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 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.

And at the sacrifice are assembled colonels, captains, lieutenants, commandants of foreign contingents, commanders of the baggage train, and, in addition, any general from the states who chooses to be present.

There are also present two of the Ephors, who interfere in nothing except by the King’s request, but keep an eye on the proceedings, and see that all behave with a decorum suitable to the occasion. When the sacrifices are ended, the King summons all and delivers the orders of the day. And so, could you watch the scene, you would think all other men mere improvisors in soldiering and the Lacedaemonians the only artists in warfare.

When the King leads, provided that no enemy appears, no one precedes him except the Sciritae and the mounted vedettes. But if ever they think there will be fighting, he takes the lead of the first regiment and wheels to the right, until he is between two regiments and two colonels.

The troops that are to support these are marshalled by the senior member of the King’s staff. The staff consists of all peers who are members of the royal mess, seers, doctors, fluteplayers, commanding officers and any volunteers who happen to be present. Thus nothing that has to be done causes any difficulty, for everything is duly provided for.

The following arrangements[*](This paragraph is an afterthought, supplementing 11.3-4.) made by Lycurgus with a view to the actual fighting are also, in my opinion, very useful. When a goat is sacrificed, the enemy being near enough to see, custom ordains that all the fluteplayers present are to play and every Lacedaemonian is to wear a wreath. An order is also given to polish arms. It is also the privilege of the young warrior to comb his hair(?) before entering battle, to look cheerful and earn a good report.

Moreover, the men shout words of encouragement to the subaltern, for it is impossible for each subaltern to make his voice travel along the whole of his section to the far end.[*](When two or more sections are abreast (c. xi. 4), the men take up and repeat the exhortations of the subaltern posted at the end of the line, and pass them along to the next subaltern, and so on. These detached notes are not clearly expressed.) The colonel is responsible for seeing that all is done properly.

When the time for encamping seems to have arrived, the decision rests with the King, who also indicates the proper place. On the other hand the dispatch of embassies whether to friends or enemies is not the King’s affair. All who have any business to transact deal in the first instance with the King.

Suitors for justice are remitted by the King to the Court of Hellanodicae, applications for money to the treasurers; and if anyone brings booty, he is sent to the auctioneers. With this routine the only duties left to the King on active service are to act as priest in matters of religion and as general in his dealings with the men.