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Cleomenes III

Cleomenes III
King of Sparta
Reign 235–222 BC
Predecessor Leonidas II
Successor Agesipolis III
Born 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 King of Sparta in 235–222 BC. He succeeded to the Agiad throne of Sparta after his father, Leonidas II in 235 BC.

From 229 BC to 222 BC, Cleomenes waged war against the Achaean League under Aratus of Sicyon. Domestically, he is known for his attempt to reform the Spartan state. 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 1
  • As king 2
    • Early years 2.1
    • Cleomenean War 2.2
  • Defeat and exile 3
  • Cleomenes in Fiction 4
  • Notes 5
  • Sources 6
    • Primary sources 6.1
    • Secondary sources 6.2
  • Further reading 7

Early life

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

In 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 Epiklerosess. 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

On the death of his father, Cleomenes ascended the throne of Sparta in 235 BC. Cleomenes had been inspired by Agis and began reforms.[5] 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.[5][6][7] 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.[6] 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.[5][7] 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."[5][7]

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][7] Smith agrees with Aratus' assessment that 20,000 Achaeans were no match for 5,000 Spartans.[7]

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.[7][8] 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. 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.[8] Cleomenes' part in the assassination is unknown with Polybius claiming that he ordered it, but Plutarch disagrees.[8][9]

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.[7][10]

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.[11] 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.[7][12][13]

Having removed the ephors, Cleomenes 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. To increase the declining Spartan citizen body, he made some of the perioeci into citizens. He trained 4,000 hoplites and restored the ancient Spartan military and social discipline as well as equipping his army with the Macedonian sarissa (pike) which greatly strengthened the army.[7][13][14]

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 left Sparta and sought refuge at Alexandria with 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."[7]

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. ^ 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. ^ a b c d e f g h Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 4
  6. ^ a b Polybius 2.46
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology "Cleomenes III"
  8. ^ a b c Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 5
  9. ^ Polybius 5.37
  10. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 6
  11. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 7
  12. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 8
  13. ^ a b Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, 257
  14. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cleomenes, 11


Primary sources

  • Plutarch, translated by Richard Talbert, (1988). Life of Agis. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044463-7.
  • Plutarch, translated by Richard Talbert, (1988). Life of Cleomenes. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044463-7.
  • Plutarch, translated by Richard Talbert, (1988). Plutarch on Sparta. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044463-7
  • Polybius, translated by Frank W. Walbank, (1979). The Rise of the Roman Empire. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044362-2.

Secondary sources

  • Green, Peter (1990). Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-500-01485-X.
  • Guerber, Helene Adeline. "Death of Agis". The Baldwin Project. Retrieved 3-10-2007. 
  • Haaren, John; Poland, A.B. "Cleomenes III". The Baldwin Project. Retrieved 3-10-2007. 

Further reading

  • Forrest, W.G. (1968). A History of Sparta 950-192 BC. New York: Norton. 
  • Grimal, Pierre (1968). Hellenism and the Rise of Rome. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 
  • Mitchison, Naomi (1990). The Corn King and the Spring Queen. Edinburgh: Canongate.  
  • Tarn, W.W.; Griffith, G.T. (1952). Hellenistic Civilization. London: Edward Arnold. 
  • Walbank, F.W. (1984). The Hellenistic world (2nd ed.). London: Cambridge University Press.  
Preceded by
Leonidas II
Agiad King of Sparta
235–222 BC
Succeeded by
Agesipolis III
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