Lycurgus Plutarch Analysis Essay

PLUTARCH: Lycurgus

  • Generally, nothing can be said about Lycurgus that is not disputed.
  • Aristotle alleges that Lycurgus and Iphitus established the truce observed during the Olympic Games.
  • Generally, historians believe Lycurgus to have lived from 820-730 BC.
  • Of Lycurgus’ ancestors, Sous was the most famous. Besieged by an enemy army in a dry place, Sous agreed to surrender his territory if Sous and all his men drank from a river nearby. Having made the agreement with the opposition, Sous returned to his men, and offered his kingdom to any man who refrained from drinking form the spring. Every one of Sous’ men drank from the spring, but Sous merely sprinkled his face with water and retained his kingdom, on the grounds that all had not drunk from the spring.
  • Lawlessness and confusion plagued Sparta after Sous’ reign. Sous’ son sought to gain favor with the multitude, and therefore relaxed the absolutism of his sway. This made the multitude bold, and they rioted and disobeyed succeeding kings who tried to restore order. Lycurgus’ father, Eunomes, was stabbed to death with a butcher’s knife while trying to quell a riot.
  • Eunomes’ first son, Polydectes, succeeded his father as king, but Polydectes died soon afterwards, leaving Lycurgus as the assumed heir. However, Polydectes’ wife was discovered to be pregnant after Polydectes death, so Lycurgus proclaimed that the kingdom belonged to the unborn infant if it was male, and that he would rule as guardian in the interim.
  • The pregnant woman made secret overtures to Lycurgus, intending to kill the baby on condition that Lycurgus would marry her when he was king of Sparta. Although Lycurgus detested her wickedness, he pretended to accept her proposal, but advised her not to use drugs to induce a miscarriage, lest she might be harmed. He assured her that he would kill the baby when it was born.
  • When Lycurgus learned that the woman was in labor, he commanded attendants to give the baby to the woman if it was a girl, but bring the baby to him if it was a boy. The attendants brought the baby boy to Lycurgus when he was eating dinner with magistrates. Lycurgus pronounced the baby to be king, and fellow citizen admired Lycurgus for his lofty spirit and justice. Indeed, the citizens obeyed Lycurgus because of his virtues rather than because Lycurgus possessed the title of guardian.
  • The queen and the kinsman of the queen, resentful over Lycurgus’ insolent treatment of the queen, promoted suspicion that Lycurgus sought the crown and would kill the infant king. Therefore, Lycurgus determined to travel abroad until his nephew came of age and begot a son to succeed him lest the infant die and the citizens blame Lycurgus for the death.
  • Accordingly, Lycurgus traveled to Crete. There he met the lyric poet Thales. Lycurgus persuaded Thales to travel to Sparta, where he sung his odes to the Spartan people. The odes, with their measured rhythm and ordered tranquility and exhortation to obedience and harmony, induced the Spartans to renounce mutual hatreds and dwell together in pursuit of what was high and noble. Poetry and words can persuade people to pursue what is high and noble.
  • After Crete, Lycurgus traveled to Asia so that he might compare the simple and severe civilization of Crete with the luxurious and extravagant civilization of Asia. In Asia, Lycurgus first became acquainted with the works of Homer. Though there were incentives to pleasure in the texts, the political and disciplinary lessons within the texts were invaluable, so Lycurgus eagerly copied and compiled them in order to take home with him.
  • Egyptians contend that Lycurgus visited them during his travels, and adapted their practice of separating the military from other classes, and removing mechanics and artisans from participation in government.
  • The Spartan citizens very much desired Lycurgus to return; for though Sparta had kings, they were king only in name. Lycurgus possessed the qualities of a man fit to rule.
  • Before Lycurgus returned to Sparta, he traveled to the oracle at Delphi, who proclaimed that Lycurgus was beloved of the gods, and rather a god than a man. The oracle assured Lycurgus that his proposed laws and constitution would be the best in the world.
  • Lycurgus returned to Sparta, mustered support, and persuaded thirty of the chief men in Sparta to go armed into the market place at dawn to strike terror and consternation into those of the opposition. Fearing that the men intended to kill him, the King of Sparta, the baby who Lycurgus saved now turned man, sought refuge in the temple of Athena. When he learned that the men did not intend to assassinate him, he joined them, being of a gentle and yielding disposition.
  • Now king, Lycurgus established a senate to avoid the dangers of tyranny on one hand and rule by the multitude or democracy on the other.
  • Lycurgus ordered public assemblies where laws were discussed and legislated to commune in an unadorned area between a bridge and river. Lycurgus believed that the serious purposes of an assembly were rendered foolish and futile by vain thoughts if the people gazed upon statues, paintings, scenic embellishment, or extravagantly decorated roofs and halls.
  • Lycurgus redistributed the land. Before Lycurgus, there was a dreadful in equality concerning the distribution of wealth. The state was burdened with many indigents, and the wealth of the State was concentrated in the hands of a very few. Because crime, envy, and idleness arise from disparities in wealth and poverty, which are inveterate diseases of every state, Lycurgus divided the land equally among the citizens so that everyone lived with one another on a basis of complete uniformity and equality in the means of subsistence. Men could only be distinguished by virtue. No difference or inequality existed between men except that which was established by blame for base actions and praise for good ones.
  • He introduced an unwieldy currency, namely iron, and assigned a trifling value to a great mass and weight. Thus, he removed much iniquity from the state; for who would accept a bribe or steal that which never could be concealed adequately. Furthermore, storing and transporting the currency was more expensive than what it was worth, so that avarice was eradicated.
  • Furthermore, the other Greek city states refused to accept the iron currency, so immoral artisans such as harlot-mongers, fortune tellers, and goldsmiths never set foot in Sparta.
  • The third political rule he enacted to eliminate avarice and luxury was to establish the institution of common messes, so that men would not eat their meals at home, reclined on costly couches at costly tables, delivering themselves into the hands of servants and chefs to be fattened in the dark like voracious animals, and ruining not only their characters but their bodies by surrendering them to every desire and all sorts of surfeit.
  • The wealthy citizens publicly denounced Lycurgus and threw stones at him, forcing Lycurgus to flee the market place. A young man put out one of Lycurgus’ eye with a staff. Undaunted by the event, Lycurgus displayed his maimed face to the mob, who pitied Lycurgus and brought the young man to Lycurgus to be punished. Lycurgus did not punish the man, but employed him as a servant so that the man could observe his extraordinary asceticism and indefatigable industry. Serving Lycurgus for several years, the young man changed from an enemy to an admirer of Lycurgus’ virtue.
  • Lycurgus never reduced his laws to writing, believing that imprinting the laws in the hearts of young men through proper education and discipline would preserve the principles better than reducing them to writing and compelling people to obey the laws against their will.
  • Lycurgus passed an ordinance forbidding Sparta to make war often, or for a long period of time, with one enemy, lest Sparta should train and instruct the enemy in war by forcing them to habitually defend themselves.
  • Lycurgus commanded the women to exercise, so that the offspring would be strong and healthy. He also ordered the young maidens to dance naked before the city, in order to incite the young men to marry. The naked dances were not shameful, but noble, allowing the women to praise those men who fought valiantly in battle and ridicule those men who were cowards. Men who lived as bachelors were ridiculed and forced to march naked through the city in the wintertime while singing humiliating songs about their disgraceful actions.
  • On a wedding night, women would cut the wife’s hair close about her hair, dress her in men’s clothing and leave her in a room lying on a bed. The husband would come into the room, untie her virgin knot, and takes her to himself. Then the husband returns to his own apartment as usual and sleeps with the other young men. This routine continues indefinitely. The husband always visits his wife in shame and fear when he thought he would not be observed by the other men. Some husbands begot children before ever seeing their wives faces in daylight. This practice allowed their affections to remain undull and unsated from easy access and long continuance with each other. Lycugus also eliminated jealousy by making it honorable for men to give the use of their wives to those whom he saw fit, so that they could have children by them. Lycurgus ridiculed those men who would go to war and shed blood over sharing his wife with another man.
  • The children were not the property of the parents, but the property of the State. At birth, women would bathe the babies in wine, thinking that epileptic children would faint and waste away. The elders would view the baby, and if they agreed that the baby was stout, then it would live. If the baby was puny or misshapen, then they would leave it in a chasm to die.
  • When children turned seven, they were enlisted in companies, where they all lived under the same order and discipline. Their education was one of a ready and perfect obedience. The chiefs taught them to endure pain and conquer in battle.
  • They fed the boys barely anything.  This was to encourage them to steal. If they were caught stealing food, then they were whipped mercilessly for stealing so poorly. Another reason the Spartans did not feed the children much was because they believed the children would grow tall. Furthermore, a lean body is more beautiful than an over-fed one.
  • One youth, who had stolen a fox, allowed the animal to tear out his bowels under his coat and died on the spot rather than allow his masters to discover the theft.
  • They taught children to speak with a natural and graceful raillery, and to comprehend much matter in few words. Their retorts and sayings were short and caustic.
  • Their songs were mostly in praise of someone who had died in defense of his country, or in derision of someone who had been a coward. The songs inspired men with courage and ardor for action.
  • While in the field of battle, the Spartans abated the severity of their manners, allowing men to curl and adorn their hair. Thus, the Spartan men allowed their hair to grow long after coming of age, and always cared for it. They believed a large head of hair added beauty to a good face, and terror to an ugly one. The exercises became more moderate, they were permitted to eat more food, and their commanders were more lenient with them. Thus, Spartans were the only people in the world to whom war gave repose.
  • They calmly and cheerily marched into battle as if some divinity attended and guided them.
  • Men conceived of themselves as means to serve the country’s ends, not his own.
  • Lycurgus forbid the men from money-making, or engaging in any mean and mechanical art.
  • Lycurgus allowed the dead to be buried within the city so that the youth would not be afraid of a dead body, or imagine that to touch a corpse or tread on a grave would defile a man. Lycurgus set the time of mourning very short, eleven days.
  • He forbade Spartans to travel abroad and acquaint themselves with the morals and habits of ill-educated people. He also deported any man who did not provide a satisfying answer for being in Sparta, lest his foreign habits taint the character of Spartans.
  • Young men would be sent into the country with a dagger and small provisions. There, they would lie in hiding during the day, issue into the streets during the night, and kill Helots (the slaves of the Spartans).
  • Lycurgus traveled to Delphi, to determine whether the laws he established were good. The Delphi assured Lycurgus that the laws were good. Lycurgus then killed himself by abstaining from food. He was old, and before he left for Delphi had sworn the people to follow his laws until he returned. Thinking that this would bind the Spartans forever, he was delighted to end his life in a manner becoming to his honorable life.
  • For 500 years, the Spartans strictly observed Lycurgus’s laws, and thrived. However, gold and silver began to flow into Sparta along with all the mischiefs which attend the immoderate desire for riches.
  • Lycurgus believed that the happiness of the State and the individual consisted chiefly in the exercise of virtue. He taught his fellow Spartans to be self-dependent and temperate.

“In him there was a nature fitted to lead, and a power to make men follow him.” (Reminiscent of Aristotle’s quote regarding natures fated to either rule or be ruled)

“Luxury, thus gradually deprived of that which stimulated and supported it, died away of itself, and men of large possessions had no advantage over the poor, because their wealth found no public outlet, but had to be stored up at home in idleness.”

“He introduced his third and most exquisite political device, namely, the institution of common messes, so that they might eat with one another in companies, of common and specified foods, and not take their meals at home, reclining on costly couches at costly tables, delivering themselves into the hands of servants and cooks to be fattened in the dark, like voracious animals, and ruining not only their characters but also their bodies, by surrendering them to every desire and all sorts of surfeit, which call for long sleeps, hot baths, abundant rest, and, as it were, daily nursing and tending.”

“The songs had a life and spirit in them that inflamed and possessed men’s minds with an enthusiasm and ardor for action.”

“Spartans were the only people in the world to whom war gave repose.”

“He was as careful to save his city from the infection of foreign bad habits, as men usually are to prevent the introduction of a pestilence.”

“All those who have written well on politics, as Plato, Diogenes, and Zeno, have taken Lycurgus for their model, leaving behind them, however, mere projects and words; whereas Lycurgus was the author, not in writing but in reality, of a government which none else could so much as copy.”

“Removed all distinctions of wealth. Eliminated the inveterate and insidious vices which accompany wealth disparity.”

Lycurgus reigned as King of Sparta around 750 BC. Before he became king, Sparta was riotous and dissolute. Poor management by preceding kings allowed for the citizens to become bold an unruly. Lycurgus’ father was stabbed to death with a butcher’s knife while trying to quell a riot. However, Lycurgus changed Sparta from a disordered and chaotic city-state into a virtuous and perfectly obedient State admired by nations throughout the world.

Lycurgus’ first act as king was to establish a Senate. He conceived that a Senate would act as a ship’s ballast. It would curb the faults and injustices associated with democracy and monarchy.

Next, Lycurgus resolved to eliminate the vices which accompany wealth, such as avarice, envy, crime, indolence, gluttony, etc. To accomplish this aim, he redistributed the land equally among the Spartan citizens. He also introduced an unwieldy currency, which was more costly to store and transport than its value. A custom of eating together in groups of 15 men was established, and Lycurgus forbade the citizens to adorn their houses with luxuries. Luxury died away naturally, being thus deprived of what stimulated and supported it. The only distinction between men was obtained from praise for virtuous action, and blame for cowardice and immoderation.

Plutarch attributes the renowned Spartan method of education to Lycurgus. At the age of seven, boys were assigned to military regiments, in which they were instructed in martial combat and taught perfect obedience to their commander. This system of education inspired a sense of nationalism. Men believed that their lives were a means to serve the ends of the State, not their own interests.

After reading Plutarch’s life of Lycurgus, I wonder whether Lycurgus’ method of imbuing Spartans with virtue and eliminating the vices, which were previously corrupting the society, is justified. At certain points during the narrative, I thought that Lycurgus was using an effective form of brainwashing tactics rather than persuading the citizens through rational arguments that they can attain happiness by living a life according to virtue.

Lycurgus forbade Spartans from traveling to other States lest they acquire the bad-habits and immoral doctrines of another people. He also severely restricted foreigner access to Sparta in light of this fear. However, by limiting the number of philosophical beliefs and cultures that the Spartans were exposed to, the Spartans essentially became unconscious robots programmed to do a specific task. Because the Spartans did not have another system of beliefs or way of life which they could choose to follow, I hesitate to praise any virtue which the citizens possessed, because they had no choice but to be virtuous. The Spartan were compelled to perform virtuous deeds. A robot can perform deeds of heroism, but we do not praise the robot as virtuous.

Nevertheless, Spartan discipline and moderation ought to be emulated. Wealth and luxuries are the origin of many vices in the world. Lycurgus’ complete elimination of these corrupting influences and the subsequent elevation of the Spartan moral character are persuasive reasons to conclude that the Spartan lifestyle is one way of attaining the blessed life of which Aristotle speaks.

Plutarch’s Lives (Modern Library Classics)

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LycurgusPlutarchThe Great Books of the Western World
Lycurgus of Sparta
Lycurgus was the traditional law-giver of Sparta.

Nineteenth-century statue of Lycurgus at the neoclassical Palais de Justice in Brussels, Belgium

Lycurgus (; Greek: Λυκοῦργος, Lykoûrgos, Ancient Greek: [lykôrɡos]; fl.c. 820 BC) was the quasi-legendary lawgiver of Sparta who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. All his reforms promoted the three Spartan virtues: equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity.[1]

He is referred to by ancient historians and philosophers Herodotus, Xenophon, Plato, Polybius, Plutarch, and Epictetus. It is not clear if Lycurgus was an actual historical figure; however, many ancient historians[2] believed that he instituted the communalistic and militaristic reforms - most notably the Great Rhetra - which transformed Spartan society.


Early life[edit]

Most information about Lycurgus comes from Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgus" (part of Parallel Lives), which is more of an anecdotal collection than a real biography. Plutarch himself remarks that nothing can be known for certain about Lycurgus, since different authors give different accounts of almost everything about him.[3] The actual person Lycurgus may or may not have existed, -- it is possible that "Lycourgos" was an epithet of the god Apollo as he was worshiped in very early Sparta, and that later legend transformed this aspect of the god into a wise human lawgiver[4][5] --but as a symbolic founder of the Spartan state he was looked to as the initiator of many of its social and political institutions; much, therefore, of Plutarch's account is concerned with finding the "origin" of contemporary Spartan practices. The dates of Lycurgus have been given by ancient and modern authorities as being as early as the tenth century BC and as late as the sixth century BC. Some scholars think the most plausible date is indicated by Thucydides, who said that in his time the Spartan constitution was over four hundred years old; this would imply a date for Lycurgus, or at least for the reforms attributed to him, of the last quarter of the ninth century BC.[4][5][6][7]

It is said that Lycurgus had risen to power when his older brother, the king, had died. With his father deceased, he was offered the throne. Lycurgus' brother, however, had died with a pregnant wife. When this child was born, Lycurgus named the child, Charilaus ("joy of the people") and transferred his kingship to the baby. After that, Lycurgus was said to be a man who could lay down the supreme power easily out of respect for justice, so it was easy for Lycurgus to rule the Spartans in his capacity as the guardian of his nephew Charilaus. However, the young king's mother and her relatives envied and hated Lycurgus. Among other slanders, they accused Lycurgus of plotting the death of Charilaus.


Lycurgus finally decided that the only way that he might avoid blame in case something should happen to the child would be to go travelling until Charilaus had grown up and fathered a son to secure the succession. Therefore, Lycurgus gave up all of his authority set out on a celebrated, though no doubt legendary, journey. His first destination was Crete, like Sparta a Dorian land, where he studied the laws of Minos. Spartan and Cretan institutions did indeed have common characteristics, but, though some direct borrowing may have occurred, such similarities are in general more likely to be because of the common Dorian inheritance of Sparta and Crete rather than because some individual such as Lycurgus imported Cretan customs to Sparta.[8] Traveling after that to Asia Minor, homeland of the Ionian Greeks, he found it instructive to compare the refined and luxurious life style of the Ionians with the stern and disciplined culture of the Dorians. Some say that Lycurgus subsequently traveled as far as Egypt, Spain, and India.[9] In Ionia, Lycurgus discovered the works of Homer. Lycurgus compiled the scattered fragments of Homer and made sure that the lessons of statecraft and morality in Homer's epics became widely known. According to Plutarch, the Egyptians claim that Lycurgus visited them too,[a] and that he got from the Egyptians the idea of separating the military from the menial workers, thus refining later Spartan society, in which Spartans were not allowed to practice manual crafts.[10]

Return to Sparta[edit]

After Lycurgus had been absent for a while, the Spartans wrote and begged Lycurgus to come back. As they admitted, only Lycurgus was really a king in their heart, although others wore a crown and claimed the title. He had the true foundation of sovereignty: a nature born to rule, and a talent for inspiring obedience. Even the Spartan kings wanted Lycurgus to return because they saw him as one who could protect them from the people.

Lycurgus had already decided that some fundamental changes would have to be made in Sparta. When he returned, he did not merely tinker with the laws, but instead followed the example of the wisest ephors to implement incremental change.

First, however, Lycurgus went to the Oracle at Delphi to ask for guidance. The Oracle told Lycurgus that his prayers had been heard and that the state which observed the laws of Lycurgus would become the most famous in the world. With such an endorsement, Lycurgus went to the leading men of Sparta and enlisted their support.

He began with his closest friends, then these friends widened the conspiracy by bringing in their own friends. When things were ripe for action, thirty of them appeared at dawn in the marketplace, fully armed for battle. At first, Charilaus thought they meant to kill him, and he ran for sanctuary in a temple, but eventually he joined the conspirators when he found out that all they wanted was to make sure there would be no opposition to the reforms Lycurgus had in mind.


According to the legend found in Plutarch's Lives and other sources, when Lycurgus became confident in his reforms, he announced that he would go to the oracle at Delphi to sacrifice to Apollo. However, before leaving for Delphi he called an assembly of the people of Sparta and made everyone, including the kings and Gerousia, take an oath binding them to observe his laws until he returned. He made the journey to Delphi and consulted the oracle, which told him that his laws were excellent and would make his people famous. He then disappeared from history. One explanation was that being satisfied by this he starved himself to death instead of returning home, forcing the citizens of Sparta by oath to keep his laws indefinitely.[11] He later enjoyed a hero-cult in Sparta.[12][13]


Lycurgus is credited with the formation of many Spartan institutions integral to the country's rise to power, but more importantly the complete and undivided allegiance to Sparta from its citizens, which was implemented under his form of government.

Lycurgus is said to have been the originator of the Spartan "Homoioi," the "Equals," citizens who had no wealth differentiation among them, an early example of distributism, insofar as the citizens (not the Helots) were concerned. This radical lifestyle differentiated the Spartans once again from other Greeks of their time.

A new council between the people and the kings[edit]

The first reform instituted by Lycurgus involved establishing a Gerousia of twenty-eight men, who would have a power equal to the two royal houses of Sparta. The people had the right to vote on important questions, but the Gerousia decided when a vote would be taken. As Plutarch puts it, a Gerousia "allays and qualifies the fiery genius of the royal office" and gives some stability and safety to the commonwealth, like the ballast in a ship. Before, Sparta had oscillated between the extremes of democracy and tyranny: anarchy and dictatorship. With the addition of the Gerousia, which resisted both extremes, the government became stable and the people and their rulers respected each other.

Land reforms[edit]

To accomplish this equality, Plutarch, in his Life of Lycurgus, attributes to Lycurgus a thoroughgoing land reform, a reassignment and equalizing of landholdings and wealth among the population,

For there was an extreme inequality among them, and their state was overloaded with a multitude of indigent and necessitous persons, while its whole wealth had centered upon a very few. To the end, therefore, that he might expel from the state arrogance and envy, luxury and crime, and those yet more inveterate diseases of want and superfluity, he obtained of them to renounce their properties, and to consent to a new division of the land, and that they should all live together on an equal footing; merit to be their only road to eminence...

— Plutarch, Lycurgus[14]

To support this new land division, Lycurgus was said to have divided the country all around Laconia into 30,000 equal shares, and the part attached to the city of Sparta in particular into 9,000; all shares were distributed among the Spartans. Helots (the population of the territories the Spartans had captured in their wars in Laconia) were attached to the land, not to individual owners; hence, all slaves were property of the state.


To further support equality, Lycurgus, according to Plutarch, forbade the use of gold and silver, using the strategy of introducing money called pelanors[15][16] made of iron which had been weakened by it being cooled in a vinegar bath after being turned red-hot, and calling in all gold and silver, in order to defeat greed and dependence on money.[14] The new money, besides being almost intrinsically worthless, was bulky, and hence hard to transport. This move was seen by Plutarch also as a way of isolating Sparta from outside trade, and developing its internal arts and crafts, so as to prevent foreign influences and the decadence of markets.

Whether Lycurgus in all actuality created iron money is debatable. It is thought by modern scholars that first stamped coins were minted around 650–600 BC,[17] while Lycurgus is thought to have lived circa 800 BC.[citation needed]

Common mess halls[edit]

Another way to create equality was the Spartan institution of the sussita/syssitia, the practice that required all Spartan men to eat together in common mess halls.[18] Plutarch describes the institution as consisting of companies ("syssitia", or "eating-together" groups) of about fifteen men, each bound to bring in and contribute each month a bushel of meal, 8 gallons of wine, 5 pounds of cheese, 2 and a half pounds of figs, and a small amount of money to buy meat or fish with. When any member made a personal sacrifice to the gods, he would send some portion to the syssition, and when any member hunted, he sent part of the animal he had killed, to share with his messmates. Personal sacrifices of this sort and hunting were the only excuses that allowed a man to justify eating at his own home, instead of with the mess hall (syssition): otherwise, men were expected to eat daily with their syssition comrades. Even kings were apparently expected to take part in a mess hall, and were not to eat privately at home with their wives. Spartan women apparently ate together with and spent most of their time with each other, and not their husbands or sons older than seven (see below on the "agoge").

Education of children[edit]

He was also credited with the development of the agoge. The practice took all seven-year-old boys from the care of their fathers and placed them in a rigorous military regiment.[19]

Other measures[edit]

Lycurgus himself was said to be mild, gentle, forgiving, and calm in temper, even when attacked; he was thought to have been extraordinarily sober and an extremely hard worker, all qualities that other Greeks admired in the Spartans; in this sense he was also the "founder" of the admirable qualities displayed by contemporary Spartans of later ages.

Later changes to the institutions[edit]

Some further refinements of the Spartan constitution came after Lycurgus. It turned out that sometimes the public speakers would pervert the sense of propositions and thus cause the people to vote foolishly, so the Gerousia reserved the right to dissolve the assembly if they saw this happening.

A hundred and thirty years after the death of Lycurgus, a council of five ephors took executive power from the kings. When King Theopompus, in whose reign the ephors were established, was scolded by his wife for leaving his son less royal power than he had inherited, he replied: "No, it is greater, because it will last longer." With their decision-making power reduced, the Spartan kings were freed of the jealousy of the people. They never went through what happened in nearby Messene and Argos, where the kings held on so tight to every last bit of power that in the end they wound end up losing it all.


According to Plutarch, Lycurgus traveled to Crete, Asia Minor and possibly to Egypt before he drew up his constitution.[20]

The Cretan constitution was said to have influenced that of Lycurgus for Sparta.[21]

(...) he first arrived at Crete, where, having considered their several forms of government, and got an acquaintance with the principal men among them, some of their laws he very much approved of, and resolved to make use of them in his own country; a good part he rejected as useless.

— Plutarch, Lycurgus[20]

Another inspiration for his constitution was the Ionian way of life, that attached more importance to pleasurable life. [b] Plutarch also gives some credence to the idea Lycurgus visited Egypt and was influenced by their way of separating the soldiers from those who did manual labor. [a]


Lycurgus is depicted in several U.S. government buildings because of his legacy as a lawgiver. Lycurgus is one of the 23 lawgivers depicted in marblebas-reliefs in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in the United States Capitol. The bas-relief was sculpted by Carl Paul Jennewein.[22] Lycurgus is also depicted on the frieze on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building.[23]

See also[edit]




External links[edit]

  1. ^ ab"The Egyptians say that he took a voyage into Egypt, and that, being much taken with their way of separating the soldiery from the rest of the nation, he transferred it from them to Sparta, a removal from contact with those employed in low and mechanical occupations giving high refinement and beauty to the state. Some Greek writers also record this." Source: Plutarch
  2. ^"From Crete he sailed to Asia, with design, as is said, to examine the difference betwixt the manners and rules of life of the Cretans, which were very sober and temperate, and those of the Ionians, a people of sumptuous and delicate habits, and so to form a judgment; just as physicians do by comparing healthy and diseased bodies." Source: Plutarch
  1. ^Forrest, W.G. A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C Norton. New York. (1963)pg 50
  2. ^Plutarchus, Mestrius. Parallel Lives. Chs. Lycurgus and Lycurgus and Numa Compared.  Plutarch lists Eratosthenes, Apollodorus of Athens, Timæus, and Xenophon, among others as sources.
  3. ^Plutarch, Lycurugus, 1.1
  4. ^ abBurn, A. R. (1982). The Pelican History of Greece. London: Penguin. pp. 116–117. 
  5. ^ abBury, J. B.; Meiggs, Russell (1956). A History of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great (3 ed.). London: Macmillan. pp. 135–136. 
  6. ^Thucydides 1.18.1
  7. ^Hammond, N. G. L. (1967). A history of Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 103. 
  8. ^Grant, Michael (1987). The rise of the Greeks (1st American ed.). New York: Scribners. pp. 96, 195. 
  9. ^Smith, William (1857). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. 2. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 850. 
  10. ^Lycurgus, in Plutarch on Sparta, Penguin Classics, 1988, p12
  11. ^see the biography of Lycurgus in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
  12. ^A commentary on Herodotus books I-IV By David Asheri, Alan B. Lloyd, Aldo Corcella, Oswyn Murray, Alfonso Moreno Page 127 ISBN 0-19-814956-5
  13. ^Pausanias 3.16.6
  14. ^ abPlutarch, The Life of Lycurgus (written 75, trans. John Dryden 1683), The Internet Classics Archive
  15. ^The Spartan Iron Currency Encyclopaedia of Money
  16. ^Mitchel, Humfrey The Phoenix Classical Association of Canada (1947)
  17. ^Goldsborough, Reid (2003-10-02). "World's First Coin". Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  18. ^Forrest, W.G. A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C Norton. New York. (1963) pg 45
  19. ^Forrest, W.G. A History of Sparta 950-192 B.C Norton. New York. (1963)pg 51
  20. ^ abPlutarch, Biography of Lycurgus
  21. ^Pausanias 3. 2, 4.
  22. ^"Relief Portraits of Lawgivers: Lycurgus." Architect of the CapitolArchived 2006-10-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^"Courtroom Friezes: North and South Walls: Information Sheet" Supreme Court of the United States
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