Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

What Lycurgus Did for Sparta

T HERE were two cities in Greece named Athens and Sparta. These cities were not nearly so large as New York and Chicago; but still they were great towns, because the people who lived in them were brave and intelligent men and women, and did many noble deeds. In each of these cities the people obeyed laws which they said had been established for them by a great lawgiver. In Sparta the lawgiver was named Lycurgus, while in Athens it was Solon who had made their laws. We will read first about these two men and the laws which they made.

When the Spartans came into the land where they built their city they had a great many wars with the people round about them. Once it happened that their king was a boy, and could not defend them; so everything fell into confusion, and the people suffered much from their enemies. Then they called upon the king's uncle, Lycurgus, to help them out of their trouble.

Now, Lycurgus saw that while it would be very easy to drive off their enemies once, the only way to cure the troubles so that they would not come back any more was by making the Spartans better soldiers. So he drew up a set of laws which would do this. Then he called the people together, and explained the laws to them, and asked,—

"Will you agree to do what these laws command?"

"Yes," shouted the Spartans, "we will."

Lycurgus made them promise that they would not change any of the laws until he came back from Delphi, where he was going to consult the oracle. Then he went to Delphi, and the oracle told him that Sparta would be free and happy as long as the people obeyed his laws. When Lycurgus heard this he determined never to go back home again; for he knew that the Spartans would obey the laws as long as he stayed away, but he was afraid that if he went back some of the people might want to change them. So all the rest of hi life was spent far from the land he loved, and at last he died among strangers.

It was wise to Lycurgus not to return to Sparta, for the laws which he had made were very severe. When a boy reached the age of seven years he was taken from his parents, and placed with the other boys of his age in a great public training house. There he lived until became a man. The life which the boys led was very hard. Summer and winter they had to go barefooted, with only a thin shirt, or tunic, for clothing At night they slept on beds of rushes which they themselves had gathered from the river-bed near by. They had to do all the cooking and other work for themselves; and the food which was given them was never as much as hungry, growing boys needed, so they were forced to hunt and fish to get food. They did not study books as you do; but they were taught running, wrestling, boxing, and the use of the spear and sword.

When the boys became men, they left the training-house, and were formed into soldier companies. But still they had to live together, eating at the same table and sleeping in the same building; and it was not until they had become old men, and could no longer serve in war, that they were allowed to leave their companies and have homes of their own. Thus the men of Sparta became strong in body, strict in their habits, and skillful in the use of weapons, and were able to conquer all their old enemies, and to make their city one of the most famous in the world.

But, you may ask, what did the girls do while the boys were put through this severe training? The girls were not taken away from their mothers as the boys were; but they, too, were trained in running, wrestling, and other sports, and so they became the strongest and most beautiful women in all Greece. Although they were not able to fight, they were just as brave as the men, and they encouraged their brothers and sons in their wars. One brave Spartan mother had eight fine sons, who were all killed in one terrible battle. When the news brought to her she shed no tears, but only said: "It is well. I bore them to die for Sparta, if there was need." Was she not as brave as the men who fought the battle?

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