Lycurgus

, the celebrated lawgiver of Sparta, flourished, according to the most judicious modern chronologers, about 898 years before the Christian aera. Plutarch seems to think that he was the fifth in descent from Procles, and the tenth from Hercules. When the sceptre devolved to him by the death of his brother Polydectes, the widow of that prince was pregnant. He was no sooner assured of this, than he determined to hold the sovereign power in trust only, in case the child should prove a son, and took the title of Prodicus or Protector, instead of that of king. It is added, that he had the virtue to resist the offers of the queen, who would have married him, with the dreadful promise that no son should be born to intercept his views. A son at length was born, and publicly presented by him to the people, from whose joy on the occasion he named the infant Charilaus, i. e. the people’s joy. Lycurgus was at this time a young man, and the state of Sparta was too turbulent and licentious for him to introduce any system of regulation, without being armed with some more express authority. How long he continued to administer the government is uncertain; probably till his nephew was of age to take it into his own hands. After resigning it, howeyer, he did not long remain in Sparta, but went as a traveller to visit other countries and study their laws, particularly those of Crete, which were highly renowned for their excellence, and had been instituted by Rhadamanthus and Minos, two illustrious legislators, who pretended to have received their laws from Jupiter. Lycurgus passed some years in this useful employment, but he had left behind him such a reputation for wisdom and justice, that when the corruption and confusion of the state became intolerable, he was recalled by a public invitation to assume the quality of legislator, and to new model the government.

Lycurgus willingly returned to undertake the task thus devolved upon him, and, having obtained, after various difficulties, the co-operation of the kings, and of the | various orders of the people, he formed that extraordinary system of government which has been the wonder of all subsequent ages, but which has been too much detailed by various authors, for us to enter into the particulars. When with invincible courage, unwearied perseverance, and a judgment and penetration still more extraordinary, he had formed and executed the most singular plan that ever was devised, he waited for a time to see his great machine in motion; and finding it proceed to his wish, he had now no other object but to secure its duration. For this purpose he convened the kings, senate, and people, told them that he wished to visit Delphi, to consult the oracle on the constitution he had formed, and engaged them all to bind themselves by a most solemn oath, that nothing should be altered before his return. The approbation of the oracle he received, but he returned no more, being determined to bind his countrymen indissolubly to the observance of his laws, and thinking his life, according to the enthusiastic patriotism of those times, a small sacrifice to secure the welfare of his country. Different accounts are given of the place and manner of his death. According to some authors, he died by voluntary abstinence. One tradition says, that he lived to a good old age in Crete, and dying a natural death, his body was burned, according to the practice of the age, and his relics, pursuant to his own request, scattered in the sea; lest if his bones or ashes had ever been carried to Sparta, the Lacedemonians might have thought themselves free from the obligation of their oath, to preserve his laws unaltered. He is supposed to have died after the year 873 B. C. His laws were abrogated by Philopaemen in the year 188 B. C.j but the Romans very soon re-established them. 1

1

Mitford’s History of Greece. —Moreri. Gen. Dict. —Saxii Onomast. Plutarch in his life.