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 wish also to give an account of the compact made by Lycurgus between King and state. For this is the only government that continues exactly as it was originally established, whereas other constitutions will be found to have undergone and still to be undergoing modifications.

He ordained that the King shall offer all the public sacrifices on behalf of the state, in virtue of his divine descent, and that, whatever may be the destination to which the state sends out an army, he shall be its leader.

He also gave him the right to receive certain parts of the beasts sacrificed, and assigned to him enough choice land in many of the outlanders’ cities to ensure him a reasonable competence without excessive riches.

In order that even the kings should mess in public, he assigned to them a public mess tent; he also honoured them with a double portion at the meal, not that they might eat enough for two, but that they might have the wherewithal to honour anyone whom they chose.

He also allowed each King to choose two messmates, who are called Pythii. Further, he granted them to take of every litter of pigs a porker, that a King may never want victims, in case he wishes to seek counsel of the gods.

A lake near the house supplies abundance of water; and how useful that is for many purposes none know so well as those who are without it. Further, all rise from their seats when the King appears; only the Ephors do not rise from their official chairs.

And they exchange oaths monthly, the Ephors on behalf of the state, the King for himself. And this is the King’s oath: I will reign according to the established laws of the state. And this the oath of the state: While you abide by your oath, we will keep the kingship unshaken.

These then are the honours that are bestowed on the King at home during his lifetime; and they do not greatly exceed those of private persons. For it was not the wish of Lycurgus to put into the King’s hearts despotic pride, nor to implant in the mind of the citizens envy of their power.

As for the honours assigned to the King at his death, the intention of the laws of Lycurgus herein is to show that they have preferred the Kings of the Lacedaemonians in honour not as mere men, but as demigods.[*](Herodotus (6.58) gives details of these honours. The elaborate funeral obsequies were attended by a great concourse of men and women from all parts of Laconia. A man and a woman in every family were compelled to go into mourning. If a king died on foreign service his body was embalmed and brought home if possible; if not, an image of him, as in the case of Agesilaus, was buried.)