ANCIENT DEMOCRATICAL REPUBLICS.
My dear Sir,
THE city of Sybaris was a
Grecian colony in Italy, planted by Achaians; and, according to Diodorus
Siculus*, its beautiful situation between two rivers, the
Crathis and the Sybaris, the extent and fertility of its territory, and the
freedom of its laws, had, in a short space of time, drawn together a prodigious
number of inhabitants, and greatly enriched them.
But the common fate of all nations and cities attended them. They had three
parties; a chief, a better sort, and a people. The most powerful citizens were
caballing as usual against the chief, whose name was Telys, and, whatever his
character for virtue was, appears to have had more cunning than Grecian chiefs
commonly had, at least he discerned better where the balance lay; for he
courted the people, by flattering their follies. He excited a popular cry
against the aristocratical party, drove them from the city, confiscated their
fortunes, and distributed them among the rest of the citizens. The exiles fled
to Crotona. Telys sent ambassadors to demand them, on pain of war. Pythagoras
thought the cause of his aristocratical friends just, and persuaded his
fellow-citizens to refuse to deliver them up. The Sybarites marched an army;
but were met by another from Crotona, with Milo, the strong man, at their head,
whose reputation prevailed; the Sybarites were all massacred, and their city
pillaged, and left a desart. First happy effect of a government without
acknowledged orders and legal balances! — Fifty-eight years afterwards,
some Thessalians established themselves at Sybaris: they had not been there
five years, when the Crotonians came and drove them out. — Under
Callimachus, archon of Athens, it was repeopled the third time, and had the
name of Thurium. A populous colony was sent there, under Lampon and Xenocrates,
who built a beautiful city for a capital, and twenty-five subordinate cities:
but the inhabitants could not long live in good intelligence among themselves;
they fell into dissensions, grew extravagant, luxurious, and effeminate to a
proverb. The quarrel began in this manner: — The old inhabitants of
Sybaris erected themselves into a kind of nobility, and arrogated to themselves
all the public employments of any distinction, vouchsafing to the new-comers
only those of least importance; they insisted, moreover, that their wives
should sacrifice the first to the gods, and that the other ladies should not
commence their devotions till the first had concluded: not content with
distinctions so assuming, they went farther, and took to themselves, in the
distribution of the lands, all those which were nearest the city, and left only
the more distant to those whom they called foreigners. The latter, being more
numerous and more brave, carried their resentments so far, as to put all the
old families to death, and remained sole possessors of all the territory within
the walls. Not having people enough left, they invited others from various
parts of Greece, divided houses and lands among them, entered into alliance
with Crotona, and became opulent. They divided the people into ten tribes, and
established among them a democratical government, and chose for their
legislator Charondas, who, having examined to the foundation the laws of all
countries, chose out of them, for his country, the wisest and most convenient.
Some others he added, drawn from his own meditations. His laws are lost, and
therefore his orders and balances are not known. It is nevertheless certain,
that orders and balances existed in his institution, from certain regulations
preserved by Diodorus.
1. He excluded from all his public councils all men who, having children,
should marry a second time; and thus mortify their children with the authority
of a step-mother.
2. As another check to his democracy, he ordained that all who should be
convicted of calumny, should be conducted through the streets crowned with
tamarin; a punishment so infamous, that several put an end to their own lives
rather than submit to it.
3. He prohibited all society with wicked men: for, says he, the disposition
to evil is very strong; and many of those who at first love virtue, are often
drawn in, by the charms of secret seductions, to the greatest vices.
3[a]. He ordained, that all the sons of every family
should learn to write and read under masters in the pay of the public. This law
alone has merit enough to consecrate to immortality the memory of this
legislator, and deserves to be imitated by every free people at least.
4. That the property of orphans should be administered by the relations by
the father; but their persons and education entrusted to those by the mother.
5. All those who should refuse to take arms for their country, or quit their
ranks in the army, instead of being punished by death, should be exposed three
days in a public square of the city in women's clothes.
6. To preserve his democratical arrangement, he thought it necessary to
prohibit all proposals of changes in his laws. His principle was, that it was
as advantageous to submit to the laws, as it is dangerous to subject the laws
to individuals; and therefore in trials he reprehended and silenced all
criminals, who substituted turns of eloquence and arbitrary interpretations in
place of the letter of the laws, and charged them with violating their
authority and majesty. The question is, said Charondas, "Whether you shall
save the law or the criminal?"
7. Struck with the disorders and seditions which he had seen in many
democratical cities, he ordained that no citizen should present himself in the
public assembly, to propose any reformation or alteration in the law, without
an halter about his neck, which he should wear till the people had deliberated
and determined: if the people decreed the proposed alteration hurtful or
unnecessary, the reformer should be strangled on the spot. This regulation
silenced all new legislators so entirely, that only three examples occurred of
All his precautions were insufficient: — Returning from the country
with his sword, which he had taken to defend himself against highwaymen, be
found the assembly in division and confusion. He hastened to compose the
tumult. One of his enemies reproached him with violating his own law, by coming
into the assembly with an arm. Charondas, who had forgotten the sword, cried, I
mean to observe and enforce the law, and plunged it into his own heart,
wearied, most probably, into a contempt of life by the disorders incident to
When every legislator who has attempted a democratical establishment, has
confessed its inherent tendency to immediate dissolution, by the strongest
rigours against proposals of innovation, and numberless other provisions to
controul it, which have all been found ineffectual, is it worth while still to
cherish the fond idea, when three branches are found, by experience, so
effectually to check each other; when in two independent assemblies
improvements and reformations may be so easily and lately proposed and adopted,
and such as are not beneficial rejected?
* Lib. xii. p. 6.
[3[a]. There were two items 3 in the original, so we
added an "a" to the second one.]
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