Spartan State


Lykurgos was a Spartan state lawgiver, who was responsible for transforming the Spartan state. He travelled from Sparta to other nations where he learnt different systems of governance. He then returned to Sparta where his intentions were approved at the Oracle of Delphi. After implementing changes he then asked the people of Sparta to take an oath that they would not change the constitution until he had returned. He never returned and therefore the constitution remained unchanged for many years to come, the existing constitution made Sparta a great nation in the world, the following is a discussion of Lykurgos, the constitution and the institution that he implemented at Sparta. (Forrest, 1995)

Spartan state:

Sparta was founded by Lacedaemon, who was the son of Zeus and Taygete, the origin of the name Sparta is evident where Lacedaemon married Sparta adopting this name. In 800 BC Lykurgos was born and he was the second son of the king Eumenos. His older brother Polydektes became king after king Eumenos died, Polydektes died later and his younger brother Lykurgos took over the throne. However his late brother’s widow threatened to kill her unborn child if Lykurgos did not accept to marry her. Lykurgos accepted the offer and when the child was born he was named Charilaos. He took the boy to boy and proclaimed him the king of Sparta, his brother’s widow than plotted against him and in order to avoid bloodshed Lykurgos left Sparta. (Forrest, 1995)

Lykurgos fled to Crete where he studied the form of governance there, he met Thale there who

was a poet, his poems and songs persuaded men to be fair to others and Lykurgos persuaded

him to go to Sparta. Lykurgos then travelled to Egypt where he learnt ways in which to separate

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the military from workers. At the time Spartans and the kings of Sparta begged him to return and finally he returned. On returning he went to the oracle of Delphi to sought approval of the changes he intended at implementing in Sparta. (Hammond, 1950)

Oracle of Delphi

The oracle of Delphi was a divine place which was believed to be a place where god Apollo would speak to people through priestess, the sanctuary was elected in around 800 BC and prominent individuals who visited the oracle include Lykurgos and Alexander the great. (Hammond, 1950)

It was believed that at the sanctuary Apollo through the priestess would offer guidance, aid and inspiration to individuals who sought his help. After being accepted he persuaded the people of Sparta to accept his constitution by rearing two puppies one which was trained to hunt and one remained indoors, he demonstrated that the one that remained in doors was useless, he showed the people that his proposed constitution should be accepted, and given that he had travelled to other nations and had brought what was good for Sparta. (Hammond, 1950)

The constitution:

The constitution that Sparta adopted comprised of the following elements:


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Sparta should have two kings who should come from royal families Agiads and Eurypontids, these families were descendants of Herackles and kingship would be hereditary, kings would remain in power for life and that kings should be trained in Agoge, Agoge was an education system where individuals would learn politics, law, physical and social education. (Michell, 1992)

The roles of the king included:

a. Military role:

The kings were military leaders, however during a battle two kings argued and therefore it was accepted that kings should not go with the same military.

b. Political role:

The kings also had a political role in Sparta where the king would presided over the Spartan senate (Gerousia) and the Spartan assembly (Ecclesia)

c. Religious role:

The kings also had religious role whereby the king was a priest to god Zeus and god Athena. (Michell, 1992)

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Gerousia was the name given to the Spartan senate, comprised of 28 old men who were aged over 60 years, plus the two kings the senate comprised of 30 men. These 28 men were elected by the assembly (Ecclesia) and would remain in office for life. (Michell, 1992)


This was the Spartan assembly which comprised of men who were above the age of 18, they only met when summoned and would only discuss what was submitted and the vote would be a no or yes. (Michell, 1992)


Five Ephors were selected each year by the senate, Ephors refers to individuals who had judicial, financial and administration power over the king and the Gerousia. (Michell, 1992)

Death of Lykurgos:

Lykurgos persuaded the people to given back their land and he divided the land into equal

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shares and this was a way to avoid strife in Sparta, he then assembled the people of Sparta including the senate and the kings to take an oath regarding the constitution, the oath was aimed at abiding the people to maintain the current constitution until he returned. (Hammond, 1950)

He went to the Oracle of Delphi to make a sacrifice and according to some he died there and never returned to Sparta while others state that he went to Crete where he died. His death made sure that the laws and constitution he had created in Sparta would never change given that the people of Sparta had taken an oath that they would not change the constitution until he returned. (Hammond, 1950)


From the above discussion it is evident that Agoge was the most powerful institution, Agoge was a physical, intellectual and social training institution where those aged above 7 years would be taken for military training, the men were then required to dine in a common hall. This institution was an important institution in Sparta given that every healthy individual in the society underwent military training and at the same time gained knowledge and this made it possible for Sparta to become a powerful nation. (Hammond, 1950)

The Sanction at Delphi was important to Sparta given that this was a place where great men went for approval of what they intended to do, many believed that god Apollo would speak to them and help those who sought him, Lykurgos went to the Oracle of Delphi to seek answers whether what he intended on doing was right, the reply was that implementation of these changes would make Sparta the greatest nation on earth, this motivated and inspired him to make laws that protected equality and freedom in Sparta, after realising that he had succeeded he asked the people of Sparta to take an oath that they would not change the current constitution until he returned from Delphi, he told them that he wanted to make a sacrifice to Apollo and that he would return, this agreement made it possible for Sparta to become a great nation. (Hammond, 1950)

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From the above discussion Lykorgos is one of the great men in Sparta who helped the nation to have laws that promoted equality and freedom, Agoge which was a military system also enlightened individuals and also gave military training to all citizens. Social bonds were also promoted where the institution required that all men dine together in a hall. The oracle of Delphi helped Lykorgos to be successful in his mission given that people believed in god Apollo and his approval showed the people that his intentions were for the good of the people.


Forrest, W. (1995) A History of Sparta, New York: Bristol.

Hammond, N. (1950) ‘The Lycurgean Reform at Sparta’ Journal of Hellenic Studies. 70, 42-64

Michell, H. (1992) Sparta: Cambridge: Cambridge University press

Ogden, D. (1994) ‘Crooked Speech: The Genesis of the Spartan Rhetra’ Journal of Hellenic Studies. 114, 85- 102

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