Cleomenes III

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Cleomenes III
King of Sparta
Reign 235–222 BC
Predecessor Leonidas II
Successor Agesipolis III
Born c. 265–260 BC
Died 219 BC
Consort Agiatis
Issue Unknown (at least one son)
Dynasty Agiad
Father Leonidas II
Mother Cratesicleia
Silver tetradrachm depicting Kleomenes III. Reverse: statue of Artemis Ortheia brandishing spear and holding bow, ΛA(ΚΩΝΩΝ), of Laconians.

Cleomenes III (Greek: Κλεομένης) was one of the two kings of Sparta from 235 to 222 BC. He was a member of the Agiad dynasty, and succeeded his father, Leonidas II. He is known for his attempts to reform the Spartan state.

From 229 BC to 222 BC, Cleomenes waged war against the Achaean League under Aratus of Sicyon. After being defeated by the Acheans in the Battle of Sellasia in 222 BC, he fled to Ptolemaic Egypt. After a failed revolt in 219 BC, he committed suicide.

Early life

Cleomenes was born in Sparta to the future Agiad king Leonidas II and his wife Cratesicleia. The exact year of Cleomenes' birth is unknown but historian Peter Green puts it between 265 BC and 260 BC.[1]

Around 242 BC, Leonidas was exiled from Sparta and forced to seek refuge in the temple of Athena after opposing the reforms of the Eurypontid King, Agis IV. Cleomenes' brother-in-law, Cleombrotus, who was a supporter of Agis, became king. Meanwhile, Agis, having started his reforms went on a campaign near the Isthmus of Corinth which presented Leonidas with an opportunity to regain his throne. He quickly disposed of Cleombrotus, and when Agis returned to Sparta he had him arrested and executed.[2][3]

Following the execution of Agis, Cleomenes - who was around eighteen at the time - was made by his father to marry Agis' widow, Agiatis, who was a wealthy heiress. According to legend, Cleomenes was hunting when his father sent him a message telling him to return immediately to Sparta. When he returned to the city, he saw that it was being decorated for a wedding and when he asked his father who was getting married, his father replied that Cleomenes was. It was reported that Cleomenes was doubtful about the marriage because his father had Agiatis' husband executed. The marriage worked out and Agiatis told Cleomenes about Agis and his plan.[4]

As king

Early years

"Upon this, Cleomenes wrote to him, in a familiar way, desiring to know, "Whether he marched the night before." Aratus answered, "That, understanding his design to fortify Belbina, the intent of his last motion was to prevent that measure." Cleomenes humorously replied, "I am satisfied with the account of your march; but should be glad to know where those torches and ladders were marching."
The conversation between Cleomenes and Aratus according to Plutarch.[5]

Cleomenes ascended the throne of Sparta in 235 BC, on the death of his father. Cleomenes had been inspired by Agis and began reforms.[6] Meanwhile, the Achaean League under the command of Aratus of Sicyon was trying to unite all of the Peloponnese. Upon hearing of Leonidas' death, Aratus began attacking the cities of Arcadia which bordered Achaea. Plutarch says that Aratus made these moves to see how Sparta stood inclined.[5]

In 229 BC, the cities of Tegea, Mantinea, Caphyae and Orchomenus – who were allied with the Aetolian League – come over to Sparta. Historians Polybius and Sir William Smith claim that Cleomenes seized these cities by treachery; however the translator of Plutarch on Sparta, Richard Talbert, claims he did so at their own request.[6][7][8] Later that year, the ephors sent Cleomenes to seize Athenaeum, a border fort on the Spartan border with Megalopolis which was being disputed by both cities; Cleomenes seized the fort and fortified it. Meanwhile, the Achaean League summoned a meeting of its assembly and declared war against Sparta.[7] In retaliation for fortifying the fort, Aratus made a night attack on Tegea and Orchomenus but when his supporters on the inside failed to help, he retreated hoping to remain unnoticed.[5]

Cleomenes discovered the attempted night attack, and sent a message to Aratus asking the purpose of the expedition.[6][8] Aratus replied that he had come to stop Cleomenes fortifying Athenaeum. Cleomenes responded to this by saying: "if it's all the same to you, write and tell me why you brought along those torches and ladders."[6][8]

Cleomenean War

Cleomenes advanced into Arcadia before being called back by the ephors. When Aratus captured Caphyae, the ephors sent him out again. He ravaged the territory of Argos with an army of 5,000 men before being confronted by the new strategos of the Achaean League, Aristomachos of Argos, and his army of consisting of 20,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry at Pallantium. Aratus, who accompanied Aristomachos as an adviser, advised him to retreat.[5][8] Smith agrees with Aratus' assessment that 20,000 Achaeans were no match for 5,000 Spartans.[8]

This success greatly encouraged Cleomenes and when he heard that Aratus was attacking Sparta's ally, Elis, he set off to confront them. The Spartan army fell upon the Achaean army near Mount Lycaeum and routed it.[8][9] Aratus took advantage of a rumour saying that he had been killed in the battle and seized Mantinea. His blow took the war spirit out of the Spartans and they began to oppose Cleomenes' war effort.

Meanwhile, the Eurypontid King of Sparta, Eudamidas III, who was the son of Agis IV and Agiatis died.[10] Cleomenes recalled his uncle, who had fled after Agis' execution to Messene to assume the throne. However, as soon as he returned to Sparta he was assassinated.[11] Cleomenes' part in the assassination is unknown with Polybius claiming that he ordered it, but Plutarch disagrees.[12][13]

Having bribed the ephors to allow him to continue campaigning, Cleomenes advanced into the territory of Megalopolis and started to besiege the village of Leuctra. As Cleomenes was besieging the village, an Achaean army under the command of Aratus attacked the Spartans. In the initial attack, the Spartans were repelled. However, Lydiadas of Megalopolis, the cavalry commander, disobeyed Aratus' order not to pursue the Spartans. As the cavalry scattered as they were trying to cross some difficult terrain, Cleomenes' skirmishers managed to defeat them. Encouraged by this counter-attack, the Spartans charged the main body of the Achaean army and routed them.[8][12]

Confident of his strong position, Cleomenes began plotting against the ephors. After gaining the support of his stepfather, he embarked his opponents with him on a whirlwind military expedition and when they requested to stay in Arcadia due to exhaustion he returned to Sparta to carry out his plan.[14] When he reached the city, he sent some of his loyal followers to kill the ephors. Four of the ephors were killed, while the fifth, Agylaeus, managed to escape and seek sanctuary in a temple.[8][15][16] Having removed the ephors, Cleomenes began his famous reforms.

In 226 BC, the citizens of Mantinea appealed to Cleomenes to expel the Achaean garrison from the city. One night, he and his troops crept into the city and removed the Achaean garrison before marching off to nearby Tegea. From Tegea, the Spartans advanced into Achaea, where Cleomenes hoped to force the League to face him in a pitched battle. Cleomenes advanced with his army to Dyme and was met by the entire Achaean army. In the battle, the Spartans routed the Achaean phalanx, killing many of the Achaeans and capturing others. Following this victory, Cleomenes captured the city of Lasium and presented it to the Elians."[6]

The oligarch worried about the Cleomenian reform. With the fast victory of Cleomenes the worring is at his maximum in all the Peloponnese. Cleomenes takes Corinth, and some others strategic places. The Cleomenian reforms, even if they weren't suppose to be applied by Cleomenes over defeated population was a big reasons of the succes of the spartan king. Indeed, some of the Achean population wanted to be debt-free and were willing to share their lands for more equity. In reality, Cleomenes do not care that much about the defeated population and chose to negotiate with the oligarch even if the enmity was to big between Aratos and Cleomenes to come to an agreement.

After this diplomatic failure, Aratos choose to negotiate with Antigonus III Doson, King of Macedonia, who decided to go to war against Sparta. Despite numerous attempts to break through the defensive line and reach Lechaeum, in the Corinth Isthmus , Antigonus' force failed and suffered considerable losses. At that time Argos rebeled and Cleomenes had to send 2,000 men to face the situation. With this lack of men, Cleomens abandoned the Isthmus and retreat to Mantinea.[13] At this point, Cleomenes can not help to retreat and let the macedonian army advance through Arcadia. Knowing that Cleomenes got the money to pay for his mercenaries from Ptolemy, Antigonus, according to Peter Green, seems to have ceded some territory in Asia Minor to Ptolemy in return for Ptolemy withdrawing his financial support of Sparta.[1] After that Cleomenes enter Megalopolis and destroyed it as well as he raid the territory of Argos. The damage caused by those raids were not a factor of military domination for Cleomenes but much more a relief in the unavoidable defeat of the Spartan army which could not face the macedonian one in pitched battle.[13] In 222, at the battle of Sellasia the Spartan were defeated in a big battle where the Macedonian cavalry surpassed the Spartan one.The Spartan phalanx was overhelmed by the deeper ranks of Macedonian Phalanx is almost destroyed, and only a small amount of Spartans escaped from the battle with Cleomenes on their side.[13]

The reforms

After having removed the ephors who were a big limit to his politique will. Cleomenes using the character of Lycurgus the lawgiver, which allow him to legitimate the violence, began his reforms. He first handed over all his land to the state; he was soon followed by his stepfather and his friends and the rest of the citizens. He divided up all the land and gave an equal lot to every citizen, wich is a first case of. The land was pooled and redistributed in equal portion to some 4,000 citizens ( even if first Agis plan projected 4,500). Those citizens were for half part old citizens exile and for half part new citizens whom for most of them were part of the mercenaries who fought with the spartan army. There were also Perioeci granted for their dedication regarding Sparta. Those 4,000 more citizens enhanced the spartan citizens body wich was suffering from oliganthropia .[17]

For the first time the amount of produce the Helots had to surrender to each klaros-holder was specified in absolute quantities rather than as a porportion of the annual yield.Cleomenes trained 4,000 Hoplites and restored the ancient spartan military and social discipline.

The citizens' children were required to pass through an agoge, and the adult citizens had to practise again the old austere diaita centred upon communal living within the framework of the military-minded messes. More significantly, Cleomenes decreed that his new army should follow the model of the macedonian army, a century after the bitter defeat of Chaeronea. Caracterised by the use of the macedonian sarissa, five-meter spike, wich performed very well over the next two campaigning seasons. Cleomenes completed his reforms by placing his brother, Eucleidas, in charge, making him the first Agiad king on the Eurypontid throne.[12]

Defeat and exile

In 222 BC, Cleomenes was defeated in the Battle of Sellasia by the Achaeans, who received military aid from Antigonus III Doson of Macedon. Cleomenes came back in Sparta, advised the citizens to submit to Antigonus and fled at Alexandria to his ally Ptolemy Euergetes of Egypt, hoping for assistance to regain his throne.

However, when Ptolemy died, his son and successor, Ptolemy Philopator neglected Cleomenes and eventually put him under house arrest. Together with his friends, he escaped his house arrest in 219 BC and tried to incite a revolt. When he received no support from the population of Alexandria, he avoided capture by committing suicide. Thus died the man who nearly conquered all of the Peloponnese and is described by William Smith as "the last truly great man of Sparta, and, excepting perhaps Philopoemen, of all Greece."[8]

Cleomenes in Fiction

For an idiosyncratic but historically accurate fictional telling of Cleomenes' life and death, see Naomi Mitchison's "The Corn King and The Spring Queen" (reference given). He is also the subject (under the name Kleomenis) of two poems by modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, 1928's "In Sparta" and 1929's "Come, O King of the Lacedaimonians". Both of these dwell on the humiliation of his defeat by Ptolemy. Cleomenes is also one of the characters in the book Krol Agis (King Agis) by the Polish writer Halina Rudnicka, and he is the main character in the two following books by the same author Syn Heraklesa (Heracles' son) and Heros w okowach (Hero in manacles).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, 255
  2. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, 153
  3. Guerber "Death of Agis"
  4. Haaran and Poland "Cleomenes III"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 4
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 4
  7. 7.0 7.1 Polybius 2.46
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology "Cleomenes III"
  9. Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 5
  10. Pausanias. Description of Greece, 2.9.1.
  11. Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 5
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 6
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Polybius 5.37
  14. Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 7
  15. Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 8
  16. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, 257
  17. P.Cartledge and A.Spawforth,"Hellenistic and Roman Sparta : A tales of two cities".


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Further reading

  • Paul Cartledge (2nd edn, 2003)The Spartans: An Epic HistoryLondon.
  • Forrest, W.G. (1968). A History of Sparta 950-192 BC. New York: Norton.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Grimal, Pierre (1968). Hellenism and the Rise of Rome. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mitchison, Naomi (1990). The Corn King and the Spring Queen. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 0-86241-287-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tarn, W.W.; Griffith, G.T. (1952). Hellenistic Civilization. London: Edward Arnold.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Walbank, F.W. (1984). The Hellenistic world (2nd ed.). London: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23445-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Preceded by
Leonidas II
Agiad King of Sparta
235–222 BC
Succeeded by
Agesipolis III