Gateway to the Classics: Famous Men of Greece by John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Famous Men of Greece by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland

Cleomenes III


A BOUT a hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great lived a young prince named Cleomenes. His father was one of the kings of Sparta and bore the name of one of the greatest of Greek heroes, Leonidas, the famous defender of Thermopylae. One day, when the prince was about eighteen years old, he started from home to go hunting. He had not gone far from the city gate when one of his father's slaves overtook him and handed to him a writing tablet. On its waxed surface Cleomenes read the words, "Leonidas the king to Cleomenes: Come back to the palace the moment you have read this note." Cleomemes turned and went back toward the city.

Late in the afternoon he reached the palace. The gateway was hung with a garland of flowers, and entering he found the women busily arranging roses and lilies in every room.

As soon as he saw his father, he asked, "Is anyone going to be married?"

"You are," replied his father. "This evening I wish you to marry Agiatis, the widow of King Agis. I am having the palace decorated for the wedding. She is beautiful and good and the heiress of one of the richest men in Sparta."

"But," said Cleomenes, "how can she ever be willing to marry your son?"

"I am the king," replied Leonidas, "and she is bound to obey me."

"Since you wish it, I will marry her," said Cleomenes, "but I never can hope that she will love me."

Cleomenes had good reason for saying this; for Leonidas had caused his fellow-king, Agis, the husband of Agiatis, to be murdered.

Agis had been one of the best and greatest of Sparta's kings. He had been distressed at the state of his country when he came to the throne. The old customs of Lycurgus had been set aside. Since the close of the Peloponnesian War, when Sparta had proved more than a match for Athens, a great change had come over the kingdom. Her men were no longer warriors. The hope of Agis was that he might persuade the people to live according to the old laws which no one now obeyed.

But Leonidas, his fellow-king, did not wish to return to the old ways of living, and the five ephors, or magistrates of Sparta, were friends of his. They determined to put Agis to death. The ephors seized him upon the street and carried him to prison, and—for no other reason than that he had tried to carry out the laws of Lycurgus and restore the glory of Sparta—he was put to death.


The Race‑Course of Sparta

This had been done at the order of Leonidas. Cleomenes therefore had reason to think that Agiatis never would marry him. However, the marriage took place as Leonidas wished, and although Agiatis hated Leonidas, who had murdered her husband, she soon learned to love Cleomenes, who was manly and true, and who devoted his life to making her happy.

She talked to him of Agis and what he had wished to do for Sparta. As Cleomenes listened he made up his mind to do just what Agis had wished to do. He saw that luxurious ways of living had weakened Sparta and destroyed her influence. And he saw also that his father's friends were not the few good and brave men still left in Sparta, but rich men who cared for nothing but money and pleasure.


L EONIDAS died a few years after the murder of Agis, and then Cleomenes became king.

At this time a great general named Aratus was at the head of a league of Greek cities called the Achæan League. It seemed likely that it would soon control all the Peloponnesus. Cleomenes therefore persuaded the Spartans to go to war against the Achæans.

In several battles he defeated Aratus and won for himself great fame as a soldier. This made the Spartans very fond of him, and he thought that the time had arrived when he might persuade them to obey once more the old laws and customs.

But the ephors were opposed to the changes which he wished to make, and so he boldly put them to death.

Next day he banished eighty citizens who were opposed to his plans. He then explained to the people why he had done this and why he had put the ephors to death.

"If without bloodshed," he said, "I could have driven from Sparta luxury and extravagance, debts and usury—the riches of the few and the poverty of the many—I should have thought myself the happiest of kings."

He declared that the laws of Lycurgus must be enforced and the land be again divided among the citizens.

The people were delighted when they heard all this, and much more were they pleased when Cleomenes and his father-in-law were the first to give up their lands for division. The rest of the citizens did the same, and so, six hundred years after Lycurgus, there was a new division of property, and once more every Spartan had land enough to raise wheat and oil and wine for his family for a year.

Again the citizens dined at public tables on simple Spartan fare, and the youths were trained and drilled as Lycurgus had ordered. The Pyrrhic Dance, which trained soldiers in quick movements, was revived. Again the army was well disciplined, and the soldiers of Sparta became, as long ago, the best among the Greeks. The king himself set his people an example of simple living.


Pyrrhic Dance

Some of the Greeks had laughed when Cleomenes said he would tread in the steps of Lycurgus and Solon; but when they saw Sparta victorious on the battlefield and the city prosperous and happy once more they could not help admiring the man who had brought the change about.

But in time a dreadful disaster befell Cleomenes and Sparta. The Achæan League invited the Macedonian king Antigonus to bring an army to help them against Cleomenes, and in a single battle the Spartans lost almost everything that they had gained.

The other king, who was Cleomenes' own brother, was killed, and out of six thousand men whom he commanded only two hundred survived.

Cleomenes made his way to Sparta and advised the citizens to submit to the Macedonians, which they did, and the independence of Sparta was gone forever.

Cleomenes had hopes of getting help from Ptolemy, king of Egypt. So he sailed to that country, and he was promised assistance. But, unfortunately, Ptolemy died, and the next king made Cleomenes a prisoner because an enemy of the great Spartan had said that he was plotting against the Egyptian king. Cleomenes saw no way of escape and so put an end to his life.

He was one of the greatest men of the last days of Greece.

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