Ancient History & Civilisation



1. It is not a strange nor thoughtless supposition on the part of some that the myth about Ixion was composed for seekers of glory: I mean the one where he raped Nephele instead of Hera, which led to the birth of the Centaurs. In fact the glory to which such persons attach themselves is a kind of illusion of true distinction, so that they achieve nothing pure or generally acknowledged, but much that is spurious and of mongrel character. They are drawn in different directions at different times as they follow their ambitions and emotions. For example, Sophocles'1 herdsmen say of their flocks:

‘Whilst masters of these we are enslaved to them,

And must listen to them even though they are dumb.’

This really is the predicament of men in public life who respond to the caprices and impulses of mobs: they make themselves slaves and followers so that they may be called leaders of the people and rulers. For in just the same way as the forward look-outs spot what lies ahead before the helmsmen do, yet respect them and carry out their instructions, so those politicians, too, whose sights are set on glory, are servants of the crowd even though they are called rulers.

2. The man who is flawless and perfectly good would have no need at all of glory except in so far as it offers an avenue of achievement, since he comes to be trusted as a result of gaining it. By contrast a man who is still young and ambitious may be permitted both to feel a certain pride and to boast of the glory gained from his fine exploits. For the qualities budding and growing in men of that age (as Theophrastus says) will be confirmed by praise of their successes, and will develop thereafter under the stimulus of pride. To push too far is risky in all circumstances, but when political ambitions are involved it is fatal. In the case of those who have gained high authority, it drives them to madness and plain insanity once they no longer accept that what is honourable is in fact glorious, but believe that what is glorious is also good. When Phocion was asked by Antipater2 to do something which was not at all honourable, he said to him: ‘You cannot have Phocion both as a friend and as a toad.’ It is this, then, or something like it, which needs to be said to the crowd: ‘The same man cannot be your ruler and your servant.’ When this actually does occur, his situation is like that of the snake in the fable. Its tail rebelled against its head and demanded to take a turn at leading rather than continually following the head. So it took the lead and got into difficulties itself by going off the road as well as bruising the head, which was forced quite unnaturally to follow a part of the snake that was blind and stupid. We observe this to have been the predicament of many of those whose sole concern in politics is to win popularity. After making themselves dependent upon capriciously shifting mobs, they have later been unable either to reassert themselves or to control the disorder.

I was prompted to make these points about glory derived from the populace after reflecting upon the tremendous impact it made upon the fortunes of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.3 Their own birth, their upbringing and their political principles were all uniformly outstanding; yet they were destroyed not so much by a limitless passion for glory as by a fear of losing the glory they had. The reason for this was by no means discreditable, because they had enjoyed the great goodwill of the citizens and were ashamed at not repaying it – as if it were a debt. They always strove to outdo the honours conferred on them by adopting beneficial policies, and then because these were appreciated they were honoured more. Thus they became fired personally with as much ambition for the people as were the people for them. In consequence they unwittingly came to adopt policies with which it was no longer proper to remain associated, but which by that stage it would be dishonourable for them to abandon.

At any rate this will be for you to decide upon from my account. With the Gracchi we shall compare a pair of popular leaders at Sparta, the kings Agis and Cleomenes. Like the Gracchi, these two exalted the people and restored a fine, just constitution which had been in abeyance for a long period. But they, too, were hated by powerful citizens who refused to abandon their characteristic greed. While the Spartans were not actually brothers, they did adopt related policies, very much akin to one another. This is how they got their start.

3. A lust for silver and gold wormed its way into the city, and while the acquisition of wealth was first accompanied by greed and meanness, its use and enjoyment later led to luxury, pampering and extravagance. As soon as this happened, Sparta largely lost her honourable character and behaved in a shabby fashion unworthy of her, until the period in which Agis and Leonidas were the kings. Agis was a Eurypontid, son of Eudamidas, and sixth in line from the Agesilaus who crossed over to Asia and won more power than any other Greek. Now Agesilaus had a son Archidamus, who was killed by the Messapii near Mandorium in Italy. Archidamus' elder son was Agis, and his younger one Eudamidas. After Agis had been killed by Antipater near Megalopolis4 leaving no child, Eudamidas became king. He was succeeded by Archidamus; then another Eudamidas succeeded Archidamus; then Eudamidas was followed by the Agis5 who is our present subject.

Leonidas the son of Cleonymus, on the other hand, was an Agiad belonging to the other royal house, eighth in line from the Pausanias who defeated Mardonius in battle at Plataea. Now Pausanias had a son, Pleistoanax; Pleistoanax in turn had a son, Pausanias, who when he went into exile from Sparta at Tegea6 was replaced as king first by his elder son Agesipolis, and then when he died childless, by his younger son Cleombrotus. Cleombrotus in turn had two sons, another Agesipolis and Cleomenes. Of these, Agesipolis neither reigned for a long period nor had children; Cleomenes, by contrast, who became king after Agesipolis, lost the elder of his sons, Acrotatus, during his lifetime, but did leave a younger one, Cleonymus. Cleonymus did not become king, but Cleomenes' grandson Areus, the son of Acrotatus, did. After Areus met his death near Corinth, his son Acrotatus became king. He, too, was defeated in battle near Megalopolis by the tyrant Aristodemus, but his wife was pregnant at the time of his death.7 The child born was a boy and Leonidas the son of Cleonymus acted as guardian. But then before he grew up the child died, and the kingship came to Leonidas, who by no means saw eye to eye with the citizens. For although with the ruin of the constitution there had already been a general decline all round, Leonidas' behaviour did make a marked contrast with traditional standards since he had spent a long time dancing attendance at satraps' courts and in the service of Seleucus, 8 and then quite unsuitably introduced the pomp found there into the Greek world with its traditions of government.

4. Agis, by contrast, was both morally and intellectually superior not just to Leonidas, but to almost all the kings since the great Agesilaus' day. Even though he had been brought up by women – his mother Agesistrata and his grandmother Archidamia, the richest of all the Spartans – amidst wealth and high living, before he was twenty he had become firmly opposed to all self-indulgence. He abandoned finery of any kind, especially anything which might serve to enhance personal appearance, and having once renounced all extravagance he steered clear of it thereafter. Instead he took pride in wearing the traditional cloak and in conforming to Spartan diet, baths and lifestyle. He professed that he was interested in becoming king only if he could thereby restore the ancestral laws and system of education.

5. The Spartans' slide towards weakness and collapse began almost as soon as they had put an end to the Athenian hegemony, 9 and the state became flooded with gold and silver. All the same, where succession to property was concerned the number of households laid down by Lycurgus did continue to be maintained, and every father still bequeathed his lot of land to his son.10 As a result, the maintenance of equality under these arrangements at least saved the city from many other errors. But this was to change when a man named Epitadeus became ephor, a powerful, self-willed character, with a harsh temper. Since he was at odds with his son, he proposed a rhetra which made it possible for a man to dispose of his property and lot to anyone of his choice, either by gift during his lifetime, or by will. The introduction of this law thus satisfied Epitadeus' own private purpose; but others, too, welcomed it out of greed, and by approving it wrecked what had been an excellent system. For now influential people could acquire unlimited property. Relatives' claims to inheritances were thrust aside, so that wealth was soon concentrated in just a few hands, and the city generally was impoverished. In consequence people had no time for any honourable activities: they became subservient, as well as envious and hostile towards those who did own property. Thus there were no more than 700 Spartiates left, of whom perhaps 100 owned land in addition to their lot. Though they lacked rights or resources, the remaining mass of the population continued to squat in the city. They became dilatory and unenthusiastic in repelling external attacks, and all the time they kept looking for some opportunity to revolt and change their present condition.

6. In view of this Agis rightly considered that it would be a splendid achievement to restore a full body of equal citizens, and he began to sound out public opinion. The younger men responded quickly, and more eagerly than he had expected: as a group they stripped to show their mettle, as if their clothes represented a way of life which they were all discarding in the cause of liberty. The older men by contrast were more deeply tainted by corruption: most of them, like slaves being returned to a master from whom they had fled, shook with fear at the name of Lycurgus, and criticized Agis for deploring the present condition of the state and for being so eager to restore Sparta's ancient renown. Yet Agis' ambitions were publicized by Lysander the son of Libys, Mandrocleidas the son of Ecphanes, and Agesilaus, all of whom urged him on. Lysander was a citizen of the highest standing, while Mandrocleidas' combination of intelligence, cunning and audacity had won him the foremost reputation as a schemer throughout Greece. Agesilaus, the king's uncle on his mother's side, was a forceful speaker, but in other respects a weak, money-grubbing character who was openly encouraged and spurred on by his son Hippomedon; the latter's part in many campaigns had won him considerable prestige, and through the good opinion of the younger men he had become influential. But the decisive factor which swayed Agesilaus to support Agis' programme was his heavy burden of debts, which he hoped would be removed by revolution. So as soon as he had Agesilaus on his side, Agis enlisted his support to bring over his own mother: she took a prominent part in public life, and with so many dependants, friends and debtors was a figure of great influence.

7. After listening to the young man she was at first shocked and tried to stop him from proceeding with a scheme that seemed neither feasible nor rewarding. But Agesilaus explained to her how splendidly it would work out and what a valuable service it would perform, and the king personally begged his mother to contribute her wealth for the sake of his glory and aspirations. His argument was that even though he could not be on a par with other kings in material terms (since the servants of satraps and the slaves of Ptolemy's and Seleucus' officials owned more than all the Spartan kings put together), nonetheless, if in self-discipline and high-minded simplicity he could outdo all their affluence and make the citizens equals and partners, then he would truly win the name and glory of a great king. Consequently, inspired by the young man's aspirations, the ladies changed their minds and were filled with such great enthusiasm for his noble purpose that together they urged Agis on and told him to proceed faster. At the same time they called in their male friends, asking them to join and to talk to the other women, since they were aware that Spartan men were always subject to their wives and allowed them to interfere in affairs of state more than they themselves did in private ones.

Now at that time most of the wealth at Sparta was in the hands of women, and it was this which made Agis' task trouble-some and awkward. For the women opposed him, not only because they would lose the luxury which seemed to them with their lack of taste to be true happiness, but also because they saw that they would be deprived of both the respect and the influence which their wealth afforded them. So they approached Leonidas and repeatedly appealed to him, as the older man, to control Agis and block his schemes. Now Leonidas was certainly willing to assist the rich, since he was frightened of the people in their enthusiasm for change. He offered no open opposition, but made constant secret efforts to damage the project and wreck it, slandering Agis in discussions he had with the magistrates. According to him, Agis was pledging the property of the rich to the poor as their payment for making him tyrant, and by his land distributions and cancellations of debts was buying plenty of bodyguards for himself, rather than citizens for Sparta.

8. Agis, however, managed to have Lysander elected an ephor, 11 and through him he at once proposed to the Elders a rhetra, the main clauses of which were that debtors should be relieved of their obligations, and that there should be a redistribution of land. The territory between the stream beside Pellene and Taygetus, Malea and Sellasia should comprise 4,500 lots, while that beyond it should comprise 15,000. And this outer territory would be divided among those of the perioeci fit to bear arms, while the territory inside it would be for the Spartiates themselves. Their numbers would be restored from those perioeci and foreigners who had been brought up as free men and were in other respects physically appealing and at the peak of condition for their age. Spartiates would be organized into fifteen messes of 400 and 200,12 and they would adopt the same pattern of life as their ancestors.13

9. Once the rhetra had been proposed and the Elders proved by no means unanimous in their view of it, Lysander called an assembly and personally discussed the matter with the citizens, 14 while Mandrocleidas and Agesilaus begged them not to ignore Sparta's ruined reputation just because of the handful who lived in luxury. They should rather remember the earlier oracles which instructed them to beware of avarice as fatal to Sparta, as well as the ones brought to them recently from Pasiphae. Now there was a temple and much respected oracle of Pasiphae at Thalamae.15 According to some, she was one of the daughters of Atlas, and Ammon was her child by Zeus. Others, however, maintain that this was where Priam's daughter Cassandra died and that because she disclosed (phainein) her oracles to everyone (pasi), the place was called Pasiphae. But Phylarchus claims that she was a daughter of Amyclas called Daphne, and that when she escaped from Apollo, who wanted to have intercourse with her, she changed into the laurel tree (daphne), and was then honoured by the god and gained prophetic power. They said, then, that her oracles were instructing the Spartiates all to become equal in accordance with the legislation originally drawn up by Lycurgus. After everyone else, King Agis came forward and in a short statement declared his intention to offer the largest contribution to the state that he was trying to establish. First he was making over his own property to it, consisting of substantial tracts of arable land and pasture, and besides this 600talentsin cash. Then his mother and grandmother were doing likewise, along with their friends and relatives, who were the wealthiest of the Spartiates.

10. As a result the people were astounded at the young man's magnanimity and delighted that after some 300 years there had emerged a king worthy of Sparta. But it was from this point especially that Leonidas battled in opposition. For he reckoned that while he would be forced to do the same as Agis, he would not win equal gratitude from the citizens, because once everyone alike had surrendered their possessions, only the originator of the idea would be given credit for so doing.

So he asked Agis if he believed Lycurgus to have been a just and thoughtful person. When Agis replied in the affirmative, Leonidas said: ‘How was it then that Lycurgus permitted cancellation of debts or enrolled foreigners in the state, since in his opinion a state which did not expel foreigners was by no means healthy?’ Agis replied that he was not surprised if Leonidas, brought up abroad and the father of children by a satrap's daughter, was unaware that Lycurgus banished borrowing and lending from the city along with coinage, while men whose attitudes and lifestyles were incompatible with his own irritated him much more than foreigners in the cities. He certainly did expel the latter – not because he was hostile to their physical presence, but because their behaviour and character worried him as being liable to contaminate the citizens and generate enthusiasm for luxury, effeminacy and greed. Yet Terpander, Thales and Pherecydes, 16 despite being foreigners, were particularly honoured at Sparta because the spirit of their odes and their philosophies was consistently the same as that of Lycurgus. Agis said: ‘On the one hand you praise Ecprepes, 17 who as ephor took an adze and cut away two of the nine strings from the musician Phrynis' lyre, as well as those who again did the same to Timotheus.18 Yet on the other hand you complain about my attempt to rid Sparta of luxury, extravagance and pretentiousness, as if those magistrates too were not determined to prevent affected and extravagant elements in music penetrating here. But now the imbalance and the dissonance which have developed in our lives and our behaviour have rendered the city off pitch and out of harmony with itself.’

11. After this the ordinary people supported Agis, but the rich continued to beg Leonidas not to abandon them; they also pleaded with the Elders – who had authority in the matter of preliminary approval19 – and were successful in convincing them to the extent that those who voted against the rhetra were in a majority of one.20 But Lysander, who was still in office, quickly initiated a prosecution of Leonidas on the basis of an archaic law which forbade any descendant of Heracles to have children by a foreign woman, and ordered that one who left Sparta to emigrate elsewhere should be executed. After instructing others to bring these charges against Leonidas, he and his fellow magistrates proceeded to look for the sign, which is as follows.

Every nine years the ephors pick a clear, moonless night, and sit in silence gazing up at the sky. Should, then, a star shoot from one sector to another sector, they conclude that the kings have committed some fault relating to religion, and they suspend them from their office until an oracle comes from Delphi or Olympia to support the kings who have been convicted by the omen.21 It was this sign which Lysander now claimed had appeared to him. He had Leonidas brought to trial and produced witnesses to say that he had had two children by an Asian woman whom he had acquired as a spouse from one of Seleucus' officers; but then, when he found her intolerable and was loathed in return, he came home unexpectedly and occupied the kingship since there was no heir to it. While bringing this case, Lysander also tried to persuade Cleombrotus, Leonidas' son-in-law and of royal birth, to lay claim to the kingship. So Leonidas panicked and became a suppliant of Athena in the Bronze House; his daughter, too, left her husband Cleombrotus and took sanctuary with her father. When he was called to trial and did not emerge, the court deprived him of his kingship and conferred it on Cleombrotus.

12. At this point Lysander went out of office because his term had expired. The newly installed ephors22 brought Leonidas out of his sanctuary, while prosecuting Lysander and Mandrocleidas on a charge of having illegally voted for cancellation of debts and redistribution of land. So in this hazardous predicament the pair of them persuaded the kings to act jointly and to ignore the ephors' resolutions. Their argument was that this magistracy derived its power from disagreements between the kings by adding its vote to that of the one who expressed the better opinion whenever the other disputed a beneficial policy. But when the pair of them were of the same mind their authority was absolute, and opposition to them was unlawful; 23 it was the ephors' proper function to mediate and arbitrate between them when they were in dispute, but not to interfere when they were in agreement. Thus convinced, the two kings and their friends descended on the agora, and first removed the ephors from their chairs, and then appointed others,24 including Agesilaus, to take their places. Next, by arming a considerable number of young men and releasing prisoners, they made their opponents afraid that a massacre would occur. But in fact the kings killed no one. Agesilaus did want to murder Leonidas as he stole away to Tegea, and did send men after him along the road; but when Agis discovered this, he despatched another group of trustworthy men, who escorted Leonidas and delivered him safely to Tegea.

13. With the kings' policy thus going forward without anyone opposing or blocking it, one man, Agesilaus, now upset and ruined everything: it was that most infamous affliction – avarice – which prompted him to wreck a most splendid and most Spartan plan. For although he was the owner of notably extensive and fertile land, he had also borrowed very heavily. As a result he could not pay off his debts, nor did he want to surrender his land. So he persuaded Agis that it would be too great a revolution for the city if both steps were taken simultaneously, but that if property-owners were first conciliated by remission of debts, then they would cheerfully and peaceably accept the redistribution of land later. This was the view also taken by Lysander's circle, who were all similarly duped by Agesilaus. So together they brought into the agora the debtors' documents (which they call klaria), made a single pile of them all, and burnt them. Once the flames rose, the wealthy men and creditors left in deep distress, while by way of mocking them Agesilaus declared that never had he seen a brighter light or a clearer blaze than that.

Then the crowd demanded that the division of land should also be made at once, and the kings gave orders for this to be done. But by constantly alleging pressure of other business and by producing excuses, Agesilaus wasted time until Sparta's allies the Achaeans demanded her help, and the expedition fell to Agis. The reason was that the Aetolians were expected to invade the Peloponnese through the territory of Megara; to prevent this the Achaean general Aratus was assembling a force and wrote to the ephors.25

14. They immediately despatched Agis, who felt stirred by the aspirations and enthusiasm of his fellow soldiers, most of whom were poor young men. Now that they had gained remission of their debts and were freed in that respect, their hope was that, should they return from the campaign, the land would be distributed. So they proved themselves admirable in Agis' eyes. And as they marched meekly through the Peloponnese, doing no damage and virtually silent, they presented such a spectacle to the cities that the Greeks were astonished and asked themselves what discipline a Spartan army must have had when led by Agesilaus, or the famous Lysander, or the Leonidas26 of the distant past, when here there was such respect and fear on the part of the troops towards a lad who was virtually the youngest of them all. Certainly the young man himself took pride in being economical, in displaying a zest for hard work, and in not being dressed or armed any more distinctively than a private: as such he was a sight to be seen and admired by ordinary people. The rich, however, did not approve of his revolution and were frightened that it might serve as a spur and an example to the masses everywhere.

15. When Agis linked up with him near Corinth, Aratus was still debating whether to confront the enemy in a set battle. Agis adopted an attitude which was notably enthusiastic and bold, though not immature or thoughtless. For he said that while he favoured a decisive battle, so as not to abandon the gates of the Peloponnese and let the war spread inside them, nonetheless he would act as Aratus decided: Aratus, after all, was senior to him in age and was the general of the Achaeans – whom he had come to campaign with and to assist, not to order about or command. Baton of Sinope27 claims that Agis refused to offer battle when Aratus gave the order, but he has not come across what Aratus wrote about this matter: as he explained it, since the farmers by this time had finished harvesting nearly all the crops, he thought it better to let the enemy through rather than to risk everything in a battle. So then, after deciding against a battle, Aratus complimented his allies and released them, and Agis (who had been much admired) dismissed his forces.28

By this time there was a great deal of turbulence and upheaval in Sparta's internal affairs. 16. For as an ephor Agesilaus, now freed from his earlier constraints, was leaving no extortionate malpractice unexploited, but contrary to the set arrangement of the calendar inserted a thirteenth month not required at that stage of the cycle, and demanded taxes for it. Because he feared those he was injuring – quite apart from the hatred universally shown him – he began maintaining swordsmen who protected him when he went down to the magistrates' headquarters. And as for the kings, he wanted to convey the impression that while he completely despised one, he did feel a certain respect for Agis, though more because he was his relative than because he was king. He spread the word that he was also going to have a further term as ephor.29

So his enemies were quick to run the risk of joining forces and openly bringing Leonidas back from Tegea to resume his rule. Even the ordinary people looked with favour on this, because after being cheated out of the distribution of land they were now furious. Agesilaus was spirited away and thus saved by his son Hippomedon, who pleaded with the citizens and was in any case universally popular because of his manly qualities. Of the kings, Agis took refuge with Athena in the Bronze House, while Cleombrotus went as a suppliant to the shrine of Poseidon.30 It was certainly towards him that Leonidas' attitude seemed more severe: he left Agis alone, but moved against Cleombrotus with troops. He also angrily accused Cleombrotus of conspiring against his own father-in-law as well as depriving him of his kingship and helping to drive him from his homeland.

17. Cleombrotus had no response to make to this, but sat bewildered and silent. Not so Leonidas' daughter Chilonis, however. Before, when her father had been wronged she had felt wronged too, and when Cleombrotus usurped the kingship she left him and looked after her father in his plight. While he was still in Sparta she was a suppliant with him, and then when he was in exile she mourned for him and continued her resentment against Cleombrotus. Yet now, when their fortunes changed again, she changed sides with them and was seen sitting as a suppliant beside her husband, with her arms flung around him and her children at her feet, one on either side. Everyone was astonished and moved to tears at the woman's goodness and devotion. Clutching her dishevelled clothes and hair, she spoke out:

‘Father, it was not out of pity for Cleombrotus that I adopted this clothing and this appearance; rather, ever since the time of your misfortunes and your exile I have been attended and accompanied constantly by sorrow. When now you enjoy the triumph of again being king in Sparta, must I then accept life in this sad plight, or am I to put on a glittering royal costume after witnessing your slaughter of the husband I married when I was young? If he neither moves you with his pleas nor sways you by the tears of his children and wife, he will suffer a more severe penalty for his bad judgement than you wish him to when he sees me, the person dearest to him, dying before him. For how could I live and converse freely with other women when neither my husband nor my father pitied my pleas? In fact as both wife and daughter it has been my role in life to share the misfortunes and disgrace of those close to me. In my husband's case, even if he did have some proper justification, I deprived him of it when I took your side and testified against the events of his reign. On the other hand you make his offence easy to excuse by clearly showing the kingship to be so mighty and so worth the struggle that sons-in-law may justifiably be murdered for it and children disregarded.’

18. Following this outburst Chilonis laid her face on Cleombrotus' head and turned her gaze towards those present, her eyes blinded and melted by grief. Leonidas, after conferring with his friends, directed Cleombrotus to leave his sanctuary and go into exile, but he begged his daughter to stay behind in Sparta and not to abandon him, since he loved her so much and had freely granted her the deliverance of her husband. All the same she was not persuaded, and when her husband left the sanctuary she prostrated herself before the altar of the goddess and then departed with him, giving him one of their children to carry and taking the other herself. As a result, if Cleombrotus had not been totally consumed by futile ambition, he would have realized that because of his wife his exile was of greater value to him than the kingship.

After dislodging Cleombrotus, Leonidas removed the existing ephors from office and appointed others; then he at once began to lay plans against Agis. To begin with, he tried to persuade him to leave his sanctuary and take a share in the kingship, on the understanding that the citizens had granted him a pardon because his youth and his ambition had led him to be among those duped by Agesilaus. But Agis felt suspicious and stayed where he was. Leonidas himself then gave up trying to trick and deceive him, but Amphares, Damochares and Arcesilaus made a habit of going up and engaging him in conversation. On one occasion they even formed an escort to take him down to the bath, and then after his bath they brought him back again to the temple. While they were all Agis' close friends, Amphares had in addition recently borrowed some clothing and goblets of very great value from Agesistrata, and thus was scheming against the king and the women so as not to have to return these. Also it was he who is said to have been most responsive to Leonidas and to have whipped up the ephors (of whom he was one himself).

19. Although Agis otherwise spent his time in the temple, it was his habit to go down to the bath now and again: so it was there that they determined to arrest him, when he should be out of sanctuary. After carefully watching for when he had bathed, they came to meet him, greeted him and walked along with him to chat and joke as with any close young friend. But at one point on the way there was a turning which led to the prison, and when they reached there as they walked along, Amphares by virtue of his authority gripped Agis and said: ‘I am bringing you before the ephors, Agis, to give an account of your conduct in office.’ Damochares, who was strong and tall, threw his cloak over him and pulled it round his neck. As agreed beforehand the others shoved from behind, and since Agis was all on his own with no one to help him, they got him into the prison. Leonidas at once appeared with plenty of mercenaries and surrounded the outside of the building, while the ephors went in to Agis. They also called inside those Elders who shared their views (as if Agis was to be put on trial), 31 and told him to account for his past actions. When the young man laughed at this hypocrisy of theirs, Amphares told him that he would be sorry for it and would pay a price for his audacity. But another of the ephors, as though making Agis a concession and offering him a means of escaping the charge, inquired if he had acted as he did under compulsion from Lysander and Agesilaus. Agis replied that he had been under no compulsion, but that his wish had been to imitate Lycurgus and so revive his constitution. Again, when the same ephor asked if he regretted what he had done, the young man declared that he felt no regret for a plan that had been most splendidly conceived, despite the realization that he would face the extreme penalty.

So they condemned him to death and instructed their attendants to convey him to what is called the Dechas. This is a chamber in the prison where condemned men are executed by throttling. But the attendants did not dare take hold of Agis, and those of the mercenaries standing by similarly turned away and shirked this duty, as it was taboo and illegal to lay hands on the person of a king. When Damochares saw this he threatened them and abused them, and personally hauled Agis into the chamber. For by now it was widely known that the arrest. had been made; there was an uproar at the entrance and many people with torches; both Agis' mother and grandmother were there making loud demands that the king of the Spartiates should be allowed to speak and to be tried in front of the citizens. So the ephors pushed ahead even more with his execution, in fear that during the night further people might gather and he might be snatched away.

20. When Agis was on his way to execution by strangling and noticed one of the attendants in tears and distraught, he said to him: ‘Man, stop crying for me, since my death contrary to law and justice makes me superior to my murderers.’ With these words he readily allowed the noose to be placed around his neck. When Amphares then came forward to the entrance, Agesistrata went down on her knees to him recalling their closeness and friendship. He brought her to her feet with an assurance that nothing violent or fatal would happen to Agis, and told her to go inside to her son, if she would like to. When she requested that her mother also accompany her, Amphares said that there was no objection. And after letting both women in and giving instructions for the prison doors to be shut again, he handed over Archidamia for execution first: she was by now very elderly, and in her old age enjoyed the highest esteem among Spartiate women. Once she was dead he told Agesistrata to step inside. When she came in and saw her son lying on the ground and her mother's corpse hanging from the noose, she personally helped the attendants take it down, then laid out the body next to that of Agis, arranged it decently and covered it. Next she threw herself upon her son, kissed his face and said: ‘Son, it is your abundant discretion, mildness and consideration for others which have ruined you, and us too.’ When Amphares glimpsed from the door what was going on and heard what she was saying, he came on in and spoke angrily to Agesistrata. ‘If you approved of the same ideas as your son,’ he said, ‘then you will suffer the same fate too.’ And Agesistrata stood up to fit on the noose, with the words: ‘May this only be of service to Sparta.’

21. When the tragedy was made known throughout the city and the three bodies were being brought out, the citizens were not sufficiently terrorized to conceal either their grief at these events or their hatred of Leonidas and Amphares: their opinion was that nothing more ghastly or more sacrilegious had been perpetrated at Sparta since the Dorians had settled in the Peloponnese. For it seems that even enemies encountering a Spartan king in battle were reluctant to lay hands on him, but would turn away in fear and respect for his majesty. Thus despite the many clashes between Spartans and other Greeks only one king died a violent death before the time of Philip of Macedon – Cleombrotus from a spear-thrust at Leuctra. The Messenians claim that Theopompus as well was killed by Aristomenes; 32 but this is denied by the Spartans, who say that he was only hit. While there may be some dispute about that, certainly Agis was the first reigning king at Sparta to be put to death by ephors. The course of action he chose to follow was admirable and worthy of Sparta, even though he was of an age at which men who make mistakes gain pardon for them. His friends had more justification for finding fault with him than his enemies, because among the latter he actually saved Leonidas' life and trusted the others, thanks to his very gentle and mild nature.

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