« AnteriorContinuar »
find also a mixture of it in the writings of Theocritus, Pindar, Homer, and many others.
THE REPUBLICAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT ALMOST GENERALLY ESTABLISHED THROUGHOUT GREECE.
The reader may have observed in the little I have said about the several settlements of Greece, that the primordial ground of all those different states was monarchical government, which was the most ancient of all forms, the most universally received and established, the most proper to maintain peace and concord; and which, as a Plato observes, is formed upon the model of paternal authority, and of that gentle and moderate dominion which fathers exercise over their families.
But as the state of things degenerated by degrees, through the injustice of usurpers, the severity of lawful masters, the insurrections of the people, and a thousand accidents and revolutions that happened in those states; a totally different spirit seized the people, which prevailed over all Greece, kindled a violent desire of liberty, and brought about a general change of government every where, except in Macedonia; so that monarchy gave way to a republican government, which however was diversified into almost as many various forms as there were different cities, according to the different genius and peculiar character of each people.
However there still remained a kind of tincture or leaven of the ancient monarchical government, which from time to time inflamed the ambition of private citizens, and made them desire to become masters of their country. In almost every state of Greece, some private persons arose, who, without any right to the throne, either by birth, or election of the citizens, endeavoured to advance themselves to it by cabal, treachery, and violence; and who, without any respect for the laws, or regard to the public good, exercised a Sovereign authority, with a despotic empire and arbitrary sway. In order to support their unjust usurpations in the midst of distrusts and alarms, they thought themselves obliged to prevent imaginary, or to suppress real conspiracies, by the most cruel proscriptions; and to sacrifice to their own security all those whom merit, rank, wealth, zeal for liberty, or love of their country, rendered obnoxious to a suspicious and tottering government, which found itself hated by all, and was sensible it deserved to be so. It was this cruel and inhua Plat. l. iii. de Leg, p, 689, Y
man treatment, that rendered these men so odious, under the appellation of Tyrants 4, and which furnished such ample matter for the declamation of orators, and the tragical representations of the theatre.
All these cities and districts of Greece, that seemed so entirely disjoined from one another, by their laws, customs, and interests, were nevertheless formed and combined into one sole, entire, and united body; whose strength increased to such a degree, as to make the formidable power of the Persians under Darius and Xerxes tremble; and which even then, perhaps, would have entirely overthrown the Persian greatness, had the Grecian states been wise enough to preserve that union and concord among themselves, which afterwards rendered them invincible. This is the scene which I am now to open, and which certainly merits the reader's whole attention.
We shall see, in the following volumes, a small nation, confined within a country not equal to the fourth part of France, disputing for dominion with the most powerful empire then upon the earth; and we shall see this handful of men, not only making head against the innumerable army of the Persians, but dispersing, routing, and cutting them to pieces, and sometimes reducing the Persian pride so low, as to make them submit to conditions of peace, as shameful to the conquered, as glorious for the conquerors.
Among all the cities of Greece, there were two that particularly distinguished themselves, and acquired an authority, and a kind of superiority over the rest by the mere dint of their merit and conduct; these two were Lacedæmon and Athens. As these cities make a considerable figure, and act an illustrious part in the ensuing history, before I enter upon particulars, I think I ought first to give the reader some idea of the genius, character, manners, and government of their respective inhabitants. Plutarch, in the lives of Lycurgus and Solon, will furnish me with the greatest part of what I have to say upon this head.
THE SPARTAN GOVERNMENT.
LAWS ESTABLISHED BY
There is perhaps nothing in profane history better attested, and at the same time more incredible, than what relates to the government of Sparta, and the discipline established in it by Lycurgus. This legislator was the son of Eunomus, one
a This word originally signified no more than king, and was anciently the tle of lawful princes. 6 Plut in vit. Lyc. p. 40.
of the two kings who reigned together in Sparta. It would have been easy for Lycurgus to have ascended the throne after the death of his eldest brother, who left no son behind him? and in fact he was king for some days. But as soon as his sister-in-law was found to be with child, he declared, that the crown belonged to her son, if she had one; and from thenceforth he governed the kingdom only as his guardian. In the meantime, the widow gave him secretly to understand, that if he would promise to marry her when he was king, she would destroy the fruit of her womb. So detestable a proposal struck Lycurgus with horror: however, he concealed his indignation, and, amusing the woman with different pretences, so managed it, that she went her full time, and was delivered. As soon, as the child was born he proclaimed him king, and took care to have him brought up and educated in a proper manner. This prince, on account of the joy which the people testified at his birth, was named Charilaus.
a The state was at this time in great disorder; the authority both of the kings and the laws being absolutely despised and unregarded. No curb was strong enough to restrain the audaciousness of the people, which every day increased more and more.
Lycurgus was so courageous as to form the design of making a thorough reformation in the Spartan government; and to be the more capable of making wise regulations, he thought fit to travel into several countries, in order to acquaint himself with the different manners of other nations, and to consult the most able and experienced persons, in the art of government. He began with the island of Crete, whose harsh and austere laws were very famous; from thence he passed into Asia where quite different customs prevailed; and, last of all, he went into Egypt, which was then the seat of science, wisdom, and good counsels.
His long absence only made his country the more desirous of his return; and the kings themselves importuned him to that purpose, being sensible how much they stood in need of his authority to keep the people within bounds, and in some degree of subjection and order. When he came back to Sparta, he undertook to change the whole form of their government, being persuaded that a few particular laws would produce no great effect.
But before he put this design in execution, he went to Delphos, to consult the oracle of Apollo; where, after having of fered his sacrifice, he received that famous answer, in which the priestess called him "a friend of the gods, and rather a god "that a man." And as for the favour he desired, of being able b Plut. in vit. Lyc p. 42
Plut. in vit. Lyc. g. 41.
to frame a set of good laws for his country, she told him, the god had heard his prayers, and that the commonwealth he was going to establish would be the most excellent state in the world.
On his return to Sparta, the first thing he did, was to bring over to his designs the leading men of the city, whom he made acquainted with his views; when he was assured of their approbation and concurrence, he went into the public marketplace, accompanied with a number of armed men, in order to astonish and intimidate those who might desire to oppose his undertaking.-The new form of government which he introduced into Sparta, may properly be reduced to three principal institutions.
1. THE SENATE.
"Of all the new regulations or institutions made by Lycurgus, the greatest and most considerable was that of the senate; which, by tempering and balancing, as Plato observes, the too absolute power of the kings, by an authority of equal weight and influence with theirs, became the principal support and preservation of that state: for whereas before, it was ever unsteady, and tending one while towards tyranny, by the violent proceedings of the kings; at other times towards democracy, by the excessive power of the people; the senate served as a counterpoise to both, which kept the state in a due equilibrium, and preserved it in a firm and steady situation; the 28 senators, of which it consisted, siding with the kings, when the people were grasping at too much power; and, on the other hand, espousing the interests of the people, whenever the kings attempted to carry their authority too far.
Lycurgus having thus tempered the government, those that came after him thought the power of the thirty, that composed the senate, still too strong and absolute; and therefore, as a check upon them, they devised the authority of the Ephori, about 130 years after Lycurgus. The Ephori were five in number, and remained but one year in office. They were all chosen out of the people, and in that respect considerably resembled the tribunes of the people among the Romans. Their authority extended to the arresting and imprisoning the persons of their kings, as it happened in the case of Pausanias. The institution of the Ephori began in the reign of Theopompus; whose wife reproaching him, that he would leave to his children the regal authority in a worse condition than he had received it; on the contrary, a Plut. in vit. Lyc. p. 42.
b This council consisted of 30 persons, including the two kings.
said he, I shall leave it them in a much better condition, as it will be more permanent and lasting.
The Spartan government then was not purely monarchical. The nobility had a great share in it, and the people were not excluded. Each part of this body politic in proportion as it contributed to the public good, found in it their advantage; so that in spite of the natural restlessness and inconstancy of man's heart, which is always thirsting after novelty and change, and is never cured of its disgust to uniformity, Lacedæmon persevered for many ages in the exact observance of her laws.
2. THE DIVISION OF THE LANDS, AND THE PROHIBITION OF GOLD AND SILVER MONEY.
• The second and the boldest institution of Lycurgus, was the division of the lands, which he looked upon as absolutely Mecessary for establishing peace and good order in the commonwealth. The greater part of the people were so poor, that they had not one inch of land of their own, whilst a small number of individuals were possessed of all the lands and wealth of the country. In order therefore to banish insolence, envy, fraud, luxury, and two other distempers of the state still greater and more ancient than those, I mean extreme poverty, and excessive wealth, he persuaded the citizens to give up all their lands to the commonwealth, and to make a new division of them, that they might all live together in a perfect equality, and that no pre-eminence or honours should be given but to virtue and merit alone.
This scheme, as extraordinary as it was, was immediately executed. Lycurgus divided the lands of Laconia into 30,000 parts, which he distributed among the inhabitants of the country; and the territories of Sparta into 9,000 parts, which he distributed among an equal number of citizens. It is said, that some years after, as Lycurgus was returning from a long journey, and passing through the lands of Laconia, in the time of harvest, and observing, as he went along, the perfect equality of the sheaves of reaped corn, he turned towards those that were with him, and said smiling, "Does not Laconia look like the possession of several brothers, who have just been dividing their inheritance amongst them?"
After having divided their immoveables, he undertook likewise to make the same equal division of all their moveable goods and chattels, that he might utterly banish from among them all manner of inequality. But perceiving that this would meet with more opposition, if he went openly
a Fut, in vit. Lyc, p. 44