When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

Lycurgus and His Little Nephew

The Dorians were a brave and sturdy race, braver, perhaps, than any other of the Greek tribes. Apollo, the Sun-God, one of the noblest of the Olympians, was the god they held in greatest reverence.

A band of these Dorians came from the north and settled in the valley of Laconia, through which flows the river Eurotas. Here they built villages and called themselves Lacedaemonians.

Before long five of these villages joined together to form a city, which was named Sparta. Sparta became the capital or chief city in Laconia.

At first the new city was weak, scarcely able to hold her own against the neighbouring tribes, and much less able to add to her dominion. She was indeed hardly able to keep order within her own borders.

Sparta was ruled not by one king but by two, and so you might perhaps think that she would be governed better than any other city or state, but this was not so.

The first kings were twin brothers, for an oracle had bidden the Spartans 'to take both as kings, but to give greater honour to the elder.'

Instead of helping each other to improve their country, the two kings often disagreed, and then spent their days in quarrelling. The people were content that they should do so, for while the kings quarrelled they had no time to frame stricter laws or to punish those who disturbed the peace of the city.

It soon became clear that if Sparta was to grow great and prosperous a strong man must be found to guide the kings as well as the people. This strong man was found in Lycurgus the famous lawgiver.

History tells little about the life of the lawgiver, but many legends cluster around his name. It is told that Lycurgus belonged to one of the royal houses, and that when his elder brother died he became for a short time one of the kings of Sparta.

The queen-mother was an ambitious woman, and she wished still to sit on the throne as she had done while her husband was alive. So she said to Lycurgus that she would kill her tiny baby boy who would one day be king, if he would marry her. But the lawgiver was angry, and rebuked the queen-mother for wishing to do such a wicked deed.

One night as he sat at supper with the chief men of Sparta, Lycurgus ordered his little nephew to be brought to him.

When the child was carried into the room he took him in his arms and holding him up for all to see, he cried, 'Men of Sparta, here is a king born unto us.' Before them all he placed the babe on the throne, and as the child had not yet been named, he called him Charilaus, the joy of the people.

From that time Lycurgus became the guardian of his little nephew and the regent of the kingdom. So upright were his ways, so honest his words, that he was reverenced by the people as greatly as when he was king.

Meanwhile the queen-mother had not forgiven Lycurgus for thwarting her ambition, and she determined to punish him. So she spread a report among the people that Lycurgus meant to put his nephew to death that he might again become king.

Before long the rumour spread by the queen-mother reached the ears of Lycurgus, and he at once made up his mind to leave Sparta until Charilaus was old enough to reign. As he journeyed from place to place Lycurgus studied the laws and manners of the different countries, so that when he returned to Sparta he might be able to improve the laws of his own land.

In Ionia he is said not only to have read the works of Homer, but to have met the poet himself. So wise were many of the customs described in the poet's books that he set to work to reframe those that he thought would be of most use in his own country.

Some stories tell that Lycurgus made a copy of part of the poet's works, for it is thought that the Greeks at this time (about 800 or 900 B.C.) already knew how to write. It was thus Lycurgus who made the works of Homer well known to his countrymen.

But in all his travels what interested Lycurgus most was the way the soldiers were trained in Egypt. In other countries he had seen men who ploughed their fields or plied their trade, leave their work to fight when war broke out, but the Egyptian soldiers were soldiers and nothing else all the year round.

Lycurgus determined that he would train the youths of Sparta as strictly as the soldiers in Egypt were trained. They should be neither ploughmen nor merchants, but the best soldiers the world had ever seen.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple