UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
promoted to manhood. He might then marry and engage in public affairs. He
still, however, belonged to the state in the same sense as before. He
slept in the public barracks, and was not released from military service
until he reached the age of sixty.
One feature of the Lycurgian system is de- serving of special mention,
and that is the public mess. A table was spread, at which every male
citizen was obliged to take his meals. The institution was called
Syssilia, that is, "eating together." Each table was arranged for the
accommodation of fifteen persons, and no others than those eating
regularly at this bench could be admitted except by unanimous consent.
The system was communistic. Each eater sent to the table monthly his
quantum of provisions, consisting of a little barley-meal, wine, cheese,
and figs. A small money contribution was also levied for the purchase of
meats and fish. These articles, however, were only eaten on occasion. At
the common meal the principal dish was a kind of black broth, which was
unsavory except to the half-starved whose ravenous stomachs craved
filling, no matter with what.
As to intellectual accomplishments, the Lycurgian system provided for
two-singing and playing on the lyre. But the idea in both was warlike.
The song was a paean for battle. The lyre was merely to waken martial
enthusiasm. The poets of Sparta were the bards of the barracks. They sang
and shouted nothing but war. In the times of Spartan greatness Homer was
the favorite. Tyrtaeus was a popular hero. Archilochus, who in one of his
poems chanced to mention his own flight from the battle-field, was
banished from the country!
What the Greeks of Central Hellas regarded as civilization was abhorred
on the banks of the Eurotas. Elaborate speech, politeness, affable
companionship, lively manners, these were frivolities of which a Spartan
would not be guilty. Luxury was more to be dreaded than the plague.
Riches meant inequality. Money was a necessary evil. To make it as little
desirable as possible Lycurgus decreed that the coin of Sparta should be
of iron. (1) So should he be satirized and punished who traded, and he
who took valuables to market would require a cart and oxen to bring home
his money. In such a school of roughness and austerity were the warlike
virtues of the Dorians nursed into full vigor.
The system bore its fruits. The man became a soldier, utterly indifferent
to hardship, exposure, death. The woman became the mother of such men,
and was proud of it. She gave her son a shield with the injunction,
"Return with it or on it." When he was brought home stark from the
battle-field, she said no word. The Spartan mother must not disgrace
herself! She had only given her son to the state. It was for that she
bore him. He had died on his shield. Why grieve for one who had served
his country?-Thus it was that the Spartans became a race of soldiers; and
such were their valor and stoicism in fight that there was just one way
to defeat them, and that was to destroy the last man! As long as one
remained, Sparta was invincible.
All of the early history of Peloponnesus is involved with that of Sparta.
Two-thirds of the peninsula was completely under her control; and the
rest acknowledged her leadership. With one state, however, she had a
protracted and obstinate contest. This was Messenia, on the west, a
commonwealth in which the supremacy of the Dorians had never been fully
established or quietly accepted. It was only a question of time when the
domination of Sparta would lead to an outbreak. The date assigned for the
beginning of the first conflict is B. C. 743. Before this, one of the
Spartan kings had been killed by the Messenians at the temple of Artemis,
on Mount Taygetus, but the murderers gave such an account of the affair
as justified the killing. Shortly afterwards, however, a private quarrel
led to open war. Polychares, a leading Messenian, who had won a crown at
an Olympic festival, was robbed of his cattle
__________________________________ 1 It has been urged with some
plausibility that the statute for iron money did not properly belong to
the laws of Lycurgus, but to a later date. As a matter of fact no gold or
silver money had as yet been coined in Greece; and the practical satire
of the Lycurgian system would, under the circumstances, be no satire at