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date: 17 August 2022

Lycurgus (3), of Boutadai, free

Athenian orator and politician, c. 390–c. 325/324 bce

Lycurgus (3), of Boutadai, free

Athenian orator and politician, c. 390–c. 325/324 bce
  • S. D. Lambert


  • Greek History and Historiography
  • Greek Law

Updated in this version

Text and bibliography expanded to reflect current scholarship. Keywords added.

Lycurgus was one of the ten canonical Attic orators and an influential politician who worked energetically for the regeneration of Athens after the battle of Chaeronea (338) until his death, a period commonly referred to as “Lycurgan Athens.” The principal evidence about him is the “Life” in the Lives of the Ten Orators attributed to Plutarch (841a–844a) and the appended decree of 307/306 bce honouring him posthumously (851f–852e), the inscribed version of which is partially preserved (IG II2 457 + 3207). His one extant speech, “Against Leocrates,” of 331, was directed against a man accused of abandoning Attica in the aftermath of the battle of Chaeronea, and is notable for its moralising tone and extensive use of examples from myth and history, including quotations from poetry. Lycurgus is also prominent in the epigraphical record. He proposed more extant inscribed laws and decrees than any other politician of the classical Athenian democracy, except for his chief rival, Demades. A member of the branch of the genos Eteobutadai, which supplied the priests of Poseidon Erechtheus on the acropolis (two of his sons held the priesthood, though it does not seem that he was himself priest), his speeches and policies for regeneration of the city are infused with a strong religious sense.

He proposed laws relating to the accoutrements of cult (IG II3 1, 445) and succeeded in replacing the golden Nikai on the acropolis that had been melted down towards the end of the Peloponnesian War. IG II2 1672, 302 and 303 show him proposing decrees relating to sacrifices and financial affairs of the cult of Demeter at Eleusis. He proposed measures against pirates and for securing the city’s grain supply (IG II3 1, 336; cf. IG II2 1623, 276–285, IG II3 1, 432), and honours for Eudemus of Plataea who had contributed to the construction of the Panathenaic stadium (IG II3 1, 352; cf. IG II3 1, 345), a building project which, according to the decree honouring him, he completed, together with the theatre of Dionysus (cf. IG II3 1, 470, which may have been proposed by him), the shipsheds, and the arsenal. He also constructed the gymnasium at the Lyceum. In part with the aim of making life comfortable for metic traders who made important contributions to the economic well-being of the city, he proposed a measure to permit merchants from Citium in Cyprus to acquire a plot of land on which to build a temple of Aphrodite (IG II3 1, 337).

He served with Demades and other prominent Athenians on the official pilgrimage (theoria) to Delphi (IG II3 4, 18) and was honoured, again with Demades and other prominent Athenians, in 329/328, as a member of the board responsible for managing the first celebration of the newly instituted Great Amphiaraia festival in Oropus, control of which had been granted Athens probably by Alexander after the sack of Thebes in 335 (IG II3 1, 355). According to the decree honouring him, he was “treasurer of the public revenue” for three quadrennia (probably from 336/335); according to the “Life” (841b–c) he was initially in charge of the financial administration (dioikesis) in his own name, later (because iteration of quadrennial financial offices was illegal) exercising the office through a friend. In this capacity he succeeded in improving the public revenues. The decree honouring him also states that he was elected to be “in charge of war preparations” and in that capacity built up stocks of armaments and “prepared 400 seaworthy triremes, repairing some and building others from scratch.”

He is an important figure in the history of the Athenian theatre, responsible among other things for having statues of the three great tragic poets erected in the theatre of Dionysus and an official copy made of their works (later borrowed by Ptolemy (1) II Philadelphus for the library of Alexandria (1) and the original never returned). There is no evidence to link him directly with the reform of the system of national service for young citizens (the ephēboi) c. 334, but the reform was Lycurgan in spirit and he refers at F5.3 Conomis to a statue of Epikrates in recognition of his ephebic law. Though none of his extant writings is explicitly critical of Macedon and the inscribed version of the decree honouring him may exaggerate the extent to which he opposed Alexander (3) the Great, an aspiration to regenerate Athens so that it was in a position to regain full independence is implicit. He was among those whose extradition was demanded by Alexander in 335, and he opposed (unsuccessfully) the proposal to award a statue to Demades, who pursued a policy of constructive relations with Macedon (F9). In F1, F4, and F5—all probably delivered at formal accountings (euthynai)—Lycurgus defended his record in office. His other speeches demonstrate a propensity for pursuing, for their exemplary effect, legal actions against citizens for misdemeanours patriotic (in addition to Leocrates, he also prosecuted Autolycus, F3, for sending his family abroad after Chaironea, and one of the Athenian generals in the battle, Lysicles, F12), moral (F10 and F11 against Lycophron, for adultery, defended by Hypereides, Lyc.), financial (in F2 he joined Demosthenes (25) in attacking the public debtor, Aristogeiton), and religious (F14 prosecutes his enemy, Menesaichmus, for sacrificing improperly on the pilgrimage (theoria) to Delos, cf. Fs 6 and 7 relating to priesthoods; F13 to oracles).

Primary Texts

Links to Digital Materials


  • Azoulay, V., and P. Ismard, eds. Clisthène et Lycurgue d’Athènes. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011.
  • Blok, J., and S. D. Lambert. “The Appointment of Priests in Attic Genē.” ZPE 169 (2009): 95–121, especially 105–114.
  • Conomis, N. C. “Notes on the Fragments of Lycurgus.” Klio 39 (1961): 72–152.
  • Csapo, E., and P. Wilson. “The Finance and Organisation of the Athenian Theatre in the Time of Eubulus and Lycurgus.” In Greek Theatre in the Fourth Century BC. Edited by E. Csapo, H. R. Goette, J. R. Green, and P. Wilson. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.
  • Davies, J. K. Athenian Propertied Families 600–300 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Habicht, C. Athens from Alexander to Antony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Hanink, J. Lycurgan Athens and the Making of Classical Tragedy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Humphreys, S.The Strangeness of Gods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Lambert, S. D. “Connecting with the Past in Lykourgan Athens: An Epigraphical Perspective.” In Intentional History. Spinning Time in Ancient Greece. Edited by L. Foxhall, H.-J. Gehrke, and N. Luraghi. Stuttgart, Germany: Franz Steiner, 2010.
  • Lambert, S. D. “Inscribing the Past in Fourth Century Athens.” In Greek Notions of the Past in the Archaic and Classical Eras: History without Historians. Edited by J. Marincola, L. Llewellyn-Jones, and C. Maciver. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  • Lewis, D. M. “The Financial Offices of Eubulus and Lycurgus.” In Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History. Edited by P. J. Rhodes. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Papastamati-von Moock, C. “The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus: New Data and Observations on its ‘Lycurgan’ Phase.” In Greek Theatre in the Fourth Century BC. Edited by E. Csapo, H. R. Goette, J. R. Green, and P. Wilson. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.
  • Parker, R. Athenian Religion. A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Rhodes, P. J. “‘Lycurgan’ Athens.” In Philathenaios. Studies in Honour of Michael J. Osborne. Edited by A. Tamis, C. J. Mackie, and S. G. Byrne. Athens: Greek Epigraphical Society, 2010.
  • Rhodes P. J., and R. Osborne. Greek Historical Inscriptions, 404–323 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Will, W. Athen und Alexander. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Stadt von 338 bis 322 v. Chr. Beck: Munich, 1983.