Sparta Society to the Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC



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Myths and legends: Lycurgus and the Dioscuri

See text: p.140 The Cult of Lykourgos; p144 The cult of the Dioskouroi

  • Hero: a human who achieved great things and was venerated as more than human.
  • A founding father; ancestral figure; associated with a locality; a model of behaviour
  • Heroon – hero shrine

Lycurgus_Capitol_1950.jpg
Lycurgus (from US Capitol - 1950)
Cult of Lycurgus


  • Ancestral hero; lawgiver; credited with creating the institutions of Sparta which made her unique and great.
  • Herodotus: oracle of Apollo at Delphi recognised his divinity; a temple built in his honour. The cult was well established by Herodotus’ time (5th C. BC).
  • Plutarch: wisdom and virtue – after his death a temple was built with annual sacrifices.
  • Pausanias: A ‘god’s sanctuary’ for Lycurgus, with his son Eukosmos buried behind it. An ‘altar’ to Lycurgus.

Cult of the Dioscuri
Dioscuri_Relief_Sparta_Museum.jpg
  • Castor and Pollux: divine twins, Helen’s brothers. Sons of Zeus and Leda – half human, half divine. There are different traditions in Greek mythology regarding their divine status.
  • Protectors of the kings.
  • Took turns protecting Sparta. One lived at Therapne, the other on Mt Olympus. Alkman: both lived in a ‘god-built home beneath the earth’.
  • Aided in battle; associated with horsemanship; associated with athletic contests (Pausanias: ‘starters of races’).
  • A number of marble reliefs of the Dioscuri now in the Sparta Museum.

Alkman, Fragment 2B: “O Castor – yet tamers of swift steeds, ye skilful horsemen – and noble Polydeuces.” (http://www.theoi.com/Text/LyraGraeca1B.html)