AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Agis and Cleomenes

By Anne White

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Study Notes prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White, 2017 using Thomas North's text. If you wish to use this Study Guide as a teacher's edition, text-only version of this Life (without the Study Guide) is also available to print for your student. Read Intro to these study guides here.

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6
Lesson 7
Lesson 8
Lesson 9
Lesson 10
Lesson 11
Lesson 12

Agis and Cleomenes (Third Century B.C.)


"When the people heard what he said, they marvelled much at the noble mind of this young king, and were very glad of it, saying: that for three hundred years' space together, the city of Sparta had not so worthy a king as he."

Popular images of cultures, peoples, and places do not always recognize the effects of time and world events on those cultures. School lessons on "Ancient Egypt," for example, might focus on the age of Tutankhamun, in about 1300 B.C., but miss the point that the Great Pyramid was built over a thousand years before that. Ancient history, so to speak, to King Tut. "Ancient Rome" includes at least a thousand years of change. A study of North American or British culture over the past five hundred years would be meaningless without an understanding of the events, discoveries, and shifts in government that influenced daily life. Students in future centuries might imagine a Victorian-era man, wearing a suit of armour, texting his friends about enlisting in George Washington's army.

When we study the Spartans, we often have an image of their militaristic culture at its peak, around 600-400 B.C. Even Plutarch, writing about that early age, describes them as a people raised in a kind of boot camp, whose ideal was to die gloriously in battle. The heroic deaths at Thermopylae took place in 480 B.C. By 404 B.C., Sparta had defeated Athens in the Second Peloponnesian War..

But Sparta's season of power was ending, and within a few years it was unexpectedly beaten in the landmark Battle of Leuctra with the Thebans. By the time the story of Agis and Cleomenes began, just over a hundred years later in 245 B.C., Sparta had become a different place. Ancient laws and traditions attributed to the (possibly mythical) lawgiver Lycurgus had been shoved aside. The rule that property must be inherited by family members, rather than bought or sold at will, was now irrelevant; the rich were getting richer by scooping up land. The majority of people living in the city were not Spartan citizens, so they had no particular interest in maintaining the old ideals of military discipline, or even in defending their state if it was threatened.

If the Spartans could have looked ahead another hundred years, they would have been even more shocked to know that all of Greece would then be conquered by Rome. However, in the reigns of Agis and Cleomenes, Sparta thought it still might be able to recover its old identity and power. The problem was how to go about it.

Names, Places, and Words to Know

What is Lacedaemon? What is Laconia? What is Laconic?

For our purposes, Sparta/Spartan and Lacedaemon/Lacedaemonian are synonymous. Laconia is the region in which Sparta/Lacedaemon was located, although Lacedaemon (or Lacedaemonia) is used also to refer to the region rather than the city.

Laconic can mean anything in or of Laconia, but it also refers to Spartan traditions in clothing, diet, etc. A "Laconic answer" is brief, with no words wasted.

What is the Peloponnesus? What is Achaea? Who was Aratus?

The Peloponnesus is the southern part of Greece, the part connected to the north by the Isthmus of Corinth. Achaea was the name of a group of states in the Peloponnesus, and the Achaean League was a confederacy of these states, led at that time by General Aratus of Sicyon.

What are the Argives? Who was Aristomachus?

The Argives were the inhabitants of the city of Argos, a one-time rival of Sparta. Aristomachus was the ruler of Argos.

What is Messena? Megalopolis?

Messena or Messene (in the region of Messenia) and Megalopolis (in Arcadia) were two fortified cities in the Peloponnesus. They were built in an attempt to protect their citizens from further rule by outsiders (that is, by the Spartans).

What is the Race of Hercules?

Sparta was ruled by two hereditary kings, one each from the Eurypontid and the Agiad dynasties (both of whom were supposed to be descended from Heracles/Hercules). The kings were assisted by the Gerousia, a council of elders ("old men") who were elected for life. There were also five elected officials called ephors.

This Life is unusual because it includes the stories of two kings. (Dryden's translation separates the two.) The first few lessons are about Agis IV, the 25th king of the Eurypontid dynasty (see the chart below), and his co-ruler, Leonidas II, the 28th king of the Agiad dynasty. The second part is the story of the son and successor of Leonidas, Cleomenes III.

Two Spartan Dynasties


Agis IV: succeeded his father as king in 245 B.C., and reigned four years before his death in 241 B.C.

Eudamidas III: son of Agis IV, a child king who "reigned" from 241 to 228 B.C. but who never really had power

Archidamus V: the brother of Agis IV; reigned from 228-227 B.C. (when he was assassinated)

Eucleidas or Euclidas: an Agiad by heredity, but he ruled with his brother Cleomenes until he was killed at the Battle of Selasia in 222 B.C.

Lycurgus: not the ancient lawgiver but a later Spartan king (219 B.C.)


Leonidas II: reigned 254 to 235 B.C. Temporarily replaced by his son-in-law Cleombrotus II from 242-241 B.C., who was afterwards sent into exile.

Cleomenes III: the son of Leonidas II, who succeeded him and reigned from 235-222 B.C. He seems to have been a bit younger than Agis, because in 241 B.C. he was considered slightly too young to marry.

Agesipolis III: the last of the Agiad kings, the grandson of Cleombrotus II. After the death of Cleomenes III, he became king while still a boy, but was soon deposed by Lycurgus (see above).

Who was Antigonus?

Antigonus III Doson was the king of Macedon. He was around the same age as Agis and Cleomenes, and ruled from 229 B.C. until his death in 221 B.C. The study guide for Plutarch's Life of Philopoemen includes this note: "The year was 222 B.C., and Philopoemen was about 30 years old. He joined with the Macedonians (King Antigonus III, also called Antigonus Doson) to oust the king of Sparta (Cleomenes III) from Megalopolis. Although Antigonus was a bit annoyed that Philopoemen took control and led a charge without being ordered to, he had to admit that Philopoemen 'did like an experienced commander' (Dryden's translation)."

Who was Ptolemy? Which one?

Ptolemy III Euergetes was the third ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt; the "old" King Ptolemy, who died soon after Cleomenes' arrival in 222 B.C. Ptolemy IV Philopator was the king who mistrusted Cleomenes (and was responsible for the deaths of his own mother Berenice and brother Magas). There are also two other men named Ptolemy mentioned in Lesson Twelve.

Names That Are Easy to Confuse

Agis, Agesilaus (his uncle), Archidamus (his brother), Agesistrata (his mother), Archidamia (his grandmother), and Agiatis (his wife, later married to Cleomenes). (To make it more confusing, Agis and his family were not Agiads, but Eurypontids.) Also Aratus, Antigonus, Agesipolis, and Aristomachus.

Cleombrotus (see above) vs. Cleomenes (see above)

Cratesiclea (mother of Cleomenes) vs. Agesistrata (mother of Agis)

Lycurgus vs. Leonidas vs. Lysander vs. Lysiadas (Lydiadas)

Lesson One


In 245 B.C., the Greek city-state of Sparta had fallen into corruption. The Spartans had forgotten the laws set down for them by Lycurgus, including their style of dress and rules of inheritance. Traditionally, Spartan citizens could leave property only to their relatives, and this seemed to keep the economy stable and most people satisfied. Now properties were being bought and sold freely, causing some people to become very rich and others to fall into poverty. Could King Agis convince everyone, including his co-ruler King Leonidas, to go back to the old system?


voluptuousness and licentious life: unrestrained, self-indulgent behaviour

a battle fought before the city of Plataea: the Battle of Plataea, during the Persian War

never liked the people: never suited the people

the commonwealth: the Spartan state and its dependencies

Leonidas of all other exceeded: he was the worst of them all

magnanimity: greatness of soul or spirit

by succession from their fathers: by inheritance

Lycurgus' first ordinance and institution: the original Spartan laws

did yet preserve the commonwealth . . .: kept things from falling into an even worse state

seditious: rebellious

preferred: proposed

by testament: by writing a will

honest sciences: honourable pursuits

natural citizens of Sparta: members of the old Spartan families

no countenance nor calling: no wealth or honour (Dryden)

strait: narrow, strict

runagate: renegade, rebel

pricked forward: motivated, encouraged

changing of the state and commonwealth: a change in government

making her privy unto it: telling her about it

depart with her goods: give up her money or property

slaves and factors: Dryden translates this "followers and menials"


Lysander, Mandroclidas, Agesilaus: men of power in Sparta

Historic Occasions

245 B.C.: Agis became king of Sparta


[When the] covetousness of gold and silver crept again into the city of Sparta, and with riches, covetousness also and misery, and by use, voluptuousness and licentious life: Sparta was then void of all honour and goodness, and was long time drowned in shame and dishonour, until King[s] Agis and Leonidas came to reign there.

Agis was of the house of the Eurypontides, the son of Eudamidas, the sixth of lineal descent after Agesilaus, who had been the greatest prince of all Greece in his time. Leonidas also, the son of Cleonymus, was of the other family of the Agiades, the eight[h] of succession after Pausanias, who slew Mardonius, the King's Lieutenant General of Persia, in a battle fought before the city of Plataea. Howbeit his manners and conditions never liked the people. For though all men generally were corrupted through the commonwealth, and clean out of order: yet Leonidas of all other exceeded, deforming most the ancient Laconian life, because he had been long time brought up in princes' houses [in Persia], and followed also Seleucus' court, from whence he had brought all the pride and pomp of those courts into Greece, where law and reason ruleth.

Agis, on the contrary part, did not only far excel Leonidas, in honour and magnanimity of mind: but all other[s] almost also which had reigned in Sparta, from the time of Agesilaus the Great. So that when Agis was not yet twenty years old, and being daintily brought up with the fineness of two women, his mother Agesistrata, and Archidamia his grandmother, which had more gold and silver, than all the Lacedaemonians else: he began to spurn against these womanish delights and pleasures, [such as] in making himself fair to be the better beliked, and to be fine and trim in his apparel; and [instead] to cast upon him a plain Spartan cape, taking pleasure in the diet, baths, and manner of the ancient Laconian life: and [he] openly boasted besides, that he would not desire to be king, but only for the hope he had to restore the ancient Laconian life by his authority.

[A flashback]

The state of Lacedaemon first [began] to be corrupted, and to leave her ancient discipline, when the Lacedaemonians having subdued the empire of the Athenians, stored themselves and country both, with plenty of gold and silver. But yet reserving still the lands left unto them by succession from their fathers, according unto Lycurgus' first ordinance and institution, for division of the lands amongst them: which ordinance, and equality being inviolably kept amongst them, did yet preserve the commonwealth from defamation of divers other notorious crimes. [This lasted] until the time of the authority of Epitadeus, one of the ephors, a seditious man, and of proud conditions: who bitterly falling out with his own son, preferred a law, that every man might lawfully give his lands and goods whilst he lived, or after his death by testament, unto any man whom he liked or thought well of. Thus this man made this law to satisfy his anger, and others also did confirm it for covetousness' sake, and so overthrew a noble ordinance. For the rich men then began to buy lands of numbers, and so transferred it from the right and lawful heirs: whereby a few men in short time being made very rich, immediately after there fell out great poverty in the city of Sparta, which made all honest sciences to cease, and brought in thereupon unlawful occupations, [and the poor] envied them that were wealthy. Therefore, there remained not above seven hundred natural citizens of Sparta in all, and of them, not above a hundred that had lands and inheritance: for all the rest were poor people in the city, and were of no countenance nor calling. Besides that, they went unwillingly to the wars against their enemies, looking every day for stir and change in the city.

[Back to the story]

Agis therefore thinking it a notable good act (as indeed it was) to replenish the city of Sparta again, and to bring in the old equality, he moved the matter unto the citizens. He found the youth (against all hope) to give good ear unto him, and very well given unto virtue, easily changing their garments and life, to recover their liberty again. But the oldest men, which were now even rotten with covetousness and corruption, they were afraid to return again to the strait ordinances of Lycurgus, as a slave and runagate from his master, that trembleth when he is brought back again unto him. Therefore they reproved Agis, when he did lament before them their present miserable estate, and wish also for the former ancient honour and true dignity of Sparta.

Howbeit Lysander the son of Libys, and Mandroclidas the son of Ecphanes, and Agesilaus also, greatly commended his noble desire, and persuaded him to go forward withal. Agesilaus, the king's uncle, and an eloquent man, was very effeminate and covetous, and yet pricked forward to give his furtherance to this attempt, as it appeared, by his son Hippomedon, who was a notable good soldier, and could do very much by means of the love and good-will the young men did bear him. But indeed, the secret cause that brought Agesilaus to consent unto [the proposals of Agis], was the greatness of his debt which he owed, of the which he hoped to be discharged by changing of the state and commonwealth.

Now when Agis had won him [Agesilaus], he [Agis] sought by his means to draw his mother also unto the matter, which was Agesilaus' sister. She could do very much by the number of her friends, followers, and debtors in the city, by whose means she ruled the most part of the affairs of the city after her own pleasure. But the young man Hippomedon making her privy unto it, at the first she was amazed withal, and bade him hold his peace if he were wise, and not meddle in matters unpossible and unprofitable. But when Agesilaus had told her what a notable act it would be, and how easily it might be brought to pass, with marvellous great profit: and that King Agis began also to strain her with great entreaty, that she should willingly depart with her goods to win her son honour and glory: who, though he could not in money and riches come to be like unto other kings (because the slaves and factors [alone] of Kings Seleucus and Ptolemy had more money than all the kings of Sparta had together that ever reigned). Yet if in temperance, thriftiness, and noble mind (exceeding all their vanities) he could come to restore the Lacedaemonians again unto equality [with each other], then indeed he should be counted a noble king.

Narration and Discussion

How did the issue of property ownership create such a bad effect on the rest of Spartan life, such as causing "all honest sciences to cease?" (Is it wrong for people to buy land?)

Why did Agis believe that getting his people back "under the law" would actually be liberating for them? (Read Psalm 119:1-12.)

For older students or those who want to go deeper: Compare the strict Spartan laws laid out by Lycurgus to those of the Israelites, especially regarding property inheritance, the Year of Jubilee, clothing, diet, and marriage to foreigners.

Lesson Two


Agis used his new power as king to propose a one-time cancellation of debts, and re-distribution of land among both the old families and newcomers who were willing to fight for Sparta. To show his seriousness, Agis was the first to put his his own land up for division. However, the elders and ephors (particularly those who had a lot of land or who were owed money) wanted to take things more slowly.


suffering: allowing

felicity: happiness; in this case, delight and joy

let that this enterprise . . .: prevent this from happening

tyranny: rule (not necessarily tyranny as we understand it)

preferred, preferring: proposed, proposing

the commonwealth: the state

the Senate: the Council of Elders or Gerousia (see introductory note)

this commonwealth: the Spartan state

all his arable and pasture he had: his inherited land or patrimony

ready money: cash (vs. something promised for later)

indifferently: without exception

make their goods in common: share what they had

strange: foreign

the success hereof: this happening

Juno, surnamed Chalceaecos: Dryden translates this "Minerva of the Brazen House"; the temple is also called "Athena Chalcioecus"

making default, they deposed him: he did not appear in court, so they de-throned him

against the law: they had enacted the reform without the majority of elders agreeing to it

jar: disagreement

vice: evil

[e]stablish both together: enact both the land reform and the abolishing of debts

usurers: money-lenders who charge unfairly high interest rates


Part One

These women being stirred up with ambition by these persuasions of the young man, seeing him so nobly bent, as if by the gods their minds had secretly been inflamed with the love of virtue: did presently alter their minds in such sort, that they themselves did prick forward Agis, and sent for their friends to pray and entreat them to favour his enterprise: and furthermore, they brought on other women also, knowing that the Lacedaemonians did ever hear and believe their wives, suffering them to understand more of the affairs of the state, than they [the men] themselves did of their private estate at home.

Herein is to be considered, that the most part of the riches of Lacedaemon was in the hands of the women, and therefore they were against it, not only because thereby they were cut off from their fineness and excess, in the which being ignorant of the true good indeed, they put all their felicity: but also, because they saw their honour and authority which they had by their riches, clean trodden underfoot. Therefore they coming to Leonidas, they did persuade him to reprove Agis, because he was [an] elder man than he, and to let that this enterprise went not forward. Leonidas did what he could in favour of the rich, but fearing the common people, who desired nothing but alteration, he durst not openly speak against him, but secretly he did the best he could to hinder Agis' practice, talking with the magistrates of the city: and accusing Agis unto them, he told them how he did offer the rich men's goods unto the poor, the division of their lands, and the abolishing of all debts, [with the real aim] to put the tyranny into his hands, and that thereby he got him a strong guard unto himself, but not many citizens unto Sparta.

This notwithstanding, King Agis having procured Lysander to be chosen one of the ephors, he presently preferred his law unto the council. The articles whereof were these:

That such as were in debt, should be cleared of all their debts, and that the lands also should be divided into equal parts: so that from the Valley of Pallena unto Mount Taugetus, and unto the cities of Malea, and Selasia, there should be four thousand five hundred parts, and without those bounds, there should be in all the rest, fifteen thousand parts, the which should be distributed unto their neighbours meet to carry weapon: and the rest unto the natural Spartans. The number of them should be replenished with their neighbours and strangers in like manner, which should be very well brought up, and be able men besides to serve the commonwealth: all the which afterwards should be divided into fifteen companies, of the which, some should receive two hundred, and others four hundred men, and should live according to the old ancient institution observed by their ancestors.

This law being preferred unto the Senate, the senators grew to divers opinions upon it. Whereupon Lysander himself assembled the great council of all the people, and there spake unto them himself, and Mandroclidas, and Agesilaus also, praying them not to suffer the honour of Sparta to be trodden underfoot, for the vanity of a few.

When every man else had spoken, King Agis rising up, briefly speaking unto the people, said that he would bestow great contributions for the reformation of this commonwealth, which he was desirous to restore again. For first of all, he would make common all his arable and pasture he had, and besides that, he would add six hundred talents in ready money, and so much should his mother, grandmother, kinsmen and friends, all the which were the richest and wealthiest in Sparta. When the people heard what he said, they marvelled much at the noble mind of this young king, and were very glad of it, saying: that for three hundred years' space together, the city of Sparta had not so worthy a king as he.

But Leonidas contrarily assayed with all his power he could to resist him, thinking with himself, that if King Agis' purpose took place, he should also be compelled [to contribute money], and yet he should have no thanks, but King Agis [would]: because that all the Spartans indifferently should be compelled to make their goods in common, but the honour should be his only that first began it.

[The elders debated the proposal, but it was defeated by one vote.]

Part Two

Wherefore Lysander, who was yet in office, attempted to accuse Leonidas by an ancient law, forbidding that none of the race of Hercules should marry with any strange woman, nor beget children of her, [because] he had married a woman [in] Asia, and had two children by her; and afterwards being forsaken [by her], he returned again into his country against his will, and so had possessed the kingdom for lack of lawful heir.

So following his accusation in this manner, [Lysander persuaded] Cleombrotus [the king's] son-in-law, being also of the king's blood, to make title to the crown. Leonidas being afraid of the success hereof, took sanctuary in the temple of Juno, surnamed Chalceaecos, and his daughter with him, who forsook her husband Cleombrotus. Leonidas then being cited to appear in person, and making default, they deposed him, and made Cleombrotus king.

In the meantime, Lysander's office [of ephor] expired, and the new ephors which succeeded him did deliver Leonidas again, and accused Lysander and Mandroclidas, because against the law, they had abolished all debts, and had again made new division of lands. When they saw that they were openly accused, they [proposed to] both the kings, that joining together, they should make the ephors' ordinances of no effect: declaring that their authority was only erected for the discord of the two kings, because they [the ephors] should give their voices unto that king that had the best judgement and reason, when the other would willfully withstand both right and reason. And therefore, that they two agreeing together, might lawfully do what they would, without controlment of any person: and that to resist the kings was a breaking of the law, [since] by right the ephors had no other privilege and authority, but to be judges and arbitrators between them, when there was any cause of jar or controversy.

Both the kings being carried away by this persuasion, went into the marketplace accompanied with their friends, plucked the ephors from their seats, and put others in their rooms, of the which Agesilaus was one. Furthermore, they armed a great number of young men, and opening the prisons, did set the prisoners at liberty: which made their adversaries afraid of them, [fearing] some great murder would have followed upon it; howbeit, no man had any hurt. For Agesilaus [was] bent to kill Leonidas, who fled unto the city of Tegea, and also laid men in wait for him by the way. King Agis, hearing of it, sent thither other friends of his in whom he put great confidence, and they did accompany Leonidas, and brought him safely unto the city of Tegea.

Thus their purpose taking effect, and no man contrarying them: one man only, Agesilaus, overthrew all, and dashed a noble Laconian law by a shameful vice, which was covetousness. For he, having the best lands of any man in the country, and owing a great sum of money besides, would neither pay his debts, nor let go his land. Wherefore he persuaded King Agis, that if he [Agis] went about to [e]stablish both together, he should raise a great uproar in the city, and withal, if he did first win them that were landed men, preferring at the beginning the cutting of debts only: then that they would easily and willingly also accept the law for partition of lands. Lysander was also of his opinion: whereby King Agis and he both were deceived by Agesilaus' subtlety. So they commanded all the creditors to bring their bonds, obligations, and bills of debt (which the Lacedaemonians do call Claria) into the marketplace, and there laying them on a heap together, they did set fire of them. When the usurers and creditors saw their writings obligatory afire, they departed thence with heavy hearts: but Agesilaus, mocking them, said he never saw a brighter fire in his life.

Narration and Discussion

Why was King Leonidas so resistant to Agis' proposals?

How (and why) did Agesilaus deceive Agis and Lysander?

If you were a creditor in Sparta, and you knew you would lose money if all debts were cancelled, would you be willing to accept the reforms for the sake of restoring honour and the old ways to the city?

Lesson Three


In a passage between Lessons Two and Three (omitted for length), the Spartans demanded that the lands should be divided as they had agreed, but Agesilaus (the uncle of Agis) found reasons to delay this. At this time also, King Agis led an army to Corinth, to help prevent an invasion by the Aetolians, and "shewed himself in his counsel, then no rash, but a resolute and valiant man." But when Agis returned home, he found Sparta "in great broil and trouble."


tallages and taxes . . .: government taxes

he made no account of the one [Cleombrotus]: he scoffed at him

his enemies: the enemies of Agesilaus were also the enemies of Agis

a humble suitor: Dryden says "a suppliant," someone making a plea

honest colour to excuse his fault: justification for his error

get him thence: go away from there

vainglory: selfish ambition

come by: entrap (Dryden)

beguile: deceive

incontinently: quickly

as if it had been judicially: as if things were proceeding lawfully

the commonwealth: the state, the government

soldiers which were strangers: foreign mercenaries

the Decade: a place of execution

manifest: obvious

Historic Occasions

243 B.C.: Agis led an army against Aratus at Corinth

242 B.C.: Leonidas was exiled

241 B.C.: the death of Agis


Part One

For Agesilaus at that time being one of the ephors, finding himself rid of the fear which before kept him under [some restraint]: cared not what injury or mischief he did to any citizen, so he might get money. For amongst other things, that very year he made them pay beyond all reason the tallages and taxes due unto the commonwealth for thirteen months, adding to the thirteenth month, above the ordinary time of the year. Wherefore perceiving every man hated him, and being afraid of them he had offended: he kept soldiers about him, armed with their swords, and so came down into the marketplace among them. And for the two kings, he made no account of the one [Cleombrotus]: but of the other, that was Agis, he seemed outwardly to make good account, rather for kindred's sake, than for his dignity of a king, and furthermore gave it out abroad, that he would also be one of the ephors the next year following.

Whereupon, his enemies speedily to prevent the danger, gathered force together and openly brought King Leonidas from Tegea, to restore him again to his kingdom. The people were glad to see that, because they were angry they had been mocked in that sort, for that the lands were not divided according unto promise. Furthermore, Hippomedon was so well-beloved for his valiantness [by] every man, that entreating the people for his father Agesilaus, he saved his life, and got him out of the city.

But [as] for the two kings, Agis took sanctuary in the temple of Juno Chalceaecos. And Cleombrotus the other king fled into the temple of Neptune: for it seemed that Leonidas being much more offended with him, did let King Agis alone, and went against him [Cleombrotus] with certain soldiers armed. Then he [Leonidas] sharply taunted him, that being his son-in-law, he had conspired against him to deprive him of his kingdom, and had driven him out of his country. But then Cleombrotus, not having a word to say, sat still, and made him no answer.

Whereupon his wife Chelonis, the daughter of Leonidas, who before was offended for the injury they did her father, and had left her husband Cleombrotus, that had usurped the kingdom from him, to serve her father in his adversity, and while he was in sanctuary took part with him also of his misery, and afterwards when he went unto the city of Tegea, wore blacks for sorrow, being offended with her husband: she contrarily then changing her anger with her husband's fortune and misery, became also a humble suitor with him, sitting down by him, and embracing him, having her two little sons on either side of them. All men wondering, and weeping for pity, to see the goodness and natural love of this lady, who shewing her mourning apparel, and hair of her head flaring about her eyes, bareheaded: she spake in this sort unto her father:

"O father mine, this sorrowful garment and countenance is not for pity of Cleombrotus, but hath long remained with me, lamenting sore your former misery and exile: but now, which of the two should I rather choose, either to continue a mourner in this pitiful state, seeing you again restored to your kingdom, having overcome your enemies: or else putting on my princely apparel, to see my husband slain, unto whom you married me as a maid? Who, if he cannot move you to take compassion of him, and to obtain mercy, by the tears of his wife and children: he shall then abide more bitter pain of his evil counsel, than that which you intend to make him suffer . . . And for my husband, if he had any reason to do that he did, I then took it from him, by taking your part, and protesting against him: and contrarily, yourself doth give him honest colour to excuse his fault, when he seeth in you the desire of the kingdom so great, that for the love thereof, you think it lawful to kill your sons-in-law, and also not to regard the children he hath gotten, for her sake."

Chelonis pitifully complaining in this sort, putting her face upon Cleombrotus' head, cast her swollen and blubbering eyes upon the standers-by.

Wherefore Leonidas after he had talked a little with his friends, he commanded Cleombrotus to get him thence, and to leave the city as an exile: and prayed his daughter for his sake to remain with him, and not to forsake her father, that did so dearly love her, as for her sake he had saved her husband's life. This notwithstanding, she would not yield to his request, but rising up with her husband, gave him one of his sons, and herself took the other in her arms: and then making her prayer before the altar of the goddess, she went as a banished woman away with her husband. And truly the example of her virtue was so famous, that if Cleombrotus' mind had not been too much blinded with vainglory, he had cause to think his exile far more happy, to enjoy the love of so noble a wife as he had, than for the kingdom which he possessed without her.

Part Two

Then Leonidas having banished King Cleombrotus out of the city, and removing the first ephors, had substituted other[s] in their place: he presently bethought him how he might craftily come by King Agis. First, he persuaded him to come out of the sanctuary, and to govern the kingdom safely with him, declaring unto him that his citizens had forgiven him all that was past, because they knew he was deceived, and subtly circumvented by Agesilaus' craft, being a young man, ambitious of honour. Agis would not leave the sanctuary for Leonidas' cunning persuasion, but mistrusted all that he said unto him: wherefore, Leonidas would no more beguile him with fair words.

But Amphares, Demochares, and Arcesilaus did oftentimes go to visit King Agis, and otherwhile also they got him out of the sanctuary with them unto the bath, and brought him back again into the temple, when he had bathed.

[Amphares, having a personal grudge, betrayed Agis on the way back from the bath and had him taken to prison.]

Then came Leonidas incontinently with a great number of soldiers, and beset the prison round about. The ephors went into the prison, and sent unto some of the Senate to come unto them, whom they knew to be of their mind: then they commanded Agis, as if it had been judicially, to give account of the alteration he had made in the commonwealth. The young man laughed at their hypocrisy. But Amphares told him that it was no laughing sport, and that he should pay for his folly.

Then another of the ephors seeming to deal more favourably with him, and to shew him a way how he might escape the condemnation for his fault: asked him, if he had not been enticed unto it by Agesilaus and Lysander. Agis answered, that no man compelled him, but that he only did it to follow the steps of the ancient Lycurgus, to bring the commonwealth unto the former estate of his grave ordinance and institution. Then the same senator asked him again, if he did not repent him of that he had done. The young man boldly answered him, that he would never repent him of so wise and virtuous an enterprise, though he ventured his life for it. Then they condemned him to death.

Demochares perceiving the sergeants durst not lay hold of him, and likewise that the soldiers which were strangers, did abhor to commit such a fact, contrary to the law of God and man, to lay violent hands upon the person of a king: he threatened and reviled them, and dragged Agis perforce into that place called the Decade.

Now the rumor ran straight through the city, that King Agis was taken, and a multitude of people were at the prison doors with lights and torches. Thither came also King Agis' mother and grandmother, shrieking out, and praying that the King of Sparta might yet be heard and judged by the people. For this cause, they hastened his death the sooner, and were afraid besides, lest the people in the night would take him out of their hands by force, if there came any more people thither.

Thus King Agis, being led to his death, spied a sergeant lamenting and weeping for him, unto whom he said: "Good fellow, I pray thee weep not for me, for I am honester man than they that so shamefully put me to death," and with those words he willingly put his head into the halter.

[The mother and grandmother of King Agis were put to death as well.)

This horrible murder being blown abroad in the city, and the three dead bodies also brought out of prison: the fear though it were great amongst the people, could not keep them back from apparent show of grief, and manifest hate against Leonidas and Amphares, thinking that there was never a more wicked and crueller fact committed in Sparta, since the Dorians came to dwell in Peloponnesus.

Narration and Discussion

If you had been Chelonis, the daughter of Leonidas, would you have stayed in Sparta with him, or gone into exile with your husband? Why do you think she made the choice she did?

How did Agis demonstrate courage during his trial?

Lesson Four


In this lesson we meet Cleomenes, first as a young prince of Sparta, and then as king. Forced to marry the widow of Agis, he had the opportunity to hear the whole story from the inside out.


vertuousest and best conditioned: Dryden: "well-conducted in her habits of life"

had not that shamefast modesty and lenity: Dryden: "not so scrupulous, circumspect, and gentle"

by compulsion also: if he had to, he would force them to reform

the preferment whereof: the bringing up of which

a young stripling: a boy

listed: desired

prove: test

lost his journey: wasted his time

finely: sarcastically

let: opposed, prevented


Sphaerus: a Stoic philosopher

Zenon Citian: founder of the Stoic school of philosophy

Historic Occasions

235 B.C.: the death of King Leonidas

229 B.C.: the Achaean League declared war against Sparta; Cleomenes was sent to capture the fort at Athaenium


Part One

Now Agis having suffered in this sort, Leonidas was not quick enough to take Archidamus his brother also, for he fled presently. Yet he brought Agis' wife out of her house by force, with a little boy she had by him, and married her unto his son Cleomenes, who was yet under age to marry: fearing lest this young lady should be bestowed elsewhere, being indeed a great heir, and of a rich house, and the daughter of Gylippus, called by her name Agiatis, besides that she was the fairest woman at that time in all Greece, and the vertuousest and best conditioned. Wherefore, for divers respects she prayed she might not be forced to it.

But now being at length married unto Cleomenes, she ever hated Leonidas to the death, and yet was a good and loving wife unto her young husband: who immediately after he was married unto her, fell greatly in fancy with her, and for compassion's sake (as it seemed) he thanked her for the love she bare unto her first husband, and for the loving remembrance she had of him: insomuch as he himself many times would fall in talk of it, and would be inquisitive how things had passed, taking great pleasure to hear of Agis' wise counsel and purpose. For Cleomenes was as desirous of honour, and had as noble a mind as Agis, and was born also to temperancy and moderation of life, as Agis in like manner was: howbeit, he had not that shamefast modesty and lenity which the other had, but was somewhat more stirring of nature, and readier to put any good matter in execution. So he thought it great honesty to bring the citizens if he could, to be contented to live after an honest sort: but contrarily, he thought it no dishonesty to bring them unto good life by compulsion also.

Furthermore, the manners of the citizens of Sparta, giving themselves over to idleness and pleasure, [he did not like] at all. [The king let everything take its own way, thankful if nobody gave him any disturbance, nor called him away from the enjoyment of his wealth and luxury. The public interest was neglected, and each man [was] intent upon his private gain.] And contrarily, it was not lawful for any man to speak for the exercises of the youth, for their education in temperancy, and for the restoring again of the equality of life, the preferment whereof was the only cause of the late death of Agis.

They say also, that Cleomenes, [when he was] a young stripling, had heard some disputation of philosophy, when the philosopher Sphaerus, of the country of Borysthenes, came to Lacedaemon, and lovingly stayed there to teach young men and children. He was one of the chiefest scholars of Zenon Citian, and delighted (as it seemed) in Cleomenes' noble mind, and had a great desire to prick him forward unto honour.

Part Two

Now Leonidas (the father of Cleomenes) being deceased, and he himself [Cleomenes] come unto the crown, finding that the citizens of Sparta at that time were very dissolute, that the rich men followed their pleasure and profit taking no care of the commonweal, that the poor men also for very want and need went with no good life and courage to the wars, neither cared for the bringing up of their children, and that he himself had but the name of a king, and the ephors the absolute authority to do what they listed: at his first coming to his kingdom, he determined to alter the whole state and government of the commonwealth.

Part Three

When King Leonidas was dead, Aratus began to invade the Arcadians, those specially that bordered upon the Argives: to prove how the Lacedaemonians would take it, making no account of Cleomenes, being but a young king, [who] had no experience of wars.

Thereupon the ephors sent Cleomenes unto Athaenium (a temple of Minerva hard by the city of Belbina), with an army to take it: because it was a passage and entry into the country of Laconia, howbeit the place at that time was in question betwixt the Megalopolitans and the Lacedaemonians. Cleomenes got it, and fortified it. Aratus making no complaint otherwise of the matter, stole out one night with his army to set upon the Tegeans and Orchomenians, hoping to have taken those cities by treason. But the traitors that were of his confederacy, their hearts failed them when they should have gone about it: so that Aratus returned, having lost his journey, thinking that this secret attempt of his was not discovered.

But Cleomenes finely wrote unto him, as [if he were] his friend, and asked him, whether [Dryden: whither] he had led his army by night: Aratus returned answer again, that understanding Cleomenes meant to fortify Belbina, he went forth with his army, thinking to have let him. Cleomenes wrote again unto him, and said he did believe that which he spake was true: howbeit he earnestly requested him, (if it were no trouble to him) to advertise him why he brought scaling ladders and lights after him. Aratus smiling at this mock, asked what this young man was. Democritus, [a Spartan exile], answered; "If thou hast any thing to do against the Lacedaemonians, thou hadst need make haste, before this young cockerel have on his spurs." [Dryden uses a different metaphor: "begin before this young eagle's talons are grown."]

Narration and Discussion

Describe the unexpected outcome of the marriage between Agiatis and Cleomenes.

What impression did General Aratus get of his enemy Cleomenes during these events?

Lesson Five


Cleomenes continued to fight successfully against the Achaean League (see introductory notes), but wars are expensive, and he needed to convince the Spartans that it would be worthwhile in the end. After unsuccessfully attempting to bring back the brother of Agis, he realized that the real power lay with the five ephors.


the borders of the Argives: the territory around Argos

he put a strong garrison into it: he fortified it with soldiers

resisting Cleomenes' enterprises: Cleomenes realized that his military agenda was unpopular, especially with the ephors, and particularly after Aratus seized Mantinea

unto whom the kingdom of right belonged . . .: Archidamus was the rightful hereditary king of the Eurypontids

one of the chiefest citizens for wealth and power: that is, Megistonus

furtherance: advancement of the scheme

wont: accustomed

took the cities of Heraea and Alsea, etc.: kept the army [made up largely of his non-supporters] very busy

strangers: mercenary soldiers

imported his intent etc.: told his plan to those he trusted

commonwealth: a state, or, often, a group of states working together under one leadership


Megistonus / Megistonous: he was not the father-in-law of Cleomenes but his stepfather

Lysiadas: more commonly spelled Lydiadas.

Historic Occasions

226 B.C.: the Battle of Mount Lycaeum


Part One

Then Cleomenes being in the field in the country of Arcadia, with a few horsemen and three hundred footmen only: the ephors [back in Sparta] being afraid of wars, sent for him to return again. His back was no sooner turned, obeying their commandment: but Aratus suddenly took the city of Caphyes. Thereupon, the ephors incontinently sent Cleomenes back again with his army, and [the Spartans] took the fort of Methydrium, and burnt the borders of the Argives.

The Achaeans came against him with an army of twenty thousand footmen, and a thousand horsemen, led by Aristomachus. Cleomenes met with them by the city of Palantium, and offered battle. But Aratus, quaking at the hardiness of this young man, would not suffer Aristomachus to hazard battle, but went his way, derided by the Achaeans, and despised by the Lacedaemonians: who in all were not above five thousand fighting men. Cleomenes' courage being now lift[ed] up, and bravely speaking to his citizens: he [reminded] them of a saying of one of their ancient kings, that the Lacedaemonians never inquired what number their enemies were, but where they were.

Shortly after, the Achaeans making war with the Elians, Cleomenes was sent to aid them, and met with the army of the Achaeans by the mountain Lycaeum as they were in their return. He, setting upon them, gave them the overthrow, slew a great number of them, and took many also prisoners, [so] that the rumour ran through Greece, how Aratus [him]self was slain. Aratus, wisely taking the occasion which this victory gave him, went straight to the city of Mantinea, and taking it upon a sudden, when no man knew of his coming, he put a strong garrison into it.

Part Two

Now the Lacedaemonians' hearts failing them, and resisting Cleomenes' enterprises, overwearying them with wars: he went about to send for Archidamus, King Agis' brother, being then at Messena, unto whom the kingdom of right belonged by the other house, supposing that he should easily weaken the power of the ephors, by the authority of the two kings, if both of them joined together. Which when the murderers of King Agis understood, being afraid that Archidamus returning from exile, he would be revenged of them: they secretly received him into the city, [and joined in bringing him home, and presently after murdered him. Whether Cleomenes was against it, as Phylarchus thinks, or whether he was persuaded by his friends, or let him fall into their hands, is uncertain; however, they were most blamed, as having forced his consent.]

Nevertheless, [Cleomenes] holding still his first determination, to alter the state of the commonwealth of Sparta, as soon as possible: he so fed the ephors with money, that he brought them to be contented [that] he should make war. He had also won many other citizens by the means of his mother Cratesiclea, who [spared no cost and was very zealous to promote her son's ambition; and though of herself she had no inclination to marry, yet for his sake she accepted, as her husband, one of the chiefest citizens for wealth and power].

So Cleomenes leading his army into the field, won a place within the territory of Megalopolis, called Leuctra. The Achaeans also quickly came to their aid, led by Aratus: they straight fought a battle by the city [it]self, where Cleomenes had the worst on the one side of his army. Howbeit Aratus would not suffer the Achaeans to follow them, because of bogs and quagmires, but sounded the retreat. But Lysiadas, a Megalopolitan, being angry withal, caused the horsemen he had about him to follow the chase, who pursued so fiercely, that they came amongst vines, walls, and ditches, where he was driven to disperse his men, and yet could not get out. Cleomenes perceiving it, sent the light horsemen of the Tarentins and Cretans against him: of whom Lysiadas, valiantly fighting, was slain.

Then the Lacedaemonians, being courageous for this victory, came with great cries; and giving a fierce charge upon the Achaeans, overthrew their whole army, and slew a marvellous number of them. But yet Cleomenes, at their request, suffered them to take up the dead bodies of their men to bury them. For Lysiadas' corpse, he caused it to be brought unto him, and putting a purple robe upon it, and a crown on his head, sent it in this array unto the very gates of the city of Megalopolis.

Part Three

[Cleomenes, being very much elated by this success], persuaded himself that if he might once come to [e]stablish the affairs of the commonwealth at Sparta to his mind, he might then easily overcome the Achaeans. [He persuaded] his father-in-law Megistonus that it was necessary to take away the authority of the ephors, and to make division of the lands among the Spartans, and then being brought to equality, to encourage them to recover the empire of Greece again unto the Lacedaemonians, which their predecessors before them held and enjoyed. Megistonus granting his good will and furtherance, joined two or three of his friends more unto him.

It chanced at that time that one of the ephors, lying in the temple of Pasiphae, had a marvellous dream in the night. For he thought he saw but one chair standing where the ephors did use to sit to give audience, and that the other four which were wont to be there, were taken away: and that marvelling at it, he heard a voice out of the temple that said, that was the best for Sparta. He declaring this dream the next morning unto Cleomenes, it somewhat troubled him [Cleomenes] at the first, thinking that he [the ephor] came to feel him, for that he had heard some inkling of his intent [to remove the ephors]. But when he persuaded himself that the other meant good faith, and lied not unto him, being bolder than before, he went forward with his purpose, and taking with him unto the camp all those Spartans which he suspected to be against his enterprise, he went and took the cities of Heraea and Alsea, confederates of the Achaeans, and victualed Orchomena, and went and camped before the city of Mantinea. In fine, he so wearied and overharried the Lacedaemonians by long journeys, that at length they besought him he would let them remain in Arcadia, to repose themselves there.

In the meantime, Cleomenes with his strangers which he had hired, returned again unto Sparta. [He] imported his intent by the way unto them he trusted best, and marched at his own ease, that he might take the ephors at supper. When he came near unto the city, he sent Euryclidas before, into the hall of the ephors, as though he brought them news out of the camp from him. After him, he sent also Thericion and Phoebis, and two other[s] that had been brought up with him, whom the Lacedaemonians called the Samothracians, taking with them a few soldiers. Now whilst Euryclidas was talking with the ephors, they also came in upon them with the swords drawn, and did set upon the ephors. Agesilaus was hurt first of all, and falling down, made as though he had been slain, but by little and little he crept out of the hall, and got secretly into a chapel consecrated unto Fear, the which was wont ever to be kept shut, but then by chance was left open: when he was come in, he shut the door fast to him. The other four of the ephors were slain presently, and above ten more besides, which came to defend them. Furthermore, for them that sat still and stirred not, they killed not a man of them, neither did keep any man that was desirous to go out of the city: but moreover, they pardoned Agesilaus, who came the next morning out of the Chapel of Fear.

Amongst the Lacedaemonians in the city of Sparta, there are not only temples of Fear and Death, but also of Laughter, and of many other such passions of the mind. They do worship Fear, not as other spirits and devils that are hurtful: but because they are persuaded, that nothing preserveth a commonwealth better than fear.

Narration and Discussion

"Nevertheless, [Cleomenes] holding still his first determination, to alter the state of the commonwealth of Sparta, as soon as possible: he so fed the ephors with money, that he brought them to be contented [that] he should make war." Why did Cleomenes' plan for a rejuvenated city depend on his continuing to fight the Achaeans?

"Nothing preserveth a commonwealth better than fear." Do you agree?

Lesson Six


The Spartans were finding their old groove again, from the education of children to the re-institution of black broth and brown bread. The Achaeans, looking on, assumed that all the reforms had been enacted by force, and that Sparta must be on the verge of revolting against Cleomenes; but they were wrong.


fourscore: eighty

plagues of the commonwealth: state troubles

make all his goods common: put his money into the public treasury

father-in-law: see previous note

pike: a sarissa or long spear, used in the Macedonian phalanx formation

target: shield

the ancient Laconian discipline: see introductory notes

he durst not: he dared not

late: recent

May-game: frivolous amusement

hardly: severely

board being taken up: table being removed after the meal


Sphaerus the philosopher: see Lesson Four


Part One

The next morning Cleomenes banished, by trumpet, fourscore citizens of Sparta, and overthrew all the chairs of the ephors but one only, the which he reserved for himself to sit in to give audience. Then calling the people to council, he [gave them a history lesson]:

[He reminded them] that Lycurgus had joined the senators with the kings, and how the city had been governed a long time by them, without help of any other officers. Notwithstanding, afterwards the city having great wars with the Messenians, the kings being always employed in that war, whereby they could not attend the affairs of the commonwealth at home, did choose certain of their friends to sit in judgment in their steads to determine controversies of laws which were called ephors, and did govern long time as the kings' ministers, howbeit that afterwards, by little and little, they took upon them absolute government by themselves [and abused that power] . . .

Cleomenes continued his speech:

And therefore, if it had been possible to have banished all these plagues of the commonwealth out of Sparta, brought from foreign nations (pleasures, pastimes, money, debts, and usuries, poverty and riches), he [Cleomenes] might then have esteemed himself the happiest king that ever was, if like a good physician he had cured his country of that infection, without grief or sorrow. But in that he was constrained to begin with blood, he [would] follow Lycurgus' example: who being neither king nor other magistrate, but a private citizen only, taking upon him the authority of the king, boldly came into the marketplace with force and armed men, and made King Charilaus that then reigned, so afraid, that he was driven to take sanctuary in one of the temples.

But [King Charilaus] being a prince of a noble nature, and loving the honour of his country: took part with Lycurgus, adding to his advice and counsel, for the alteration of the state of the government of the commonwealth, which he did confirm. Hereby then it appeareth, that Lycurgus saw it was a hard thing to alter the commonwealth without force and fear; the which he [Cleomenes], notwithstanding, had used with as great modesty and discretion, as might be possible, banishing them that were against the profit and wealth of Lacedaemon, giving all the lands of the country also to be equally divided amongst them, and setting all men clear that were in debt.

And furthermore, that he would make a choice and proof of the strangers, to make them free citizens of Sparta, whom he knew to be honest men, thereby to defend their city the better by force of arms.

Then he began first himself to make all his goods common, and [afterwards] Megistonus his father-in-law, and consequently all his other friends [did the same]. Then he caused the lands also to be divided, and ordained every banished man a part, whom he himself had exiled, promising that he would receive them again into the city, when he had established all things.

Part Two

So when he had replenished the number of the citizens of Sparta, with the choicest honest men their neighbours: he made four thousand footmen well armed, and taught them to use their pikes with both hands, instead of their darts with one hand, and to carry their targets with a good strong handle, and not buckled with a leather thong. Afterwards he took order for the education of children, and to restore the ancient Laconian discipline again: and did all these things in manner by the help of Sphaerus the philosopher. Insomuch as he had quickly set up again schoolhouses for children, and also brought them to the older order of diet: and all but a very few, without compulsion, were willing to fall to their old institution of life. [And, that the name of monarch might give them no jealousy, he made Euclidas, his brother, partner in the throne; and that was the only time that Sparta had two kings of the same family.]

Furthermore, understanding that the Achaeans and Aratus were of opinion that he durst not come out of Lacedaemon, for fear to leave it in peril of revolting, because of the late change and alteration in the commonwealth: he thought it an honourable attempt of him, to make his enemies see the readiness and goodwill of his army. Thereupon he invaded the territories of the Megalopolitans, and brought away a great prey and booty, after he had done great hurt unto his enemies. Then having taken certain players and minstrels that came from Messina, he set up a stage within the enemy's country, [offering a prize] of forty minas for the victor, and sat a whole day to look upon them, [not for the] pleasure he took in the sight of it, but more to despite the enemies withal, in making them see how much he was stronger than they, to make such a May-game in their own country, in despite of them.

For of all the armies otherwise of the Grecians, or kings in all Greece, there was no army only but his, that was without players, minstrels, fools and jugglers: for his camp only was clean of such rabble and foolery, and all the young men fell to some exercise of their bodies, and the old men also to teach them. And if they chanced to have any vacant time, then they would pleasantly be merry with [one another, diverting themselves with their native jests]. And what profit they got by that kind of exercise, we have written it at large in Lycurgus' Life. But of all these things, the king himself was their schoolmaster and example; [he was a living pattern of temperance before every man's eyes; and his course of living was neither more stately, nor more expensive, nor in any way more pretentious, than that of his people. And this was a considerable advantage to him in his designs on Greece]. For the Grecians having cause of suit and negotiation with other kings and princes, did not wonder so much at the pomp and riches [of those kings], as they did abhor and detest their pride and insolency: so disdainfully they would answer them that had to do with them. But contrarily, when they went unto Cleomenes, who was a king in name and deed as they were, finding no purple robes nor stately mantles, nor rich embroidered beds, nor a prince to be spoken to but by messengers, gentlemen ushers, and supplications, and yet with great ado: and seeing him also come plainly apparelled unto them, with a good countenance, and courteously answering the matters they came for: he thereby did marvellously win their hearts and goodwills, that when they returned home, they said he only was the worthy king that came of the race of Hercules.

[His common everyday's meal was in an ordinary room, very sparing, and after the Laconic manner; and when he entertained ambassadors, or strangers, two more couches were added, and a little better dinner provided by his servants]; not with pastry and conserves, but with more store of meat, and some better wine than ordinary. For he one day reproved one of his friends, that bidding strangers to supper he gave them nothing but black broth, and brown bread only, according to their Laconian manner. "Nay," said he, "we may not use strangers so hardly after our manner."

The board being taken up, another little table was brought with three feet, whereupon they set a bowl of copper full of wine, [two silver bowls, which held about a pint apiece, (and) a few silver cups, of which he that pleased might drink, but wine was not urged on any of the guests]. Furthermore, there was no sport, nor any pleasant song, to make the company merry, for it needed not. For Cleomenes [him]self would entertain them with some pretty questions, or pleasant tale: whereby, as his talk was not severe and without pleasure, so was it also pleasant without insolency. For he was of opinion, that to win men by gifts or money, as other kings and princes did, was [dishonest and artificial]: but to seek their good wills by courteous means, and pleasantries, and therewith to mean good faith, [was that which] he thought most fit and honourable for a prince. For this was his mind, that there was no other difference betwixt a friend and hireling: but that the one is won with money, and the other with civility and good entertainment [Dryden: character and conversation].

Narration and Discussion

In Part One, why was Cleomenes able to enact the reforms (in a seemingly short while) that Agis had proposed but been unable to carry out?

What do the dinner-party descriptions show about the character of Cleomenes?

Lesson Seven


With his increasing military success, Cleomenes began to demand more concessions from those he had defeated. When he suddenly became too ill to attend a parliament with the Achaeans, Aratus took advantage of the lull to suggest that they should ask for help (once again) from Macedon. But the Achaeans, exasperatingly, seemed to prefer the prospect of being ruled by Cleomenes.


dyet: assembly or parliament of the leaders. (Dyet is also spelled diet, as in the famous Diet of 1521 A.D.)

proroguing: postponing

rotten man, consumed away: Antigonus was suffering from tuberculosis

indued: endowed; gifted

without: outside

with a flea in his ear: a lovely expression with meanings that can vary. Here it means "with a reprimand."

Historic Occasions

226 B.C.: the Mantineans asked for help against the Achaean League, and the Spartans fought the Achaeans at Dymes/Dyme


Part One

The first therefore that received King Cleomenes into their city, were the Mantinians, who opened him the gates in the night, and helping him to drive out the garrison of the Achaeans, they yielded themselves unto him. But he referring them to the use and government of their own laws and liberty, departed from thence the same day, and went unto the city of Tegea. Shortly after, he compassed about Arcadia, and came unto Pheres in Arcadia, [intending] either to give the Achaeans battle, or to bring Aratus out of favour with the people, for that he had suffered him [Cleomenes] to spoil and destroy their country. (Hyperbatas was at that time general of the Achaeans, but Aratus did bear all the sway and authority.)

Then the Achaeans coming into the field with all their people armed, and encamping by the city of Dymes, near unto the temple of Hecatombaeum. [Cleomenes came up, and thinking it not advisable to pitch (his camp) between Dymes, a city of the enemies, and the camp of the Achaeans, he boldly dared the Achaeans, and forced them to a battle], overthrew them, made them flee, and slew a great number in the field, and took many of them also prisoners.

Departing from thence, he went and set upon the city of Langon, and drove the garrison of the Achaeans out of it, and restored the city again unto the Elians.

The Achaeans [were] then in very hard state. Aratus, [who] of custom was wont to be their general (or at the least once in two years), refused now to take the charge, [although] the Achaeans did specially pray and entreat him: the which was an ill act of him, to let another steer the rudder, in so dangerous a storm and tempest. [Cleomenes at first proposed fair and easy conditions by his ambassadors to the Achaeans, but afterwards he sent others, and required the chief command to be settled upon him]; and that for all other matters he would deal reasonably with them, and presently deliver them up their towns and prisoners again, which he had taken of theirs. The Achaeans being glad of peace with these conditions, wrote unto Cleomenes that he should come unto the city of Lerna, where the dyet and general assembly should be kept to consult thereupon. It chanced then that Cleomenes marching thither, being very hot, drank cold water, and fell of such a bleeding withal, that his voice was taken from him, and he almost stifled. Wherefore he sent the Achaeans their chiefest prisoners home again, proroguing the parliament till another time, and returned back to Lacedaemon.

[This ruined the affairs of Greece, which was just beginning in some sort to recover from its disasters, and to show some capability of delivering itself from the insolence and rapacity of the Macedonians.] For Aratus, either for that he trusted not Cleomenes, or for that he was afraid of his power, or that he otherwise envied his honour and prosperity, to see him risen to such incredible greatness in so short a time, and thinking it also too great shame and dishonour to him, to suffer this young man in a moment to deprive him of his great honour and power which he had possessed so long time, by the space of thirty years together, ruling all Greece: first, he sought by force to terrify the Achaeans, and to make them break off from this peace. But in fine, finding that they little regarded his threats, and that he could not prevail with them, for that they were afraid of Cleomenes' valiantness and courage, whose request they thought reasonable, for that he sought but to restore Peloponnesus into her former ancient estate again: he fell then into a practise far unhonest for a Grecian, very infamous for himself, but most dishonourable for the former noble acts he had done.

For [Aratus] brought Antigonus into Greece, and filled the country of Peloponnesus with Macedonians, whom he himself in his youth had driven thence, [when he] had taken from them the castle of Corinth. And furthermore, fleeing them that were contented with brown bread, and with the plain coarse capes of the Lacedaemonians, and that went about to take away riches (which was the chiefest matter they did accuse Cleomenes for) and to provide for the poor: he went and put himself and all Achaea into the crown and diadem, the purple robe, and proud imperious commandments of the Macedonians, fearing lest men should think that Cleomenes could command him. Furthermore his folly was such that, having garlands of flowers on his head, he did sacrifice unto Antigonus, and sing songs in praise of his honour, as if he had been a god, where he was but a rotten man, consumed away.

This that we have written of Aratus (who was indued with many noble virtues, and a worth Grecian) is not so much to accuse him, as to make us see the frailty and weakness of man's nature: the which, though it have never so excellent virtues, cannot yet bring forth such perfect fruit, but that it hath ever some maim and blemish.

Part Two

Now, when the Achaeans were met again in the city of Argos, to hold the session of their parliament [which had been] prorogued, and Cleomenes also being come from Tegea, to be at that parliament: every man was in hope of good peace. But Aratus then, who was agreed before of the chiefest articles of the capitulations with Antigonus, fearing that Cleomenes by fair words or force would bring the people to grant that [which] he desired: sent to let him understand, that he should but come himself alone into the city, and for safety of his person, they would give him three hundred hostages: or otherwise, if he would not leave his army, that then they would give him audience without the city, in the place of exercises, called Cyllarabium. Then Cleomenes had heard their answer, he told them that they had done him wrong: for they should have advertised him of it before he had taken his journey, and not now when he was almost hard at their gates, to send him back again, with a flea in his ear.

Thereupon he wrote a letter unto the council of the Achaeans, altogether full of complaints against Aratus. On the other side also, Aratus in his oration to the council, [spoke violently] against Cleomenes. Thereupon Cleomenes departing with speed, sent a herald to proclaim wars against the Achaeans, not in the city of Argos, but in the city of Aegion, as Aratus writeth, meaning to set upon them being unprovided. Hereupon all Achaea was in an uproar: for divers cities did presently revolt against the Achaeans, because the common people hoped after the division of lands, and the discharging of the debts. The noble men also in many places were offended with Aratus, because he practised to bring the Macedonians into the country of Peloponnesus.

Cleomenes, therefore, hoping well for all these respects, brought his army into Achaea, and at his first coming took the city of Pallena, and drove out the garrison of the Achaeans: and after that, won also the cities of Pheneum, and Pentilium.

Narration and Discussion

"This that we have written of Aratus . . .is not so much to accuse him, as to make us see the frailty and weakness of man's nature: the which, though it have never so excellent virtues, cannot yet bring forth such perfect fruit, but that it hath ever some maim and blemish." Does this help to explain Plutarch's aim in writing biographies?

Lesson Eight


If you have read Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus, you will remember his great battle in the city of Argos: soldiers, citizens, and elephants every which way, trying to come in and trying to get out. The impossibility of conquering Argos was, therefore, legendary: but Cleomenes managed it. The Spartans' rediscovered power made them enough of a threat that Aratus gave up trying to fight them; but not before sending Antigonus and his very powerful Macedonian army marching in their direction.


hard to: close to

ill to come unto: hard to access

garrison: military troops

kept indifferently: held equally

provided for corn: brought enough food supplies

quietly: Dryden says "merrily"

promontory: headland, high point

tarried not his coming: didn't wait for him to arrive

advertisement hereof: news of this

attended: waited for

phalanx: a tight battle formation used by the Macedonians


Part One

Now the Achaeans fearing some treason in Corinth and Sycione, sent certain horsemen out of the city of Argos, to keep those cities. The Argives in the meantime, attending the celebration of the feast at the Nemean games, Cleomenes thinking (which fell out true) that if he went to Argos, he should find the city full of people that were come to see the feasts and games, and that assailing them upon the sudden, he should put them in a marvellous fear: [he] brought his army in the night hard to the walls of the city of Argos, and at his first coming won a place they call Aspis, a very strong place above the theater, and ill to come unto. The Argives were so amazed at it, that no man would take upon him to defend the city, but received Cleomenes' garrison, and gave him twenty hostages, promising thenceforth to be true confederates unto the Lacedaemonians, under his charge and conduct. The which doubtless won him great fame, and increased his power: [because] the ancient kings of Lacedaemon, could never before with any policy or device, win the city of Argos. For [even] King Pyrrhus, one of the valiantest and [most] warlike prince[s] that ever was, entering the city of Argos by force, could not keep it, but was slain there, and the most part of his army: whereby, every man wondered greatly at the diligence and counsel of Cleomenes.

And where every man did mock him before, when Cleomenes said that he would follow Solon and Lycurgus, in making the citizens' goods common, and discharging all debts: they were then clearly persuaded that he only was the cause and mean of that great change, which they saw in the courage of the Spartans: who were before so weak and out of heart, that [previously] they having no courage to defend themselves, the Aetolians entering Laconia, with an army, took away at one time, fifty thousand slaves. Whereupon an old man of Sparta pleasantly said at that time, that their enemies had done them a great pleasure, to rid their country of Laconia of such a rabble of rascals.

Shortly after, they being entered again into the former ancient discipline of Lycurgus, as if Lycurgus [him]self had been alive to have trained them unto it: they shewed themselves very valiant, and obedient also unto their magistrates, whereby they recovered again the commandment of all Greece, and the country also of Peloponnesus. After Cleomenes had taken the city of Argos, the cities also of Cleones and Phliunta did yield themselves unto him. Aratus in the meantime remained at Corinth, and there did busily accuse them which were suspect to favour the Lacedaemonians. But when news was brought him that Argos was taken, and that he perceived also the city of Corinth did lean unto Cleomenes' part, and drave away the Achaeans: he then calling the people to council in Corinth, secretly stole to one of the gates of the city, and causing his horse to be brought unto him, took his back, and galloped for life unto the city of Sicyone.

When the Corinthians heard of it, they took [to] their horsebacks also, striving who should be there soonest, and posted in such haste unto Cleomenes at the city of Argos, that many of them (as Aratus writeth) killed their horses by the way. Howbeit Cleomenes was very much offended with them, for that they had let him [Aratus] [e]scape their hands. But Aratus saith further [in his writings], that Megistonus came unto him from Cleomenes, and offered him a great sum of money to deliver him the castle of Corinth, wherein there was a great garrison of the Achaeans. But he answered again, that things were not in his power, but rather that he was subject to their power.

Part Two

Now Cleomenes departing from the city of Argos, overcame the Troezenians, the Epidaurians, and the Hermionians. After that, he came unto Corinth, and presently entrenched the castle there round about, and sending for Aratus' friends and factors, commanded them to keep [Aratus'] house and goods carefully for him, and sent Tritymallus Messenian again unto [Aratus], to pray him to be contented that the castle might be kept indifferently betwixt the Achaeans and Lacedaemonians, promising him privately to double the pension that King Ptolemy gave him. But Aratus refusing it, sent his son unto Antigonus with other hostages, and persuaded the Achaeans to deliver up the castle of Corinth, unto Antigonus' hands. [Upon this Cleomenes invaded the territory of the Sicyonians, and by a decree of the Corinthians, accepted Aratus' estate as a gift.]

Part Three

Now Antigonus in the meantime, [was passing] the mountain of Gerania with a great power. Cleomenes determined not to fortify the isthmus or strait of Peloponnesus, but [the mountains called Onea]; determining to keep every one of them against the Macedonians, with intent to consume them rather by time, than to fight a battle with an army, so good soldiers and well trained as they were. Cleomenes following this determination, did put Antigonus to great trouble, because he had not in time provided for corn: and could not win the passage also by force, for that Cleomenes kept it with such guard and soldiers. Then Antigonus stealing secretly into the haven of Lechaeum, he was stoutly repulsed, and lost a number of his men: whereupon Cleomenes and his men, being courageous for this victory, went quietly to supper.

Antigonus on the other side fell into despair, to see himself brought by necessity into such hard terms. Wherefore he determined to go to the [promontory at the] temple of Juno, and from thence to pass his army by sea into the city of Sicyone, which required a long time, and great preparation. But the same night there came some of Aratus' friends of the Argives, who coming from Argos by sea, brought news that the Argives were rebelled against Cleomenes. The practiser of this rebellion was one Aristototeles, who easily brought the people unto it, [who] were already offended with Cleomenes, [because he] had promised to pass a law for the clearing of debts, but performed it not according to their expectation.

Wherefore, Aratus with a thousand five hundred men which Antigonus gave him, went by sea unto Epidaurum. Howbeit Aristoteles [the leader of the rebellion] tarried not his coming, but taking them of the city with him, went and besieged the garrison of the Lacedaemonians within the castle, being aided by Timoxenus, with the Achaeans that came from Siciyone.

Cleomenes receiving advertisement hereof, about the second watch of the night, sent for Megistonus in haste, and commanded him in anger speedily to go and [set things right at Argos. Megistonus had passed his word for the Argives' loyalty, and had persuaded him not to banish the suspected.] So sending him away forthwith with two thousand men, he attended Antigonus, and comforted the Corinthians the best he could: advertising them that it was but a little mutiny of a few, that chanced in the city of Argos.

[But when Megistonus, entering Argos, was slain, and the garrison could scarce hold out, and frequent messengers came to Cleomenes for succours], Cleomenes then being afraid that the enemies having taken Argos, would stop his way to return back into his country, who having opportunity safely to spoil Laconia, and also to besiege the city [it]self of Sparta, that had but a few men to defend it: he departed with his army from Corinth. Immediately after came Antigonus, and took it from him, and put a strong garrison into it.

When Cleomenes came before the city of Argos, he scaled the walls, and breaking [into the] Aspis, entered into the city, and joined with his garrison there, which yet resisted the Achaeans: and [he] taking other parts of the same also, assaulted the walls; [and his Cretan archers cleared the streets]. [But when he saw Antigonus with his phalanx descending from the mountains into the plain, and the horse on all sides entering the city, he thought it impossible to maintain his post; and, gathering] all his men together, and safely going down by the walls, retired without loss of any man.

So, when in short time he had conquered much, and had almost won all within Peloponnesus: in shorter space also, he lost all again. For, of [those] that were in his camp, some did presently forsake him: others also immediately after surrendered up [their] towns unto Antigonus.

Cleomenes being thus oppressed with the fortune of war, when he came back to Tegea with the rest of his army, news came to him in the night from Lacedaemon, which grieved him as much as the loss of all his conquests: for he was advertised of the death of his wife Agiatis, whom he loved so dearly, that in the midst of his chiefest prosperity and victories, he made often journeys to Sparta to see her. It could not be but a marvellous grief unto Cleomenes, who being a young man, had lost so virtuous and fair a young lady, so dearly beloved of him: and yet he gave not place unto his sorrow, neither did grief overcome his noble courage, but he used the selfsame voice, apparel, and countenance, that he did before.

Then taking order with his private captains about his affairs, and having provided also for the safety of the Tegeans: he went the next morning by break of day unto Sparta. After he had privately lamented the sorrow of his wife's death, with his mother and children, he presently bent his mind again to public causes.

Narration and Discussion

How was it that the Spartans, who had recently had so much success, were beaten by the Macedonians? Why did Cleomenes choose not to try to defend Argos against them?

Cleomenes was now at a difficult point, both personally and as the ruler and general of Sparta. What do you think would be his next move? If you could advise Cleomenes, what would you say to him?

Lesson Nine


Sparta was not powerful enough to stand against Macedonia alone, so Cleomenes asked for help from Egypt. King Ptolemy didn't require much in return: only Cleomenes' mother and son as hostages. At the same time, the Macedonians were attacking the borders of Spartan territory. It seemed that all would be lost; but "then there fell into his mind a marvellous great enterprise, unlooked for of every man."


in pledge: as hostages

expedient: good, beneficial

he did manumize all the helots etc.: The helots were the lowest class in ancient Sparta, similar to serfs. By encouraging them to buy their freedom, Cleomenes raised enough money to outfit his army.

nothing was more requisite than celerity: speed was essential

fair and softly: at a leisurely pace


Part One

Now Cleomenes had sent unto Ptolemy, king of Egypt, who had promised him aid, but upon demand to have his mother and children in pledge. So he was a long time before he would for shame make his mother privy unto it, and went oftentimes of purpose to let her understand it: but when he first came, he had not the heart to break it to her.

She first suspecting a thing, asked Cleomenes' friends, if her son had not somewhat to say unto her, that he durst not utter. [At last, Cleomenes venturing to tell her], she fell a-laughing, and told him: "Why, how cometh it to pass, that thou hast kept it thus long, and wouldst not tell me? Come, come," said she, "put me straight into a ship, and send me whither thou wilt, that this body of mine may do some good unto my country, before crooked age consume[s] my life without profit."

Then all things being prepared for the journey, they went by land, accompanied with the army, [to] Taenarus. Where Cratesiclea being ready to embark, she took Cleomenes aside into the temple of Neptune, and embracing and kissing him, perceiving that his heart yearned for sorrow of her departure, she said unto him: "O King of Laecedaemon, let no man see for shame, when we come out of the temple, that we have wept and dishonoured Sparta. For that only is in our power, and for the rest, as it pleaseth the gods, so let it be." When she had spoken these words, and fashioned her countenance again: she went then to take her ship, with a little son of Cleomenes, and commanded the master of the ship to hoist sail.

Now when she was arrived in Egypt, and understood that King Ptolemy received ambassadors from Antigonus, and were in talk to make peace with him: and hearing also that Cleomenes [though the Achaeans invited and urged him to an agreement, was afraid, for her sake, to come to any, without Ptolemy's consent]; she wrote unto him, that he should not spare to do anything that should be expedient for the honour of Sparta, without fear of displeasing Ptolemy, or for regards of an old woman and a young boy. Such was the noble mind of this worthy lady in her son Cleomenes' adversity.

Part Two

Furthermore, Antigonus having taken the city of Tegea, and sacked the other cities of Orchomenum, and Mantinea: Cleomenes seeing himself brought to defend the borders only of Laconia, he did manumize all the helots, paying five Attica minas a man. With that money he made the sum of five hundred talents, and armed two thousand of these freed slaves after the Macedonian fashion to fight against the Leucaspides ("the white shields"); and then there fell into his mind a marvellous great enterprise, unlooked for of every man.

The city of Megalopolis at that time being as great as Sparta, and having the aid of the Achaeans and Antigonus at hand (whom the Achaeans as it seemed had brought in, chiefly at the request of the Megalopolitans); Cleomenes determining to sack this city, and knowing that to bring it to pass, nothing was more requisite than celerity: he commanded his soldiers to victual themselves for five days, and marching with the choice of all his army towards Selasia, as though he had meant to have spoiled the Argives, suddenly turning from thence, he invaded the country of the Megalopolitans, and supping by Roetium, went straight by Elicunta unto the city.

When he was come near unto it, he sent Panteas before with speed, with two bands of the Lacedaemonians, and commanded him to take a certain piece of the wall between two towers, which he knew was not kept nor guarded: and he followed him also with the rest of his army coming on fair and softly. When Panteas came thither, finding not only that place of the wall without guard or watch which Cleomenes had told him of, but also the most part of that side without defence: he took some part of the wall at his first coming, and manned it, and overthrew another piece of it also, putting them all to the sword that did defend it, and then came Cleomenes, and [he] was within the city with his army, before the Megalopolitans knew of his coming.

At length, the citizens understanding that the city was taken, some fled in haste, conveying such light things as came to hand, in so great a fear: and the others also arming themselves, ran together to resist the enemies. But though they valiantly fought to repulse them out of the city, and yet prevailed not: they gave the rest leisure there to flee and save themselves, so that there remained not behind, above a thousand men. For all the rest were led with their wives and children, into the city of Messena. The most part of them also that fought with the enemies, saved themselves, and very few were taken, the chiefest whereof were Lysandridas, and Thearidas, the noblest persons that were amongst the Megalopolitans: wherefore when the soldiers had taken them, they brought them unto Cleomenes.

Lysandridas, when he saw Cleomenes a good way off, cried out aloud unto him: "O King of Lacedaemon, this day thou hast an occasion offered thee to do a more famous princely act, than that which thou hast already done, and that will make thy name also more glorious."

Cleomenes musing what he would request: "Well," quoth he, "what is that thou requirest? One thing I will tell thee beforehand, thou shalt not make me restore your city to you again."

"Yet," quoth Lysandridas, "let me request thus much then, that ye do not destroy it, but rather replenish it with friends and confederates, which hereafter will be true and faithful to you: and that shall you do, giving the Megalopolitans their city again, and preserving such a number of people as have forsaken it."

Cleomenes pausing awhile, answered [that] it was a hard thing to believe that: "But yet," quoth he, "let honour take place with us, before profit."

After that, he sent a herald straight unto Messena unto them that were fled thither, and told them that he was contented to offer them their city again, so that they would become good friends and confederates of the Lacedaemonians, forsaking the alliance of the Achaeans. [But though Cleomenes made these generous and humane proposals, Philopoemen would not suffer them to break their league with the Achaeans; and accusing Cleomenes to the people, as if his design was not to restore the city, but to take the citizens too, he forced Thearidas and Lysandridas to leave Messene. This news coming to Cleomenes, though he had before taken strict care that the city should not be plundered, yet then, being in anger, and out of all patience, he despoiled the place of all the valuables, and sent the statues and the pictures to Sparta; and demolish[ed] a great part of the city.

Narration and Discussion

Was the plan to capture Megalopolis a good one? Why was it unsuccessful? Where might this leave the Spartans?

Cleomenes said to Lysandrides, "Let honour take place with us, before profit." Dryden translates it, "With us let profit always yield to glory." What did Cleomenes mean?

Lesson Ten


In the summer of 222 B.C., the Spartans fought one last time against the combined armies of the Achaean League and the Macedonians. Their defeat was not obvious from the start, although the Spartans were outnumbered (something that didn't usually deter them). If Cleomenes had been able to hold out just a bit longer, Plutarch says, things might have ended differently; but the difference in numbers, a lack of money, and an act of treason combined to spell disaster.


opprobrious: scornful, critical

garrison: military troops

Phliunta: Dryden: "Philius"

unfoiled: unbeaten

circumspect: cautious, guarded

Historic Occasions

222 B.C.: the Battle of Selasia/Sellasia


Part One

[Knowing very well that the Macedonians were dispersed into their winter-quarters, and that Antigonus with his friends and a few mercenaries about him wintered in Argos, upon these considerations (Cleomenes) invaded the country of the Argives, hoping to shame Antigonus to a battle upon unequal terms, or else if he did not dare to fight, to disrepute with the Achaeans. And this accordingly happened. For Cleomenes wasting, plundering, and spoiling the whole country, the Argives, in grief and anger at the loss, gathered in crowds at the king's gates, crying out that he should either fight, or surrender his command to better and braver men.]

But Antigonus, like a wise and excellent captain, thinking it a dishonour to him rashly to put himself in danger, and his friends also, though he were provoked with many injuries and opprobrious words: would not go into the field, but stood constant in his first determination.

[A little while after, being informed that Antigonus designed a new advance to Tegea, and thence to invade Laconia, (Cleomenes) rapidly took his soldiers, and marching by a side-road, appeared early in the morning before Argos, and wasted the fields about it. The corn he did not cut down, as is usual, with reaping hooks and knives, but beat it down with great wooden staves made like broadswords, as if, in mere contempt and wanton scorn, while travelling on his way, without any effort or trouble, he spoiled and destroyed their harvest.]

But when they came to the [exercise ground] called Cyllabaris, certain of the soldiers going about to have set it afire, Cleomenes would not suffer them, and told them that [the mischief] he had done at Megalopolis was rather angrily than honestly done.

[And when Antigonus, first of all, came hastily back to Argos, and then occupied the mountains and passes with his posts, he professed to disregard and despise it all]; and sent heralds to him to desire the keys of the temple of Juno, [as if] after he had done sacrifice, he would depart his way. Thus mocking Antigonus, after he [Cleomenes] had sacrificed unto the goddess, under the temple that was shut up, he sent his army unto Phliunta, and having driven away the garrison out of Ologunta, he came unto the city of Orchomenum, having not only encouraged his citizens, but gotten even amongst the enemies themselves a fame also to be a noble captain, and worthy to manage great affairs. For every man judged him to be a skillful soldier, and a valiant captain, that with the power of one only city, [he] did maintain war against the kingdom of Macedon, against all the people of Peloponnesus, and against the treasure of so great a king: and withal, not only to keep his own country of Laconia unfoiled, but far otherwise to hurt his enemies' countries, and to take so many great cities of theirs.

Part Two

King Antigonus, who by the greatness of his kingdom did defray the charge of this war, did weary and overcome Cleomenes at the length, because he lacked money both to pay the strangers that served him, and also to maintain his own citizens. For otherwise, doubtless the [advantage of time would have served Cleomenes'] turn well, because the troubles that fell upon Antigonus in his realm, did make him to be sent for home. If these letters had been brought [to] him but a little before the battle, Antigonus [would have] gone his way, and left the Achaeans. But fortune, that always striketh the stroke in all weightiest causes, gave much speed and favour unto time: that immediately after the battle was fought at Selasia (where Cleomenes lost his army and city), the very messengers arrived that came for Antigonus to come home, the which made the overthrow of King Cleomenes so much more lamentable.

For if he had delayed battle but two days longer, when the Macedonians had been gone, he might have made what peace he would with the Achaeans: but for lack of money, he was driven (as Polybius writeth) to give battle, with twenty thousand men, against thirty thousand: where he shewed himself an excellent and skillful captain, and where his citizens also fought like valiant men, and the strangers in like case did shew themselves good soldiers. But his only overthrow was [first] by the manner of his enemies' weapons, and [second] the force of their battle of footmen.

But Phylarchus writeth, that treason was the cause of his overthrow. For Antigonus had appointed the Acarnanians, and the Illyrians which he had in his army, to steal upon the wings of his enemy's army, where Euclidas, Cleomenes' brother was, to compass him in behind, whilst he did set the rest of his men in battle.

When Cleomenes was got up upon some hill to look about him, to see the countenance of the enemy, and seeing none of the Acarnanians, nor of the Illyrians: he was then afraid of Antigonus, that he went about some stratagem of war. Wherefore he called for Demoteles, whose charge was to take heed of stratagems and secret ambushes, and commanded him to look to the rearward of his army, and to be very circumspect all about. Demoteles, that was bribed before (as it is reported) with money, told him that all was clear in the rearward, and bade him look to overthrow his enemies before him. Cleomenes trusting this report, set forward against Antigonus, and in the end, his citizens of Sparta which he had about him, gave such a fierce charge upon the squadron of the Macedonian footmen, that they drave them back [about half a mile] off.

But in the meantime, Euclidas his brother, in the other wing of his army, being compassed in behind, Cleomenes turning him back, and seeing the overthrow, cried out aloud: "Alas, good brother, thou art but slain, yet thou diest valiantly, and honestly, and thy death shall be a worthy example unto all posterity, and shall be sung by the praises of the women of Sparta." So Euclidas and his men being slain, the enemies came straight to set upon Cleomenes' wing. Cleomenes then seeing his men discouraged, and that they durst no longer resist the enemy, fled, and saved himself. Many of the strangers also that served him, were slain at this battle: and of six thousand Spartans, there were left alive but only two hundred.

Part Three

Now Cleomenes being returned unto Sparta, the citizens coming to see him, he gave them counsel to yield themselves unto Antigonus the conqueror: and for himself, if either alive or dead he could do anything for the honour and benefit of Sparta, that he would willingly do it. The women of the city also, coming unto them that fleeing had escaped with him, when he saw them unarm the men, and bring them drink to refresh them with; he also went home to his own house.

Then a maid of the house, which he had taken in the city of Megalopolis (and whom he had entertained ever since the death of his wife) came unto him as her manner was, to refresh him coming hot from the battle: howbeit he would not drink though he was extreme dry, nor sit being very weary, but armed as he was, laid his arm across upon a pillar, and leaning his head upon it, reposed himself a little, and casting in his mind all the ways that were to be thought of; [and then with his friends set out at once for] the haven of Gythium, and there having his ships which he had appointed for the purpose, he hoisted sail, and departed his way.

Immediately after his departure, came Antigonus into the city of Sparta, and courteously entreated the citizens and inhabitants he found, and did offend no man, nor proudly despise the ancient honour and dignity of Sparta but referring them to their own laws and government. When he had sacrificed to the gods for his victory, he departed from thence the third day, news being brought him that the war was very great in Macedon, and that the barbarous people did spoil his country.

[Antigonus died shortly after this.]

Narration and Discussion

Plutarch says that Cleomenes had ships ready to sail him away in the harbour. Had he perhaps foreseen a possible loss in this battle?

Antigonus appears to have been an unexpectedly gracious victor over the Spartans. As a creative narration, cover these events as a Spartan news reporter (or a news team, if you have a group). You may want to interview Spartan citizens, or Antigonus himself.

Lesson Eleven


After losing his kingdom at the Battle of Selasia, Cleomenes escaped to Egypt, where he hoped to find protection, and possibly some support for the Spartan cause.


vaunt: boast

no special good: no great welcome

lasciviousness: depravity, sinfulness

tabor: drum

privy council: private advisors

strangers: foreigners


Part One

Now Cleomenes departing out the Isle of Cythera, went and cast anchor in another island, called Aegialia. Then determining to sail over to the city of Cyrena, Therycion, one of Cleomenes' friends (a man that in wars shewed himself very valiant, but a boaster beside of his own doings) took Cleomenes aside, and said thus unto him:

"Truly O King, we have lost an honourable occasion to die in battle, though every man hath heard us vaunt and say, that Antigonus should never overcome the king of Sparta alive, but dead. A second occasion yet is offered us to die, with much less honour and fame notwithstanding, than the first. Whither do we sail to no purpose? Why do we flee the death at hand, and seek it so far off? If it be no shame nor dishonour for the posterity and race of Hercules to serve the successors of Philip and Alexander: let us save ourselves unto Antigonus, who in likelihood will better use us than Ptolemy, because the Macedonians are far more nobler persons than the Egyptians. And if we disdain to be commanded by them which have overcome us in battle, why then will we make him lord of us, that hath not overcome us: instead of one, to make us inferior unto both, fleeing Antigonus, and serving King Ptolemy? Can we say that we go into Egypt, in respect to see your mother there? A joyful sight no doubt, when she shall shew King Ptolemy's wives her son, that before was a king, a prisoner, and fugitive now. Were it not better for us, that having yet Laconia our country in sight, and our swords besides in our own hands, to deliver us from this great misery, [and clear ourselves to those who at Selasia died for the honour and defense of Sparta? Or, shall we sit lazily in Egypt, inquiring what news from Sparta, and whom Antigonus hath been pleased to make governor of Lacedaemon]?"

Therycion ending his oration, Cleomenes answered him thus:

"Dost thou think it a glory for thee to seek death, which is the easiest matter, and the presentest unto any man, that can be and yet, wretch that thou art, thou fleest now more cowardly and shamefully, than from the battle. For divers valiant men, and far better than ourselves, have often yielded unto their enemies, either by some misfortune, or compelled by greater number and multitude of men: but he, say I, that submitteth himself unto pain and misery [because of the] reproach and praise of men, he cannot but confess that he is overcome by his own unhappiness. For, when a man will willingly kill himself, he must not do it to be rid of pains and labour, but it must have an honourable respect and action. For, to live or die for his own respect, that cannot but be dishonourable: the which now thou persuadest me unto, to make me flee this present misery we are in, without any honour or profit in our death. And therefore, I am of opinion, that we should not yet cast off the hope we have to serve our country in time to come: but when all hope faileth us, then we may easily make ourselves away when we list."

Thereunto Therycion gave no answer, but as soon as he found opportunity to slip from Cleomenes, he went to the seaside, and slew himself.

Part Two

Cleomenes hoisting sail from the Isle of Aegialia, [landed in Libya], and was brought by the king's servants unto the city of Alexandria. King Ptolemy at his first coming, gave Cleomenes no special good, but indifferent entertainment. But after that he had shewed himself to be of great wisdom and judgment, and that Ptolemy saw in the simplicity of his Laconian life he had also a noble disposition and courage, nothing [unbecoming his birth], and that he yielded not to his adversity: he took more delight in his company, than in all the company of his flatterers and hangers on him. He then repented him greatly, that he had made no more account of him before, but had suffered him to be overthrown by Antigonus, who through the victory [over the Spartans], had marvellously enlarged his honour and power. Then he began to comfort Cleomenes, and doing him as great honour as could be, promised that he would send him with ships and money into Greece, and put him again into his kingdom: and further, gave him an annual pension in the meantime, of four-and-twenty talents, with the which he simply and soberly entertained himself and his men about him: and bestowed all the rest [in assisting] his countrymen that came out of Greece into Egypt.

Part Three

But now, old King Ptolemy [dying] before he could perform the promise he made unto Cleomenes, to send him into Greece: the realm falling then into great lasciviousness, drunkenness, and into the government of women, his case and misery was clean forgotten. For the young king his son was so given over to women and wine, that when he was most sober, and in his best wits, he most disposed himself to make feasts and sacrifices, and to have the tabor playing in his court, to gather people together, like a stage player or juggler, whilst [his women] did rule all the affairs of the state.

But when he [Ptolemy IV] came to be king, it appeared he had need of Cleomenes: because he was afraid of his brother Magas, who by his mother's means, was very well esteemed of among soldiers. Wherefore he called Cleomenes to him, and made him [one] of his privy council, [and acquainted him with the design of taking off his brother]. All other [of] his friends did counsel him to do it: but Cleomenes only vehemently dissuaded him from it, and told him, that if it were possible, rather more brethren should be begotten unto the king for the safety of his person, and for dividing of the affairs of the kingdom between them.

Amongst the king's familiars that was chiefest about him, there was one Sosibius, that said unto Cleomenes: so long as [Ptolemy's] brother Magas lived, the soldiers that be strangers, whom the king entertained, would never be true to him. Cleomenes answered him, [that] for that matter there was no danger: for saith he, of those hired strangers, there are three thousand Peloponnesians, which he knew at the twinkling of an eye, would be at his commandment, to come with their armour and weapon[s] where he would appoint them.

These words of Cleomenes at that time shewed his faith and good will he bare unto the king, and the force he was of besides. But afterwards, Ptolemy's fearfulness increasing his mistrust: (as it commonly happeneth, that they that lack wit, think it the best safety to be fearful of every wagging of a straw, and to mistrust every man) the remembrance of Cleomenes' words made him much suspected of the courtiers, understanding that he could do so much with the soldiers that were strangers: insomuch as some of them said, "See (meaning Cleomenes), there is a lion amongst sheep." Indeed, considering his fashions and behaviour, they might well say so of him: for he would look through his fingers as though he saw nothing, and yet saw all what they did.

Narration and Discussion

Why did Therycion think it would be better to face Antigonus, rather than flee to Egypt? What was Cleomenes' response?

How were Cleomenes' words to Sosibius misinterpreted? Are there any lessons to be learned from this?

Lesson Twelve


Cleomenes expected that his safety in Egypt would continue, but he soon became the victim of a conspiracy. By the time he realized his own danger, escape seemed unlikely.


required: requested

masques: parties

keep his house: he was placed under house arrest

timbrel: tambourine

fair and softly: slowly

repulsed, and put by his purpose: stymied in his attempts

yielded up the ghost: died


Ptolemy the son of Chrysermus: there are three Ptolemys in this passage

Antigonus, a brave warrior, and a man of action: an interesting contrast to the negative terms used in Lesson Seven

Historic Occasions

219 B.C.: the death of Cleomenes


Part One

[Cleomenes] required an army and ships of the king: and understanding also that Antigonus was dead, and that the Achaeans and Aetolians were at great wars together, and that the affairs of his country did call him home, all Peloponnesus being in arms and uproar, he prayed that they would licence him to depart with his friends. But never a man would give ear unto him, and the king also heard nothing of it, because he was continually entertained among ladies, with banquets, dancing, and masques.

But Sosibius, that ruled all the realm, thought that to keep Cleomenes against his will, were a hard thing, and also dangerous: and to let him go also, knowing that he was a valiant man, and of a stirring mind, and one that knew the vices and imperfections of their government: he thought that also no safe way, since no gifts nor presents that could be offered him, could soften him.

Now Cleomenes standing in these terms, there arrived in Alexandria one Nicagoras Messenian, who maliced Cleomenes in his heart, but yet shewed as though he loved him. This Nicagoras on a time had sold Cleomenes certain land, but was not paid for it, either because he had no present money, or else by occasion of the wars which gave him no leisure to make payment. Cleomenes, one day by chance walking upon the sands, he saw Nicagoras landing out of his ship, being newly arrived, and knowing him, he courteously welcomed him, and asked what wind had brought him into Egypt. Nicagoras gently saluting him again, told him that he had brought the king excellent horse[s] of service. Cleomenes smiling, told him, "Thou hadst been better have brought him some [dancers and people to amuse him, my paraphrase], for they would have pleased the king better." Nicagoras faintly laughed at his answer, but within [a] few days after he did put him in remembrance of the land he sold him, and prayed him then that he would help him to money, telling him that he would not have pressed him for it, but that he had sustained loss by merchandise.

Cleomenes answered him, that all his pension was spent [that] he had of the king. Nicagoras being offended with this answer, he went and told Sosibius of the mock Cleomenes gave the king. Sosibius was glad of this occasion, but yet desiring further matter to make the king offended with Cleomenes, he persuaded Nicagoras to write a letter to the king against Cleomenes, as though he had conspired to take the city of Cyrena, if the king had given him ships, money, and men of war. When Nicagoras had written this letter, he took ship, and hoisted sail.

Four days after his departure, Sosibius brought his letter to the king, as though he had but newly received it. The king upon sight of it was so offended with Cleomenes, that he gave present order he should be shut up in a great house, where he should have his ordinary diet allowed him, howbeit that he should keep his house.

Part Two

This grieved Cleomenes much, but yet he was worse afraid of that which was to come, by this occasion: Ptolemy the son of Chrysermus, one of the king's familiars, who had oftentimes before been very conversant and familiar with Cleomenes, and did frankly talk together in all matters: Cleomenes one day sent for him, to pray him to come unto him. Ptolemy came at his request, and familiarly discoursing together, went about to dissuade him from all the suspicions he had, and excused the king also for that he had done unto him: so taking his leave he left him, not thinking that Cleomenes followed him (as he did) to the gate, where he sharply took up the soldiers, saying, that they were very negligent and careless in looking to "such a fearful beast as he was," and so ill to be taken, if he once [e]scaped their hands. Cleomenes heard what he said, and went into his lodging again, Ptolemy knowing nothing that he was behind him: and [Cleomenes] reported the very words again unto his friends.

Then all the Spartans converting their good hope into anger, determined to be revenged of the injury Ptolemy had done them, and to die like noble Spartans, [and not stay till, like fatted sacrifices, they were butchered. For it was both grievous and dishonourable for Cleomenes, who had scorned to come to terms with Antigonus, a brave warrior, and a man of action, to wait an effeminate king's leisure, till he should lay aside his timbrel and end his dance, and then kill him]. They being fully resolved hereof, as you have heard: King Ptolemy by chance went unto the city of Canobus [or Canopus], and first they gave out in Alexandria, that the king minded to set Cleomenes at liberty. Then Cleomenes' friends observing the custom of the kings of Egypt, when they meant to set a prisoner at liberty (which was, to send the prisoners meat, and presents) did sent unto him such manner of presents, and so deceived the soldiers that had the keeping of him, saying, that they brought those presents from the king. For Cleomenes himself did sacrifice unto the gods, and sent unto the soldiers that kept him, part of those presents that were sent unto him, and supping with his friends that night, made merry with them, every man being crowned with garlands.

Part Three

Cleomenes about noon, perceiving the soldiers had taken in their cups, and that they were asleep: he put on his coat, and [ripping it open] on the right shoulder, went out of the house with his sword drawn in his hand, accompanied with his friends, following him in that sort, which were thirty in all.

Amongst them there was one called Hippotas, who being lame, went very lively out with them at the first: but when he saw they went fair and softly because of him, he prayed them to kill him, because they should not hinder their enterprise for a lame man that could do them no service. Notwithstanding, by chance they met with a townsman a-horseback, that came hard by their door, whom they plucked from his horse, and cast Hippotas upon him: and then ran through the city, and cried to the people, "Liberty, liberty."

Now the people had no other courage in them, but only commended Cleomenes, and wondered at his valiantness: but otherwise to follow him, or to further his enterprise, not a man of them had any heart in them. Thus running up and down the town, they met with Ptolemy (the same whom we said before was the son of Chrysermus) as he came out of the court: whereupon three of them setting on him, slew him presently. There was also another Ptolemy that was governor and lieutenant of the city of Alexandria: who hearing a rumour of this stir, came unto him in his coach. They went and met him, and first having driven away his guard and soldiers that went before him, they plucked him out of his coach, and slew him also. After that they went towards the castle, with intent to set all the prisoners there at liberty to take their part. Howbeit the jailers that kept them had so strongly locked up the prison doors, that Cleomenes was repulsed, and put by his purpose. Thus wandering up and down the city, no man neither came to join with him, nor to resist him, for every man fled for fear of him. Wherefore at length being weary with going up and down, he turned him to his friends, and said unto them: "It is no marvel [that] women command such a cowardly people, that flee in this sort from their liberty." Thereupon he prayed them all to die like men, and like those that were brought up with him, and that were worthy of the fame of his so noble deeds.

Then the first man that made himself be slain, was Hippotas, who died of a wound one of the young men of his company gave him with a sword at his request. After him every man slew themselves, one after another, without any fear at all, saving Panteas, who was the first man that entered the city of Megalopolis. He was a fair young man, and had been very well brought up in the Laconian discipline, and better than any man of his years. Cleomenes did love him dearly, and commanded him that when he should see he were dead, and all the rest also, that then he should kill himself last of all.

Now they all being laid on the ground, he [Panteas] searched them one after another with the point of his sword, to see if there were any of them yet let alive: and when he had pricked Cleomenes on the heel amongst others, and saw that he did yet knit his brows, he kissed him, and sat down by him. Then perceiving that he had yielded up the ghost, embracing him when he was dead, he also slew himself, and fell upon him. Thus Cleomenes having reigned [as] king of Sparta sixteen years, being the same manner of man we have described him to be: he ended his days in this sort as ye hear.

Narration and Discussion

What outcome did Cleomenes and his companions expect from their attempted rebellion? What seems to have finally discouraged them and caused them to take their own lives?

What are some characteristics of heroes? Would you call either Agis or Cleomenes a hero?

For older students, or those wishing to go deeper:

Plutarch's original introduction to Agis and Cleomenes contains these lines:

Overmuch praise is dangerous in every person, but chiefly in ambitious governors. For if they be men of great power, it makes them commit many desperate parts [acts]: for they will not allow that honour proceeds of virtue, but that honour is virtue itself . . .

For they . . . seeking to increase the power of the common people, and to restore the just and honest government again of the commonwealth of Lacedaemon, which for long time had been out of use: did in like manner purchase the hate of the nobility, which were loath to lose any part of their wonted covetousness.

Continue the passage, in the style of Plutarch, describing the lives and leadership of Agis and Cleomenes.