Part 3 – did Lycurgus exist?

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Oleg Matveychev:  Yes, it’s time to get back to the Greeks. After the Dark Ages someone in power, some sovereign decided they will have a new project. I very abstractly, within very large post-modern quotation marks will call him “Lycurgus”.

Anatoly Belyakov: I think you know that even ancient Greeks considered Lycurgus to be a semi-mythological figure.

O.M  Let’s not argue if Lycurgus was real or not and what he has done or not done. Someone was doing it, and I am calling this person Lycurgus. Someone, most likely of Spartan origin, during the Dark Ages when there was chaos in all of Greece, decided to conquer the country. The later historians would call it “unite”, but of course, it was to conquer. The conquest was done not by force, but by‒like I said previously ‒ using ideology. In other words, someone or some people turned out to be wise enough that they understood that to preside over the Hellenic world they needed to provide peace, some sense of order, cosmos, law that would the same for everybody and work for everyone.

So, besides giving Sparta laws (leave the healthy babies, kill the sick, enforce a diarchy, elders’ rights, etc.)‒laws that were strict but created a military elite up until the later times‒and besides creating a sort of intra-corporate PR, this person realized that there needed to be external ideological influence. That influence should not be built on fascist principles of “We‒Spartans‒are super humans and the rest of you are scum and slaves,” but on common-to-all Greek principles. Even the little things such as measures of weight and length‒they should be the same for all merchants in the united territory so there would be no cheating ‒ so it would be easier to sign contracts and set pricing, take loans secured against crops, and so on.

So the standard was created and was very convenient for everyone in trading. Then you start creating laws that are common for everybody, for example: a duty-free trading space where you don’t have to pay out to racketeers and pirates; everyone is protected by the same king; and you know that if you stole a hundred rubles you will have your hand cut off and if you stole a thousand; you will be impaled. The rules are the same and don’t change from a city to city. You have a constitution; not as a set text, but a set of rules supported by common will.

There is another very important moment. Everything should be supported not by sheer force, but a convenience of both the laws and their application. For example, Greeks took an oath when making contracts. But what gods if everyone has different gods and different tradition? One town has Hermes as God, and in the other town he is only a minor deity. You need unified standard of reverence.

A.B: I think it’s not exactly true. Take the well known mutual assistance pact between Hittite King Mutawalli and the ruler of Wilusa, Alaksandus. They swear not by some kind of common for both, conventional God, but each by his own; one by Kaskal Kur, the other by Baliunas (the precursor of the Greeks’ Apollo). So, everyone swears by something that’s sacred for them.

O.M: Ok, sure. When a Muslim merchant during deal-making swears by Muhammad and a Christian one by Jesus, that’s not so bad, because everyone is swearing by what is the most sacred to either of them. What if he demands that I would swear by Muhammad instead of Jesus? And the ancient Greek world had thousands of gods and deities. Maybe the issue is not the oath itself, even though it’s important that everybody swore by something equally sacred. The issue is the same standard of reverence. Travellers and merchants go from town to town, bring gifts and make sacrifices to gods of the state they are in, and also to gods of their own land and gods of their craft. There are always arguments which god is the most important and who helps the most, which god is more ancient and mighty. The arguments grow into major conflicts.

There should be a unified hierarchy of gods. One common denominator, one worldview which everyone shares and no one argues about. The purpose of any war is peace, and peace is not absence of war, it’s a presence of unified system of coordinates.

So, let’s put ourselves in place of this imagined Lycurgus who decided to codify the gods in order to please everyone and there was no conflict. He couldn’t just arbitrarily take one of his own gods and announce that god as the main one and force everyone believe it. No one would follow that scheme. Those who live near the sea would always swear by Poseidon and those who grow wheat would always swear by Demeter. They won’t accept any imposed hierarchy, will fight against it, and the fight will be for their gods, for the holy purpose. This matter is very delicate. It concerns very subtle and important issues that the humans have; their religion, conscience, memory of their elders, motherland, family, tradition, someone’s profession. One wrong word and you got yourself mortal enemies. How to deal with all of this? There is a great mess. Read, for example, what Alexander Zaitsev says in his book The Greek Religion and Mythology. Every town had something different going, according to the signs on temples. For example, Hera at that time was not Zeus’s wife (Zeus is Deus, god in Latin, same root as the Russian word den, day). She had a husband named “Trieros”, three-time Eros, a quality emphasized in a multiple. However, since Hera, as wife, was a matron of family, childbirth, agriculture, nature and so on, she became more known in all different territories than her thrice glorious husband. At the same time the thunderous Zeus became more known as well. And, as a result, much later the two better known gods were “married up”. The Asia Minor gods were mixed up with the Attic. There was great confusion going on. That’s why before creating a common ideology, speaking in today’s terms, a widespread sociological study needed to be conducted.

The imagined Lycurgus sent his messengers to all lands to understand who is revered where and in what order. It was needed to understand the ratings of this or that god, because if you want support of the majority, you need to create a classification where on top there are gods revered by the majority and by most powerful and rich city-states. I think this process didn’t happen without a hitch. Here we have a major port where all seamen swear by Poseidon and at the same time Zeus is known to be more popular all over Hellas. But if you put Poseidon under Zeus, you will positively create yourself a war with, at a minimum, that one city. And if the majority muscles in and takes over the city, the city will always revolt later, and the main thing, this disobedience will replicate itself, because seamen will always respect Poseidon more due to the character of their activity. Therefore, Zeus and Poseidon should be put in an equal position, like brothers, without taking administrative subordination as an example. The order of gods should be arranged, not like in an army or government, but like in a family clan.

And so step by step this imagined Lycurgus and his advisers solved each problem with each city state. This is the key reason that family structure was taken as a model for gods’ classification. They needed to be presented as brothers and sisters and not as subordinates.

Part 4 – why are all Greek gods related to each other?