LLR Books



For centuries Sparta was the first military power in Greece. This
position it owed partly to the Dorian vigour of its inhabitants, and
partly to the strict discipline introduced by Lycurgus at a time when
the other Greek states had not yet awakened to the importance of that
military drill which was to contribute so largely to their influence. Of
these two sources of Spartan greatness we seem to have a recognition in
the fact mentioned by Pausanias that at the two bridges, on either side
of the place where the youths were in the habit of engaging in their
athletic contests, there was an image of Heracles and a statue of
Lycurgus, the one being the emblem of bodily strength, the other of
authority and rule.

Besides Sparta there were two other states whose ruling families could
claim to be descended from Heracles, namely Argos and Messenia. For a
long time Argos would admit no superiority on the part of any other
Greek state, and at no time was it reduced to subjection to any; but
within two hundred years after the Lycurgean _régime_ had been
established at Sparta, Messenia had been virtually annexed to
Lacedæmonian territory, and the bulk of its inhabitants reduced to a
state of serfdom scarcely distinguishable from that of the helots who
had been subjugated at the time of the Dorian invasion. From the first
the Dorian conquerors of Messenia seem to have been on more friendly
terms with their subjects than was the case with their kindred who
settled in Argos and Laconia. Their racial characteristics were thus
impaired, while their moral fibre was relaxed by the wealth of the
country which fell to their lot; but it was not till after a number of
severe struggles that Sparta obtained the mastery.

The condition of the Messenians after the first war (743-724) is thus
described by Tyrtæus the poet, who took part in the second war

    Like asses galled with heavy loads
    To their masters bringing, by doleful necessity,
    Half of all the fruit that the tilled land yields,
    Themselves and their wives alike bewailing their masters
    Whene’er death’s baneful lot has fallen on any.

The reference in the last two lines is to the fact that when Spartan
kings or nobles died, men and women had to come from Messenia to attend
their funeral, dressed in black. Their greatest warrior was Aristomenes,
who is said to have twice offered to Zeus Ithomates the sacrifice called
_hekatomphonia_, which could only be offered by any one after slaying a
hundred of his enemies in battle. Rather than submit to the loss of
their liberty many of the Messenians abandoned
their native land and settled at Naupactus, Cephallenia, and elsewhere,
with the sympathy and help of the Athenians. But even from these places
of refuge they were driven by the Spartans long afterwards, when the
latter had recovered their ascendency, and were forced to seek new homes
in Sicily and Italy (where they founded Messene and Rhegium) and in
North Africa. In 464 B.C. a general rising of the subject population
took place not only in Messenia but in the greater part of Laconia,
partly occasioned by a destructive earthquake, which was regarded as a
judgment of heaven on the Spartans for their sacrilegious cruelty to
some slaves who had taken refuge in a temple of Poseidon on the coast.
In this struggle, as at the close of the first war, the chief stronghold
and rallying-point of the oppressed nationality was Mount Ithome, which
rises to a height of 2600 feet, and was described at a later time as one
of the horns of the Peloponnesus, Acro-Corinthus being the other. Nearly
a hundred years afterwards the Messenians found a deliverer in
Epaminondas. The great Theban not only invited the exiles to return, but
also restored their enslaved countrymen at home to the enjoyment of
their political rights and liberties. In order to secure their unity and
independence he resolved to build a great city in the immediate vicinity
of Ithome, with the summit for an acropolis. After elaborate sacrifices
and solemn prayers, invoking the presence and protection of their
ancient heroes, especially the valiant Aristomenes, the city was laid
out and built with the help of some of the best architects and masons of
the day, the labourers being cheered in their work by the rival strains
of the Bœotian and Argive flutes. Fortifications were erected, so
strong, and planned on such scientific principles, that the remains of
them, in the form of walls and towers and gates, are still the
admiration and astonishment of military men. The territory which
Epaminondas annexed to the city was by far the most fertile part of
Greece, including the plain of Stenyclerus on the north and the still
richer and more extensive plain watered by the river Pamisus on the
south, to which the name of Macaria (“Blessed”) was given.

Notwithstanding these advantages, and although the returned exiles had
preserved unimpaired their Dorian speech and sentiment, the new city was
not destined to play any great part in the annals of Greece. The fear of
its old enemy made it too ready to submit to the subtle encroachments of
Philip, in spite of the warnings which Demosthenes, the great Athenian
orator, on one occasion addressed in person to its assembly. A few years
later the city fell into the hands of Alexander the Great and his
subordinates, who robbed it of its liberties and paved the way for the
dominion of Rome. The site is now almost uninhabited, and overgrown with
vineyards and corn-fields. Excavations have brought to light the
foundations of a theatre, a stadium, a market-place, and a fountain;
but, apart from the fortifications, there are few remains of any great
interest. The view from the top of the mountain is one of the finest in
the Peloponnesus, commanding the Taygetus range of mountains on the east
and the sea on the south and west. Standing on the summit one has a sense of elevation and
aloofness; and one can understand how it should have been chosen as a
retreat by a wealthy citizen of Athens, who devoted himself to a life of
prayer and meditation, only descending once a fortnight for a supply of
necessary food--an illustration, in a new form, as Prof. Mahaffy
remarks, of the tendency to human sacrifice which was early associated
with the altar of Zeus Ithomates. There is a ruined chapel on the top,
also traces of very ancient foundations, some of them probably connected
with the defence of the fortress, others with the worship of Zeus.
Nearly half-way up the mountain the traveller passes a Greek convent
(Vourkano)--a quadrangle with an interesting little church in the
centre, where he will meet with a kind reception if he pay a visit to
the monks and partake of their simple hospitality.

The ascent of Mount Ithome is in some places rather difficult, and
requires careful riding. Before he start, perhaps the traveller may
witness a controversy between his dragoman and the natives who have been
engaged to bring horses or mules for the journey. An excited crowd will
gather, which will not be complete without the presence and peace-making
counsels of the parish priest--usually a very sociable person, in close
touch with the interests of his parishioners, and conspicuous for his
long black beard, his tall rimless hat, and his long loose coat, lined
with fur. Perhaps the traveller may have a servant told off to guide his
beast, who rejoices in the illustrious name of Leonidas, and is
entrusted with a big leather bottle containing the copious supply of
resinated wine intended not only for himself but for his
fellow-servants. To refresh himself in his long climb under the rays of
the sun pouring down upon him from a cloudless sky, Leonidas may help
himself so liberally as to get excited and break out into song and
story, imperilling the rider’s life, perhaps, by going off the main
track and having to turn where the horse has difficulty in keeping its
hind feet from slipping down the side of a precipice; or, perhaps, in
descending the mountain he may pull the rope attached to the animal’s
head with such force as to compel it to take a leap downwards, which
might easily project the rider down the hill if he were not on the watch
and determined to keep his seat under all circumstances. But Leonidas is
an exceptional man, and the animals are so sure-footed that accidents
very seldom occur.

About fifteen miles south-east of Messene, at the head of the gulf, is
the thriving little town of Kalamata, with some silk manufactories and a
large trade in currants and figs and other fruits. To the south-west, on
the coast, about twenty-five miles from Messene, lies the traditional
capital of Nestor’s kingdom, still retaining its old Homeric name of
(sandy) Pylos. Kalamata is supposed to be the ancient Pheræ at which
Telemachus and Nestor’s son, Peisistratus, halted for the night on their
way to Sparta to visit Menelaus. The distances suit well enough for a
two-days’ ride, but it has been pointed out by V. Bérard that there is
no roadacross the Taygetus mountains by which travellers could have driven in a
chariot to Sparta, as Homer represents the two young men to have done;
and he concludes (as Strabo did) that the Pylos referred to must have
been the place of the same name much farther north, from which a journey
on wheels could be made all the way to Sparta. Even apart from the
interest attaching to it as the supposed city of Nestor, Pylos, with the
adjacent island of Sphacteria, has had an important place in Greek
history, both in ancient and in modern times. In the seventh year of the
Pelopennesian war it was the scene of one of the most memorable defeats
ever sustained by the Spartans at the hands of the Athenians. Twenty-two
centuries afterwards (1770 A.D.) its garrison of Greek insurgents was
massacred by the Turks, who, in turn, suffered a similar calamity in
1821 at the outbreak of the War of Liberation, as the Greeks again did
at the hands of the Egyptians in 1825; while in 1827 the naval battle of
Navarino took place in its bay, resulting in the destruction of the
Turkish fleet, with a loss of 6000 lives, in less than two hours, by the
combined British, French, and Russian forces.

Sparta was the only Greek state that retained the regal form of
government all through the period of Hellenic glory. Its government was
not, strictly speaking, a monarchy, however, as there were two royal
dynasties, descended from the twin sons of the Heracleid Aristodemus,
which had continued unbroken in the male line for 500 years, forming a
direct connection with the heroic age. The two kings served as a check
on one another’s ambition, preventing the growth of such tyranny as had
been found intolerable in other states, and had there led to the
adoption of an oligarchic or democratic form of government. The rights
of the community were further conserved by the modification of two
public bodies, dating from the heroic age, of which we often hear in
Homer, namely, the _Boulé_ or Senate and the _Ecclesia_ or General
Assembly. In Sparta the former received the name of _Gerousia_, and
consisted of twenty-eight members above sixty years of age, presided
over by the two kings; the latter was called _Apella_, and was
periodically convened to consider any proposals submitted to it, and had
the right to fill up vacancies in the Gerousia. But the most effectual
safeguard against tyranny was found in the annual election, by the
Apella, of five officials, named ephors, who came into existence about
750 B.C. and gradually acquired such control of public affairs both at
home and abroad that the royal prerogative was virtually reduced to the
command of the army in the field, the offering of public sacrifices, the
charge of communications with the Delphian oracle, and some other
matters of a ceremonial kind. Even in their capacity as
commanders-in-chief the kings became subject to the decision of the
Assembly as to the making of peace or war, and ultimately had even to
take their directions from the ephors in the conduct of a campaign.
Every month the kings and the ephors took an oath of fidelity, the
former promising to rule in accordance with the constitution, the
latter to be loyal in their obedience, on the condition just mentioned.
As in our own country, there was a continual tendency to make royalty a
position of honour rather than of power, which was the more remarkable
in Sparta, as the office was universally regarded as held by divine
right, and as lying at the foundation of the nation’s tide to its
territorial inheritance derived from Heracles.

The social system introduced by Lycurgus about the beginning of the
eighth century B.C., under the direction, as was believed, of the
Delphian oracle, was founded upon a species of communism to which only
those were admitted who were full citizens of Sparta, and had sufficient
property to contribute their appointed quota to the expenses of the
common mess. All the citizens without exception had to conform with the
utmost regularity to a rigorous code of discipline, which was fitted to
produce habits of courage, strength, endurance, self-denial, and
simplicity of life. The training of the boys for military service, to
which citizens were liable from their twentieth to their sixtieth year,
began when they were seven years old. They were not only trained to
athletic exercises and feats of strength, but they had also to content
themselves with the plainest food and the scantiest clothing. As they
approached manhood it was considered to be in the interests of religion,
and pleasing to the goddess Artemis Orthia in particular, that they
should be severely scourged, and it was no uncommon thing for young lads
to die under the operation without betraying any sign of suffering. To
be able to bear pain without flinching, and to become inured to the
severest hardships and privations, was looked on as the chief end of a
manly education.

The young women were also trained in gymnastic exercises, and enjoyed
more freedom than in any other part of Greece. They boxed and wrestled,
and ran races, sometimes even with the young men. The object of their
education was to train them to be mothers of brave men, and their
martial spirit comes out in some of the sayings addressed by Spartan
mothers to their sons--“Return with your shield or upon it,” “If your
sword is too short add a pace to it.” As a rule the women held a
position of honour in the community and were frequently possessed of
property, so much so that in the fourth century B.C. more than half the
land in Laconia belonged to them. They were trained to suppress all
emotions of tenderness and compassion, and to reserve their admiration
and affection for the brave and strong. Nothing could have been more
humiliating than the reception given to defeated soldiers who survived
their comrades and returned home. No one would speak to them or
associate with them in any way, and if they did not bear themselves with
the greatest humility they were liable to be struck and insulted by any
one who met them. Cowardice was the one sin for which there was no
forgiveness. It is told of one of the men serving under Leonidas, who
had allowed some complaint in his eyes to prevent him from joining his
comrades at Thermopylæ, that when he went home to Sparta he was treated
with the utmost scorn; no one would give him even a light for his fire. A year afterwards the same
man was foremost in the fight at the battle of Platæa, which completed
the discomfiture of Persia. He thought by his heroic defiance of danger
to wipe out the reproach which rested on him, and he perished nobly on
the field. But for all that he was not considered worthy of the funeral
honours that were bestowed upon his fallen comrades, who had been less
reckless in the fight but had always done their duty.

In harmony with this contempt for cowardice was the deportment of
soldiers’ relatives when news of battle reached them. The friends of
those who had fallen, instead of being cast down with grief, went about
with a proud and glad mien, as if they knew they were entitled to honour
and respect, while the relatives of those who had allowed themselves to
be taken prisoners or had made their escape were depressed and sad, as
if they had reason to be ashamed in the presence of their neighbours.
When tidings of the terrible disaster at Leuctra arrived at Sparta the
whole community were engaged in the celebration of the festival of
_gymnopædia_, and the chorus of grown men was at the moment performing
in the theatre. But no suspension or interruption of the proceedings
took place. The only thing done was to send information of their
bereavement to those whose friends were reported as killed, and to
enjoin the women to make no noise. Historians have contrasted this
self-control of the Spartans with the weeping and wailing of the
Athenians on the night on which the news arrived of the destruction of
their fleet at Ægospotami, which put an end for ever to their naval
empire. But they also relate an incident which shows that Athenian women
could be as fierce in their indignation as their Spartan sisters. In an
expedition against Ægina the whole of the Athenian citizens engaged in
it, except one, lost their lives. On his return the survivor was beset
by the widows of his slain comrades, each demanding to know what had
become of her husband; and before he could make his escape from the
infuriate crowd he was pricked to death with their brooch-pins.

In contrast to the wonderful calmness shown by the Spartans in time of
calamity was the demonstration of feeling which took place on one
occasion when they received unexpected news of a great victory over the
combined Arcadian and Argive forces, without the loss of a single
Lacedæmonian. For some time they had been so accustomed to defeat that
all who heard the news burst into tears, Agesilaus and the Ephors
setting the example--so much more difficult is it to repress violent
feelings of joy than of sorrow.

It was another peculiarity of Spartan training that to take advantage of
people in the matter of property was regarded as a merit, if the
dishonesty was not detected, and if it was not a breach of some special
law or custom. In Xenophon’s _Anabasis_ (iv. 6) there is a curious
allusion to this trait of the Spartan character. The Greek army had come
to a pass occupied by a hostile force. Instead of trying to carry it by
direct assault Xenophon suggested that soldiers should be sent up the
shoulder of the hill to turn the position. “But,” he said, addressing
his Spartan colleague Cheirisophus, “stealing a march upon the enemy is
more in your line than mine. For I understand that you, the full
citizens and peers of Sparta, practise stealing from your boyhood
upwards, and that it is held no way base, but even honourable, to steal
such things as the law does not distinctly forbid. And in order that you
may steal with the greatest effect and take pains to do it in secret,
the custom is to flog you if you are found out. Here, then, you have an
excellent opportunity of displaying your skill. Take good care that we
be not found out in stealing possession of the mountain now before us,
for if we are found out we shall be well beaten.” To this pleasantry
Cheirisophus rejoined: “Why, as for that, you Athenians also, as I
learn, are capital hands at stealing the public money, and that, too, in
spite of prodigious peril to the thief. Nay, your most powerful men
steal most of all--at least if it be the most powerful men among you
that are raised to official command. So that this is a time for you to
exhibit your training as well as for me to exhibit mine.”

There was no place where the love of money was more prevalent than in
Sparta, and that in spite of the fact that till a comparatively late
period the possession of gold and silver by private individuals was
forbidden. For a long time the only metal in circulation was iron, in
such heavy pieces that it was impossible for any one to carry much money
with him, or even to store it in his house. When Lysander brought home
what was left of the large amount of gold and silver he had received
from Cyrus for the prosecution of his schemes, strong objection was
taken to its admission by some of the Ephors, as being at variance with
the principles laid down by Lycurgus. It was only on the understanding
that the treasure was to be the property of the state, and not of any
private individual, that their objections were overruled, though their
scruples about accepting the money did not prevent them from withholding
from their allies any share of the spoil. The Lycurgean system was
doomed, owing to the change which had come over the views of the leading
men, as the result of foreign travel, and the bribery to which they had
become habituated, especially in their relations with Persia. The wealth
and magnificence of their famous general, Lysander, who was the first
Greek to receive divine honours in historic times, and who is the most
typical representative of imperial Sparta, present a striking contrast
to the severe simplicity of his forefathers. Even a greater evil than
the personal self-seeking which began to prevail was the collective
selfishness by which the Spartans had long been distinguished. As a
rule, they were comparatively indifferent to the general interests of
the Hellenic race, and on more than one occasion they showed that they
were ready to sacrifice these interests for their own immediate
advantage, currying favour with the Persians at the cost of the
liberties of the Asiatic Greeks, and envying and grieving at the naval
empire of Athens, while they failed to take advantage of their own
opportunitiesfor building up an empire on land, in which they could have retained
their supremacy without trampling on the rights and liberties of other
Greek states. If Sparta had possessed a few more men of the type of
Brasidas--men of a generous and catholic spirit as well as of consummate
ability in war--its own life and the life of ancient Greece might have
been indefinitely prolonged.

It was one of the penalties of the narrow discipline of Sparta that it
produced so few really great men. The body was cultivated at the expense
of the mind, and little or no importance was attached to intellectual
pursuits. Music was almost the only form of art generally cultivated,
and that chiefly because of its connection with military drill. The
victory of Agis at Mantinea in 418 B.C., when he was taken by surprise,
was largely due to the inspiring and regulative influence of the fifes
and war-songs (which were as cheering and not so exciting as the
speeches delivered on the other side), as well as to the superior mode
of transmitting orders from the general, through the various gradations
of rank (down to the _enomotarch_ in charge of some twenty-five men), as
compared with the public proclamation by a herald, which was customary
elsewhere. Even for their music they are said to have been indebted to
foreign teachers--to Tyrtæus, whose stirring strains raised their
spirits at a most trying crisis in their history; to Terpander, who
added three strings to the lyre, completing the octave; and to Alcman,
the last to train a popular and voluntary chorus. Not only in their
military drill, but also in their public processions and choral dances,
music played a great part in their civilisation. People of all ranks and
classes (not excepting even the kings) and of all ages, were expected to
undergo training at the hands of the chorus-master and take their
allotted place in the public celebrations. To this day you may sometimes
see on festive occasions well-dressed men and women joining with the
children in a choral dance on the public road.

One great defect in the Spartan discipline was the want of a natural
home-life for the growth of family affection and social culture. Their
city was more like an armed camp in the midst of a hostile population
than the capital of a civilised state. The military distinction to which
they sacrificed everything else fostered a spirit of imperious pride,
which became their ruling passion, as it was indeed their chief reward
for their unsparing self-denial. For a long time they were regarded as
practically invincible, so much so that when nearly 300 of them
surrendered at Sphacteria to an immensely superior force of Athenians,
it created quite a sensation throughout Greece. The description of them
given by Demaratus to Xerxes, that Spartans must either conquer or die,
expressed the character which they not only claimed for themselves but
which was popularly attributed to them by the whole Hellenic race, and
it procured for them an honourable reception wherever they appeared in
time of peace. In war they had the support of the periœci, as they
were called, the inhabitants of the country towns and more mountainous
parts of Laconia, to whom they conceded freedom but no political rights. In general, their relations with these
people were friendly enough. It was owing to the need of providing an
outlet for the surplus rural population and meeting their aspirations
that the colony of Tarentum was founded in 707 B.C. The colonising of
Thera (Santorin--which became in turn the mother of the Greek colony of
Cyrene in North Africa), and the Dorian settlements in the south-west of
Asia Minor, took place much earlier.

The number of fully qualified Spartan citizens was never very great,
some 8000 or 9000, with a tendency to decrease owing to the subdivision
of family property rendering them unable to contribute their quota to
the public mess, debarred as they were from engaging in agriculture or
other industry. They had constantly to guard against a revolt on the
part of the helots or slave population, who were bound to the soil and
cultivated the lands of their Spartan masters. They availed themselves
of their services as light-armed troops, but so suspicious were they of
them that they never hung up their shields without detaching their
holding-rings from them, for fear they might be snatched up and used
against them. Their treatment of the helots was frequently cruel and
oppressive. They had a system of secret police, under which three
hundred of their strongest young men were charged with the duty of
detecting any signs of disloyalty among the serfs, and putting the
suspected to death without a trial. At the time of the Peloponnesian war
they were believed to have been guilty of an atrocity of this kind of a
peculiarly revolting character, when they were in great dread of a
native insurrection. They announced that liberty was to be conferred on
those who had distinguished themselves in the recent war, and invited
all such to apply for their reward. A great many did so, and about two
thousand of them were formally emancipated, and led in procession to the
temples with wreaths upon their heads. But immediately afterwards they
all disappeared, put to death in some mysterious way, which was never
made public. This we have from Thucydides, a contemporary historian.

Such things were little fitted to make Sparta a “Liberator of the
Greeks,” as she professed to be when seeking to crush the imperial power
of Athens; and, as soon as her military power began to decline, she
gradually lost her influence. Yet it should not be forgotten that after
the battle of Ægospotami (404 B.C.), when the Athenian empire was
shattered and its capital lay at the mercy of the Peloponnesian allies,
the Spartans refused to assent to the proposal of Corinth and Thebes
that Athens should be destroyed and its inhabitants sold into
slavery--declaring that they could never be a party to such treatment of
a city which had laid all Greece under obligations by its conduct at the
time of the Persian invasion. It is also to the credit of Sparta that as
late as 338 B.C. she, alone of all the Greek states, refused to submit
to Philip, who ravaged her territory, but failed to take the city, as
Epaminondas had also failed to do, when he occupied the country a
generation before. A hundred years later an earnest attempt was made by
two Spartan kings, Agis IV. and Cleomenes III., to revive the ancient
discipline and government; and some measure of immediate success was
attained. But it was only the last flicker of the expiring flame. The
battle of Sellasia in 221 B.C. put an end for ever to the Heracleid
kingdom, and in the next generation Philopœmen abolished what was
still left of the Lycurgean constitution. Thenceforth the greatness of
Sparta was a thing of the past.

“These are the walls of Lacedæmon,” said Agesilaus on one occasion, as
he pointed to the citizens in arms. The truth of his words was proved
more than once, as we have just seen. But he might also have pointed to
the mountain barriers by which the country was hemmed in on every side
except towards the sea, where invaders were confronted by a dangerous
and inhospitable coast. The city described by Thucydides lay on the
western side of the river Eurotas, in a plain four or five miles in
breadth and about eighteen miles in length. It presented the appearance
of a number of adjoining villages, built on low hills; and in this
respect it has been compared to ancient Rome. The situation is
beautiful, especially as one looks west upon the grand range of
Taÿgetus, its lower slopes and valleys clothed with the richest
vegetation, while its serried peaks, extending for miles towards Cape
Matapan on the south, rise into the region of perpetual snow. The site
of the ancient city is for the most part covered over with olive-groves
and corn-fields and other vegetation. Traces of a large theatre have
been found, and there is a massive stone structure which goes by the
name of Leonidas’ tomb. There are a few other remains, but none of any
great interest.

A short distance to the south-east of Sparta, where the river Magoula
joins the Eurotas, on the top of steep cliffs, reaching in some places a
height of more than 700 feet, and approaching close to the east bank of
the Eurotas, lies the site of the ancient Therapne, which is now
generally identified with the Homeric Sparta. If the supposition be
correct, these heights were once the scene of palatial state and
splendour, with which the historic Sparta even in its best days had
nothing to compare. The foundations of a temple sacred to Menelaus and
Helen have been traced, and a great many little figures of lead have
been discovered, which served no doubt as votive offerings, while
fragments of unglazed Mycenæan pottery have also been found in the
immediate neighbourhood. According to tradition, there was here also a
temple to the Dioscuri--Castor and Pollux, half-brother and brother of
Helen; and here they were said to lie buried every alternate day, Pollux
having declined the offer of immortality from his father Zeus, unless it
were shared by his brother.

Two or three miles south of Sparta, on the west side of the river, in
the midst of a country abounding in fine fruit trees and rich cereal
crops, lay the ancient city of Amyclæ, which remained in the hands of
the Achæans for centuries after the Dorian invasion. On the top of an
adjoining hill the foundations of the famous precinct of Apollo have been excavated, where the Hyacinthian
festival was celebrated from an early period in memory of a beautiful
youth whom Apollo was said to have accidentally killed in a game of
quoits. His tomb is under the altar of Apollo, a fact to be explained
perhaps by the worship of the Dorian Apollo having superseded the
earlier rites, though the name of Hyacinthus still survived. This
festival (connected with the vegetation of spring) and the Carnean
celebration of Apollo, as the horned cattle god, are often mentioned in
history as the cause of delay in military expeditions, no people being
more punctilious than the Spartans in attending to religious ordinances,
and paying heed to natural omens, such as earthquakes. On one occasion
the attendance at the Hyacinthia of a few soldiers on service at Corinth
cost the Spartan army the loss of a battalion which had been sent to
convoy them part of the way home, and in returning was cut to pieces by
the Athenian Iphicrates and his famous peltasts or slingers. The
importance of the sanctuary at Amyclæ is seen in the fact that the
treaty between Athens and Sparta in 421 B.C. was to be inscribed on a
column there, and also in the temple of Athena on the Acropolis of

A walk or ride of a few miles to the west, through an exuberant country,
brings you to the foot of a mountain called Mistra, which springs like
an offshoot from the roots of Taÿgetus. It looks small compared with the
giant range behind, but it is 2000 feet high, and commands one of the
most charming views in Greece, across the valley of the Eurotas and
down towards the gorge opening on the sea. The mediæval buildings
scattered over the mountain-side, and the well-cultivated fields and
gardens and terraces all around and beneath it, present a pleasing
contrast to the wild passes above, which include the famous Langada
pass, leading into the plains of Messenia. On the top of the hill there
is a citadel in a wonderfully good state of preservation, erected by the
Frankish knight, William de Ville-hardouin, in the middle of the
thirteenth century. Beneath it are the remains of a palace, once the
residence of the Governor of the Morea (who ranked next to the Byzantine
emperor), surrounded by a city which deprived Sparta of its importance
until the present century. The city is now greatly decayed, and the
buildings still in use are chiefly chapels and monasteries belonging to
the Greek Church, which, here as elsewhere, has had to surrender to the
Government much of its wealth to meet the educational needs of the

On the way between Sparta and Mistra you pass the mouth of a cave
opening downwards into the side of the mountain, which is pointed out as
the place called Cæadas into which the Spartans were in the habit of
casting criminals and weak or deformed children. It was here that
Aristomenes, the Messenian hero, was believed to have made a miraculous
escape from death. Along with fifty other Messenians he had been hurled
into the yawning recess, but by good luck, or the favour of the gods as
his friends asserted, he reached the bottom unhurt. Seeing no outlet he had resigned himself
to his fate, when his attention was attracted by a fox crawling among
the dead. He succeeded in getting hold of its tail, and, defending
himself from its bites as he best could with his cloak, he found himself
at the opening by which the fox had entered, and, by enlarging it a
little, contrived to make an exit for himself, reappearing safe and
sound, to the amazement both of friends and foes.

Modern Sparta, which is now the recognised capital of Laconia under the
Greek monarchy, lies a little to the south of the ancient site. It is a
well-built town, embosomed in gardens and orchards, with wide and
regular streets. There is a museum in it containing some venerable
relics, though, as yet, Laconia has not received from the excavator the
attention it deserves. The scenery is so beautiful, and there are so
many historic and prehistoric associations connected with the district,
that a few days may be spent in Sparta with great satisfaction, provided
comfortable quarters can be secured.

No comments:

Post a Comment