Cleomenes (/klˈɒmɪnz/, though some older reference works give the pronunciation with the accent on the penult, which is closer to the Greek;[2] Greek Κλεομένης Kleomenes; died c. 489 BC) was an Agiad King of Sparta in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BC. During his reign, which started around 519 BC, he pursued an adventurous and at times unscrupulous foreign policy aimed at crushing Argos and extending Sparta's influence both inside and outside the Peloponnese. He was a brilliant tactician. It was during his reign that the Peloponnesian League came formally into existence. During his reign, he intervened twice successfully in Athenian affairs but kept Sparta out of the Ionian Revolt. He died in prison in mysterious circumstances, with the Spartan authorities claiming his death was suicide due to insanity.[3]

Cleomenes I
King of Sparta
Reignc. 519 BCc. 490 BC[1]
PredecessorAnaxandrides II
SuccessorLeonidas I
Diedc. 489 BC
FatherAnaxandrides II

Historical significanceEdit

"Cleomenes," remarks historian J. B. Bury, "if he had not been a Spartan, might have been one of the greater figures in Grecian history." As it was, he stands as a shrewd policy maker whose policies were consistently rendered ineffective by the opposition of his co-King and the Spartan Ephorate. Nevertheless, he was the dominant figure in Spartan history throughout his adult lifetime.[4]

Early lifeEdit

He was the son of Anaxandrides II (of the Agiad royal house) and his second wife (apparently a daughter of Prinetades), and was the half-brother of Dorieus, Leonidas I, and Cleombrotus. Although the three younger half-brothers were the sons of Anaxandrides' first wife and therefore had a better claim to the throne according to tradition, Cleomenes was the oldest son and succeeded his father around 519 BC.[5] He allowed his half-brother Dorieus to mount expeditions outside the Peloponnese, perhaps as a way of expanding Spartan influence and territories, and perhaps to rid himself of a potential rival.[6] His interest in the world outside the Peloponnese may have accounted for some of his reputation for insanity among fellow Spartans who tended to be highly insular, conservative, and suspicious of all things foreign, especially that, according to Herodotus, Cleomenes acquired a taste for wine drunk "Scythian fashion" (unwatered).[7]

An early anecdote demonstrating Cleomenes' integrity is that when Maeandrius, the exiled but still wealthy tyrant of Samos, visited Sparta, he several times invited Cleomenes to his house and showed him some valuable goblets; when Cleomenes politely admired them, Maeandrius offered them to him as a gift. Cleomenes rejected this thinly disguised bribe and arranged for Maeandrius to be expelled from Sparta.[2]

War against AthensEdit

Around 510 BC the Alcmaeonidae family, who had been exiled from Athens, requested that Sparta help them overthrow Hippias, the son of Peisistratus and tyrant of Athens. The Alcmaeonidae, led by Cleisthenes, bribed the oracle at Delphi to tell the Spartans to assist them, and Cleomenes came to their aid. The first attack on Athens was a failure, but Cleomenes personally led the second attack and besieged Hippias and his supporters on the Acropolis. He was unable to force Hippias to surrender, but the Spartans captured some of Hippias' relatives and took them hostage until he agreed to give up the city.[citation needed]

Cleisthenes and the Athenian aristocrat Isagoras then fought each other for control of Athens. Cleomenes came with an armed force to support Isagoras, and they forced Cleisthenes and the Alcmaeonidae family to go into exile for a second time. Cleomenes also abolished the Boule, a council set up by Cleisthenes, and occupied the Acropolis. The citizens of Athens objected to this and forced him out of the city. Cleomenes was ashamed about what happened in the Acropolis, so he gathered an army the following year with the aim of setting up Isagoras as tyrant of Athens. This army invaded Attica. The Corinthians in his force refused to proceed once the army got to Eleusis, so he was forced to withdraw.[8] According to Pausanias, Cleomenes managed to get as far as Aegina. Pausanias claimed that Cleomenes arrested people who he thought had shown Persian sympathies while he was in Aegina.[9]

Sparta then proposed to her allies to mount an expedition to restore Hippias as tyrant of Athens. Given that Sparta had been instrumental in the overthrow of Hippias this change in policy was justified because Sparta had discovered that they had been tricked by the Alcmaeonidae into overthrowing Hippias because the Delphic oracle had been bribed into asking them to do so. According to W G Forrest, it was Cleomenes who argued for this change of position with Sparta's allies. However, the allies, led by Corinth, rejected the proposal in the first act of the Peloponnesian League.[10]

The Ionian Revolt and its aftermathEdit

In 499 BC, Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus, came to Sparta to request help from King Cleomenes with the Ionian Revolt against Persia. Aristagoras nearly persuaded Cleomenes to help, promising an easy conquest of Persia and its riches, but Cleomenes sent him away when he learned about the long distance to the heart of Persia. Aristagoras attempted to bribe him by offering silver. Cleomenes declined, so Aristagoras began offering him more and more. According to Herodotus, once Aristagoras offered Cleomenes 50 talents of silver, Cleomenes's young daughter Gorgo warned him not to trust a man who threatened to corrupt him.[11]

Around 494 BC, Cleomenes invaded and defeated Argos at the Battle of Sepeia. During the battle, when the Spartan herald announced anything to the Lacedemonians, the Argives followed without protest. Cleomenes assumed that the Argives were doing whatever the herald of the Lacedemonians proclaimed, so he took advantage of this by telling the Lacedemonians to attack the Argives once the herald proclaimed that they would get breakfast. Cleomenes was correct that the Argives would get breakfast based on the herald's announcement, so his army massacred the unarmed enemy forces while they were eating. He killed the retreating force, Herodotus says 6000 people were killed, by burning them to death in a sacred grove of Argus.[12] But this number could be exaggerated for affect.

Cleomenes sent the majority of his army back to Sparta and took a thousand men to the temple of Hera to make a sacrifice. The priest forbade him, saying that strangers were not allowed to make sacrifices. Cleomenes ordered the Helots to scourge the priest and made the sacrifice anyway.[13]

Argos would remain a bitter enemy of Sparta for decades after this attack. It is not clear why the attack on Argos took place. It may have been the result of Sparta's concerns over Argos and the city's pro-Persian tendencies, or due to proximity of Argos to the Spartans and thus being a growing threat to the security of the Spartan state.

When the Persians invaded Greece after putting down the Ionian revolt in 493 BC, many city-states quickly submitted to them fearing a loss of trade. Among these states was Aegina, so in 491 BC, Cleomenes attempted to arrest the major collaborators there. The citizens of Aegina would not cooperate with him and the Eurypontid Spartan king, Demaratus attempted to undermine his efforts. Cleomenes overthrew Demaratus, after first bribing the oracle at Delphi to announce that this was the divine will, and replaced him with Leotychidas. The two kings successfully captured the Persian collaborators in Aegina.[citation needed]

Exile and deathEdit

Around 490 BC Cleomenes was forced to flee Sparta when his plot against his co-king Demaratus was discovered, but the Spartans allowed him to return when he began gathering an army in the surrounding territories. However, according to Herodotus he was by this time considered to be insane. The Spartans, fearing what he was capable of put him in prison. By the command of his half-brothers, Leonidas I and Cleombrotus, Cleomenes was placed in chains.

While in prison, Cleomenes was found dead with his death being ruled as suicide by self-mutilation. He apparently convinced the helot guarding him into giving him a knife, with which he slashed his shins, thighs and belly in an especially brutal suicide.[14] He was succeeded by the elder of his surviving half-brothers Leonidas I, who then married Cleomenes' daughter Gorgo.

The veracity of accounts of Cleomenes' insanity and suicide, which the geographer Pausanias alleged was the result of his desecration of the Hiera Orgas, have been the subject of some speculation among modern historians.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Grant, Michael (1987). Rise of the Greeks. p. 100. ISBN 978-0684185361.
  2. ^ a b Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 1. James Walton. p. 792. |volume= has extra text (help)
  3. ^ Herodotus, 6.75
  4. ^ Bury, J. B.; Meiggs, Russell (1956). A history of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great, 3rd edition. London: Macmillan. pp. 259–260.
  5. ^ Cartledge, p.124.
  6. ^ Herodotus, 5.42–48.
  7. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, bk 6, 84
  8. ^ Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. 1. James Walton. p. 792.
  9. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 4. 2
  10. ^ W G Forrest, A History of Sparta p89
  11. ^ Herodotus, 5.51.
  12. ^ Herodotus, 7.148; Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 4. 1 Cartledge, p.129.
  13. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, bk 6, 81
  14. ^ Herodotus, 6.75.


Further reading (will definitely checking these out when I have more time)Edit

  • Forrest, W.G. (1968). A History of Sparta 950–192 BC. New York: Norton.
  • Huxley, George L. (1962). Early Sparta. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Regnal titles
Preceded by Agiad King of Sparta
c. 520 – 489
Succeeded by