Cleomenes I King of Sparta (reigned c. 520-c. 490 B.C.)

Kings Agis and Cleomenes of Sparta. Engraving by M Burg. Late 17th century
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Ancient Greece > Sparta > Cleomenes

Cleomenes I (died c. 490 B.C.) was an Agiad king of Sparta and the half-brother of Leonidas of The 300 fame. The Agidae traced their lineage back to Heracles because according to legend, the Heraclidae (descendants of Heracles) invaded the Peloponnese to reclaim their paternal inheritance and establish themselves as rulers.

" 204. Of these troops... yet he who was most held in regard and who was leader of the whole army was the Lacedemonian Leonidas son of Anaxandrides, son of Leon, son of Eurycratides, son of Anaxander, son of Eurycrates, son of Polydoros, son of Alcamenes, son of Teleclos, son of Archelaos, son of Hegesilaos, son of Doryssos, son of Leobotes, son of Echestratos, son of Agis, son of Eurysthenes, son of Aristodemos, son of Aristomachos, son of Cleodaios, son of Hyllos, son of Heracles; who had obtained the kingdom of Sparta...."
Herodotus Book VII

Cleomenes intervened in the affairs of Athens. In 510, he expelled the tyrant Hippias and then supported the oligarchic opponents of Cleisthenes, one of the founders of Athenian democracy.

At the start of Cleomenes' reign, Sparta was the dominant power in Greece. Sparta had allies linked to her by individual treaties, but there was not yet a Peloponnesian League. When Cleomenes tried to gather these allies together to go to war in Attica, they refused. The alliances then became the Peloponnesian League (a symmachy) for which each polis sent representatives to an assembly that made binding decisions for all.

After a noteworthy reign, including advising the Plataeans to ally with Athens against Boeotia, and leading a coup against Argos, in which Cartledge says 6000 Argive warriors were killed, Cleomenes fell out of favor for erratic behavior which included such things as corrupting the priestess at Delphi:

"66. At last, as there was contention about those matters, the Spartans resolved to ask the Oracle at Delphi whether Demaratos was the son of Ariston. The question then having been referred by the arrangement of Cleomenes to the Pythian prophetess, thereupon Cleomenes gained over to his side Cobon the son of Aristophantos, who had most power among the Delphians, and Cobin persuaded Perialla the prophetess of the Oracle ] to say that which Cleomenes desired to have said. Thus the Pythian prophetess, when those who were sent to consult the god asked her their question, gave decision that Demaratos was not the son of Ariston. Afterwards however these things became known, and both Cobon went into exile from Delphi and Perialla the prophetess of the Oracle was removed from her office."
Herodotus Book VI

He was also criticized for excessive drinking of neat wine (which was considered a barbarian custom by the temperate Spartans). Eventually, Cleomenes was imprisoned. There he managed to commandeer a knife which he used to commit a gruesome suicide.

"75. The Lacedemonians, hearing that Cleomenes was acting thus, were afraid, and proceeded to bring him back to Sparta to rule on the same terms as before: but when he had come back, forthwith a disease of madness seized him (who had been even before this somewhat insane [64]), and whenever he met any of the Spartans, he dashed his staff against the man's face. And as he continued to do this and had gone quite out of his senses, his kinsmen bound him in stocks. Then being so bound, and seeing his warder left alone by the rest, he asked him for a knife; and the warder not being at first willing to give it, he threatened him with that which he would do to him afterwards if he did not; until at last the warder fearing the threats, for he was one of the Helots, gave him a knife. Then Cleomenes, when he had received the steel, began to maltreat himself from the legs upwards: for he went on cutting his flesh lengthways from the legs to the thighs and from the thighs to the loins and flanks, until at last he came to the belly; and cutting this into strips he died in that manner."

His only heir was his wise daughter Gorgo. This status made her a patrouchos. Gorgo married an uncle, Cleomenes younger half-brother, Leonidas.


  • "Sparta and the Ionian Revolt: A Study of Spartan Foreign Policy and the Genesis of the Peloponnesian League," Jakob A. O. Larsen. Classical Philology, Vol. 27, No. 2. (Apr., 1932), pp. 136-150.
  • "Dorians" The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Ed. M.C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Paul Cartledge, The Spartans.
  • Spartan Agoge, Kings, and 300

Alternate Spellings: Kleomenes, Κλεομένης