The city of Sparta, founded in the days of the Pelasgians, and once ruled over by Menelaus and Helen, had fallen, as we have seen, into the hands of the Heraclidae when they came back to the Peloponnesus after their exile of a hundred years. It was first governed by Aristodemus, one of their three leaders; and, as records soon began to be kept, we know a great deal about the early history of this famous place.
As the town had formerly belonged to the Heraclidae, and had been ruled by one of their ancestors, called Lacedaemon, they called it by his name, and the country around it they named Laconia. Having won back the town by fighting, the Heraclidae said that they would attend to war and politics, and make the conquered people till the ground.
The old inhabitants of Laconia, therefore, went on living in the country, where they sowed and harvested for the benefit of the Spartans. All the prisoners of war, however, became real slaves. They were obliged to serve the Spartans in every way, and were called Helots.
When Aristodemus died, his twin sons were both made kings; and, as each of them left his throne to his descendants, Sparta had two kings, instead of one, from this time on. One member of the royal family, although he never bore the name of king, is the most noted man in Spartan history. This is Lycurgus, the son of one ruler, the brother of another, and the guardian of an infant king named Charilaus.
Lycurgus was a thoroughly good and upright man. We are told that the mother of the baby king once offered to put her child to death that Lycurgus might reign. Fearing for the babe’s safety, Lycurgus made believe that he agreed to this plan, and asked that the child should be given to him to kill as he saw fit.
Lycurgus, having thus obtained possession of the babe, carried him to the council hall. There the child was named king; and Lycurgus promised that he would watch carefully over him, educate him well, and rule for him until he should be old and wise enough to reign alone.
While he was thus acting as ruler, Lycurgus made use of his power to bring many new customs into Sparta, and to change the laws. As he was one of the wisest men who ever lived, he knew very well that men must be good if they would be happy. He also knew that health is far better than riches; and, hoping to make the Spartans both good and healthy, he won them over little by little to obey a new set of laws, which he had made after visiting many of the neighboring countries, and learning all he could.