Зображення сторінки

which scarce had space to flow between the mountains it separated on either side, was gathered the early settlement which bore the name of Sparta. It gave, in after years, but a cold welcome to the architecture which would have made it majestic, or to the arts which would have filled its vacant places with life and loveliness; but in the times succeeding the heroic age, it was scantier still in rude huts and in narrow lands. Above the village, as about it, the valley of the Eurotas was hemmed in by highlands; while, lower down, the mountains were farther removed, and the valley widened to a plain. These fields, contracting and expanding, together with the mountain-sides above them, formed the territory of Laconia, a rugged country, whose people seemed secure from invasion, if not from dissension and barbarity. The commotions of neighbouring races, simultaneous with strange movements throughout all Greece, were the first, it appears, to shake the Spartan valley; and at the return of the Heracleids, as the descendants of Hercules were called, to the adjoining Argos, eighty years after the Trojan war,” the larger part of the Peloponnesus was conquered by them and their fellow-adventurers or followers, the Dorians. Three kingdoms were established for three Heracleid brothers in Argos, Messenia, and Sparta, of which the native people were reduced, not at once, indeed, but in the course of years, to a state of dependence and servitude. Sparta, the least important, originally, of the conquests, was henceforward the city of the Dorian conquerors, who bear the name, through history, of Spartans, as exclusively as if there had been no memory of the earlier people. Immediately after the conquest, two kings of the Heracleid stock were associated in the government, to which the Dorian nobles were also admitted after the same principles that had prevailed in the age of the heroes. But a change, inevitable to a race which, like the Spartans, had won its land by force and ruled its subjects with increasing pride, at last drew near. The lower ranks began to claim a larger share of spoil and dominion than they had yet received; whilst the quarrels of the royal families and the factions amongst the nobles or higher Spartans were such, apparently, as to prevent resistance to the demands of their inferiors. At the same time, the conquered would watch with eagerness the chances which their disputes might offer to themselves; and while the Spartans were at variance with one another, they were obliged to guard against the dangers of insurrection on the part of the large number of their subjects whose memories of independence were not yet obliterated by bondage. At this embittered period, about two hundred years after the conquest,” one of the kings of Sparta died, leaving his wife and her unborn child in the care of his brother Lycurgus, who, as tradition relates, though able, had he pleased, to ascend the throne, yet waited the birth of his brother's son, whose rights were sacred in his eyes.” After proclaiming the infant king, he is said to have travelled for many years in foreign lands; an account, perhaps, invented at a later time, in explanation of the extraordinary wisdom he was believed to have obtained. The day arrived when he was needed at home, amongst his own people. Their dissensions had reached a point at which it was necessary that they should be allayed, unless the Spartans would be overthrown; and he who had proved faithful to his brother was called to reconcile his countrymen and protect them against the alarms of rebellion amongst their subjects and bondsmen. We know almost nothing, not even so much as has here been repeated, with any certainty, concerning a man who was the first under heathenism to enlarge the liberties of a people, or a portion of a people, by laws which saved them as well from sedition as from tyranny. How far he accepted, how far he changed, the Dorian institutions, as they then existed,” is just as little to be determined; nor can we tell how much he strove to do, or how much he was able to achieve. It is nearly in vain, therefore, to ask about the lawgiver, before attempting to become acquainted with his laws. The spirit to which they bear witness may not, indeed, have been altogether his own; for none more than the reformer or the lawgiver are obliged to sacrifice their own desires to the various interests with which they have to deal. Lycurgus was probably a man of great severity towards himself, so that the claim of his people was unanswerable; and of equal severity towards others, so that his claim of order and obedience from them would be insisted on, as far as it could be carried. But to all appearances, he was also one to respect the traditions and the customs of his race, yielding to these and to the pride which upheld them the consideration he would not feel for the passions of his own generation. No point in his history is better known than the solemnity with which he entered on his labors. Addressing himself to the oracle at Delphi, in which the faith of Sparta was most profound, he is even said to have brought away his laws, as if they had been delivered him by divine assistance in the temple.” Under these impressions, to which he was as sensible as any of his people, Lycurgus returned to execute the charge he had received. If we can trust the glimmering light in which we see him and his times, the objects of his reform or his legislation were plain before him. The kings and the nobles were aspiring to tyranny; the Spartan people to what may be called democracy; while all were still tenacious of their superiority to the races their ancestors had overcome. Lycurgus had no heart to desire justice from them towards their dependants; but it was his especial work to pacify, to unite, and to control them in their relations amongst themselves.” The kings of Sparta were possessed, at this period, of an authority which, as may be imagined, was very far from being so absolute as that of the old heroic monarchies.” It was not only shared between two, but was also diminished in proportion to the influence which the nobles had undoubtedly gained in and since the period of migrations and conquests. The power which the kings still possessed arose from none of their functions, sacerdotal, judicial, or military, so much as from the reverence for their Heracleid blood, and, in a less degree, from the outward honors they enjoyed in life and after death." They were also the two principal members of the Boule, or senate, which was composed, besides, of twentyeight nobles, apparently endeavouring, in the time of Lycurgus, to depose or to weaken the royal authority, in order to increase their own. The senate, already intrusted with the chief powers of government, was threatening, perhaps, to become the government itself, unless the kings should be able to strengthen themselves against encroachment, or the lower Spar

59 Thuc., I. 12. A. C. 1127 – 79 = 1048.

54 A. C. 852. Clinton, Fast. same writer at A. C. 817. Ibid., Hell., Wol. I. p. 141. The legisla- and Vol. II. p. 408. tion of Lycurgus is fixed by the

There were cer

55 Schlosser, however, gives Lycurgus but little credit for not taking possession of such a throne as the Spartan. Univ. Hist. Antiq., IV. 2, sect. 1.

56 This touches closely upon the much vexed question concerning the resemblance between the Cretan and

the Spartan laws.
tainly several expeditions from the
mainland over into Crete, and per-
haps from Crete to the mainland,
before the time of Lycurgus; but it
is safe to remember that Crete was
altogether Dorian, in its compara-
tively later times.

57 Herod., I. 65. Plut., Lyc., 5, 6.

58. See Diod. Sic., Reliq., VII. particularly emphasized. This, how14, ed. Müller, for the account of ever, is an account of a much later the purposes which the oracle in- day. spired in Lycurgus. 60 Herod., WI. 56 et seq., 66. 39 Arist., Pol., III. 9. 2; where Müller's Dorians, Vol. II. pp. 106 the military powers of the king are et seq.

WOL. I. 18

« НазадПродовжити »