John Lord.

Anceint states and empires online

. (page 15 of 55)
Online LibraryJohn LordAnceint states and empires → online text (page 15 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

beginnings of democi*atic influence — the voice of the people
asserting a claim to be heard in the market-place. We see
again the existence of slavery — captives taken in war doomed
to attendance in princely palaces, and ultimately to menial
labor on the land. In those primitive times a State was
often nothing but a city, with the lands surrounding it,
and thereftn'e it was possible for all the inhabitants to as-
semble in the agora with the king and nobles. We find, in

174- Legends of Ancient Greece. [Chap. XIV.

the early condition of Greece, kings, nobles, citizens, and

The king was seldom distinguished by any impassable bar-
The early riev between himself and subjects. He was rather
orthe nment tne chief among his nobles, and his supremacy
Hellenes. wag b ase( i on descent from illustrious ancestors.
It passed generally to the eldest son. In war he was a leader ;
in peace, a protector. He offered up prayers and sacrifices
for his people to the gods in whom they all alike believed.
He possessed an ample domain, and the produce of his
lands Avas devoted to a generous but rude hosj3itality. He
had a large share of the plunder taken from an enemy, and
the most alluring: of the female captives. It was,

The king. ° l . '

however, difficult for him to retain ascendency
without great personal gifts and virtues, and especially bra-
very on the field of battle, and wisdom in council. To the
noblest of these kings the legends ascribe great bodily
strength and activity.

The kings were assisted by a great council of chieftains or

nobles, whose functions were deliberation and con-

The councils. . . ,

sulfation ; and after having talked over their inten-
tions with the chiefs, they announced them to the people, who
assembled in the market-place, and who were generally sub-
missive to the royal authority, although they were regarded
as the source of power. Then the king, and sometimes his
nobles, administered justice and heard complaints. Public
speaking was favorable to eloquence, and stimulated intel-
lectual development, and gave dignity to the people to whom
the speeches were addressed.

In those primitive times there was a strong religious feeling,
Religions great reverence for the gods, whose anger was
life. deprecated, and whose favor was sought. The ties

of families were strong. Paternal authority was recognized
and revered. Marriage was a sacred institution. The wife
occupied a position of great dignity and influence. "Women
were not secluded in a harem, as were the Asiatics, but em-
ployed in useful labors. Children were obedient, and bro-

Chap. XIV.] Early Forms of Civilization. 1^5

thers, sisters,, and cousins were united together by strong
attachments. Hospitality was a cherished virtue, and the
stranger was ever cordially welcome, nor questioned even
until refreshed by the bath and the banquet. Feasts were
free from extravagance and luxury, and those who shared
in them enlivened the company by a recital of the adven-
tures of gods and men. But passions were unrestrained,
and homicide was common. The murderer was not punish-
ed by the State, but was left to the vengeance of kindred
and friends, appeased sometimes by costly gifts, as among
the ancient Jews.

There was a i"ude civilization among the ancient Greeks,
reminding us of the Teutonic tribes, but it was Early forms
higher than theirs. We observe the division of tiou.
the people into various trades and occupations — carpenters,
smiths, leather-dressers, leeches, prophets, bards, and fisher-
men, although the main business was agriculture. Cattle
were the great staple of wealth, and the largest part of the
land was devoted to pasture. The land was tilled chiefly by
slaves, and women of the servile class were doomed to severe
labor and privations. They brought the water, and they
turned the mills. Spinning and weaving were, however, the
occupations of all, and garments for men and women were
alike made at home. There was only a limited commerce,
which was then monopolized by the Phoenicians, who exag-
gerated the dangers of the sea. There were walled cities,
palaces, and temples. Armor was curiously wrought, and
arms were well made. Rich garments were worn by
princes, and their palaces glittered with the precious metals.
Copper was hardened so as to be employed in weapons of
war. The warriors had chariots and horses, and were armed
with sword, dagger, and spear, and were protected by
helmets, breastplates, and greaves. Fortified cities were built
on rocky elevations, although the people generally lived in
unfortified villages. The means of defense were superior to
those of offense, which enabled men to preserve their acqui-
sitions, for the ancient chieftains resembled the feudal barons

176 Legends of Ancient Greece. [Chap. xiv.

of the Middle Ages in the passion for robbery and adventure.
We do not read of coined money nor the art of writing, nor
sculpture, nor ornamental architecture among the Homeric
Greeks ; but they were fond of music and poetry. Before
history commences, they had their epics, which, sung by
the bards and minstrels, furnished Homer and Hesiod with
materials for their noble productions. It is supposed by
Grote that the Homeric poems were composed eight hundred
and fifty years before Christ, and preserved two hundred
years without the aid of writing — of all poems the most
popular and natural, and addressed to unlettered minds.

Such were the heroic ages with their myths, their heroes,
their simple manners, their credulity, their religious faith,
their rude civilization. We have now to trace their pro-
gress through the historical epoch.



We come now to consider those States which grew into
importance about the middle of the eighth century before
Christ, at the close of the legendary period.

The most important of these was Sparta, which was the
leading State. "We have seen how it was conquered

, Lycurgus.

by Dorians, under Heraclic princes. Its iirst great

historic name was Lycurgus, whom some historians, however,

regard as a mythical personage.

Sparta was in a state of anarchy in consequence of the
Dorian conquest, a contest between the kings, aiming at ab-
solute power, and the people, desirous of democratic liberty.
At this juncture the king, Polydectes, died, leaving Lycurgus,
his brother, guardian of the realm, and of the infant His legisia-
heir to the throne. The future lawgiver then set tlon '
out on his travels, visiting the other States of Greece, Asia
Minor, Egypt, and other countries, and returned to Sparta
about the period of the first Olympiad, b. c. 776, with a rich
store of wisdom and knowledge. The State was full of dis-
orders, but he instituted great reforms, aided by the authority
of the Delphic oracle, and a strong party of influential men.
His great object was to convert the citizens of Sparta into
warriors united by the strongest bonds, and trained to the
severest discipline, governed by an oligarchy under the form
of the ancient monarchy. In other words, his object was to
secure the ascendency of the small body of Dorian invaders
that had conquered Laconia.

The descendants of these invaders, the Spartans, alone
possessed the citizenship, and were equal in political rights.

178 Grecian States and Colonies. [Chap. XV.

They were the proprietors of the soil, which was tilled by
Spartan citi- Helots. The Spartans disdained any occupation
zens- but war and government. They lived within

their city, which was a fortified camp, and ate in common at
public tables, and on the simplest fare. Every virtue and
energy were concentrated on self-discipline and sacrifice, in
order to fan the fires of heroism and self-devotion. They
were a sort of stoics — hard, severe, proud, despotic, and
overbearing. They cared nothing for literature, or art, or
philosophy. Even eloquence was disdained, and the only
poetry or music they cultivated were religious hymns and
heroic war songs. Commerce was forbidden by the consti-
tution, and all the luxuries to which it leads. Only iron was
allowed for money, and the precious metals were prohibited.
Every exercise, every motive, every law, contributed to
make the Spartans soldiers, and nothing but soldiers. Their
discipline was the severest known to the ancients. Their
habits of life were austere and rigid. They were trained to
suffer any hardship without complaint.

Besides these Spartan citizens were the Perioeci — remnants
The old of the old Achaean population, but mixed with an
population, inferior class of Dorians. They had no political
power, but possessed personal freedom. They were landed
proprietors, and engaged in commerce and manufactures.

Below this class were the Helots — pure Greeks, but reduced
to dependence by conquest. They were bound
to the soil, like serfs, but dwelt with their families
on the farms they tilled. They were not bought and sold
as slaves. They were the body servants of the Spartan citi-
zens, and were regarded as the property of the State. They
were treated with great haughtiness and injustice by their
masters, which bred at last an intense hatred.

All political power was in the hands of the citizen warriors,
only about nine thousand in number in the time of Lycurgus.
From them emanated all delegated authority, except that of
The Eccie- kings. This assembly, or ecclesid, of Spartans over
sia- thirty years of age, met at stated intervals to decide

Chap. XV.] Institutions of /Sparta. 179

on all important matters submitted to them, but they had no
right of amendment — only a simple approval or rejection.

The body to which the people, it would seem, delegated
considerable power, was the Senate, composed of

, . . L '■",'•. /. _, The Senate.

thirty members, not under sixty years of age, and
elected for life. They were a deliberative body, and judges
in all capital charges against Spartans. They were not chosen
for noble birth or property qualifications, but for merit and

At the head of the State, at least nominally, were two
kinsjs, who were numbered with the thirtv senators.

The kings.

They had scarcely more power than the Roman

consuls ; they commanded the armies, and offered the public

sacrifices, and were revered as the descendants of Hercules.

The persons of most importance were the ephors, chosen
annuallv bv the people, who exercised the chief
executive power, and without responsibility. I hey
could even arrest kings, and bring them to trial before the
Senate. Two of the five ephors accompanied the king in
war, and were a check on his authority.

It would thus seem that the government of Sparta was
a republic of an aristocratic type. There were Aristocratic

-, iii • • i i • • form of gov-

no others nobler than citizens, but these citizens eminent.
composed but a small part of the population. They were
Spartans — a handful of conquerors, in the midst of hostile
people — a body of lords among slaves and subjects. They
sympathized with law and order, and detested the demo-
cratical turbulence of Athens. They were trained, by their
military education, to subordination, obedience, and self,
sacrifice. They, as citizens or as soldiers, existed only for
the State, and to the State every thing was subordinate. In
our times, the State is made for the people ; in Sparta, the
people for the State. This generated an intense patriotism
and self-denial. It also permitted a greater interference of
the State in personal matters than would now be tolerated in
any despotism in Europe. It made the citizens The dtizen
submissive to a division of property, which if not State -

180 Grecian States and Colonies. [Chap. xy.

a perfect community of goods, was fatal to all private for-
tunes. But the property which the citizens thus shared
was virtually created by the Helots, who alone tilled the
ground. The wealth of nations is in the earth, and it is its
cultivation which is the ordinary source of property. The
State, not individual masters, owned the Helots ; and they
toiled for the citizens. In the modern sense of liberty, there
was very little in Sparta, except that which was possessed by
the aristocratic citizens — the conquerors of the country — men,
whose very occupation was war and government, and whose
very amusement were those which fostered wai-like habits.
The Roman citizens did not disdain husbandry, nor the Puri-
tan settlers of New England, but the Spartan citizens de-
spised both this and all trade and manufacture. Never was a
haughtier class of men than these Spartan soldiers. They
exceeded in pride the feudal chieftain.

Such an exclusive body of citizens, however, jealous of their
political privileges, constantly declined in numbers, so that, in
Number of the time of Aristotle, there were only one thousand
citizens. Spartan citizens ; and this decline cont inued in
spite of all the laws by which the citizens were compelled to
marry, and those customs, so abhorrent to our Christian
notions, which permitted the invasion of marital rights for
the sake of healthy children.

As it was to war that the best energies of the Spartans
were directed, so their armies were the admiration of the
Spartan ancient world for discipline and effectiveness,
armies. They were the first who reduced war to a science.

The general type of their military organization was the
phalanx, a body of troops in close array, armed with a long
spear and short sword. The strength of an army was in the
heavy armed infantry ; and this body was composed almost
entirely of citizens, with a small mixture of Perioeci. From
the age of twenty to sixty, every Spartan was liable to mili-
tary service ; and all the citizens formed an army, whether
congregated at Sparta, or absent on foreign service.

Such, in general, were the social, civil, and military insti-

Chap. XV.] Messenia. 181

tutions of Sparta, and not peculiar to her alone, but to all
the Dorians, even in Crete ; from which we infer that it was
not Lycurgus who shaped them, but that they existed inde-
pendent of his authority. He may have re-established the
old regulations, and gave his aid to preserve the State from
corruption and decay. And when we remember that the
constitution which he re-established resisted both the usur-
pations of tyrants and the advances of democracy, by which
other States were revolutionized, we can not sufficiently
admire the wisdom which so early animated the Dorian

The Spartans became masters of the country after a long
struggle, and it was henceforth called Laconia. The Spartans

nit 1 • A ! 1 TT ! 0btain the

lne more obstinate Achasans became Helots, ascendency

a j? i i -ii .on the Pe-

Atter the conquest, the first memorable event in ninsuia.
Spartan history was the reduction of Messenia, for which it
took two great wars.

Messenia has already been mentioned as the southwestern
part of the Peloponnesus, and resembling Laconia in its gen-
eral aspects. The river Parnisus flows through its entire
length, as Eurotas does in Laconia, forming fertile valleys
and plains, and producing various kinds of cereals

, i . . , ... „ Messenia.

and truits, even as it now produces oil, silk, figs,
wheat, maize, cotton, wine, and honey. The area of Mes-
senia is one thousand one hundred and ninety-two square
miles, not so large as one of our counties. The early inhab-
itants had been conquered by the Dorians, and it was against
the descendants of these conquerors that the Spartans made
war. The murder of a Spartan king, Teleclus, at a temple
on the confines of Laconia and Messenia, where sacrifices
were offered in common, gave occasion for the first war,
which lasted nineteen years, b. c. 743. Other States were
involved in the quarrel — Corinth on the side of The war
Sparta, and Sicyon and Arcadia on the part of the with Sparta "
Messenians. The Spartans having the superiority in the field,
the Messenians retreated to their stronghold of Ithome,
where they defended themselves fifteen years. But at

182 Grecian States and Colonies. [Chap. xv.

last they were compelled to abandon it, and the fortress was
razed to the ground. The conquered were reduced to the
condition of Helots — compelled to cultivate the land and
pay half of its produce to their new masters. The Spartan
citizens became the absolute owners of the whole soil of

After thirty-nine years of servitude, a hero arose among
the conquered Messenians, Aristomenes, like Judas
Maccabeus, or William Wallace, who incited his
countrymen to revolt. The whole of the Peloponnesus be-
came involved in the new war, and only Corinth became the
ally of Sparta; the remaining States of Argos, Sicyon, Arca-
dia, and Pisa, sided with the Messenians. The Athenian
poet, Tyrtseus, stimulated the Spartans by his war-songs. In
the first great battle, the Spartans were worsted; in the
second, they gained a signal victory, so that the Messenians
were obliged to leave the open country and retire to the
fortress on Mount Ira. Here they maintained themselves
Conquest of eleven years, the Spartans being unused to sieges,
Messenia. and trained only to conflict in the open field. The
fortress was finally taken by treachery, and the hero who
sought to revive the martial glories of his State fled to
Rhodes. Messenia became now, b. c. 668, a part of Laconia,
and it was three hundred years before it appeared again in

The Spartans, after the conquest of Messenia, turned their
Aggrandize- eyes upon Arcadia — that land of shepherds, free
Sparta. and simple and brave like themselves. The city

of Tegea long withstood the arms of the Spartans, but finally
yielded to superior strength, and became a subject ally, e. c.
560. Sparta was further increased by a part of Argos, and
a great battle, b. c. 547, between the Argives and Spartans,
resulted in the complete ascendency of Sparta in the south-
ern part of the Peloponnesus, about the time that Cyrus
overthrew the Lydian empire. The Ionian Greeks of Asia
Minor invoked their aid against the Persian power, and
Sparta proudly rallied in their defens

Chap. XV.] The Age of Tyrants. 183

Meanwhile, a great political revolution was going on in
the other States of Greece, in no condition to resist the pre-'
eminence of Sparta. The patriarchal monarchies of the
heroic ages had gradually been subverted by the political
rising importance of the nobility, enriched by c anses '
conquered lands. Every conquest, every step to national
advancement, brought the nobles nearer to the crown, and
the government passed into the hands of those nobles who
had formerly composed the council of the king. With the
growing power of nobles was a corresponding growth of the
political power of the people or citizens, in consequence of
inci'eased Avealth and intelligence. The political changes were
rapid. As the nobles had usurped the power of the kings,
so the citizens usurped the power of the nobles. The ever-
lasting war of classes, where the people are intelligent and
free, was signally illustrated in the Grecian States, and de-
mocracy succeeded to the oligarchy which had prostrated
kings. Then, when the people had gained the ascendency,
ambitious and factious demagogues in turn, got the control,
and these adventurers, now called Tyrants, assum- The age of
ed arbitrary powers. Their power was only main- y rants -
tained by cruelty, injustice, and unscrupulous means, which
caused them finally to be so detested that they were removed
by assassination. These natural changes, from a monarchy,
primitive and just and limited, to an oligarchy of nobles,
and the gradual subversion of their power by wealthy and
enlightened citizens, and then the rise of demagogues, who
became tyrants, have been illustrated in all ages of the
world. But the rapidity of these changes in the Grecian
States, with the progress of wealth and corruption, make
their history impressive on all generations. It is these rapid
and natural revolutions which give to the political history
of Greece its permanent interest and value. The age of the
Tyrants is generally fixed from b. c. 650 to b. c. 500 — about
one hundred and fifty years.

No State passed through these changes of government more
signally than Corinthia, which, with Megaris, formed the isth-

ISA Grecian States and Colonies. [Chap. XT.

mus which connected the Peloponnesus with Greece Proper.
It was a small territory, covered with the ridges

Corinthia. *J °

and the spurs of the Geranean and and Oneian
mountains, and useless for purposes of agriculture. Its prin-
cipal city was Corinth ; was favorably situated for commerce,
and rapidly grew in population and wealth. It also command-
ed the great roads which led from Greece Proper through the
defiles of the mountains into the Peloponnesus. It rapidly
monopolized the commerce of the ^Egean Sea, and the East
through the Saronic Gulf; and through the Corinthian Gulf
it commanded the trade of the Ionian and Sicilian seas.

Corinth, by some, is supposed have been a Phoenician col-
Changes in ony. Before authentic history begins, it was in-
habited by a mixed population of JEolians and
Ionians, the former of whom were dominant. Over them
reigned Sisyphus, according to tradition, the grandfather of
Bellerophon who laid the foundation of mercantile prosperity.
The first historical king was Aletes, b. c. 1074, the leader of
Dorian invaders, who subdued the ^Eolians, and incorpora-
ted them with their own citizens. The descendants of Aletes
reigned twelve generations, when the nobles converted the
government into an oligarchy, under Bacchis, who greatly
increased the commercial importance of the city. In 754,
b. c, Corinth began to colonize, and fitted out a war fleet for
the protection of commerce. The oligarchy was supplanted
by Cypselus, b. c. 655, a man of the people, whose mother
was of noble birth, but rejected by her family, of the ruling
house of the Bacchiadse, on account of lameness. His son
Periander reigned forty years with cruel despotism, but
made Corinth the leading commercial city of Greece, and
he subjected to her sway the colonies planted on the islands
of the Ionian Sea, one of which was Corey ra (Corfu), which
gained a great mercantile fame. It was under his reign that
the poet Arion, or Lesbos, flourished, to whom he gave his
patronage. In three years after the death of Periander, 585
b. c, the oligarchal power was restored, and Corinth allied
herself Avith Sparta in her schemes of aggrandizement.

Chap.. XV.] Athens. 185

The same change of government was seen in Megara, a
neighboring State, situated on the isthmus, between changes in
Corinth and Attica, and which attained great Me ^ ara -
commercial distinction. As a result of commercial opulence,
the people succeeded in overthrowing the government,
an oligarchy of Dorian conquerors, and elevating a dema-
gogue, Theagenes, to the supreme power, b. c. 630. He ruled
tyrannically, in the name of the people, for thirty years, but
was expelled by the oligarchy, which regained power.
During his reign all kinds of popular excesses were perpe-
trated, especially the confiscation of the property of the rich.

Other States are also illustrations of this change of govern-
ment from kings to oligarchies, and oligarchies to changes in
demagogues and tyrants, as on the isle of Lesbos, otherStates -
where Pittacus reigned dictator, but with wisdom and virtue —
one of the seven wise men of Greece — and in Samos, where
Polycrates rivaled the fame of Periander, and adorned his
capital with beautiful buildings, and patronized literature
and art. One of his friends was Anacreon, the poet. He was
murdered by the Persians, b. c. 522.

But the State which most signally illustrates the revolutions
in government was Athens.

" Where on the JEgean shore a city stands, —
Built nobly ; pure the air, and light the soil :
Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
And eloquence, native to famous wits."

Every thing interesting or impressive in the history of
classical antiquity clusters round this famous city, Early histo-
so that without Athens there could be no Greece. T otAthens -
Attica, the little State of which it was the capital, formed a
triangular peninsula, of about seven hundred square miles.
The country is hilly and rocky, and unfavorable to agricul-
ture ; but such was the salubrity of the climate, and the in-
dustry of the people, all kinds of plants and animals flourish-
ed. The history of the country, like that of the other States,

Online LibraryJohn LordAnceint states and empires → online text (page 15 of 55)