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Cleomenes III


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Agiad king of Sparta (reigned c.235–222bc). The son of Leonidas, he imbibed ideals of social revolution from his wife Agiatis, widow of his father's opponent Agis IV. Before implementing those ideals at home (and they were not for export), he was active abroad. He first moved in 229, when he annexed Tegea, Mantinea, Orchomenus, and Caphyae in Arcadia from the Aetolian Confederacy. Then, having provoked the Achaean Confederacy into war (228), he won victories at Mt. Lycaeum and Ladoceia (227). Now (winter 227/6) he seized quasi-despotic power at home and set up a ‘Lycurgan’ (i.e. traditional) regime. (Debts were cancelled, land was redivided, the citizen body was replenished from perioikoi (neighbouring peoples) and foreigners. A refashioned educational cycle and messregimen were reinstated (the so-called agōgē), the army re-equipped. The allegedly post-Lycurgan ephorate was abolished, the gerousia (council of elders) made subject to annual re-election, the dyarchy transformed into a de facto monarchy. Cleomenes' military successes against Achaea in Arcadia were followed by the capture of Argos (225) and siege of Corinth (224). These provoked Aratus (2) into opening negotiations with the Greeks' notional suzerain, Antigonus Doson of Macedon, who reached the Isthmus, secured the revolt of Argos and placed Cleomenes on the defensive, though in winter 223 he took and destroyed Megalopolis. Despite a mass liberation of helots, Cleomenes' new model army proved no match for Antigonus at Sellasia north of Sparta in July 222, and he fled to the court of his patron Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt. Imprisoned by Euergetes' successor, he broke out, tried in vain to stir up revolution in Alexandria, and committed suicide (winter 220/219).

Cleomenes' patriotism is not in doubt, and the ideals he proclaimed provoked eager support inside and outside Sparta, but it may be questioned how far he was a social and political reformer on principle.

Paul Anthony Cartledge

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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