#12 Lycurgus of Sparta, the Lawgiver

There are several stories of different societies that tell us how they figured out creating a system that doesn’t oscillate between extremes.

Solon of Athens, or the senate that overthrew Tarquinius Superbus of Rome are some important examples.

But this time, our focus will be on Lycurgus of Sparta.

Sparta was a city state that had trouble swinging between extremes of tyranny and democracy. Apparently this happens when the power is not balanced in a reasonable way in a society.

When his brother died, Lycurgus stepped in as the guardian of his brother’s newborn boy. The boy had the kingship, but his mother hated Lycurgus, slandering him for taking advantage.

Lycurgus wasn’t much into this tension, and he decided to leave Sparta to have a world tour. He went to Crete to study the laws. Then he went to Ionia and studied the lifestyle and laws there also. There are some sources that tell he also visited many other countries.

While he was away, the people in Sparta were regretful, they wanted him to be back. Lycurgus came back to Sparta, he had many reforms in his mind. First he made sure that he would have enough political support, made his friends get important duties in the city.

He created the Gerousia, the Spartan council of elders. People had the right to make their decisions and vote, but Gerousia (from geron, which means old) was to decide when a legislation needs to be put before the citizen assembly. They also had the power to veto. It was a way of balancing dramatic changes that could throw the society into chaos.

He made a land reform and decreased the inequalities between people.

The Spartan men had to eat together in common halls. He made woman involve in physical activities, and participate more in the society. He also created the institution to educate the children.

Finishing all his reforms that balanced the society, he made everybody take an oath that they would keep the rules and reforms that he created till he returns. Then he went to the Oracle to get approval for everything he did. And he never returned, just disappeared. Here, the story looks similar to Solon. Solon also exiled himself after creating the reforms to prevent people from equating the reforms with himself and reverting them.

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