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date: 27 November 2022

Lycurgus (2), legendary Spartanfree

Lycurgus (2), legendary Spartanfree

  • Massimo Nafissi


Lycurgus was the legendary founder of Sparta’s political order and of many of its social institutions. His legend initially developed as part of the transformation that gave Sparta its distinctive features during the Archaic period. The role that Spartan tradition attributed to Lycurgus ended up subsuming and eventually cancelling any memory of this process, and his role in the establishment of the city’s laws and customs, along with Apollo’s blessing, rendered them more legitimate and binding. As it was Lycurgus’s laws that granted Sparta her distinctive greatness, the lawgiver continued to be an influential source of civic identity throughout antiquity, and in Sparta, his legend continued to be revived through a process known as invention of tradition. Throughout the Greek world, Lycurgus and his legislation were the object of deep historical, political and ethical-philosophical interest, usually admired or idealised, but occasionally viewed more critically.


  • Greek History and Historiography

Updated in this version

Entry rewritten and expanded on.

Scholarly views concerning ancient evidence relating to Lycurgus vary.1 For a long time, a deeply sceptical approach argued that Lycurgus was a purely legendary figure, that the tradition surrounding him had formed relatively late, and that it was accordingly unreliable for a historical reconstruction of archaic Sparta. At the opposite extreme, another school of thought tried to argue in favour of Lycurgus’s historicity. A third line of thought attempted to isolate a kernel of historical truth behind the legend.2 These three tendencies are marginal in recent and current research, and most scholars nowadays would subscribe to Antony Andrewes’s conclusion that “if there was a real Lycurgus, we know nothing of him.” Much scholarly energy is instead devoted to defining and better understanding the various elements and layers that compose the lawgiver’s complex legend in their own historical and literary context.

Character and Life

The earliest extant source for Lycurgus is Herodotus (1.65.2–66.1). He says that Lycurgus had brought the Spartans out of an era of extreme political disorder (kakonomōtatoi) and into one of good order (eunomiē), which in turn led to the city’s increased power. With the support of the Delphic oracle, Lycurgus changed “all the laws,” and created the gerousia, the ephorate, and the Spartan military organization (there is mention of the syssitia among the military institutions). These basic elements as well as other details of Herodotus’s narrative reappear in later versions of Lycurgus’s biography: Lycurgus’s royal ancestry, his guardianship of a young king, and his travels to Crete (after Herodotus, Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 118 apud Strabo 8.5.5, Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 149.18–19 apud Strabo 10.4.18–19, Arist. Pol. 2. 1271b20ff., Plut. Lyc. 4.1–2).3 Travels to Egypt, Ionia, Lybia, Iberia, and India are first recorded later by Diod. Sic. 1.96.2 and Plut. Lyc. 4.3–6). Only later sources tell of the ruse devised by Lycurgus to protect his laws from being changed: after the citizens promised to keep the laws unchanged during his absence, he visited Delphi, received by the oracle confirmation of their beneficial effect for the city, and then let himself die (Nic. Dam. FGrH 90 F 56, Plut. Lyc. 29.1–5: the story may go back to Ephorus cf. FGrH and BNJ 70 F 175 apud Ael. VH 13.23). In these authors’ accounts, the episode is at the origin of the cult of Lycurgus, already known to Herodotus (Ephorus FgrHand BNJ 70 F 118 apud Strabo 8.5.5, Arist. fr. 534 Rose apud Plut. Lyc. 31.3, perhaps with contemporary information added by Plutarch, Paus. 3.16.6) and probably alluded to by the Delphic oracle he quotes; however, it is not entirely clear when the cult assumed the form of divine worship.4

In focusing on the unhistorical character of Lycurgus, scholars have long downplayed the importance of his legend in the 5th century, but even then varying versions of his biography and achievements were already in circulation. In 1.65.4, Herodotus identifies him a member of the royal family of the Agiads, but his genealogy of the Eurypontids (Hdt. 8.131.2) seems to assume that the lawgiver belonged to that family, since the name “Eunomus” is probably connected to the founder of eunomia. From the 4th century onwards, the connection to the Eurypontids becomes predominant, but it had already been known to a Simonides (fr. 628 PMG = fr. spurium 355 Poltera)—presumably the poet, as Plutarch says, and not his later, more obscure relative the genealogist, as many scholars suppose (FGrH and BNJ2 8 F 5 = fr. 5 EGM).5

Herodotus himself reports two versions of the relation between Lycurgus and Delphi. According to the first version, Lycurgus received the laws directly from Apollo. The second is usually understood to ascribe the origins of Lycurgus’s laws to the Cretan constitution. It cannot be ruled out, however, that this version also assumed that the oracle sanctioned Lycurgus’s “Cretan” laws.6

Such a divergence as early as the 5th century gives weight to the hypothesis that the figure of Lycurgus had been known in Sparta since the archaic age. It is also possible that the so-called Great Rhētra (Plut. Lyc. 6, with Arist. fr. 536 Rose) had been attributed to him from the very beginning.7 The lack of any mention of Lycurgus in Tyrtaeus’s extant fragments may offer, on the one hand, an approximate terminus post quem to establish the origins of his tradition; on the other hand, the so-called Disc of Iphitus (Arist. fr. 533 Rose apud Plut. Lyc. 1.1) provides no certain chronological clue.

There is, in any case, no definitive evidence against the idea that Lycurgan tradition was already affirmed in Sparta in the 5th century. The argument from silence based on Pindar (Pyth. 1.60–65) seems unfounded. Though it is true that Pindar fails to mention Lycurgus when mentioning Aegimius’s Doric laws (in the context of links between Aetna (2) and Sparta), this is not a significant silence, since it would have made no sense for the poet to quote Lycurgus, as Sparta and Aetna did not in fact share Spartan customs, only Doric ones. Similarly, according to Ephorus (FGrH and BNJ 70 F 118 apud Strabo 8.5.5), Hellanicus (1) also made no mention of Lycurgus but instead traced Spartan laws to Eurysthenes and Procles (FGrH and BNJ 4 F 116). However, Hellanicus’s account seems idiosyncratic, and some scholars suspect Ephorus was either wrong or excessively polemical.8 Finally, Thucydides (1.18.1), who had an understanding of ancient Spartan history similar to that of Herodotus, probably omits Lycurgus only for the sake of brevity; elsewhere, he seems to allude to the Cretan origin of Spartan laws and therefore to the legend of Lycurgus (2.37.1).9

The Spartans’ belief that their unique political institutions and civic regulations were crucial to the success of the polis contributed substantially to the growth of Lycurgan tradition, as well as to the foundation of a cult of the lawgiver. Conjectures developed by scholars between the end of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries about Lycurgus’s original divine nature seem today obsolete. The mythical figure of Lycurgus bears instead a certain resemblance to that of the cities’ founders. As the founder of the eunomia, Lycurgus was the one who built Sparta’s power and defined its leading role in the Greek world. Sparta dedicated a cult to him, much as other cities honored their founders.

Comparative studies of various traditions surrounding lawgivers reveal significant similarities between them, shedding light on several aspects of the Lycurgan legend.10 The parallels between the stories about Lycurgus and those about Solon probably also reflect the Athens-Sparta duality. Divine inspiration and travels are two of the main topoi of the legend on legislators. Many of them are also credited with leading their cities from disorder to order. Another mythical characteristic typical of lawgivers, including Lycurgus, is monocular vision. The Spartan lawgiver lost one eye due to a violent event. A young man named Alcandrus, while pursuing Lycurgus alongside many others who were also hostile to his reforms, accidentally hit him in the eye with his cane. Lycurgus’s wounded face induced his fellow citizens to become obedient, and the youth submitted himself to Lycurgus’s wisdom. This episode constitutes a sort of foundation myth of Spartan education (see agōgē). Although the story is not documented before Hellenistic times, it could be older (Dioscurides FGrH and BNJ 594 F 1, Plut. Lyc. 11).

A steadfast insistence on obeying the law is another trait that is often ascribed to lawgivers. Related to this motif is Lycurgus’s role as guardian of the heir of the basileia, a distinctive aspect in his tradition. The lawgiver is suspected of wanting to get rid of the heir (Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.19 apud Strabo 10.4.19), or even encouraged to do so (Plut. Lyc. 3) to consolidate his own power. Lycurgus, however, refuses and saves the lawful successor, proving his sense of justice and his ability to switch from a role of particularly high political responsibility to that of a common citizen. The guardianship theme was crucial in introducing Lycurgus into royal lineages: it is significant that Lycurgus appears as a brother of a king and a guardian of his young successor both in the Agiad (Hdt. 1.65.4) and the Eurypontid family (Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.19 apud Strabo 10.4.19, Arist. Pol. 2.1271b25f., Plut. Lyc. 3, Iust. 3.2.5; Simonides had probably previously referred to Lycurgus’s guardianship).11

While the two different genealogies of Lycurgus reflect the rivalry between the two Spartan royal houses, the two different versions of Lycurgus’s relation to the Delphic oracle correspond to two different types of oracles linked to the legislation: prescriptive (see for example the assertive ἐγώ σοι δώσω‎ “I myself will give you” in Diod. Sic. 7.10 B Cohen-Skalli, and the Great Rhētra) and confirmatory (a simple yes/no response, see Xen. Lac. 8.5). King Pausanias (2), author of a 4th-century treatise Against the Laws of Lycurgus (FGrH and BNJ 582 T 3 and Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 118 apud Strabo 8.5.5), made these oracles known outside Sparta, thereby playing a significant role in the development of Lycurgan tradition, even if this role is difficult to determine in detail.12

This work was certainly used by Ephorus, whose own work was critical to the later legend of Lycurgus, beginning with a definitive ascription of the legislator to the Eurypontid lineage. Ephorus (FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.18-19 apud Strabo 10.4.18-19) tells of Lycurgus’s deeds in a relatively comprehensive way. He places him in an overarching narrative reconstruction of the relations between Sparta and Crete and on an authoritative genealogical map of the Greek past (see also Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 173). Among other things, Ephorus took the position that Cretan laws preceded Spartan laws, which had been contested.13 Furthermore he describes the prescriptive oracles as the outcome of a benign ruse carried out by Lycurgus in imitation of Minos, who would return from the cave of his father Zeus with instructions that seemed to have been dictated by Zeus himself (FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.19 apud Strabo 10.4.19).

The multiplicity of the narratives about Lycurgus fuelled the debate about his chronology, vividly reported in the introductory lines of Plutarch’s biography of Lycurgus. According to Herodotus, Lycurgus was regent for Leobotes (1.65.4) and lived three generations after Eurysthenes, the founder of the Agiad dynasty (7.204; thus, Lycurgus would have been the eighth descendant of Heracles, counting inclusively). By contrast, Simonides (fr. 628 PMG = fr. spurium 355 Poltera or FGrH and BNJ2 8 F 5 = fr. 5 EGM) and later Ephorus (Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 118, 149.19, 173) stated that Lycurgus was the guardian of the Eurypontid Charilaus, in which case Lycurgus would have been the sixth descendant of Procles and the eleventh from Heracles (counting inclusively). In yet another account, the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (10.8), Xenophon seems instead to suggest that Lycurgus lived at the time of the first kings of Sparta. Of these, the most generally accepted by ancient authors was Ephorus’s genealogy: according to a chronology that Hellenistic chronographers derived from this (Eratosth. FGrH and BNJ 241 F 2, Apollodorus of Athens FGrH and BNJ 244 F 64), Lycurgus instituted his laws 118 years after the beginning of Procles’s reign, which corresponds to 885–854 bce.

However, the Aristotelian Constitution of the Lacedaemonians quoted an enigmatic epigraphic document, the Disc of Iphitus, as evidence for the involvement of Lycurgus in founding the Olympian Games (fr. 533 Rose), the dates of which correspond to 776–775 bce. There are legitimate doubts about the alleged antiquity of the Disc, although the ancients clearly took it for genuine, which made it difficult for them to place Lycurgus in a coherent chronology. Those who followed the more common genealogy for Lycurgus arrived at two solutions. One account by Timaeus (FGrH and BNJ 566 F 127) posits that the Lycurgus active in 776–775 bce was not in fact the famous lawgiver, but rather a namesake who lived much later. Eratosthenes (FGrH and BNJ 241 F 2), on the other hand, simply backdated the Disc of Iphitus to a convenient date for Lycurgus’s lineage and suggested that earlier, informal Olympics were held before proper registration began in 776–775 bce.14


The range of Spartan laws and institutions credited to Lycurgus was extraordinary. Initially, all Spartan institutions were attributed to him with the exception of the diarchy, which was always thought of as a pre-Lycurgan institution. From the 4th century onward, Lycurgus ceased to be credited with the creation of the ephorate (Hdt. 1.65.5), which was instead attributed to king Theopompus (1) (Pl. Leg. 3.692a, Arist. Pol. 5.1313a25–28 cf. fr. 534 Rose = Heraclides Lembus Exc. Pol. 372.9 Dilts, Plut. Lyc. 7.1–2). The reason for this shift is unclear. The new tradition was accepted in Sparta and the ephorate (see ephors) did not thereby lose legitimacy: the tomb of Theopompus was located in the sanctuary of Lycurgus (Paus. 3.16.6), and his role as conqueror of Messenia was particularly cherished by the Spartans. From that time on, the creation of the gerousia, always ascribed to Lycurgus (Hdt. 1.65.5, Xen. Lac. 10.1–3, Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.18 apud Strabo 10.4.18, Pl. Leg. 3.691e–692a), assumed particular importance. For this reason Plutarch considers the Great Rhētra directed towards the creation of the gerousia, although it also gave instructions for the creation of civic subdivisions (phylai and ōbai) and (even with the so-called “rider”) on the assembly’s functional procedures (Lyc. 6).15 Other elements that were said to date back to Lycurgus included educational traditions (Xen. Lac. 2–3, Plut. Lyc. 16.4–18), communal meals (syssitia) (Hdt. 1.65.5, Xen. Lac. 5.1–7, Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 149.18 apud Strabo 10.4.18, Arist. Pol. 2. 1271a26–37, 1272a1–3, 12–27, Plut. Lyc. 10–12), and military institutions (Hdt. 1.65.5, Xen. Lac. 11–13). Additionally, three rhētrai (Plut. Lyc. 13) were attributed to him, the first of which prohibited the adoption of written laws.

Classical historians theorised that the well-ordered Spartan life was fundamental to her dominance in the Peloponnese and Greece in general. (Hdt. 1.65.2, 66.1, 68.6, Thuc. 1.18.1, Xen. Lac. 1. 1f., Ephorus FGrH and BNJ 70 F 173 apud Σ‎ Pindar P. 1.120b). In subsequent periods, the same relationship was posited in a different way. Xenophon, writing before the collapse of Spartan hegemony, blamed Sparta’s crisis of consensus in the Greek world on certain Spartans who failed to follow Lycurgan law (Lac. 14). With the benefit of further hindsight following the battle of Leuctra, the abandonment of these laws was cited as the reason for Sparta’s decline (Diod. Sic. 7.15 Cohen–Skalli, Plut. Lyc. 29.6–30).

During this time, the evolution of political and philosophical culture led to some reservations about Lycurgus’s intentions and works. Plato took inspiration from Spartan institutions for his own utopian proposals in Republic and in Laws; however, just as Aristotle would do later, he recognised substantial shortcomings in those same laws and in the concept of virtue—exclusively that of the soldier—that the legislator meant to promote (Pl. Leg. 2.666e1–667a7, 1.628c10–634c3; Arist. Pol. 2.1271a42–b10). The two philosophers also criticised Lycurgus’s laxness in putting checks on women’s intemperance (Pl. Leg. 6.780e–781b, Arist. Pol. 2.1269b12–1270a11) and identified thirst for wealth as a characteristic feature of Lycurgan Sparta. Plato saw Sparta as an example of a timocratic city, in which citizens secretly honour riches (Resp. 8.544c2–4, 545a1f., 548a5–c1, cf. Arist. Pol. 2.1271a9–19). Aristotle, for his part, further remarked that a lax law had favoured the concentration of property and a loss of civic rights for many Spartans, thus undermining the foundations of the city’s might (Arist. Pol. 2.1270a15–1270b6, 1271a29–37).16

The idea that Sparta was risking (or had undergone) decline, however, opened an opportunity to credit Lycurgus with the creation of an ideal, perfect structure, one that was different from contemporary Sparta. According to this idea, it was subsequent eras, affected by moral and political decline, that were responsible for disrupting the Lycurgan kosmos. The belief that Lycurgus had not only created the traditional heavy iron money of low value (Xen. Lac. 7.5–6) but also banned the possession of gold and silver money (Plut. Lyc. 9) therefore became appealing. The notion of this ban seems to not predate 404–403 (Plut. Lys. 16–17), and its Lycurgan origin (implicit already in Xen. Lac. 7.6) may have surfaced first in Spartan debates over the issue of accepting foreign money. It was often mentioned in accounts of Sparta’s decline (Plut. Lyc. 30.1, Agis 5.1, Inst. Lac. 42 [Mor. 239e–240a], Diod. Sic. 7.15 Cohen–Skalli).17 Probably the most impressive case of the idealisation of Lycurgus is the story of Epitadeus’s rhētra (Plut. Agis 5)—provided that it is unhistorical, as some scholars suppose.18 According to Plutarch, our only source for it, Epitadeus’s law provided that citizens could freely dispose of their own house and klēros (allotment of land), passing ownership to whomever they wished. This legislation was viewed as ruinous to the “perfect politeia of Lycurgus,” and it disrupted the traditional distribution of landed property that previously fathers had passed faithfully along to their sons.

Agis IV’s and Cleomenes (2) III’s reform projects, aimed at restoring the city to its former glory, were largely inspired and justified by the legend of Lycurgus, yet they also reshaped it in the process. Determining to what extent Plutarch’s writings on Sparta were influenced by this 3rd-century upheaval requires dealing with a tricky problem of sources and identifying 3rd-century elaborations of Lycurgus’s myth within them is therefore often speculative.

It is in any case clear that the revolutionaries—or the authors sympathetic to their actions—had astutely adapted earlier accounts. According to Plutarch, Cleomenes III altered the received narrative about Theopompus and his creation of the ephorate to justify his own proposal to get rid of the ephorate (Plut. Cleom. 10.1–3). There is some evidence to suggest that Plutarch had access to a biography of Lycurgus partially “rewritten” by a partisan of the reformer kings. Plutarch tells of how Lycurgus was accused of conspiracy against the infant Charilaus by Leonidas, the brother of Polydectes’ widow (Lyc. 3.5). This obviously fictitious character has the same name as the colleague and rival of the reformer king Agis IV. The latter Leonidas was also the guardian of a young would-be king, Areus II, but the child died, and Leonidas ascended to the throne. Plutarch’s account implicitly compares the historical Leonidas with Lycurgus and may suggest that the former did not act as honestly as once the lawgiver had.

Particularly controversial was the impact of the 3rd-century revolution on prevailing views as to Lycurgus’s intervention in property rights. Third-century propaganda hints at a Lycurgan cancellation of debts, but the legitimising claim is usually indirect and made through reference to the iron money or to Solon’s example (Plut. Agis 10.2, Cleom. 18.2, Mor. 226b–c).

Another revolutionary construct was the alleged redistribution of land by Lycurgus (Plut. Lyc. 8, Mor. 226b), though sources from as early as the 4th century seem to imply that land had been divided into equal lots when the Heraclidae took over Laconia (Isocr. Archid. 20, Pl. Leg. 3.684d–e).19 While the number of the Spartan lots distributed first by Lycurgus and then by king Polydoru reflects 3rd-century projects, the total number—sometimes ascribed exclusively to Lycurgus and always amounting to nine thousand—was not an arbitrary invention. Although it is unknown how precisely this number originated, it can be assumed that the notion that once there were 9000 klēroi was maintained through the selection ceremony of the newborns, where the eldest of the tribesmen assigned the right to survive and possess one of the nine thousand klēroi (Plut. Lyc. 16.1–2).20 Number and ceremony were probably loosely related to a law (as usual ascribed to Lycurgus) that forbade the sale of the “original land lot” (Heraclides Lembos Exc. Polit. 373.12 Dilts; Plut. Inst. Lac. 22 [Mor. 238e]).21

After Sparta had been integrated into the Achaean League (see Achaean Confederacy, Greek) and Lycurgus’s nomoi abolished in 189–188 bce, Sparta frequently wielded its request to restore its own traditional laws as a diplomatic weapon. The date of the restoration of these laws, whether in 184–183, or 179–178, or even in 146 or soon thereafter, is debated, and the differences in these dates are significant in evaluating what role antiquarianism and direct memory played in the laws’ reconstruction.22

Under Roman domination, Sparta sought to reclaim its own identity through the recovery of its Lycurgan traditions, a phenomenon that was contrived yet at the same time real, especially when it came to recreating the gruelling Lycurgan education. Customs and rituals inspired by Lycurgus, such as the whipping of the ephebes at Orthia (Paus. 3.16.7–11), became a spectacle that drew visitors from all over the Roman empire. This practice differed from the classical model and was probably a Hellenistic construction.23 Pausanias tells the story of how Lycurgus cleverly devised the later ritual to relieve the city from the obligation of human sacrifice. The eponymous magistrate was the overseer of the Lycurgan customs, the patronomos, a title that connected him with the theos Lycurgus. The same theos Lycurgus was sometimes designated patronomos, and in these years the treasure of his sanctuary (Plut. Lyc. 31.3, Paus. 3.16.6) discharged the heavy economic burden placed on the office. The lawgiver’s image appeared on statues (Paus. 3.14.8; SEG 11.773, 810) and coins.24

Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus reflects this tendency towards idealisation of Lycurgus on a Panhellenic scale. His Life collects centuries-old works and the stratified traditions surrounding the persona and the work of the legislator. Plutarch is aware of the existing criticism, especially that of Plato and Aristotle, and by reworking material from different eras, he paints an exceedingly favourable picture of Lycurgus and his reforms.25 According to the biographer, Lycurgus rightly surpasses in celebrity all other legislators and political theorists, including Plato (Lyc. 31.2), and his morality embodies his superb legislation, fostering enduring respect for the law.

Further Reading

  • Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Lykurgos 7.”
  • Andrewes, Antony. “Eunomia,” The Classical Quarterly 32, no. 2 (1938): 89–102.
  • Christesen, Paul. “Spartans and Scythians, a Meeting of Mirages: The Portrayal of the Lycurgan Politeia in Ephorus’ Histories.” In Sparta: The Body Politic, edited by Anton Powell and Stephen Hodkinson, 211–263. Swansea, U.K.: Classical Press of Wales, 2010.
  • David, Ephraim. “Myth and Historiography: Lykourgos.” In Greeks between East and West: Essays in Greek Literature and History: In Memory of David Asheri, edited by Gabriel Herman and Israel Shatzman, 115–135. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2007.
  • Forrest, William George. “The Date of the Lykourgan Reforms in Sparta.” Phoenix 17 (1963): 157–179.
  • Hölkeskamp, Karl-Joachim. Schiedsrichter, Gesetzgeber und Gesetzgebung im archaischen Griechenland, 44–59. Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner, 1999.
  • Hölkeskamp, Karl-Joachim. “Lykurg: der Mythos vom Verfassungs Stifter und Erzieher.” In Die griechische Welt. Erinnerungsorte der Antike, edited by Elke Stein-Hölkeskamp and Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, 316–335. Munich: Beck, 2010.
  • Meyer, Eduard. “Lykurgos von Sparta.” In Forschungen zur alten Geschichte,” edited by Eduard Meyer, 211–286. Halle, Germany: Niemeyer, 1892.
  • Mossé, Claude. “La construction d’un mythe historique: la Vie de Lycurgue de Plutarque.” Études de Lettres 250 (1998/2): 83–88.
  • Nafissi, Massimo. “Lykourgos the Spartan ‘Lawgiver’: Ancient Beliefs and Modern Scholarship.” In A Companion to Sparta, edited by Anton Powell, I 93–123. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2018.
  • Paradiso, Annalisa. “Tempo della tradizione, tempo dello storico: Thuc. I.18 e la storia arcaica spartana.” Storia della storiografia 28 (1995): 35–45.
  • Paradiso, Annalisa. “Lycurgue spartiate: Analogie, anachronisme et achronie dans la constuction historiographique du passé.” In Constructions du temps dans le monde grec ancien, edited by Catherine Darbo-Peschanski, 373–391. Paris: CNRS Ed., 2000.
  • Poralla, Paul. A Prosopography of Lacedaemonians: From the Earliest Times to the Death of Alexander the Great (X323 b.c.), Prosopographie der Lakedaimonier: bis auf die Zeit Alexanders des Grossen, edited by Alfred S. Bradford, no. 499. Chicago: Ares, 1985. Published originally in 1913. Breslau, Germany: Max 1913.
  • Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew. “Legends of the Greek Lawgivers.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 19, no. 3 (1978): 199–209.
  • Tigerstedt, Eugène Napoléon. The Legend of Sparta in Classical Antiquity 1, 70–73. Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1965.


  • 1. Massimo Nafissi, Lykourgos the Spartan “Lawgiver”: Ancient Beliefs and Modern Scholarship, in A Companion to Sparta, ed. Anton Powell (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2018), I 93f.

  • 2. Antony Andrewes, “Eunomia,” The Classical Quarterly 32 (1938): 89–102 suggested that Herodotus’s brief sketch of Lycurgus’s activities (1.65.2–66.1) might preserve vague memories of transformations that took place in Sparta during the 6th century.

  • 3. For Plutarch’s Lives, the paragraph numbers follow those in the Loeb edition by B. Perrin.

  • 4. See Annette Hupfloher, Kulte im kaiserzeitlichen Sparta: Eine Rekonstruktion anhand der Priesterämter (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2000), 178–182 for the cult in Roman times; and see Kostas Buraselis et al., Heroisierung, in ThesCRA 2, 162 for the most widely accepted reconstruction.

  • 5. Robert L. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography, 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 730.

  • 6. Nafissi, Lykourgos the SpartanLawgiver,” 101–103, with bibl.

  • 7. Massimo Nafissi, “The Great Rhetra (Plut. Lyc. 6): A Retrospective and Intentional Construct?” in Intentional History: Spinning Time in Ancient Greece, ed. Lin Foxhall, Hans-Joachim Gehrke, and Nino Luraghi (Stuttgart: Steiner 2010), 89–119.

  • 8. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography, 2, 345f.

  • 9. Annalisa Paradiso, “Tempo della tradizione, tempo dello storico: Thuc. I.18 e la storia arcaica spartana,” Storia della storiografia 28 (1995): 35–45.

  • 10. Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, “Legends of the Greek Lawgivers,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 19, no. 3 (1978): 199–209; and Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, Schiedsrichter, Gesetzgeber und Gesetzgebung im archaischen Griechenland (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999), 44–59.

  • 11. Massimo Nafissi, “Lykourgos the Spartan “Lawgiver,” 103–106.

  • 12. On the correct reading of the title Jean Ducat, Spartan Education. Youth and Society in the Classical Period (Swansea, U.K.: Classical Press of Wales, 2006), 42–44. On Pausanias and Thepompus’ creation of the ephorate Marcello Lupi, “Il ruolo delle staseis nella riflessione aristotelica sull’ordinamento politico di Sparta,” in Istituzioni e costituzioni in Aristotele tra storiografia e pensiero politico, Atti giornata internazionale di studio, Fisciano 2010, ed. Clara Talamo and Marina Polito (Tivoli, Italy: Tored, 2012), 84–93.

  • 13. Paula Perlman, “Imagining Crete,” in The Imaginary Polis. Symposium, January 710, 2004, ed. Mogens Herman Hansen (København, Denmark: Munksgaard, 2005), 282–334.

  • 14. Alden A. Mosshammer, The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1979), 179–181; and Paul Christesen, Olympic Victor Lists and Ancient Greek History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 151–156.

  • 15. For a different interpretation, see Marcello Lupi, “Testo e contesti: La Grande Rhetra e le procedure spartane di ammissione alla cittadinanza,” Incidenza dell’Antico. Dialoghi di storia greca 12 (2014): 9–41.

  • 16. Anton Powell, “Plato and Sparta: Modes of Rule and Non-Rational Persuasion in the Laws,” in The Shadow of Sparta, ed. Anton Powell and Stephen Hodkinson (London: Routledge, 2004), 273–321; and Lucio Bertelli, “La Sparta di Aristotele: un ambiguo paradigma o la crisi di un modello?” Rivista Storica dell’Antichità 34 (2004): 9–71.

  • 17. Hans van Wees, “Luxury, Austerity, and Equality in Sparta,” in A Companion to Sparta, ed. Anton Powell (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2018), 208–211.

  • 18. Massimo Nafissi, “Lykourgos the Spartan “Lawgiver,” 109f. and n. 98; and Thomas J. Figueira, “Helotage and the Spartan Economy” 584 and n. 62; both in Powell, A Companion to Sparta.

  • 19. Stephen Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta (London: Duckworth, 2000), 43–45. Hodkinson’s reconstruction has been criticized by Thomas J. Figueira, “The Nature of the Spartan kleros,” in Spartan Society, ed. Thomas J. Figueira (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2004), 48–53.

  • 20. See Marcello Lupi, “Citizenship and Civic Subdivisions: The Case of Sparta,” in Defining Citizenship in Archaic Greece, ed. Alain Duplouy and Roger W. Brock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 168–170; and Hans van Wees, “The Common Messes,” in Powell, A Companion to Sparta, 237f., 252f.

  • 21. The passage in the The Ancient Customs of the Spartans is certainly corrupted and perhaps lacunose: see Wilhelm Nächstadt’s edition in Wilhelm Nachstädt, Wilhelm Sieveking, John B. Titchener (eds.), Plutarchus Moralia II (Leipzig: Teubner, 1935). Marcello Lupi, “L’archaia moira. Osservazioni sul regime fondiario spartano a partire da un libro recente,” Incidenza dell’Antico 1 (2003): 151–172, offers one of the possible reconstructions.

  • 22. Antony J. S. Spawforth, Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 91f.

  • 23. Nigel M. Kennell, The Gymnasium of Virtue: Education and Culture in Ancient Sparta (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995) 70–83, 149–161, crediting Cleomenes III with the innovation; and Spawforth, Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution, 92–95 suggests an Augustan date.

  • 24. Paul Cartledge and Antony J. S. Spawforth, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: A Tale of Two Cities, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1989, 2002): 197–211; on Lycurgus’s cult see above, note 4.

  • 25. Lukas De Blois, “Plutarch’s Lycurgus: A Platonic Biography,” in Biographie und Prosopographie: internationales Kolloquium zum 65. Geburtstag von Anthony R. Birley, 2002, Düsseldorf, ed. Konrad Vössing (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2005), 91–102; Claude Mossé, “L’image de Sparte dans les Vies Paralleles de Plutarch,” in The Contribution of Ancient Sparta to Political Thought and Practice, ed. Nikos Birgalias, Kostas Buraselis, and Paul Cartledge (Athens: Alexandria Publications, 2007), 303–313; Melissa Lane, “Platonizing the Spartan politeia in Plutarch’s Lycurgus,” in Politeia in Greek and Roman Philosophy, ed. Verity Harte and Melissa Lane (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 57–77; and Hugh Liebert, Plutarch’s Politics: Between City and Empire (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 97–124.