So, yesterday, I overslept and didn't get to write this week's Pagan Blog Project post. I also managed to double post yesterday's article, so oops. It's rectified now. Right, onto today's topic and this week's PBP subject: xenelasia (ξενηλασία). Xenelasia was 'the right possessed and exercised by the Lacedaemonian magistrates of expelling from Sparta (and Doric Krete) any stranger whose presence was injurious to the public order or morals'.

In order to explain that, I need to give a bit of history on Sparta and the way it was ran. Sparta (Σπάρτα), or Lacedæmon (Λακεδαίμων), was a prominent city-state in ancient Hellas, located on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. Sparta was an oligarchy (oligarkhía, ὀλιγαρχία)--a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and Eurypontid families, both supposedly descendants of Hēraklēs and equal in authority, so that one could not act against the power and political enactments of his colleague. The kings were in charge of religious festivals, judicial matters, as well as the military. Over time, the kings became mere figureheads except in their capacity as generals in war, but their power waned slowly, and democracy was never instituted in the polis.

From about 650 BC onwards, Sparta rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Hellas. Sparta was one of the city-states that never adopted a democratic political system; instead, they had the family as a model for the organization of the state; a family they protected from corruption by outside forces. Like a true family unit, Sparta had its own customes, holidays, and drunk uncles, and they were preserved as much as possible. In order to accomplish this, Lacedæmonian magistrates had the duty and authorization to expel any person who posed a threat to public order and morals

Foreigners were allowed into Sparta for religious festivals and missions of state but they were not allowed to live in the environs. Special exceptions were given to friends and allies who were called 'laconophiles'; lovers of Sparta. On the reverse side, the general populace was forbidden foreign travel. These laws were intended to preserve the native character of the Doric tribe from any taint of foreign influence. Plutarch, in 'The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans', wrote:

"And this was the reason why he [Lycurgus] forbade them to travel abroad, and go about acquainting themselves with foreign rules of morality, the habits of ill-educated people, and different views of government. Withal he banished from Lacedaemon all strangers who would not give a very good reason for their coming thither; not because he was afraid lest they should inform themselves of and imitate his manner of government (as Thucydides says), or learn anything to their good; but rather lest they should introduce something contrary to good manners. With strange people, strange words must be admitted; these novelties produce novelties in thought; and on these views and feelings whose discordant character destroys the harmony of the state. He was as careful to save his city from the infection of foreign bad habits, as men usually are to prevent the introduction of a pestilence."

Lycurgus (Lykoûrgos, Λυκοῦργος), pictured above, was the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, who established the military-oriented reformation of Spartan society in accordance with the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. All his reforms were directed towards the three Spartan virtues: equality (among citizens), military fitness, and austerity. It is said that after his reforms--which included the laws governing xenelasia--he left for the Oracle of Delphi to check with the Gods if they agreed. Before he left, he made every Spartan swear to uphold his laws while he was gone. Once at the Oracle, she told him that his laws were excellent, and Lycurgus prompty disappeared or starved himself so his laws would always remain in effect.

Xenelasia was part of any interaction with outsiders, be it in trade, in entertainment, during religious functions, and even applied to whom Spartans could ahve sex with and marry. While it sounds like these laws would interfere with xenia, they didn't; foreigners were welcome, but they were never considered truly Spartan. Only Spartans were Spartans. Even if you loved the polis, you would never truly be a part of it.

The laws of xenelasia were controversial in ancient Hellas, but they were a defining factor in what made Sparta great; its character caused Spartans to band together, to make their family unit proud, and it helped them accept the sacrifice of their individuality in favor of the greatness of the polis. In the end, however, it is suspected that their unwillingness to open up to the influence of others contributed to the demise of the once-great polis; there was simply no buffer to accommodate losses in battle.

Image property: Wikipedia Commons