Constitution of the Lacedaimonians


Xenophon, creator; Scripta minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, translator; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

I will now explain the method of encampment approved by Lycurgus.

Seeing that the angles of a square are useless, he introduced the circular form of camp, except where there was a secure hill or wall, or a river afforded protection in the rear.

He caused sentries to be posted by day facing inwards along the place where the arms were kept, for the object of these is to keep an eye not on the enemy but on their friends. The enemy is watched by cavalry from positions that command the widest outlook.

To meet the case of a hostile approach at night, he assigned the duty of acting as sentries outside the lines to the Sciritae. In these days the duty is shared by foreigners, if any happen to be present in the camp.

The rule that patrols invariably carry their spears, has the same purpose, undoubtedly, as the exclusion of slaves from the place of arms. Nor is it surprising that sentries who withdraw for necessary purposes only go so far away from one another and from the arms as not to cause inconvenience. Safety is the first object of this rule also.

The camp is frequently shifted with the double object of annoying their enemies and of helping their friends.

Moreover the law requires all Lacedaemonians to practise gymnastics regularly throughout the campaign; and the result is that they take more pride in themselves and have a more dignified appearance than other men. Neither walk nor race-course may exceed in length the space covered by the regiment, so that no one may get far away from his own arms.

After the exercises the senior colonel gives the order by herald to sit down — this is their method of inspection — and next to take breakfast and to relieve the outposts quickly. After this there are amusements and recreations until the evening exercises.

These being finished, the herald gives the order to take the evening meal, and, as soon as they have sung to the praise of the gods to whom they have sacrificed with good omens, to rest by the arms.

Let not the length to which I run occasion surprise, for it is almost impossible to find any detail in military matters requiring attention that is overlooked by the Lacedaemonians.

I will also give an account of the power and honour that Lycurgus conferred on the King in the field. In the first place, while on military service the King and his staff are maintained by the state. The colonels mess with the King, in order that constant intercourse may give better opportunities for taking counsel together in case of need. Three of the peers also attend the King’s mess. These three take entire charge of the commissariat for the King and his staff, so that these may devote all their time to affairs of war.

But I will go back to the beginning, and explain how the King sets out with an army. First he offers up sacrifice at home to Zeus the Leader and to the gods associated with him.[*](Or, if we read οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ with Haase, he and his staff. By the associated gods we should understand Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri. In the Oxford text I gave τοῖν σιοῖν, the twin gods.) If the sacrifice appears propitious, the Fire-bearer takes fire from the altar and leads the way to the borders of the land. There the King offers sacrifice again to Zeus and Athena.

Only when the sacrifice proves acceptable to both these deities does he cross the borders of the land. And the fire from these sacrifices leads the way and is never quenched, and animals for sacrifice of every sort follow. At all times when he offers sacrifice, the King begins the work before dawn of day, wishing to forestall the goodwill of the god.