Return of the Heraclidae. - The Spartan Constitution and Habits. - The first and second Messenian War.
I. We have already seen, that while the Dorians remained in Thessaly, the Achaeans possessed the greater part of the Peloponnesus. But, under the title of the Return of the Heraclidae (or the descendants of Hercules), an important and lasting revolution established the Dorians in the kingdoms of Agamemnon and Menelaus. The true nature of this revolution has only been rendered more obscure by modern ingenuity, which has abandoned the popular accounts for suppositions still more improbable and romantic. The popular accounts run thus: - Persecuted by Eurystheus, king of Argos, the sons of Hercules, with their friends and followers, are compelled to take refuge in Attica. Assisted by the Athenians, they defeat and slay Eurystheus, and regain the Peloponnesus. A pestilence, regarded as an ominous messenger from offended heaven, drives them again into Attica. An oracle declares that they shall succeed after the third fruit by the narrow passage at sea. Wrongly interpreting the oracle, in the third year they make for the Corinthian Isthmus. At the entrance of the Peloponnesus they are met by the assembled arms of the Achaeans, Ionians, and Arcadians. Hyllus, the eldest son of Hercules, proposes the issue of a single combat. Echemus, king of Tegea, is selected by the Peloponnesians. He meets and slays Hyllus, and the Heraclidae engage not to renew the invasion for one hundred years. Nevertheless, Cleodaeus, the son, and Aristomachus, the grandson, of Hyllus, successively attempt to renew the enterprise, and in vain. The three sons of Aristomachus (Aristodemus, Temenus, and Cresphontes), receive from Apollo himself the rightful interpretation of the oracle. It was by the Straits of Rhium, across a channel which rendered the distance between the opposing shores only five stadia, that they were ordained to pass; and by the Return of the third fruit, the third generation was denoted. The time had now arrived: - with the assistance of the Dorians, the Aetolians, and the Locrians, the descendants of Hercules crossed the strait, and established their settlement in Peloponnesus (B. C. 1048).
II. Whether in the previous expeditions the Dorians had assisted the Heraclidae, is a matter of dispute - it is not a matter of importance. Whether these Heraclidae were really descendants of the Achaean prince, and the rightful heritors of a Peloponnesian throne, is a point equally contested and equally frivolous. It is probable enough that the bold and warlike tribe of Thessaly might have been easily allured, by the pretext of reinstating the true royal line, into an enterprise which might plant them in safer and more wide domains, and that while the prince got the throne, the confederates obtained the country . All of consequence to establish is, that the Dorians shared in the expedition, which was successful - that by time and valour they obtained nearly the whole of the Peloponnesus - that they transplanted the Doric character and institutions to their new possessions, and that the Return of the Heraclidae is, in fact, the popular name for the conquest of the Dorians. Whatever distinction existed between the Achaean Heraclidae and the Doric race, had probably been much effaced during the long absence of the former among foreign tribes, and after their establishment in the Peloponnesus it soon became entirely lost. But still the legend that assigned the blood of Hercules to the royalty of Sparta received early and implicit credence, and Cleomenes, king of that state, some centuries afterward, declared himself not Doric, but Achaean.
Of the time employed in consummating the conquest of the invaders we are unable to determine - but, by degrees, Sparta, Argos, Corinth, and Messene, became possessed by the Dorians; the Aetolian confederates obtained Elis. Some of the Achaeans expelled the Ionians from the territory they held in the Peloponnesus, and gave to it the name it afterward retained, of Achaia. The expelled Ionians took refuge with the Athenians, their kindred race.
The fated house of Pelops swept away by this irruption, Sparta fell to the lot of Procles and Eurysthenes , sons of Aristodemus, fifth in descent from Hercules; between these princes the royal power was divided, so that the constitution always acknowledged two kings - one from each of the Heracleid families. The elder house was called the Agids, or descendants of Agis, son of Eurysthenes; the latter, the Eurypontids, from Eurypon, descendant of Procles. Although Sparta, under the new dynasty, appears to have soon arrogated the pre-eminence over the other states of the Peloponnesus, it was long before she achieved the conquest even of the cities in her immediate neighbourhood. The Achaeans retained the possession of Amyclae, built upon a steep rock, and less than three miles from Sparta, for more than two centuries and a half after the first invasion of the Dorians. And here the Achaeans guarded the venerable tombs of Cassandra and Agamemnon.
III. The consequences of the Dorian invasion, if slowly developed, were great and lasting. That revolution not only changed the character of the Peloponnesus - it not only called into existence the iron race of Sparta - but the migrations which it caused made the origin of the Grecian colonies in Asia Minor. It developed also those seeds of latent republicanism which belonged to the Dorian aristocracies, and which finally supplanted the monarchical government - through nearly the whole of civilized Greece. The revolution once peacefully consummated, migrations no longer disturbed to any extent the continent of Greece, and the various tribes became settled in their historic homes.