Life of Agis, 1–21

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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1Not without rhyme or reason is the supposition of some writers that the tale about Ixion—how it was the cloud that he embraced instead of Hera and begat from thence the Centaurs—has an application to lovers of glory. For such men, consorting with glory, which we may call an image of virtue, produce nothing that is genuine and of true lineage, but much that is bastard and monstrous, being swept now along one course and now along another in their attempts to satisfy desire and passion. The herdsmen of Sophocles say,[1] in speaking of their flocks:—

“Of these, indeed, though masters, we are yet the slaves,

And to them we must listen even though they’re dumb.”

2And this, in truth, is the experience of public men who act in conformity with the desires and impulses of multitudes, making themselves attendants and slaves in order that they may be called popular leaders and rulers. For just as a ship’s lookout, who sees what lies ahead before the ship’s captain does, nevertheless turns to him for orders and does what he ordains, so the public man whose eyes are fixed on glory is a servant of the multitude, although he has the name of ruler.

2The man, indeed, whose goodness is complete and perfect will have no need at all of glory, except so far as glory gives him access to achievement by reason of the confidence men have in him; but a man who is still young and is fond of honours may be allowed to plume and exalt himself somewhat even upon glory, provided that glory is the outcome of noble deeds. For the virtues, which are incipient and budding in the young, are confirmed in their proper development, as Theophrastus says, by the praises of men, and complete their growth under the incentive of pride. 2But excess is everywhere harmful, and in the case of men who cherish political ambitions, it is deadly; for it sweeps them away into manifest folly and madness as they grasp after great power, when they refuse to regard what is honourable as glorious, but consider that what is glorious is good. Therefore, what Phocion said to Antipater, who demanded from him some dishonourable service, “Thou canst not have Phocion as thy friend and at the same time thy flatterer,” this, or something akin to this, must be said to the multitude: 3“Ye cannot have the same man as your ruler and your slave.” Since in this case also one certainly can apply the fable of the serpent whose tail rebelled against its head and demanded the right to lead in turn instead of always following; so it took the lead, and by the folly of its progress got itself into mischief and lacerated the head, which was compelled, contrary to nature, to follow a part that had neither eyes nor ears. 4This, as we see, has been the experience of many of the men whose whole political activity is directed towards the winning of popular favour; they made themselves dependent on the multitude, which is borne about at random, and then could neither recover themselves nor put a stop to the progress of disorder.

These remarks upon the glory which comes from the favour of the multitude I have been led to make because I was reminded of its great influence by the fortunes of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. They were men of most generous natures, and had a most generous rearing, and adopted most generous political principles; and yet they were ruined, I will not say by an immoderate desire for glory, but rather by a fear of losing it. And this fear had no unworthy origin. 5For after they had enjoyed great kindness from their fellow citizens, they were ashamed to leave it unpaid, like a debt of money; and so they were forever striving by the excellence of their political services to surpass the honours conferred upon them, and were honoured all the more in consequence of their grateful political services. In this way, after kindling an equal ardour in themselves towards the people and in the people towards themselves, they engaged in enterprises wherein, though they knew it not, it was no longer honourable for them to persist, and already disgraceful for them to stop.

6As to this matter, however, my reader will judge for himself from my narrative; and I shall compare with the Gracchi a pair of popular leaders in Sparta, Agis and Cleomenes the kings. For these also tried to exalt the people, just as the Gracchi did, and tried to restore an honourable and just civil polity which had lapsed for a long time; and like the Gracchi they incurred the hatred of the nobles, who were unwilling to relax their wonted greed. It is true that the Spartans were not brothers; still, they adopted political courses which were kindred and brother to one another. The occasion was as follows.

3When once the love of silver and gold had crept into the city, closely followed by greed and parsimony in the acquisition of wealth and by luxury, effeminacy, and extravagance in the use and enjoyment of it, Sparta fell away from most of her noble traits, and continued in a low estate that was unworthy of her down to the times when Agis and Leonidas were kings. 2Agis was of the Eurypontid royal house, a son of Eudamidas, and the sixth in descent from the Agesilaüs who crossed into Asia and became the most powerful Greek of his time. For Agesilaüs had a son Archidamus, who was slain by the Messapians at Mandurium in Italy;[2]Archidamus had an elder son Agis, and a younger son Eudamidas, who, after Agis was slain by Antipater at Megalopolis[3] leaving no issue, became king; Eudamidas was succeeded by Archidamus, Archidamus by another Eudamidas, and Eudamidas by Agis,[4] the subject of this Life. 3Leonidas, on the other hand, the son of Cleonymus, was of the other royal house, the Agiad, and was eighth in descent from the Pausanias who defeated Mardonius at Plataea. For Pausanias had a son Pleistoanax, and Pleistoanax a son Pausanias, upon whose exile and flight from Sparta to Tegea[5] his elder son Agesipolis became king; Agesipolis, dying without issue, was succeeded by a younger brother Cleombrotus, 4and Cleombrotus, in turn, had two sons, Agesipolis and Cleomenes, of whom Agesipolis reigned only a short time and left no sons, while Cleomenes, who became king after him, lived to lose his elder son Acrotatus, but left behind him a younger son Cleonymus; Cleonymus, however, did not come to the throne, but Areus,[6] who was a grandson of Cleomenes and son of Acrotatus; Areus fell in battle at Corinth,[7] and his son Acrotatus came to the throne; 5Acrotatus also was defeated and slain at Megalopolis, by the tyrant Aristodemus, leaving his wife with child; and after she had given birth to a son, Leonidas the son of Cleonymus was made the child’s guardian. But the young king died before reaching manhood, and the kingship therefore devolved upon Leonidas,[8] who was altogether unacceptable to the people. 6For although the destruction of the constitution had already led to a general decline in manners, there was in Leonidas a very marked departure from the traditions of his country, since for a long time he had frequented oriental courts and had been a servile follower of Seleucus, and now sought to transfer the pride and pomp which prevailed abroad into Hellenic relations and a constitutional government, where they were out of place.

4Agis, on the contrary, far surpassed in native excellence and in loftiness of spirit not only Leonidas, but almost all the kings who had followed the great Agesilaüs. Therefore, even before he had reached his twentieth year, and although he had been reared amid the wealth and luxury of women, namely, his mother Agesistrata and his grandmother Archidamia (who were the richest people in Sparta), he at once set his face against pleasures. He put away from his person the adornments which were thought to befit the grace of his figure, laid aside and avoided every extravagance, prided himself on his short Spartan cloak, observed sedulously the Spartan customs in his meals and baths and general ways of living, and declared that he did not want the royal power at all unless by means of it he could restore the ancient laws and discipline.

5And here I may say that the Lacedaemonian state began to suffer distemper and corruption soon after its subversion of the Athenian supremacy filled it with gold and silver. However, since the number of families instituted by Lycurgus[9] was still preserved in the transmission of estates, and father left to son his inheritance, to some extent the continuance of this order and equality sustained the state in spite of its errors in other respects. 2But when a certain powerful man came to be ephor who was headstrong and of a violent temper, Epitadeus by name, he had a quarrel with his son, and introduced a law permitting a man during his lifetime to give his estate and allotment to any one he wished, or in his will and testament so to leave it. 3This man, then, satisfied a private grudge of his own in introducing the law; but his fellow citizens welcomed the law out of greed, made it valid, and so destroyed the most excellent of institutions. For the men of power and influence at once began to acquire estates without scruple, ejecting the rightful heirs from their inheritances; and speedily the wealth of the state streamed into the hands of a few men, and poverty became the general rule, bringing in its train lack of leisure for noble pursuits and occupations unworthy of freemen, along with envy and hatred towards the men of property. 4Thus there were left of the old Spartan families not more than seven hundred, and of these there were perhaps a hundred who possessed land and allotment; while the ordinary throng, without resources and without civic rights, lived in enforced idleness, showing no zeal or energy in warding off foreign wars, but ever watching for some opportunity to subvert and change affairs at home.

6Agis, therefore, thinking it a noble achievement, as it was, to equalize and restore to full numbers the body of citizens, began to sound the inclinations of people. The young men, as he found, quickly and beyond his expectations gave ear to him, and stripped themselves for the contest in behalf of virtue, like him casting aside their old ways of living as worn-out garments in order to attain liberty. 2But most of the older men, since they were now far gone in corruption, feared and shuddered at the name of Lycurgus as if they had run away from their master and were being led back to him, and they upbraided Agis for bewailing the present state of affairs and yearning after the ancient dignity of Sparta. Lysander, however, the son of Libys, Mandrocleidas the son of Ecphanes, as well as Agesilaüs, approved of the king’s aspirations and supported him in them. 3Lysander was in the highest repute among the citizens, and Mandrocleidas was the ablest Greek of his time in setting schemes on foot, and his sagacity and craft were mingled with daring; Agesilaüs, who was the king’s uncle on his mother’s side, and a powerful orator, though otherwise effeminate and avaricious, was openly urged on and encouraged by his son Hippomedon, who had won fair fame in many wars, and had great influence because he stood in favour with the young men. 4But what really induced Agesilaüs to take part in the king’s enterprise was the multitude of his debts, of which he hoped to rid himself by changing the constitution. As soon, then, as Agis had won over Agesilaüs, he straightway sought with the aid of his uncle to persuade his mother, who was a sister of Agesilaüs, and owing to the multitude of her retainers, friends, and debtors, had great influence in the state and took a large part in public affairs.

7When she heard her son’s plea, she was at first amazed, and tried to stop the young man from attempting what she thought was neither possible nor profitable; but Agesilaüs tried to show her that the king’s project would be feasible and its accomplishment advantageous, and the king himself besought his mother to contribute her wealth for the advancement of his ambition and glory. For in the matter of property, he said, he could not equal the other kings 2(since the servants and slaves of the satraps and overseers of Ptolemy and Seleucus had larger possessions than all the kings of Sparta put together); but if in self-restraint, simplicity, and magnanimity he should surpass their luxury, and thereby establish equality and community of possession among his citizens, he would win the name and fame of a really great king. The women, lifted up by the young man’s high ambition, were so changed in their purposes, and possessed, as it were, by so great an inspiration to take the noble course, 3that they joined in urging and hastening on the projects of Agis, sent for their friends among the men and invited them to help, and held conference with the women besides, since they were well aware that the men of Sparta were always obedient to their wives, and allowed them to meddle in public affairs more than they themselves were allowed to meddle in domestic concerns.

Now, at this time the greater part of the wealth of Sparta was in the hands of the women, and this made the work of Agis a grievous and difficult one. 4For the women were opposed to it, not only because they would be stripped of the luxury which, in the general lack of higher culture, made their lives seem happy, but also because they saw that the honour and influence which they enjoyed in consequence of their wealth would be cut off. 5So they had recourse to Leonidas, and besought him, since he was an older man, to withstand Agis and hinder what he was trying to accomplish. Leonidas, accordingly, was desirous of aiding the rich, but he feared the people, who were eager for a revolution. He therefore made no open opposition to Agis, but secretly sought to damage his undertaking and bring it to nought by slandering him to the chief magistrates, declaring that he was purchasing a tyranny by offering to the poor the property of the rich, and by distribution of land and remission of debts was buying a large body-guard for himself, not many citizens for Sparta.

8However, Agis procured Lysander’s election as ephor, and at once employed him to introduce a bill into the senate,[10] the chief provisions of which were that debtors should be relieved of their debts, and that the land should be divided up, that which lay between the water-course at Pellene and Taÿgetus, Malea, and Sellasia, into forty-five hundred lots, and that which lay outside this into fifteen thousand; 2that this larger land should be apportioned among those of the provincials who were capable of bearing arms, and the smaller among the genuine Spartans; that the number of these Spartans should be filled up from the provincials and foreigners who had received the rearing of freemen and were, besides, of vigorous bodies and in the prime of life; and that these should be formed into fifteen public messes by four hundreds and two hundreds, and should practise the mode of life which the ancient Spartans had followed.

9The “rhetra” was introduced in the senate, and the senators were divided in opinion. Lysander therefore called together a general assembly and discussed the matter himself with the citizens, and Mandrocleidas and Agesilaüs begged them not to suffer the insolent opposition of a few to blind them to the prostration of Sparta’s dignity, but to call to mind the earlier oracles which bade them beware of the love of riches as a fatal thing for Sparta, as well as the oracles which had lately been brought to them from Pasiphaë.

2Now there was a temple of Pasiphaë at Thalamae, and her oracle there was held in honour. Some say that Pasiphaë was one of the daughters of Atlas, and the mother of Ammon by Zeus, and some that Cassandra the daughter of Priam died at Thalamae, and was called Pasiphaë because she declared her oracles to all. Phylarchus, however, says that she was a daughter of Amyclas, Daphne by name, and that, fleeing the embraces of Apollo, she was changed into the tree of like name, after which she was honoured by the god with the gift of prophetic power. 3Be this as it may, it was now said that the oracles brought from this goddess ordained that all Spartans should be on an equality according to the original law made by Lycurgus. And finally, King Agis came forward and after a brief discourse said that he offered very large contributions to the constitutions which he was trying to establish; for in the first place he put into the common stock his own estate, which included extensive tillage and pasture, and apart from this six hundred talents in money; and, besides, his mother and his grandmother did likewise, together with their relatives and friends, and they were the wealthiest among the Spartans.

10The people, accordingly, were filled with amazement at the magnanimity of the young man, and were delighted, feeling that after a lapse of nearly two hundred years a king had appeared who was worthy of Sparta; but Leonidas, now more than ever, strove in opposition. For he reasoned that he would be compelled to do as Agis had done, and that he would not get the same gratitude for it among the citizens, but that if all the rich alike made their property a part of the common fund, the honour for it would be given to him alone who had led the way. He therefore asked Agis if he thought that Lycurgus had shown himself a just and worthy man, 2and when Agis said that he did, “When, then,”said Leonidas, “did Lycurgus either grant abolition of debts or admit foreigners into citizenship—a man who held that the state was in no healthy way at all if it did not practise expulsion of foreigners?”

But Agis replied that he was not astonished to find Leonidas, who had been reared in foreign lands and had children by an oriental marriage, ignorant that Lycurgus had banished from the state debts and loans along with coined money, 3and that foreigners in the cities were held by him in less displeasure than men to whom the Spartan practices and ways of living were not congenial; these, indeed, he sought to drive away, not because he was hostile to their persons, but because he feared lest their lives and manners should contaminate the citizens, and breed in them a love of luxury, effeminacy, and greed; for certainly Terpander and Thales and Pherecydes were foreigners, and yet, because the teachings of their songs and philosophy always accorded with those of Lycurgus, they were held in surpassing honour at Sparta. 4“Thou praisest Ecprepes,” said Agis, “who, as ephor, cut out with an adze two of the nine lute-strings of Phrynis the musician, and likewise the magistrates in the time of Timotheus, who did the same thing in their turn, but thou blamest me for trying to remove luxury, extravagance, and ostentation from Sparta, as if those magistrates also were not on the watch to prevent the pompous and superfluous in music from making such advances as our lives and manners have come to, whose excess and discord has made the city dissonant and out of tune with itself.”

11After this, the common people took sides with Agis, but the men of wealth entreated Leonidas not to abandon them. And by prayers and arguments with the senators, whose power lay in their privilege of presenting all measures to the people, they so far prevailed that by a single vote the proposed rhetra was rejected. 2Lysander, however, who was still ephor, set on foot an indictment of Leonidas by virtue of an ancient law which forbade any descendant of Heracles to beget children by a foreign woman, and ordained that anyone who left Sparta to settle among foreigners should be put to death.[11] After instructing others to spread these charges against Leonidas, he himself, with his colleagues, proceeded to observe the traditional sign from heaven.

3This is observed as follows. Every ninth year the ephors select a clear and moonless night, and in silent session watch the face of the heavens. If, then, a star shoots across the sky, they decide that their kings have transgressed in their dealings with the gods, and suspend them from their office, until an oracle from Delphi or Olympia comes to the succour of the kings thus found guilty.

4This sign Lysander now declared had been given him, and indicted Leonidas, and produced witnesses showing that he was the father of two children by a woman of Asia who had been given him to wife by one of the lieutenants of Seleucus; and that owing to the woman’s dislike and hatred of him he had come back home against his own wishes, where he had assumed the royal dignity, to which there was then no direct successor. 5Besides bringing this indictment, Lysander tried to persuade Cleombrotus to lay claim to the royal dignity. Cleombrotus was a son-in-law of Leonidas, and one of the royal line. Leonidas, accordingly, took fright, and fled as a suppliant to the temple of Athena of the Brazen House. His daughter also forsook Cleombrotus and became a suppliant with her father. When Leonidas was summoned to the trial and did not appear, he was deposed, and Cleombrotus was made king in his place.[12]

12At this point, Lysander’s term expired and he went out of office. The new board of ephors encouraged Leonidas to leave his suppliant’s asylum, and brought an indictment against Lysander and Mandrocleidas for violating the law in proposing an abolition of debts and a distribution of land. 2Thus put in legal peril, Lysander and Mandrocleidas persuaded the two kings to act together and disregard the edicts of the ephors; for that board of magistrates, they said, derived its power from dissension between the two kings, by giving their vote to the king who offered the better advice, whenever the other was at variance with the public good; but when the two kings were in accord, their power was indissoluble, and it would be unlawful for the ephors to contend against them, although when the kings were in contention with one another it was the privilege of the ephors to act as arbiters between them, but not to interfere when they were of one mind. 3Persuaded by these arguments, both the kings went with their friends into the market place, removed the ephors from their seats, and appointed others in their stead, one of whom was Agesilaüs.[13] Then they armed a large body of young men and set free all who were in prison, thus striking fear into their opponents, who thought they would put many of them to death. 4No one, however, lost his life at their hands; on the contrary, when Agis learned that Agesilaüs had plotted to make away with Leonidas as he was trying to withdraw to Tegea, and had sent men to assault him on the road, he sent out another company of trusted followers who took Leonidas under their protection and brought him safely to Tegea.

13Thus the enterprise of the kings was making good progress and no one tried to oppose or hinder them, when one man, Agesilaüs, upset and ruined everything. He allowed a most shameful disease of avarice to wreck a most noble and most truly Spartan plan. 2For since he was an exceedingly large owner of valuable land, but owed huge sums of money, being unable to pay his debts and unwilling to give up his lands, he persuaded Agis that if both his projects should be carried through at the same time the resulting convulsion in the state would be great; but that if the men of property should first be won over by a remission of their debts, they would afterwards accept the distribution of land contentedly and quietly. 3This was also the opinion of Lysander, who was deceived in like manner by Agesilaüs. So they caused the mortgages (the Spartans call them “klaria,” or allotment pledges) to be brought into the market-place, heaped them altogether, and set fire to them. As the flames rose, the men of wealth and the lenders of money went away with heavy hearts; but Agesilaüs, as if in mockery of them, declared that his eyes had never seen a brighter or purer flame than that.

4And now the multitude demanded also that the land should at once be divided, and the kings gave orders that this should be done; but Agesilaüs would always interpose some obstacle or make some excuse, and so consumed time until it became the duty of Agis to head a military expedition, when the Achaeans, who were their allies, sent for aid from Sparta. For the Aetolians were expected to invade Peloponnesus by way of Megara; and Aratus, the general of the Achaeans, in an effort to prevent this, was assembling a force and wrote a letter to the ephors.

14These at once sent out Agis, who was exalted in spirit by the ambition and ardour of the soldiers under him. For being young men for the most part and poor, and having now immunity from their debts and absolution, and expecting that they would receive allotments of land if they returned from the expedition, their devotion to Agis was astonishing. 2And they were a spectacle to the cities as they marched through the Peloponnesus without doing any injury, without rudeness, and almost without noise, so that the other Greeks were amazed and asked themselves what must have been the discipline of a Spartan army under the command of the great Agesilaüs, or the famous Lysander, or Leonidas of old, since towards a stripling who was almost the youngest of the whole army so great reverence and fear were felt by his soldiers. 3And indeed the young man himself, owing to his simplicity, his love of hardships, and the pride he took in clothing and arming himself with no more splendour than a common soldier, won the admiration and devotion of the multitudes; for to the rich, certainly, his innovating ways were not pleasing, owing to a fear that they might prove a disturbing force and set a bad example among the common people everywhere.

15Aratus, when Agis joined him near Corinth, was still deliberating whether or not to meet the enemy in open battle. Here Agis displayed great ardour, and courage which was sane and calculating. For he declared that in his opinion it was best to fight a decisive battle and not to abandon the gate of the Peloponnesus and suffer the enemy to pass inside: “However,” he said, “I will do as seems best to Aratus, for Aratus is an older man, and is general of the Achaeans; I did not come hither to be their leader or to give them orders, but to give them aid and share their expedition.”

2Baton of Sinopé, however, says that Agis himself was unwilling to give battle although Aratus urged it; but Baton has not read what Aratus wrote about this matter,[14] urging in self-defence that he thought it better, now that the husbandmen had gathered in almost all their crops, to suffer the enemy to pass by, instead of risking everything in battle.

3When, therefore, Aratus decided not to give battle, and dismissed his allies with praises for their proffered aid, Agis, who had won universal admiration, led his forces back to Sparta, where there was already much commotion and a revolution.

16For Agesilaüs, who was one of the ephors, being now freed from what had kept him in restraint before, shrank from no injustice that brought him money, nay, contrary to the customary arrangement of the calendar, and when the time for it had not yet come, he inserted a thirteenth month[15] and exacted the taxes for it. Moreover, in fear of the victims of his injustice and hated by all men, he kept an armed bodyguard, and would go down to his magistracy under their protection. 2And as for the kings, he wished men to think that he utterly despised the one, and held Agis in some slight honour more because of his near relationship than because he was king. He also spread reports that he was going to be ephor again.

For this reason his enemies lost no time in taking the great hazard, and banding together, openly brought home Leonidas from Tegea to exercise the royal power. Even the common people were glad to see this done, for they were incensed at their deception in the promised division of the land. 3Agesilaüs, accordingly, was taken out of the country and saved by his son Hippomedon, who entreated his fellow-citizens, and was beloved of all because of his valour; and as for the kings, Agis fled for refuge to the temple of Athena of the Brazen House, while Cleombrotus went as a suppliant to the sanctuary of Poseidon;[16] for Leonidas was thought to be more bitter against him, and in fact he left Agis unmolested and went up against Cleombrotus with soldiers. And when he arrived he denounced Cleombrotus angrily because, though a son-in-law, he had plotted against him, robbed him of the royal power, and helped in driving him from the country.

17Cleombrotus, on his part, had naught to say for himself, but sat perplexed and speechless; Chilonis, however, the daughter of Leonidas, who before this had felt herself wronged in the wrongs done to her father, and when Cleombrotus was made king had left him and ministered to her father in his misfortunes,—sharing his suppliant life while he was in the city, and in his exile continually grieving for him and cherishing bitter thoughts of Cleombrotus—at this time changed back again with the changed fortunes of the men, and was seen sitting as a suppliant with her husband, her arms thrown about him, and a little child clinging to her on either side. 2All beholders were moved to wonder and tears at the fidelity and devotion of the woman, who, touching her robes and her hair, alike unkempt, said: “This garb, my father, and this appearance, are not due to my pity for Cleombrotus; nay, ever since thy sorrows and thine exile grief has been my steadfast mate and companion. Must I, then, now that thou art king in Sparta and victorious over thine enemies, continue to live in this sad state, or put on the splendid attire of royalty, after seeing the husband of my youth slain at thy hands? 3That husband, unless he persuades and wins thee over by the tears of his wife and children, will pay a more grievous penalty for his evil designs than thou desirest, for he shall see me, his most beloved one, dead, before he is. For with what assurance could I live and face the other women, I, whose prayers awakened no pity in either husband or father? Nay, both as wife and as daughter I was born to share only the misfortune and dishonour of the men nearest and dearest to me. 4As for my husband, even if he had some plausible excuse for his course, I robbed him of it at that time by taking thy part and testifying to what he had done; but thou makest his crime an easy one to defend by showing men that royal power is a thing so great and so worth fighting for that for its sake it is right to slay a son-in-law and ignore a child.”

18Uttering such supplications Chilonis rested her face upon the head of Cleombrotus and turned her eyes, all melted and marred with grief, upon the bystanders. Then Leonidas, after conference with his friends, bade Cleombrotus leave his asylum and go into exile, but begged his daughter to remain, and not to abandon him, since he loved her so much, and had made her a free gift of her husband’s life. 2He could not persuade her, however, but when her husband rose to go she put one of her children in his arms, took up the other one herself, and went forth in his company after an obeisance to the altar of the god; so that if Cleombrotus had not been wholly corrupted by vain ambition, he would have considered that exile was a greater blessing for him than the kingdom, because it restored to him his wife.

After removing Cleombrotus from his asylum, Leonidas expelled the officiating ephors from their office, appointed others in their place, and at once began to lay plots against the life of Agis. 3To begin with, he tried to persuade Agis to leave his asylum and share the royal power with him, assuring Agis that the citizens had pardoned him, because, being a young man and ambitious, he had been one of those whom Agesilaüs had completely deceived. But Agis continued to be suspicious and would not leave his asylum. So Leonidas himself stopped trying to cheat and play tricks upon him, but Amphares, Damochares, and Arcesilaüs did not. They were wont to go up to the temple and converse with Agis; and once they actually took him in charge and brought him down from the temple for a bath, and after he had bathed, restored him again to the temple. 4They were all comrades of his, but Amphares had also borrowed recently some costly vestures and beakers from Agesistrata, and therefore plotted to destroy the king and the women, that he might not have to return what he had borrowed. And he, certainly, more than anyone else, as we are told, followed the counsels of Leonidas and embittered the ephors, of whom he was one, against Agis.

19Now Agis spent most of his time in the sanctuary, but was wont to go down from time to time to his bath. There, then, they determined to seize him, when he was outside the sanctuary. So they waited till he had finished his bath, and then came to meet him with friendly greetings, and walked along with him, conversing and jesting with him after the manner of youthful comrades. 2But at a certain point the road branched off towards the prison, and when they were come to that place, Amphares, by virtue of his office, laid hands on Agis and said: “I shall lead thee, Agis, to the ephors, to answer for thy measures of state”; and Damochares, who was tall and robust, threw his cloak about the king’s neck and dragged him along. 3Others pushed him along from behind, as had been agreed, and since he had no helper but was without a friend, they thrust him into the prison. At once Leonidas was at hand with a large band of mercenaries and surrounded the prison, while the ephors went in to Agis. After sending for those of the senators who were of the same mind as themselves, as though the king were to have a trial, the ephors ordered Agis to defend his conduct of affairs. 4The young king laughed at their dissimulation, whereupon Amphares threatened that he would rue the day and be punished for his temerity; but another ephor, as though plainly offering Agis a way of escape from the charges against him, asked him if he had done what he did under compulsion from Lysander and Agesilaüs. 5And when Agis answered that he had suffered compulsion from no one, but that in admiration and imitation of Lycurgus he had adopted the same public policy as his, the same ephor asked again if he repented of what he had done. But the young king declared that he had no repentance for what he had most excellently planned, and would not have, even if he saw that he was to suffer the extremest penalty. So they condemned him to death, and ordered the officers to lead him into the “Dechas,” as it was called. 6This is a chamber of the prison in which they strangle those who are under sentence of death. But Damochares, when he saw that the officers did not dare to lay hands on Agis, and likewise that even the mercenaries who were there shrank from the deed and were loth to do it, feeling as they did that it was contrary to the laws of God and man to lay hands upon the person of a king, heaped threats and abuse upon them and himself dragged Agis into the chamber of death. 7For already many people were aware of the arrest, and there was a noisy throng at the door and many torches, and the mother and grandmother of Agis were there, with cries and prayers that the king of the Spartans should have a hearing and a trial before the citizens. For this reason especially the ephors hastened on the king’s execution, believing that he would be taken out of their hands in the night if the concourse should increase.

20Agis, then, on his way to the halter, saw one of the officers shedding tears of sympathy for him. “My man,” said he, “cease weeping; for even though I am put to death in this lawless and unjust manner, I have the better of my murderers.” And saying these words, he offered his neck to the noose without hesitation. 2But Amphares went to the door of the prison, where Agesistrata fell at his feet in an appeal to his friendship and intimacy. Amphares lifted her up and assured her that Agis was not to suffer violence or death; and he bade her, if she wished, go in to her son. And when Agesistrata begged that her mother might go in with her, Amphares said there was nothing to prevent. 3So he admitted both the women, and after ordering the door of the prison to be locked again, delivered Archidamia first to the executioners. She was now a very aged woman, and had lived all her days in very high repute among her countrywomen. After she had been put to death, Amphares ordered Agesistrata to enter the chamber of execution. 4So she went in, and when she saw her son lying dead upon the ground, and her mother’s dead body still hanging in the noose, with her own hands she helped the officers to take her down, laid her body out by the side of Agis, and composed and covered it. Then, embracing her son and kissing his face, she said: “My son, it was thy too great regard for others, and thy gentleness and humanity, which has brought thee to ruin, and us as well.” 5Then Amphares, who stood at the door and saw and heard what she did and said, came in and said angrily to her: “If, then, thou hast been of the same mind as thy son, thou shalt suffer the same fate.” And Agesistrata, as she rose to present her neck to the noose, said: “My only prayer is that this may bring good to Sparta.”

21When tidings of the sad event had been carried to the city and the three bodies were carried forth for burial, the fear felt by the citizens was not so strong as to prevent them from manifesting sorrow over what had been done, and hatred for Leonidas and Amphares. It was thought that nothing more dreadful or heinous had been done in Sparta since the Dorians had dwelt in Peloponnesus. 2For against a king of the Lacedaemonians, as it seems, not even their enemies would willingly raise their hands if they met him in battle, but they would spare him, out of fear and reverence for his dignity. And for this reason, although there had been many conflicts between Lacedaemonians and other Greeks, only one Spartan king had been slain up to the time of Philip of Macedon, namely, Cleombrotus, who was smitten by a spear at Leuctra.[17] The Messenians, however, say that Theopompus also fell in battle, at the hands of Aristomenes; but the Lacedaemonians deny this, and say that their king was only wounded. 3This matter may be disputed; but Agis was certainly the first king of Sparta to be put to death by the ephors. And yet he had chosen a line of conduct that was noble and worthy of Sparta, and was of an age in which men are usually pardoned for their errors, and his friends could with more justice blame him than his enemies, because he spared the life of Leonidas, and, most mild and gentle man that he was, put faith in his other foes.

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  • [1] Probably in the lost "Poimenes," or Shepherds (Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p. 249).

  • [2] In 338 B.C.

  • [3] In 330 B.C.

  • [4] In 224 B.C.

  • [5] In 395 B.C. See the Lysander, xxx. 1.

  • [6] See the Pyrrhus, xxvi. 8 ff.

  • [7] In 265 B.C., in battle with Antigonus Gonatas.

  • [8] About 256 B.C.

  • [9] See the Lycurgus, viii. f.

  • [10] About 243 B.C.

  • [11] Plutarch here merges two separate laws. Cf. the Lycurgus, xxvii. 3.

  • [12] About 242 B.C.

  • [13] See chapter vi. 3 f.

  • [14] In his "Commentaries." See the Aratus, iii. 2.

  • [15] This was regularly done thrice during a period of nine years, but in distinctly specified years. The object was to equalize the lunar and solar years.

  • [16] On the promontory of Taenarum. See the Cleomenes, xxii. 5.

  • [17] See the Pelopidas, xxiii.

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