ABSTRACT

The lives of Agis IV and Cleomenes III are the stuff of novels, ancient as well as modern. After Lycurgus the lawgiver, Leonidas, and Agesilaus II, they are the most famous exemplars of Laconism, bulking largest in the tortuous annals of the ‘Spartan mirage’. Although it has to be added that the Greeks’ political vocabulary suggests their line between ‘innovation’ or even ‘change’ and ‘revolution’ was much thinner than ours between ‘revolution’ and ‘reform’, some such apparently self-contradictory construct as ‘revolutionary reaction’ may be required to capture the full flavour of the projects of Agis and Cleomenes. Whatever the truth about its background, Cleomenes’ seizure of the commanding heights of Spartan power could not have been effected without the calculatedly minimal use of violence involved in the killing of four Ephors and about ten of their supporters and the exiling of a further eighty. A vaguely Cleomenean political tendency at Sparta survived the Battle of Sellasia.