About Lycurgus, king of Sparta
Please leave parental conflict in place. Some sources say that his father was Agis and his brother was Eschestratus and that he was regent for the child heir Labotas, while other sources say his father was Eunomus and his brother was Polydectes and he was the regent for the child heir Charilaus. AncientWalesStudies.org makes the case for Agis being his father, but this is far from proven.
Lycurgus (pronounced /laɪˈkɜrɡəs/; Greek: Λυκοῦργος, Lukoûrgos; Ancient Greek: [lykôrɡos]; (c.820–730 BC?) 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. He is referred to by ancient historians and philosophers Herodotus, Xenophon, Plato, Polybius, Plutarch and Epictetus. It is not clear if this Lycurgus was an actual historical figure; however, many ancient historians believed Lycurgus was responsible for the communalistic and militaristic reforms that transformed Spartan society, most notably the Great Rhetra. Ancient historians place him in the first half of the 7th century BC.
The following account is taken almost solely from Plutarch's "Life of Lycurgus," which is more of an anecdotal collection than a real biography. The actual person Lycurgus may or may not have existed, but as a symbolic founder of the Spartan state he was looked to as the initiator of many of its social and political institutions; much, therefore, of Plutarch's account is concerned to find the "origin" of contemporary Spartan practices. Lycurgus was said to be a man who could lay down the supreme power easily out of respect for justice, so it was easy for Lycurgus to rule the Spartans in his capacity as the guardian of his nephew Charilaus. However, the young king's mother, and her relatives, envied and hated Lycurgus. Among other slanders, they accused Lycurgus of plotting the death of Charilaus. Lycurgus finally decided that the only way that he might avoid blame in case something should happen to the child would be to go travelling until Charilaus had grown up and fathered a son to secure the succession. Therefore, Lycurgus gave up all of his authority and went to the island of Crete. In Crete, Lycurgus met Thaletas the poet. Thaletas made his living as a musician at banquets, but in reality Thaletas was a teacher of civilization. Eventually, Lycurgus persuaded Thaletas to go to Sparta with his songs to prepare the people for the new way of life that he intended to introduce later. Lycurgus had carefully studied the forms of government in Crete, and had picked out what might be useful for Sparta. He also travelled to Ionia, to study the difference between the pleasure-loving Ionians and the sober Cretans, as doctors study the difference between the sick and the healthy. Apparently he took this comparison to the Spartans, training one puppy in a disciplined manner and leaving the other to eat and play at will. The Spartans were taken by the discipline of Crete and liberties of Ionians at the same time. In Ionia, Lycurgus discovered the works of Homer. Lycurgus compiled the scattered fragments of Homer and made sure that the lessons of statecraft and morality in Homer's epics became widely known. The Egyptians claim that Lycurgus visited them too, and that it was from the Egyptians that he got the idea of separating the military from the menial workers, thus refining Spartan society. After Lycurgus had been absent for a while, the Spartans wrote and begged Lycurgus to come back. As they admitted, only Lycurgus was really a king in their heart, although others wore a crown and claimed the title. He had the true foundation of sovereignty: a nature born to rule, and a talent for inspiring obedience. Even the Spartan kings wanted Lycurgus to return because they saw him as one who could protect them from the people. Lycurgus had already decided that some fundamental changes would have to be made in Sparta. When he returned, he did not merely tinker with the laws, but instead followed the example of the wisest ephors to implement incremental change. First, however, Lycurgus went to the oracle at Delphi to ask for guidance. The oracle told Lycurgus that his prayers had been heard and that the state which observed the laws of Lycurgus would become the most famous in the world. With such an endorsement, Lycurgus went to the leading men of Sparta and enlisted their support. He began with his closest friends, then these friends widened the conspiracy by bringing in their own friends. When things were ripe for action, thirty of them appeared at dawn in the marketplace, fully armed for battle. At first, Charilaus thought they meant to kill him, and he ran for sanctuary in a temple, but eventually he joined the conspirators when he found out that all they wanted was to make sure there would be no opposition to the reforms Lycurgus had in mind. The first reform instituted by Lycurgus was a senate of twenty-eight men, who would have a power equal to the two royal houses of Sparta. The people had the right to vote on important questions, but the senate decided when a vote would be taken. As Plutarch puts it, a senate "allays and qualifies the fiery genius of the royal office" and gives some stability and safety to the commonwealth, like the ballast in a ship. Before, Sparta had oscillated between the extremes of democracy and tyranny: anarchy and dictatorship. With the addition of the senate, which resisted both extremes, the government became stable and the people and their rulers respected each other. Some further refinements of the Spartan constitution came after Lycurgus. It turned out that sometimes the public speakers would pervert the sense of propositions and thus cause the people to vote foolishly, so the senate reserved the right to dissolve the assembly if they saw this happening. A hundred and thirty years after the death of Lycurgus, a council of five ephors took executive power from the kings. When King Theopompus, in whose reign the ephors were established, was scolded by his wife for leaving his son less royal power than he had inherited, he replied: "No, it is greater, because it will last longer." With their decision-making power reduced, the Spartan kings were freed of the jealousy of the people. They never went through what happened in nearby Messene and Argos, where the kings held on so tight to every last bit of power that in the end they wound up losing it all. Again, this section is taken mainly from Plutarch, a writer in Greek in the Roman period, and should not be taken as offering verifiable facts about Lycurgus' life, so much as thoughts of a later age about Spartan institutions and government.