A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

the elder son of Eudamidas II., was the 24th king of the Eurypontid line. He succeeded his father in B. C. 244, and reigned four years. In B. C. 243, after the liberation of Corinth by Aratus, the general of the Achaean league, Agis led an army against him, but was defeated. (Paus. 2.8.4.) The interest of his reign, however, is derived from events of a different kind. Through the influx of wealth and luxury, with their concomitant vices, the Spartans had greatly degenerated from the ancient simplicity and severity of manners. Not above 700 families of the genuine Spartan stock remained, and in consequence of the innovation introduced by Epitadeus, who procured a repeal of the law which secured to every Spartan head of a family an equal portion of land, the landed property had passed into the hands of a few individuals, of whom a great number were females, so that not above 100 Spartan families possessed estates, while the poor were burdened with debt. Agis, who from his earliest youth had shewn his attachment to the ancient discipline, undertook to reform these abuses, and re-establish the institutions of Lycurgus. For this end he determined to lay before the Spartan senate a proposition for the abolition of all debts and a new partition of the lands. Anotherpart of his plan was to give landed estates to the Perioeci. His schemes were warmly seconded by the poorer classes and the young men, and as strenuously opposed by the wealthy. He succeeded, however, in gaining over three very influential persons,--his uncle Agesilaus (a man of large property, but who, being deeply involved in debt, hoped to profit by the innovations of Agis), Lysander, and Mandrocleides. Having procured Lysander to be elected one of the ephors, he laid his plans before the senate. He proposed that the Spartan territory should be divided into two portions, one to consist of 4500 equal lots, to be divided amongst the Spartans, whose ranks were to be filled up by the admission of the most respectable of the Perioeci and strangers; the other to contain 15,000 equal lots, to be divided- amongst the Perioeci. The senate could not at first come to a decision on the matter. Lysander, therefore, convoked the assembly of the people, to whom Agis submitted his measure, and offered to make the first sacrifice, by giving up his lands and money, telling them that his mother and grandmother, who were possessed of great wealth, with all his relations and friends, would follow his example. His generosity drew down the applauses of the multitude. The opposite party, however, headed by Leonidas, the other king, who had formed his habits at the luxurious court of Seleucus, king of Syria, got the senate to reject the measure, though only by one vote. Agis now determined to rid himself of Leonidas. Lysander accordingly accused him of having violated the laws by marrying a stranger and living in a foreign land. Leonidas was deposed, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Cleombrotus, who co-operated with Agis. Soon afterwards, however, Lysander's term of office expired, and the ephors of the following year were opposed to Agis, and designed to restore Leonidas. They brought an accusation against Lysander and Mandroclcides, of attempting to violate the laws. Alarmed at the turn events were taking, the two latter prevailed on the kings to depose the ephors by force and appoint others in their room. Leonidas, who had returned to the city, fled to Tegea, and in his flight was protected by Agis from the violence meditated against him by Agesilaus. The selfish avarice of the latter frustrated the plans of Agis, when there now seemed nothing to oppose the execution of them. He persuaded his nephew and Lysander that the most effectual way to secure the consent of the wealthy to the distribution of their lands, would be, to begin by cancelling the debts. Accordingly all bonds, registers, and securities were piled up in the market place and burnt. Agesilaus, having secured his own ends, contrived various pretexts for delaying the division of the lands. Meanwhile the Achaeans applied to Sparta for assistance against the Aetolians. Agis was accordingly sent at the head of an army. The cautious movements of Aratus gave Agis no opportunity of distinguishing himself in action, but he gained great credit by the excellent discipline he preserved among his troops. During his absence Agesilaus so incensed the poorer classes by his insolent conduct and the continued postponement of the division of the lands, that they made no opposition when the enemies of Agis openly brought back Leonidas and set him on the throne. Agis and Cleombrotus fled for sanctuary, the former to the temple of Athene Chalcioecus, the latter to the temple of Poseidon. Cleombrotus was suffered to go into exile. Agis was entrapped by some treacherous friends and thrown into prison. Leonidas immediately came with a band of mercenaries and secured the prison without, while the ephors entered it, and went through the mockery of a trial. When asked if he did not repent of what he had attempted, Agis replied, that he should never repent of so glorious a design, even in the face of death. He was condemned, and precipitately executed, the ephors fearing a rescue, as a great concourse of people had assembled round the prison gates. Agis, observing that one of his executioners was moved to tears, said, " Weep not for me: suffering, as I do, unjustly, I am in a happier case than my murderers." His mother Agesistrate and his grandmother were strangled on his body. Agis was the first king of Sparta who had been put to death by the ephors. Pausanias, who, however, is undoubtedly wrong, says (8.10.4, 27.9), that he fell in battle. His widow Agiatis was forcibly married by Leonidas to his son Cleomenes, but nevertheless they entertained for each other a mutual affection and esteem. (Plutarch, Agis, Cleomenes, Aratus ; Paus. 7.7.2.)