The Story of the Greeks
Page: 31Then, knowing that great wealth is not desirable, Lycurgus said that the Spartans should use only iron money. All the Spartan coins were therefore bars of iron, so heavy that a yoke of oxen and a strong cart were needed to carry a sum equal to one hundred dollars from one spot to another. Money was so bulky that it could neither be hidden nor stolen; and no one cared to make a fortune, since it required a large space to stow away even a small sum.
When Charilaus, the infant king, had grown up, Lycurgus prepared to go away. Before he left the town, he called all the citizens together, reminded them of all he had done to make them a great people, and ended by asking every man present to swear to obey the laws until he came back.
The Spartans were very grateful for all he had done for them, so they gladly took this oath, and Lycurgus left the place. Some time after, he came back to Greece; but, hearing that the Spartans were thriving under the rules he had laid down, he made up his mind never to visit Sparta again.
It was thus that the Spartans found themselves bound by solemn oath to obey Lycurgus' laws forever; and as long as they remembered this promise, they were a thriving and happy people.[Pg 71]
Not very far from Sparta, and next to Laconia, was a country called Mes-se´ni-a, which was much more fertile, and had long been occupied by a kindred race descended from Le´lex, brother of Lacedæmon.
When the Spartans found out that the Mes-se´ni-an fields were more fruitful than their own, they longed to have them, and anxiously watched for some excuse to make war against the Messenians and win their land. It was not long before they found one.
There was a temple on the boundary of Messenia and Laconia, where the people of both countries used to assemble on certain days to offer up sacrifices to the gods. The Messenian lads, seeing the beauty of the Spartan girls, and longing to have such strong, handsome, and intelligent wives, once carried off a few of them into their own country, and refused to give them up again. The Spartans, indignant at this conduct, flew to arms, and one night, led by their king, attacked the Messenian town of Am-phe´a.
As no one expected them, they soon became masters of the place, and in their anger killed all the inhabitants. The other Messenians, hearing of this cruel deed, quickly made ready to fight, and bravely began the struggle which is known as the First Messenian War.
Although very brave, the Messenians had not been as well trained as the Spartans, and could not drive them back. On the contrary, they were themselves driven from place to place, until they were forced to take refuge[Pg 72] in the fortified city of I-tho´me. Here they were shut in with their king, Aristodemus, who was a proud and brave man.