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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Smith, A Smaller History of Ancient Greece





Early History of Peloponnesus and Sparta to the end of the Messenian Wars, B.C. 668













Page 10

The legislation of Lycurgus was followed by important results. It made the Spartans a body of professional soldiers, all trained and well disciplined, at a time when military training and discipline were little known, and almost unpractised in the other states of Greece. The consequence was the rapid growth of the political power of Sparta, and the subjugation of the neighbouring states. At the time of Lycurgus the Spartans held only a small portion of Laconia: they were merely a garrison in the heart of an enemy's country. Their first object was to make themselves masters of Laconia, in which they finally succeeded after a severe struggle. They next turned their arms against the Messenians, Arcadians, and Argives. Of these wars the two waged against Messenia were the most celebrated and the most important. They were both long protracted and obstinately contested. They both ended in the victory of Sparta, and in the subjugation of Messenia. These facts are beyond dispute; but of the details we have no trustworthy narrative.

The FIRST MESSENIAN WAR lasted from B.C. 743 to 724. During the first four years the Lacedaemonians made little progress; but in the fifth a great battle was fought, and although its result was indecisive, the Messenians did not venture to risk another engagement, and retired to the strongly fortified mountain of Ithome. In their distress they sent to consult the oracle at Delphi, and received the appalling answer that the salvation of Messenia required the sacrifice of a virgin of the royal house to the gods of the lower world. Aristodemus, who is the Messenian hero of the first war, slew his own daughter, which so disheartened the Spartans, that they abstained from attacking the Messenians for some years. In the thirteenth year of the war the Spartan king marched against Ithome, and a second great battle was fought, but the result was again indecisive. The Messenian king fell in the action; and Aristodemus, who was chosen king in his place, prosecuted the war with vigour. In the fifth year of his reign a third great battle was fought. This time the Messenians gained a decisive victory, and the Lacedaemonians were driven back into their own territory. They now sent to ask advice of the Delphian oracle, and were promised success upon using stratagem. They therefore had recourse to fraud: and at the same time various prodigies dismayed the bold spirit of Aristodemus. His daughter too appeared to him in a dream, showed him her wounds, and beckoned him away. Seeing that his country was doomed to destruction, Aristodemus slew himself on his daughter's tomb. Shortly afterwards, in the twentieth year of the war, the Messenians abandoned Ithome, which the Lacedaemonians razed to the ground, and the whole country became subject to Sparta. Many of the inhabitants fled into other countries; but those who remained were reduced to the condition of Helots, and were compelled to pay to their masters half of the produce of their lands.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Greek Literature - Ancient, Medieval, Modern

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