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November 4th, 2011 - 11:35 am

End of Sparta

The invaders of Sparta find the farm of King Agesilaos and begin its destruction.

Melissos and Mêlon paused to look at the estate of King Agesilaos. But this was all, just some simple stones and a few wooden columns? In this new Hellas upside down, a hoplite just walked into the house of the great king of the Spartans and did what he pleased? Was this the power of Epaminondas to make the make- believe ordinary? But then, Mêlon thought further, how small an estate for a king? This was all they were to burn? Were there still leaders enough in Hellas like Agesilaos who lived as simply as did their hoplites? Mêlon knew Agesilaos fought alongside his men, but now he saw that he lived like them as well.

Suddenly about ten or so Mantineians with iron bars pried the roof off,sending it down between the mud brick walls. Others were gathering the roof-beams and throwing any of the debris they didn’t burn into wagons.

Few knew that they had destroyed a royal house of the Spartans—built ten generations of men earlier and never a footprint of the enemy in its courtyard. Fewer cared. One cart was full of pithoi of oil, another of spades, rakes, and scythes. There were even some breastplates—the bell types that the Spartan elders wore a hundred years earlier and more when they had stopped the Mede at Plataia. Some Mantineians in their drink danced on top of the field wall. They were tossing like balls the light bronze helmets of the Persians,taken as booty long ago in the great days by the Spartan breed who broke the Persian general Mardonios.

The live-stock of the king’s farm, cows and goats, had been driven off. Any that had been left behind had been butchered. Their carcasses had been piled before the entrance that was covered in smoke as the looters torched rafters and poured a vat of olive oil over some loose wood to light the mess. A few were already cooking rotten meat on spits over a bonfire in the courtyard.

Mêlon had thought he would never tire of the flames devouring all things Spartan, especially that of the royals. But now? The burning sheds and dead cattle were not so much Spartan, but the works and efforts of farmers like him—and the destruction was therefore senseless. His own strongbox in the well at home was full of silver that Malgis had earned doing just what these Mantineians were busy with. Yet Mêlon, son on Malgis,wanted no more of any of it. These were farms, not farmers, that they were destroying. He cared little who worked them, only that it was wrong to burn the holy olive, to cut the gnarly vine, to torch the well-oiled roof-beams that exist beyond the owner.

Meanwhile, Mêlon stared at some loud Arkadians holding a rope. On it a helot boy was lowered down a well. Already drunk on their wine, they were scuffling over a treasure not yet found and cursing each other for slacking—as the dangling youth below banged against the stone sides of the well. The more hardy beyond the house were trying to ax down a few olive trees.

But most had given up after lopping off the low-lying limbs, and were content with scrounging moldy nuts from a nearby ancient
almond. Lykomedes himself rode up and pointed to the passing Boiotians. He was happy enough, since his wagons were already full of plunder, he had met few Spartans, and his Mantineians saw no need either to cross the Eurotas or the spine of Taygetos. “Tell your madman Epaminondas to forget Agesilaos. Forget his acropolis across the river. Forget battle and fighting Spartans. There’s sport enough with us. First the house of Elektra. Then Lichas’s, and now the king’s.”

He shook a fine silver pitcher at them. “The closer we get to the river, the richer the plunder. Every now and then we find a Lakonian holdout with a scythe— a wild one who thinks he can keep Arkadians out of his garden. But why go get yourself killed when there is more profit in plunder here? We can do the Spartan just as much bad, worse even, by carrying off everything he has. Get near the river to give us cover. But no need to cross, no need for battle, no need to get us killed when we can get rich.”

So Lykomedes laughed and rode off. A Lakonian wagon creaked behind him, filled with Spartan red tunics, plumed helmets, a set of armor, three helots shackled, and a horse and mule tethered to the back. The Arkadian driver yelled out, “For a Dorian race that has no money, these Spartan thieves have more than we do.”

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