The Spartans and their lawgiver in Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lacedaimonians

These were some questions I had to answer for uni homework. Thought I’d share them since Sparta is such an interesting polis (city-state). I was required to answer these questions based off Xenophon’s Constitution of the Lacedaimonians.


In what respects did the Spartan state take over functions which the family had in other Greek states?

The Spartan state took over functions that were normally conventional of the family in the other Greek states in such a way as to both reinforce and reflect the ideals of the Lycurgan constitution. The undertones of these ideals were toward ensuring Sparta was a successful martial state. One such ideal was that of sharing, as Xenophon states that Spartiates were to participate in public messes outside in the open rather than at home (V.2). Another Lycurgan value, respect, was portrayed in Sparta where Spartiate fathers had authority over other men’s children as well as his own whereas in other Greek states the boys would be answerable to the kyrios (head of the house) (VI.1). This convention encouraged boys to respect their elders and fathers to respect their peers. Similarly, Xenophon states that the Lacedaimonian constitution gave citizens the power to use other men’s servants in case of necessity, reflecting the values of both sharing and respecting one another (VI.3). Unlike other states, Spartans were discouraged from involvement in business affairs and were instead only allowed to be concerned with activities related to civic freedom (VII.1). This was ensured through restricting the use of money, which was prevalent in other Greek states. This allowed male Spartans to focus on a militaristic lifestyle and female Spartans in maintaining themselves for childbearing.

What was the role of money in Spartan life, according to Xenophon?

According to Xenophon there was no role for money in Sparta. Xenophon states that it was more respectable for Spartans to help messmates with “toil” rather than money (VII.4). This exemplifies that Spartans viewed money as superfluous and unnecessary. Furthermore, Xenophon reports that there was a right to search for gold and silver and the possessor of such money could be fined (VII.6). The fact owning money was finable highlights that not only was money in Sparta unnecessary but having money was unconstitutional. Xenophon also describes money as being too large to hide, “even a sum of ten minae could not be brought into a house without the master and the servants being aware of it: The money would fill a large space and need a wagon to draw it” (VII.5). The imagery of money being large again reflects that Spartans viewed money as superfluous, but also shows that money was deliberately made to be large so that it would be impossible to hide, and therefore would render any Spartan found with money to be viewed as more interested in materiality than helping his brothers through toil like was expected.

What were the duties and privileges of ephors at Sparta?

The ephors were the chief magistrates of the state (VIII.3). They exercised great power through their duties and privileges. Their duties included two of the five ephors being required to be present during war to supervise without interceding in events, fining whomever they chose with the authority to enact immediate payment, the authority to deprive magistrates of office and even imprison and prefer a capital charge against them, and picking three of the youth to be Commanders of the Guard (XIII.1; VIII.4; IV.3). The ephors were also entitled to great privileges; such as, not having to rise from their chairs in the presence of the kings (XV.7).

In what respects (see chapter 14) does Xenophon think the Spartans fail to live up to Lycurgus’ principles?

In chapter fourteen of Constitution of the Lacedaimonians, Xenophon infers that the Spartans fall short of Lycurgus’ principles due to ambitiousness. He states that while they were living according to Lycurgus’ constitution the Spartans preferred to live with moderate fortunes rather than expose themselves to corruption but ‘now’ they expose themselves to the influences of flattery as governors of dependent states (XIV.2-3). In addition to this, while living abroad was once illegal, many Spartans now fix their ambition on living as governors in a foreign land, thus exposing themselves to the demoralization of the foreigners (XIV.4). Similarly, many Spartans are now striving to exercise rule rather than prove worthy of it and where Spartans were once afraid to be found in the possession of gold, they now boast of their possessions (XIV.3-5). Hence, Xenophon seems to think that the Spartans have become corrupt over time, allowing material matters as well as power to drive them rather than focusing on being a worthy citizen.

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