Leonidas hadn’t a clue what form of government this obscure, secondary city had, except that it was unlikely to be a monarchy. He presumed it was also less democratic than Athens, and that made it an oligarchy of some sort. At all events, he was facing ten old men.
“You wished to speak with us, Spartan?”
“Who are you?”
“The Governing Council of Mycenae. And you?”
“I am the commanding officer of the Lacedaemonian army surrounding this city. My orders are to subdue the Argolid and render it incapable of threatening us for another generation. Those orders could be interpreted to mean I should seize and raze Mycenae.” Leonidas was watching the faces of the men opposite him very carefully. He had the impression he was not telling them anything they didn’t already know. They, too, had spies.
“So why are you here, Spartan? Do you want us to surrender our freedom without a fight?” The man who said this was trembling slightly as he spoke. Leonidas considered him. He was not trembling from fear. Possibly it was just a frailty of age—or the power of his emotions. His eyes were milky with cataracts, but he sat very straight, wrapped in a soft woolen himation with a wide border of mythical beasts in rusts and greens.
“I know little of your city, but I was told you pay homage to Argos.”
“Argos takes from us one-third of our olive-oil harvest, one-fourth of our wine, 100 head of cattle, 200 sheep, and 166 goats each year—and it led 116 of our finest young men to their deaths at Sepeia.”
That did not sound like a declaration of loyalty.
“And what do you get in return?”
There was a long pause. The old man just sat with tears dripping slowly down his face, and finally one of the other men admitted, “Nothing.” The man seemed to think about it and then added, “Nothing at all.”
“You call that freedom?” Leonidas asked.
Another man spoke up, more hotly than the other two. “We still live by our own laws. We have our temples, our festivals and customs. We can sacrifice at the graves of our fathers. Our daughters go intact to their marriage beds, and our sons learn the use of spear and sword.”
“That is true in Tegea, Corinth, and Elis as well.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” the hot-headed man demanded; but the older man stirred himself and hushed his younger colleague. He focused his not entirely blind eyes hard on Leonidas while explaining to his impatient colleague, “Tegea, Corinth, and Elis are allies of Lacedaemon.”
“We don’t require tribute,” Leonidas reminded him.
“Just obedience. To follow wherever your kings lead.” Yet another member of the council spoke up.
“If a majority in the League Assembly approves,” Leonidas reminded them. Leonidas was acutely aware that the changes in League leadership imposed upon his brother and characterized as “humiliating” by Leotychidas, Brotus, and others might prove decisive in avoiding bloodshed today. He pressed the point. “Your vote would be equal to ours.”
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