Cleonymus of Sparta

Cleonymus was a member of the Spartan royal family of the Agiads. He was the second son of Cleomenes II and a pretender to the Spartan throne. He did not succeed his father (died 309/308 BCE), allegedly because he was violent and tyrannic. His nephew Areus I became new king instead. Hence, he nursed a grudge against his fellow Spartans.[1]

To help Taranto against the Lucani, Cleonymus went as mercenary leader to southern Italy with the backing of the Spartan administration (303 BCE). There are two different accounts of his Italian expedition; one were written by Diodorus Siculus and one by Livy. But the relations between the two sources are unclarified. The historian Thomas Lenschau supposes that they describe two different campaigns of Cleonymus: that one described by Diodorus Siculus would have taken place in 303 BCE and that one described by Livy in 302 BCE.[2]

According to Diodorus Siculus Cleonymus raised such a large army that the Lucani immediately concluded peace. Then the Spartan prince took the city of Metaponto and sailed to Corcyra which island he also quickly captured. Learning that Taranto and other cities had broken with him he sailed back and was at first successful, but then he was defeated at a night attack. Since a lot of his ships were destroyed by a storm at the same time he had to withdraw to Corcyra (303/302 BCE).[3]

Probably in the next year (302 BCE) Cleonymus returned to Italy and – according to Livy – first conquered a city called Thuriae, which is not exactly localized. But Roman armies forced him to go back to his ships. He then sailed to the north across the Adriatic Sea and landed at the coast of the Veneti. From the mouth of the Meduacus (now Brenta River) he sailed upstream to the country of Patavium (now Padua) and raided the nearby villages. But the natives defeated him and he suffered great losses – allegedly four fifths of his ships were destroyed. Cleonymus had to leave the territory of Patavium. It is unknown how his campaign ended.[4]

Cleonymus is next mentioned in 293 BCE. By then he seems to have returned to Sparta and was now sent to Boeotia to help the inhabitants against Demetrius I Poliorcetes. But when this diadoch arrived with an army Cleonymus withdrew.[5]

As an older man Cleonymus married the beautiful Chilonis as his second wife. Chilonis was the daughter of Leotychidas, who was a member of the other Spartan royal family of the Eurypontids. However, Chilonis loved Acrotatus II, the grand-nephew of Cleonymus. Deeply offended Cleonymus left Sparta and, in 272 BCE, persuaded Pyrrhus to back his claim to the Spartan throne. Pyrrhus was confident he could take the city of Sparta with ease, however, the Spartans, with even the women taking part in the defense, succeeded in beating off Pyrrhus' attacks[6]. At this point Pyrrhus received an appeal for help from his supporters in Argos which was being attacked by Antigonus Gonatas and he called off the attack[7]. Cleonymus does not appear in the sources after this event any more so that his further lot is unknown.


  1. ^ Plutarch, Pyrrhus 26
  2. ^ Thomas Lenschau, RE XI 1, col. 732
  3. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 20.104-105
  4. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita 10.2
  5. ^ Plutarch, Demetrius 39
  6. ^ Plutarch, Pyrrhus 26sqq.; Historians History of the World, Editor: Henry Smith Williams vol. 4 pp. 512-13
  7. ^ Peter Green, Alexander to Actium p. 144


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