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Significance of Lycurgus Essay

Explain the significance of Lycurgus reforms to Spartan Society Lycurgus, who gave them the laws that they obey, and to which they owe their prosperity, I do regard with wonder and think that he reached the utmost limit of wisdom. For it was not by imitating other states, but by devising a system utterly different from that of most others, that he made his country pre-eminently prosperous. Xenophon. Lycurgus’ credibility amongst modern historians remains debated, ancient historical accounts on Lycurgus mostly occurred well after what is considered to be the time in history that he lived in.

Plutarch an Ancient Historian claims that Lycurgus was indeed a real human being that was given the Great Rhetra by a Delphic Oracle. Plutarch however wrote about Lycurgus in the 75AD few hundreds of years after Lycurgus’ life. Xenophon a Greek historian from 4th century BC believed that Spartans invented the man Lycurgus and attributed changes as well as Great Rhetra to him. Lycurgus was said to be descended from Hercules himself, the second prince in one of the two royal families in Sparta. Upon the passing of his father and older brother, Lycurgus nurtured the successor towards the throne.

Due to rumours that incriminated him implying that he would attempt to kill his nephew to gain control and power Lurcurgus departed vowing only to return when his nephew bore an heir. Traveling to Crete, he carefully studied the forms of government within this island and modified different concepts to what he thought to be useful for Sparta. He also travelled to Ionia, to study the difference between the Ionians and the Cretans. The Egyptians claim that Lycurgus adopted the idea of separating military and menial workers.

Sparta begged for the return of their hero, claiming that only he could be a true king. Royalty itself saw Lycurgus as protection for their people. He had decided that fundamental changes need to be made in Sparta. Before returning, he consulted the oracle of Delphi who informed him that he was “beloved of the gods, and rather god than man, and said that the god had granted his prayer for good laws, and promised him a constitution which should be the best in the world. ” Lycurgus began to enforce laws, standards and morals that shaped the great Sparta as we know it.

Lycurgus began by removing what he viewed as inequality from Spartan society. Ownership of personal property as well as real property between different classes was the root of inequality. His solution to this problem was the ban of silver and gold he soon realized that it would be too difficult to proceed openly. Therefore, he took an indirect approach. His solution was to ban ownership of any gold or silver, and to allow only money made of iron. The iron coins of Sparta were dipped in vinegar to make the metal brittle and worthless.

Merchants refused to accept this money because it had no intrinsic value, so imports into Sparta slowed. “He persuaded his fellow-citizens to make one parcel of all their poverty and wealth and divide it up anew, and to live with one another on a basis of entire uniformity and equality. ” Lurcugus distributed the rest of the Laconian land among the “perioeci”(free provincials). He strove to divide up their property so that unevenness and inequality may be removed. Another important innovate change Lycurgus brought to Sparta, was his institution of senate (council of elders. Lycurgus was so eager to establish a stable fair form of government that he obtained an oracle from Delphi, which they called the “rhetra”. This controlled the “feverish” government of the kings providing Spartans with the opportunity for an equal vote in matters of high importance this provided safety and due moderation into counsels of state. Before this establishment of the “Ephorate”, threats of civil wars and tyranny were looming upon the horizon. Majority of art forms were also banished, this however was no a loss due to their new currency and lack or import or exports.

However the “artisans were now freed from useless tasks” and instead focused their artistic works in common and necessary utensils such as bedsteads, chairs, and tables where of an amazing repute. With the removal of luxury, wealth and finer arts Lucurgus’ introduced another political device, the institution of the common messes. Meals had to be eaten together at public mess halls, money could not purchase fancy foods, the rich could no longer show off dainty foods and fancy homes. The public mess-halls were divided with tables of fifteen men, it was expected of each individual to bring a quota of food and wine every month.

Children would be sent to these tables to learn of wisdom. They would listen to men speak of business of state and other matters. Lycurgus took great care towards the future generations of Sparta, education began at a young age. Girls were expected to run and exercise so that their children would grow to be strong and healthy like their mother. They were taught to display their beauty to an appreciative audience. In their songs, the girls praised the men who were brave and strong and made fun of the men who shied away from bravery and were considered shameful. We are the only women who raise men. ” At the age of seven, Spartan boys left home to begin their military life. The main subject taught was obedience, they were taught enough reading and writing to become literate, but fighting skills were considered to be of more value. Lycurgus did not create a state to conquer and rule other cities. Instead he formed what turned to become the strongest most famous city of Greece. Lucurgus believed in the equality and happiness of his nation, his laws presented Spartans with a strong military, free-minded state.

Despite Lycurgus being a controversial historical figure, although debate has been constantly brought to light, to whether on not he actually existed. Modern historians argue that Spartan society evolved through a natural process. Changes probably made after the conquest of Messenia when farmland was redistributed. Despite modern debating whether or not Lurcugus fictional or non fictional character his influence upon Spartan society is groundbreaking. Credited for the development of one of the most complex government systems within ancient society. Lucurgus remains after his death an influential individual during ancient and modern times.


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