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A Biography of Lycurgus
(6th Century B.C.E.)

Stowe: The Temple of Ancient Virtue

According to the Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World, Lycurgus was a "semi-legendary early Spartan lawgiver who founded the government and social organization of classical Sparta. . . . By the most plausible modern theory, Lycurgus arose as a political savior around 665 B.C. after Sparta had been disastrously defeated in a war with Argos. In the decades following the defeat, Sparta completely reorganized itself as a militaristic state, devoted to the hoplite [heavy infantry] style of warfare and governed as a moderate oligarchy built around the hoplite class of citizens. The name given to this new form of government was eunomia, 'good law' or 'good discipline.' It is reasonable to see this swift, comprehensive change as the work of individual political genius."

According to Who Was Who in the Greek World, it is not clear when Lycurgus lived or whether he was a real person at all. "His political reforms were embodied in the 'Great Rhetra', a document said to have originated from Delphi, which provides for a council of 30 members including the kings, and a popular assembly, and defines their powers (though its exact meaning is much disputed). On the social side, he was said to have originated the 'Agoge', the system of education and military training for young Spartiates. At the age of seven the boy left home and began his training, which included such useful exercises as stealing his food (those who were caught were punished not for the theft but for inefficiency in carrying it out). Even adult Spartiates had much less private life than most Greeks, taking their meals in communal messes. Severe sumptuary laws and the prohibition of coinage left little scope for private luxury, and the distribution of land in equal, inalienable lots gave all Spartiates a basic minimum to live on. The aim of all this was to promote public spirit and military effectiveness, which the Spartiates found even more necessary than other Greeks because they were holding down a large and potentially rebellious helot population, especially in Messenia."

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College,