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Xenelasia (Ancient Greek: ξενηλασία, Ancient Greek: [ksenɛːlasía]) was the title given to a set of laws in ancient Doric Crete and Lacedæmonia that proscribed the exclusion of foreigners and any foreign arts and music into their respective commonwealths.

Application of Xenelasia laws[edit]

In Lacedæmonia[edit]

The Xenelasia laws are more famously noted in Sparta. Lacedæmonian magistrates had the duty and authorization to expel any person who posed a threat to public order and morals for they considered their state a family writ large. Foreigners were allowed in for religious festivals and missions of state but foreigners were not allowed to live in the environs. Special exceptions were given to friends and allies, (laconophiles) like Xenophon. 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.[1] The greatest compliment given to a Greek is that he maintained the customs of his forefathers. Prof. Karl Otfried Müller writes that the Doric character of a "certain loftiness and severity of character" was continued in Sparta only because it succeeded in keeping herself in an isolated situation. Müller wrote in the context of a racial, mythographic view of history - they were the invading and occupying force in Lacedaemonia, holding down a population of servile peasants by iron military rule, and so, themselves, in the strict sense, xenoi.

Plutarch 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."[1]

Niccolò Machiavelli believed that Sparta lasted a long time because "she did not permit strangers to establish themselves in the republic" and remarked that the Roman Republic took the opposite course of Sparta spelling her doom.[2] It is to be noted, however, that the population of Sparta was in irreversible decline from the time of its victory in the Peloponnesian Wars, falling from 9,000 Spartiates in 640 to 1,000 after the battle of Leucra in 371, due to the refusal of miscegenation, selective infanticide and the desertion of patrician scions to more attractive foreign parts. The Roman Polis, in addition, is the one society in the ancient world which most modelled itself on the Spartan military ethos. Machiavelli was a Laconophile of a very partial order.

In Doric Crete[edit]

In Plato's Laws, Clinias the Cretan remarks on Homer that "…we Cretans are not much given to cultivating verse of alien origin."[3]

Because Doric Corcyreans were active, industrious and enterprising, good sailors and active merchants, they had entirely lost the stability and noble features of the Doric character. Some said that they exceeded the Athenians in degradation and that even their dogs excelled in impudence.[4] Argos was also a Doric state. It also lost its "noble features of the Doric character". "Argos became such an unsettled state of public affairs, sycophancy and violence became prevalent:…"[5]

Tarentum was also a Doric state, a colony in Magna Graecia. "At a subsequent period, however, as there was no longer men of this stamp (noble character) to carry on the government, and the corruption of manners, caused by the natural fruitfulness of the country, and restrained by no strict laws, was continually on the increase, the state of Tarentum was so entirely changed, that every trace of the ancient Doric character, and particularly of the mother-country, disappeared; hence, although externally powerful and wealthy, it was from its real internal debility, in the end, necessarily overthrown, particularly when the insolent violence of the people became a fresh source of weakness."[6]

The brief admiration the Athenians and their allies may have had for Spartan Doric discipline and virtue born of cultural isolation, must be viewed in the context of their early alliance against the Persians, later to be turned to hatred and rebellion in the outcome of the Pelopennesian War and their loss of democracy and autonomy. But well before events turned the other city states against the dominant Sparta, Plato deploys the term Xenelasia as synonymous with barbarity, an entirely uncivilised condition. He has this to say in the Laws [XII, 950a-b]: "Not to welcome any visitor and never to go out [of your homeland] is, besides, something quite impossible and would, at the same time, be seen in the eyes of other men as a savage and unsocial form of behaviour. It would bring upon you the odious name of someone who hunts down foreigners (xenolasiais) and would earn you the reputation of having rough and brutal manners". op cit.


  • ^ "The anxiety of the Dorians, and the Spartans in particular, to keep up the pure Doric character and the customs of their ancestors, is strongly shown by the prohibition to travel, and the exclusion of foreigners, an institution common both to Spartans and Cretans,…"[7]


  1. ^ Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, The Modern Library (div of Random House, Inc). Bio on Lycurgus, pg 70.
  2. ^ The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, trans. & ed. by Robert M. Adams, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 1992. pg 96 Machiavelli Balanced Government
  3. ^ The Collected Dialogues of Plato, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series LXXI, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1961. The Laws, §680c; pg 1275.
  4. ^ The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, 2nd ed. rev. 1839. Vol II, pg 157.
  5. ^ The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, 2nd ed. rev. 1839. Vol II, pg 149.
  6. ^ The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, 2nd ed. rev. 1839. Vol II, pg 183
  7. ^ The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, trans. from the German by Henry Tufnell and George Cornewall Lewis, John Murray, London, 2nd ed. rev. 1839. Vol II, pg 4