offence, that he might be trained to bear without a groan;--the older he grew, till he reached manhood, the severer the discipline he underwent. The intellectual education was little attended to: for what had sentinels to do with the sciences or the arts? But the youth was taught acuteness, promptness, and discernment--for such are qualities essential to the soldier. He was stimulated to condense his thoughts, and to be ready in reply; to say little, and to the point. An aphorism bounded his philosophy. Such an education produced its results in an athletic frame, in simple and hardy habits--in indomitable patience--in quick sagacity. But there were other qualities necessary to the position of the Spartan, and those scarce so praiseworthy--viz., craft and simulation. He was one of a scanty, if a valiant, race. No single citizen could be spared the state: it was often better to dupe than to fight an enemy. Accordingly, the boy was trained to cunning as to courage. He was driven by hunger, or the orders of the leader over him, to obtain his food, in house or in field, by stealth;--if undiscovered, he was applauded; if detected, punished. Two main-springs of action were constructed within him--the dread of shame and the love of country. These were motives, it is true, common to all the Grecian states, but they seem to have been especially powerful in Sparta. But the last produced its abuse in one of the worst vices of the national character. The absorbing love for his native Sparta rendered the citizen singularly selfish towards other states, even kindred to that which he belonged to. Fearless as a Spartan,--when Sparta was unmenaced he was lukewarm as a Greek. And this exaggerated yet sectarian patriotism, almost peculiar to Sparta, was centred, not only in the safety and greatness of the state, but in the inalienable preservation of its institutions;--a feeling carefully sustained by a policy exceedingly jealous of strangers (139). Spartans were not permitted to travel. Foreigners were but rarely permitted a residence within the city: and the Spartan dislike to Athens arose rather from fear of the contamination of her principles than from envy at the lustre of her fame. When we find (as our history proceeds) the Spartans dismissing their Athenian ally from the siege of Ithome, we recognise their jealousy of the innovating character of their brilliant neighbour;--they feared the infection of the democracy of the Agora. This attachment to one exclusive system of government characterized all the foreign policy of Sparta, and crippled the national sense by the narrowest bigotry and the obtusest prejudice. Wherever she conquered, she enforced her own constitution, no matter how inimical to the habits of the people, never dreaming that what was good for Sparta might be bad for any other state. Thus, when she imposed the Thirty Tyrants on Athens, she sought, in fact, to establish her own gerusia; and, no doubt, she imagined it would become, not a curse, but a blessing to a people accustomed to the wildest freedom of a popular assembly. Though herself, through the tyranny of the ephors, the unconscious puppet of the democratic action, she recoiled from all other and more open forms of democracy as from a pestilence. The simple habits of the Spartan life assisted to confirm the Spartan prejudices. A dinner, a fine house, these sturdy Dorians regarded as a pitiable sign of folly. They had no respect for any other cultivation of the mind than that which produced bold men and short sentences. Them, nor the science of Aristotle, nor the dreams of Plato were fitted to delight. Music and dancing were indeed cultivated among them, and with success and skill; but the music and the dance were always of one kind--it was a crime to vary an air (140) or invent a measure. A martial, haughty, and superstitious tribe can scarcely fail to be attached to poetry,--war is ever the inspiration of song,--and the eve of battle to a Spartan was the season of sacrifice to the Muses. The poetical temperament seems to have been common among this singular people. But the dread of innovation, when carried to excess, has even worse effect upon literary genius than legislative science; and though Sparta produced a few poets gifted, doubtless, with the skill to charm the audience they addressed, not a single one of the number has bequeathed to us any other memorial than his name. Greece, which preserved, as in a common treasury, whatever was approved by her unerring taste, her wonderful appreciation of the beautiful, regarded the Spartan poetry with an indifference which convinces us of its want of value. Thebes, and not Sparta, has transmitted to us the Dorian spirit in its noblest shape: and in Pindar we find how lofty the verse that was inspired by its pride, its daring, and its sublime reverence for glory and the gods. As for commerce, manufactures, agriculture,--the manual arts--such peaceful occupations were beneath the dignity of a Spartan--they were strictly prohibited by law as by pride, and were left to the Perioeci or the Helots.

VIII. It was evidently necessary to this little colony to be united. Nothing unites men more than living together in common. The syssitia, or public tables, an institution which was common in Crete, in Corinth (141), and in Megara, effected this object in a mode agreeable to the Dorian manners. The society at each table was composed of men belonging to the same tribe or clan. New members could only be elected by consent of the rest. Each head of a family in Sparta paid for his own admission and that of the other members of his house. Men only belonged to them. The youths and boys had their own separate table. The young children, however, sat with their parents on low stools, and received a half share. Women were excluded. Despite the celebrated black broth, the table seems to have been sufficiently, if not elegantly, furnished. And the second course, consisting of voluntary gifts, which was supplied by the poorer members from the produce of the chase--by the wealthier from their flocks, orchards, poultry, etc., furnished what by Spartans were considered dainties. Conversation was familiar, and even jocose, and relieved by songs. Thus the public tables (which even the kings were ordinarily obliged to attend) were rendered agreeable and inviting by the attractions of intimate friendship and unrestrained intercourse.

IX. The obscurest question relative to the Spartan system is that connected with property. It was evidently the intention of Lycurgus or the earlier legislators to render all the divisions of land and wealth as equal as possible. But no law can effect what society forbids. The equality of one generation cannot be transmitted to another. It may be easy to prevent a great accumulation of wealth, but what can prevent poverty? While the acquisition of lands by purchase was forbidden, no check was imposed on its acquisition by gift or testament; and in the time of Aristotle land had become the monopoly of the few. Sparta, like other states, had consequently her inequalities--her comparative rich and her positive poor--from an early period in her known history. As land descended to women, so marriages alone established great disparities of property. "Were the whole territory," says Aristotle, "divided into five portions, two would belong to the women." The regulation by which the man who could not pay his quota to the syssitia was excluded from the public tables, proves that it was not an uncommon occurrence to be so excluded; and indeed that exclusion grew at last so common, that the public tables became an aristocratic instead of a democratic institution. Aristotle, in later times, makes it an objection to the ephoral government that poor men were chosen ephors, and that their venality arose from their indigence--a moral proof that poverty in Sparta must have been more common than has generally been supposed (142);--men of property would not have chosen their judges and dictators in paupers. Land was held and cultivated by the Helots, who paid a certain fixed proportion of the produce to their masters. It is said that Lycurgus forbade the use of gold and silver, and ordained an iron coinage; but gold and silver were at that time unknown as coins in Sparta, and iron was a common medium of exchange throughout Greece. The interdiction of the precious metals was therefore of later origin. It seems to have only related to private Spartans. For those who, not being Spartans of the city--that is to say, for the Laconians or Perioeci-- engaged in commerce, the interdiction could not have existed. A more pernicious regulation it is impossible to conceive. While it effectually served to cramp the effects of emulation--to stint the arts--to limit industry and enterprise--it produced the direct object it was intended to prevent;--it infected the whole state with the desire of gold--it forbade wealth to be spent, in order that wealth might be hoarded; every man seems to have desired gold precisely because he could make very little use of it! From the king to the Helot (143), the spirit of covetousness spread like a disease. No state in Greece was so open to bribery--no magistracy so corrupt as the ephors. Sparta became a nation of misers precisely because it could not become a nation of spendthrifts. Such are the results which man produces when his legislation deposes nature!

X. In their domestic life the Spartans, like the rest of the Greeks, had but little pleasure in the society of their wives. At first the young husband only visited his bride by stealth--to be seen in company with her was a disgrace. But the women enjoyed a much greater freedom and received a higher respect in Sparta than elsewhere; the soft Asiatic distinctions in dignity between the respective sexes did not reach the hardy mountaineers of Lacedaemon; the wife was the mother of men! Brought up in robust habits, accustomed to athletic exercises, her person exposed in public processions and dances, which, but for the custom that made decorous even indecency itself, would have been indeed licentious, the Spartan maiden, strong, hardy, and half a partaker in the ceremonies of public life, shared the habits, aided the emulation, imbibed the patriotism, of her future consort. And, by her sympathy with his habits and pursuits, she obtained an influence and ascendency over him which was unknown in the rest of Greece. Dignified on public occasions, the Spartan matron was deemed, however, a virago in private life; and she who had no sorrow for a slaughtered son, had very little deference for a living husband. Her obedience to her spouse appears to have been the most cheerfully rendered upon those delicate emergencies when the service of the state required her submission to the embraces of another! (144)

XI. We now come to the most melancholy and gloomy part of the Spartan system--the condition of the Helots.

The whole fabric of the Spartan character rested upon slavery. If it were beneath a Spartan to labour--to maintain himself--to cultivate land--to build a house--to exercise an art;--to do aught else than to fight an enemy--to choose an ephor--to pass from the chase or the palaestra to the public tables--to live a hero in war--an aristocrat in peace,--it was clearly a supreme necessity to his very existence as a citizen, and even as a human being, that there should be a subordinate class of persons employed in the occupations rejected by himself, and engaged in providing for the wants of this privileged citizen. Without Helots the Spartan was the most helpless of human beings. Slavery taken from the Spartan state, the state would fall at once! It is no wonder, therefore, that this institution should have been guarded with an extraordinary jealousy--nor that extraordinary jealousy should have produced extraordinary harshness. It is exactly in proportion to the fear of losing power that men are generally tyrannical in the exercise of it. Nor is it from cruelty of disposition, but from the anxious curse of living among men whom social circumstances make his enemies because his slaves, that a despot usually grows ferocious, and that the urgings of suspicion create the reign of terror. Besides the political necessity of a strict and unrelaxed slavery, a Spartan would also be callous to the sufferings, from his contempt for the degradation, of the slave; as he despised the employments abandoned to the Helot, even so would he despise the wretch that exercised them. Thus the motives that render power most intolerant combined in the Spartan in his relations to the Helot--viz., 1st, necessity for his services, lost perhaps if the curb were ever relaxed--2dly, consummate contempt for the individual he debased. The habit of tyranny makes tyranny necessary. When the slave has been long maddened by your yoke, if you lighten it for a moment he rebels. He has become your deadliest foe, and self-preservation renders it necessary that him whom you provoke to vengeance you should crush to impotence. The longer, therefore, the Spartan government endured, the more cruel became the condition of the Helots. Not in Sparta were those fine distinctions of rank which exist where slavery is unknown, binding class with class by ties of mutual sympathy and dependance--so that Poverty itself may be a benefactor to Destitution. Even among the poor the Helot had no brotherhood! he was as necessary to the meanest as to the highest Spartan--his wrongs gave its very existence to the commonwealth. We cannot, then, wonder at the extreme barbarity with which the Spartans treated this miserable race; and we can even find something of excuse for a cruelty which became at last the instinct of self-preservation. Revolt and massacre were perpetually before a Spartan's eyes; and what man will be gentle and unsuspecting to those who wait only the moment to murder him?

XII. The origin of the Helot race is not clearly ascertained: the popular notion that they were the descendants of the inhabitants of Helos, a maritime town subdued by the Spartans, and that they were degraded to servitude after a revolt, is by no means a conclusive account. Whether, as Mueller suggests, they were the original slave population of the Achaeans, or whether, as the ancient authorities held, they were such of the Achaeans themselves as had most obstinately resisted the Spartan sword, and had at last surrendered without conditions, is a matter it is now impossible to determine. For my own part, I incline to the former supposition, partly because of the wide distinction between the enslaved Helots and the (merely) inferior Perioeci, who were certainly Achaeans; a distinction which I do not think the different manner in which the two classes were originally subdued would suffice to account for; partly because I doubt whether the handful of Dorians who first fixed their dangerous settlement in Laconia could have effectually subjugated the Helots, if the latter had not previously been inured to slavery. The objection to this hypothesis--that the Helots could scarcely have so hated the Spartans if they had merely changed masters, does not appear to me very cogent. Under the mild and paternal chiefs of the Homeric age (145), they might have been subjected to a much gentler servitude. Accustomed to the manners and habits of their Achaean lords, they might have half forgotten their condition; and though governed by Spartans in the same external relations, it was in a very different spirit. The sovereign contempt with which the Spartans regarded the Helots, they would scarcely have felt for a tribe distinguished from the more honoured Perioeci only by a sterner valour and a greater regard for freedom; while that contempt is easily accounted for, if its objects were the previously subdued population of a country the Spartans themselves subdued.

The Helots were considered the property of the state--but they were intrusted and leased, as it were, to individuals; they were bound to the soil; even the state did not arrogate the power of selling them out of the country; they paid to their masters a rent in corn--the surplus profits were their own. It was easier for a Helot than for a Spartan to acquire riches--but riches were yet more useless to him. Some of the Helots attended their masters at the public tables, and others were employed in all public works: they served in the field as light-armed troops: they were occasionally emancipated, but there were several intermediate grades between the Helot and the freeman; their nominal duties were gentle indeed when compared with the spirit in which they were regarded and the treatment they received. That much exaggeration respecting the barbarity of their masters existed is probable enough; but the exaggeration itself, among writers accustomed to the institution of slavery elsewhere, and by no means addicted to an overstrained humanity, is a proof of the manner in which the treatment of the Helots was viewed by the more gentle slave-masters of the rest of Greece. They were branded with ineffaceable dishonour: no Helot might sing a Spartan song; if he but touched what belonged to a Spartan it was profaned--he was the Pariah of Greece. The ephors--the popular magistrates--the guardians of freedom--are reported by Aristotle to have entered office in making a formal declaration of war against the Helots--probably but an idle ceremony of disdain and insult. We cannot believe with Plutarch, that the infamous cryptia was instituted for the purpose he assigns--viz., that it was an ambuscade of the Spartan youths, who dispersed themselves through the country, and by night murdered whomsoever of the Helots they could meet. But it is certain that a select portion of the younger Spartans ranged the country yearly, armed with daggers, and that with the object of attaining familiarity with military hardships was associated that of strict, stern, and secret surveillance over the Helot population. No Helot, perhaps, was murdered from mere wantonness; but who does not see how many would necessarily have been butchered at the slightest suspicion of disaffection, or for the faintest utility of example? These miserable men were the objects of compassion to all Greece. "It was the common opinion," says Aelian, "that the earthquake in Sparta was a judgment from the gods upon the Spartan inhumanity to the Helots." And perhaps in all history (not even excepting that awful calmness with which the Italian historians narrate the cruelties of a Paduan tyrant or a Venetian oligarchy) there is no record of crime more thrilling than that dark and terrible passage in Thucydides which relates how two thousand Helots, the best and bravest of their tribe, were selected as for reward and freedom, how they were led to the temples in thanksgiving to the gods--and how they disappeared, their fate notorious--the manner of it a mystery!

XIII. Besides the Helots, the Spartans exercised an authority over the intermediate class called the Perioeci. These were indubitably the old Achaean race, who had been reduced, not to slavery, but to dependance. They retained possession of their own towns, estimated in number, after the entire conquest of Messenia, at one hundred. They had their own different grades and classes, as the Saxons retained theirs after the conquest of the Normans. Among these were the traders and manufacturers of Laconia; and thus whatever art attained of excellence in the dominions of Sparta was not Spartan but Achaean. They served in the army, sometimes as heavy-armed, sometimes as light-armed soldiery, according to their rank or callings; and one of the Perioeci obtained the command at sea. They appear, indeed, to have been universally acknowledged throughout Greece as free citizens, yet dependant subjects. But the Spartans jealously and sternly maintained the distinction between exemption from the servitude of a Helot, and participation in the rights of a Dorian: the Helot lost his personal liberty--the Perioecus his political.

XIV. The free or purely Spartan population (as not improbably with every Doric state) was divided into three generic tribes--the Hyllean, the Dymanatan, and the Pamphylian: of these the Hyllean (the reputed descendants of the son of Hercules) gave to Sparta both her kings. Besides these tribes of blood or race, there were also five local tribes, which formed the constituency of the ephors, and thirty subdivisions called obes--according to which the more aristocratic offices appear to have been elected. There were also recognised in the Spartan constitution two distinct classes--the Equals and the Inferiors. Though these were hereditary divisions, merit might promote a member of the last--demerit degrade a member of the first. The Inferiors, though not boasting the nobility of the Equals, often possessed men equally honoured and powerful: as among the commoners of England are sometimes found persons of higher birth and more important station than among the peers--(a term somewhat synonymous with that of Equal.) But the higher class enjoyed certain privileges which we can but obscurely trace (146). Forming an assembly among themselves, it may be that they alone elected to the senate; and perhaps they were also distinguished by some peculiarities of education--an assertion made by Mr. Mueller, but not to my mind sufficiently established. With respect to the origin of this distinction between the Inferiors and the Equals, my own belief is, that it took place at some period (possibly during the Messenian wars) when the necessities of a failing population induced the Spartans to increase their number by the admixture either of strangers, but (as that hypothesis is scarce agreeable to Spartan manners) more probably of the Perioeci; the new citizens would thus be the Inferiors. Among the Greek settlements in Italy, it was by no means uncommon for a colony, once sufficiently established, only to admit new settlers even from the parent state upon inferior terms; and in like manner in Venice arose the distinction between the gentlemen and the citizens; for when to that sea-girt state many flocked for security and refuge, it seemed but just to give to the prior inhabitants the distinction of hosts, and to consider the immigrators as guests;--to the first a share in the administration and a superior dignity--to the last only shelter and repose.

XV. Such are the general outlines of the state and constitution of Sparta--the firmest aristocracy that perhaps ever existed, for it was an aristocracy on the widest base. If some Spartans were noble, every Spartan boasted himself gentle. His birth forbade him to work, and his only profession was the sword. The difference between the meanest Spartan and his king was not so great as that between a Spartan and a Perioecus. Not only the servitude of the Helots, but the subjection of the Perioeci, perpetually nourished the pride of the superior race; and to be born a Spartan was to be born to power. The sense of superiority and the habit of command impart a certain elevation to the manner and the bearing. There was probably more of dignity in the poorest Spartan citizen than in the wealthiest noble of Corinth--the most voluptuous courtier of Syracuse. And thus the reserve, the decorum, the stately simplicity of the Spartan mien could not but impose upon the imagination of the other Greeks, and obtain the credit for correspondent qualities which did not always exist beneath that lofty exterior. To lively nations, affected by externals, there was much in that sedate majesty of demeanour; to gallant nations, much in that heroic valour; to superstitious nations, much in that proverbial regard to religious rites, which characterized the Spartan race. Declaimers on luxury admired their simplicity--the sufferers from innovation, their adherence to ancient manners. Many a victim of the turbulence of party in Athens sighed for the repose of the Lacedaemonian city; and as we always exaggerate the particular evils we endure, and admire most blindly the circumstances most opposite to those by which we are affected, so it was often the fashion of more intellectual states to extol the institutions of which they saw only from afar and through a glass the apparent benefits, without examining the concomitant defects. An Athenian might laud the Spartan austerity, as Tacitus might laud the German barbarism; it was the panegyric of rhetoric and satire, of wounded patriotism or disappointed ambition. Although the ephors made the government really and latently democratic, yet the concentration of its action made it seemingly oligarchic; and in its secrecy, caution, vigilance, and energy, it exhibited the best of the oligarchic features. Whatever was democratic by law was counteracted in its results by all that was aristocratic in custom. It was a state of political freedom, but of social despotism. This rigidity of ancient usages was binding long after its utility was past. For what was admirable at one time became pernicious at another; what protected the infant state from dissension, stinted all luxuriance of intellect in the more matured community. It is in vain that modern writers have attempted to deny this fact--the proof is before us. By her valour Sparta was long the most eminent state of the most intellectual of all countries; and when we ask what she has bequeathed to mankind--what she has left us in rivalry to that Athens, whose poetry yet animates, whose philosophy yet guides, whose arts yet inspire the world--we find only the names of two or three minor poets, whose works have perished, and some half a dozen pages of pithy aphorisms and pointed repartees!

XVI. My object in the above sketch has been to give a general outline of the Spartan character and the Spartan system during the earlier and more brilliant era of Athenian history, without entering into unnecessary conjectures as to the precise period of each law and each change. The social and political state of Sparta became fixed by her conquest of Messenia. It is not within the plan of my undertaking to retail at length the legendary and for the most part fabulous accounts of the first and second Messenian wars. The first was dignified by the fate of the Messenian hero Aristodemus, and the fall of the rocky fortress of Ithome; its result was the conquest of Messenia (probably begun 743 B. C., ended 723); the inhabitants were compelled to an oath of submission, and to surrender to Sparta half their agricultural produce. After the first Messenian war, Tarentum was founded by a Spartan colony, composed, it is said, of youths (147), the offspring of Spartan women and Laconian men, who were dissatisfied with their exclusion from citizenship, and by whom the state was menaced with a formidable conspiracy shared by the Helots. Meanwhile, the Messenians, if conquered, were not subdued. Years rolled away, and time had effaced the remembrance of the past sufferings, but not of the ancient (148) liberties.

It was among the youth of Messenia that the hope of the national deliverance was the most intensely cherished. At length, in Andania, the revolt broke forth. A young man, pre-eminent above the rest for birth, for valour, and for genius, was the head and the soul of the enterprise (probably B. C. 679). His name was Aristomenes. Forming secret alliances with the Argives and Arcadians, he at length ventured to raise his standard, and encountered at Dera, on their own domains, the Spartan force. The issue of the battle was indecisive; still, however, it seems to have seriously aroused the fears of Sparta: no further hostilities took place till the following year; the oracle at Delphi was solemnly consulted, and the god ordained the Spartans to seek their adviser in an Athenian. They sent to Athens and obtained Tyrtaeus. A popular but fabulous account (149) describes him as a lame teacher of grammar, and of no previous repute. His songs and his exhortations are said to have produced almost miraculous effects. I omit the romantic adventures of the hero Aristomenes, though it may be doubted whether all Grecian history can furnish passages that surpass the poetry of his reputed life. I leave the reader to learn elsewhere how he hung at night a shield in the temple of Chalcioecus, in the very city of the foe, with the inscription, that Aristomenes dedicated to the goddess that shield from the spoils of the Spartans--how he penetrated the secret recesses of Trophonius--how he was deterred from entering Sparta by the spectres of Helen and the Dioscuri--how, taken prisoner in an attempt to seize the women of Aegila, he was released by the love of the priestess of Ceres--how, again made captive, and cast into a deep pit with fifty of his men, he escaped by seizing hold of a fox (attracted thither by the dead bodies), and suffering himself to be drawn by her through dark and scarce pervious places to a hole that led to the upper air. These adventures, and others equally romantic, I must leave to the genius of more credulous historians.

All that seems to me worthy of belief is, that after stern but unavailing struggles, the Messenians abandoned Andania, and took their last desperate station at Ira, a mountain at whose feet flows the river Neda, separating Messenia from Triphylia. Here, fortified alike by art and nature, they sustained a siege of eleven years. But with the eleventh the term of their resistance was completed. The slave of a Spartan of rank had succeeded in engaging the affections of a Messenian woman who dwelt without the walls of the mountain fortress. One night the guilty pair were at the house of the adulteress--the husband abruptly returned--the slave was concealed, and overheard that, in consequence of a violent and sudden storm, the Messenian guard had deserted the citadel, not fearing attack from the foe on so tempestuous a night, and not anticipating the inspection of Aristomenes, who at that time was suffering from a wound. The slave overheard--escaped--reached the Spartan camp--apprized his master Emperamus (who, in the absence of the kings, headed the troops) of the desertion of the guard:--an assault was agreed on: despite the darkness of the night, despite the violence of the rain, the Spartans marched on:--scaled the fortifications:--were within the walls. The fulfilment of dark prophecies had already portended the fate of the besieged; and now the very howling of the dogs in a strange and unwonted manner was deemed a prodigy. Alarmed, aroused, the Messenians betook themselves to the nearest weapons within their reach. Aristomenes, his son Gorgus, Theoclus, the guardian prophet of his tribe (whose valour was equal to his science), were among the first to perceive the danger. Night passed in tumult and disorder. Day dawned, but rather to terrify than encourage--the storm increased --the thunder burst--the lightning glared. What dismayed the besieged encouraged the besiegers. Still, with all the fury of despair, the Messenians fought on: the very women took part in the contest; death was preferable, even in their eyes, to slavery and dishonour. But the Spartans were far superior in number, and, by continual reliefs, the fresh succeeded to the weary. In arms for three days and three nights without respite, worn out with watching, with the rage of the elements, with cold, with hunger, and with thirst, no hope remained for the Messenians: the bold prophet declared to Aristomenes that the gods had decreed the fall of Messene, that the warning oracles were fulfilled. "Preserve," he cried, "what remain of your forces--save yourselves. Me the gods impel to fall with my country!" Thus saying, the soothsayer rushed on the enemy, and fell at last covered with wounds and satiated with the slaughter himself had made. Aristomenes called the Messenians round him; the women and the children were placed in the centre of the band, guarded by his own son and that of the prophet. Heading the troop himself, he rushed on the foe, and by his gestures and the shaking of his spear announced his intention to force a passage, and effect escape. Unwilling yet more to exasperate men urged to despair, the Spartans made way for the rest of the besieged. So fell Ira! (probably B. C. 662). (150) The brave Messenians escaped to Mount Lyceum in Arcadia, and afterward the greater part, invited by Anaxilaus, their own countryman, prince of the Dorian colony at Rhegium in Italy, conquered with him the Zanclaeans of Sicily, and named the conquered town Messene. It still preserves the name (151). But Aristomenes, retaining indomitable hatred to Sparta, refused to join the colony. Yet hoping a day of retribution, he went to Delphi. What counsel he there received is unrecorded. But the deity ordained to Damagetes, prince of Jalysus in Rhodes, to marry the daughter of the best man of Greece. Such a man the prince esteemed the hero of the Messenians, and wedded the third daughter of Aristomenes. Still bent on designs against the destroyers of his country, the patriot warrior repaired to Rhodes, where death delivered the Spartans from the terror of his revenge. A monument was raised to his memory, and that memory, distinguished by public honours, long made the boast of the Messenians, whether those in distant exile, or those subjected to the Spartan yoke. Thus ended the second Messenian war. Such of the Messenians as had not abandoned their country were reduced to Helotism. The Spartan territory extended, and the Spartan power secured, that haughty state rose slowly to pre-eminence over the rest of Greece; and preserved, amid the advancing civilization and refinement of her neighbours, the stern and awing likeness of the heroic age:--In the mountains of the Peloponnesus, the polished and luxurious Greeks beheld, retained from change as by a spell, the iron images of their Homeric ancestry!

If you like this book please share to your friends :

Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 2 - Chapter 2 Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 2 - Chapter 2

Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 2 - Chapter 2
VOL I BOOK II CHAPTER IIThe Departure of Solon from Athens.--The Rise of Pisistratus.--Return of Solon.--His Conduct and Death.--The Second and Third Tyranny of Pisistratus.--Capture of Sigeum.--Colony in the Chersonesus founded by the first Miltiades.--Death of Pisistratus. I. Although the great constitutional reforms of Solon were no doubt carried into effect during his archonship, yet several of his legislative and judicial enactments were probably the work of years. When we consider the many interests to conciliate, the many prejudices to overcome, which in all popular states cripple and delay the progress of change in its several details, we find little

Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 5 Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 5

Athens: Its Rise And Fall - Vol 1 - Book 1 - Chapter 5
VOL I BOOK I CHAPTER VA General Survey of Greece and the East previous to the time of Solon.--The Grecian Colonies.--The Isles.--Brief account of the States on the Continent.--Elis and the Olympic Games. I. On the north, Greece is separated from Macedonia by the Cambunian mountains; on the west spreads the Ionian, on the south and east the Aegean Sea. Its greatest length is two hundred and twenty geographical miles; its greatest width one hundred and forty. No contrast can be more startling than the speck of earth which Greece occupies in the map of the world, compared