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The Spartan kingship

The Spartan Dyarchy.
Sparta was unique in maintaining a dyarchy two kings holding office simultaneously. The origins of this odd arrangement are lost in antiquity and shrouded in legend. According to the Spartans, the institution dated from the twin sons of Aristodemus, the great-great-grandson of Heracles (Hercules), the son of Zeus. The Spartans traced their arrival in the Peloponnese to the mythic return of Heracles' descendants. Unsurprisingly, the cult of the twin heroes Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux), brothers of Queen Helen of Trojan War fame, was especially strong in Sparta.

It is possible there is an element of truth to some aspects of these legends, since a propensity to twins is genetic and there is evidence it ran in the historical Spartan line (Leonidas I and Cleombrotus, for example, were twins). Twin births in dynasties have occurred in other places and times and always cause confusion and discord when the rights of the firstborn are paramount. (In some instances, the second twin has been immediately put to death.) Perhaps the early Spartans, when faced with such a dilemma, took the unusual position of dividing the royal power and duties between two princes, each serving to check the other's potential despotism. Most likely, though, the dual monarchy originates in a compromise between two disparate but related tribes of Dorian invaders who settled in Laconia in the 900's B.C. Or possibly it represents a more or less peaceful merger between the conquerors and the native aristocracy.

The Origins of Spartan Royalty.
The list of kings believed to be historical and not purely legendary begins with the grandsons of Aristodemus, Agis and Eurypon, who gave their names to their respective dynasties. The Agiad line was traditionally held to be the senior of the two, but this apparently counted for very little in practical terms. We know practically nothing about other members of the royal houses: queens, junior sons, daughters, or other relatives. Yet this network must have become enormous, much like the current British royal family and senior peerage, and probably constituted an aristocracy of sorts among the Spartan citizen class one whose bloodlines possibly run through southern Greece to this very day.

The relationship of each king to his predecessor is indicated in parentheses.

 

MYTHICAL ANCESTRIES

Heracles
Hyllus
Cleodaeus
Aristomachus
Aristodemus
Eurysthenes Procles
Sous
Agis Eurypon

(The two boldfaced names mark the end of the "mythical" ancestries).

 

HISTORICAL ANCESTRIES

Agiad House

Eurypontid House

Unknown

Agis I (930-900?) Eurypon (895-865?)
Echestratus (900-870?) Prytanis (865-835?)
Leobotas (870-840?) Polydectes (835-805?)
Doryssus (840-815?) Eunomus (805-775?)
Agesilaus I (815-785?) Charillus (c. 775-750)
Archelaus (c.785-760) Nicander (c.750-720)
Teleclus (c.760-c.740) Theopompus (c.720-675)
Alacamenes (c.740-700) Anaxandridas (c.675-660)
Polydorus (c.700-c.665) Archidamus I (c.660-645)
Eurycrates (c.665-c.640) Anaxilas (c.645-c.625)
Anaxander (c.640-c.615) Leotychidas I (c.625-600)
Eurycratidas (c.615-c.590) Hippocratidas (c.600-575)
Leon (c.590-c.560) Agasicles (c.575-550)
Anaxandridas I
(c.560-c.520)
Ariston (c.550-c.515)
Cleomenes I (son)
(c.520-c.490)
Demaratus (son)
(c.515-491)
Leonidas I (half-brother)
(c.490-480)
Leotychidas II (cousin)
(491-476)
Pleistarchus (son)
(480-458)
Archidamus II (grandson)
(king regent: 476-469?
in his own right: 469-427)
Pleistoanax
(cousin; son of the regent
Pausanias, nephew of Leonidas)

(458-408)
In exile c.445-c.427
Agis II (son)
(427-399)
Pausanias (son)
(king regent: c.445-c.427;
in his own right: 408-395)
Agesilaus II (half-brother)
(399-360)
Agesipolis I (son)
(395-380)
Archidamus III (son)
(360-338)
Cleombrotus I (brother)
(380-371)
Agis III (son)
(338-331)
Agesipolis II (son)
(371-370)
Eudamidas I (brother)
(331-c.305)
Cleomenes II (brother)
(370-309)
Archidamus IV (son)
(c.305-c.275)
Areus I (grandson)
(309-265)
Eudamidas II (son)
(c.275-244)
Acrotatus (son)
(265-c.260)
Agis IV (son)
(244-241)
Areus II (son)
(c.260-c.251)
Eudamidas III (son)
(241-c.228)
Leonidas II
(grandson of Cleomenes II)
(c.251-236)
In exile c.243-241
Archidamus V
(uncle; brother of Agis IV)
(c.228-227)
Cleombrotus II
(son-in-law of Leonidas II;
reigned during Leonidas' exile)
(c.243-241)
Eucleidas
(an Agiad; brother of Cleomenes
III)
(c.227-222)
Cleomenes III
(son of Cleombrotus II)
(236-219)
(in exile, 222-219)
Lycurgus
(a Eurypontid descended from
Agis II)
(219-c.210)
Agesipolis III
(grandson of Cleombrotus II)
(219-215)
Deposed by Lycurgus and not
replaced.
Pelops (son)
(c.210-c.206)
Very young, under the regency
(c.210-207) of the tyrant
Machinidas, a man of royal
blood but whose connection to
the succession is unknown;
and then the tyrant Nabis
(see below) who deposed him. (c. 206)
  Nabis
(Descended from Demaratus
and styled himself as King.)

(c.207-192)
Laconicus
(of royal blood, relationship
unknown)
(192-???)
The last known king of Sparta.

 

The decline of Sparta.
The clear lines of relationship between the royal houses and the succession itself break down substantially by the end of the third century B.C., shortly before the institution of the Spartan monarchy withers away and is suppressed. A series of external wars coupled with internal revolutions and coups effectively ends the Lycurgan system of government after 192 B.C.; Sparta slips into its twilight and soon passes under the rule of Rome.

Historical discrepancies.
This list contains much that is disputable. John Lazenby (The Spartan Army), for example, believes that many of the early Eurypontid kings are spurious; he claims that the names are too serendipitous (Sous = "Savior"; Prytanis = "President"; Eunomus = "good government") to reflect real people. But all Greek names mean something: Leonidas = "lion's son"; Archidamus = "chief of the people"; Ariston = "the best"; Xanthus = "golden" and so on. There is even a "Prytanis" in the Iliad, so this is not wholly convincing.

There are also disagreements between ancient scholars: Herodotus and Pausanias give different names for four early Eurypontids (this list follows Herodotus) and Herodotus forgets Sous, who is nonetheless listed by the other writers. The ancient sources also imply that the succession ran direct from father to son up until the Persian Wars era, which is absurd given the long reigns ascribed to some kings. Diodorus, in Book VII of his History (as revised by Eusebius), gives a detailed chronology of the Spartan kings beginning in the year 1104, eighty years after the traditional date of the fall of Troy. According to him, in the senior house succession ran: Eurystheus (Eurysthenes) (reigned 42 years); Agis (one year); Echestratus (35 years); Labatas (Leobotas) (37 years); Doristhus (Doryssus) (29 years); Agesilaus (44 years); Archeslaus (60 years); Teleclus (40 years); and Alcamenes (38 years). For the junior house, Diodorus lists Procles (reigned 41 years); Sous (34 years); Eurypon (51 years); Prytanis (49 years); Eunomius (Eunomus) (45 years); Chariclus (Charillus) (60 years); Nicandrus (Nicander) (38 years); and Theopompus (47 years). Diodorus further anchors these reigns by confidently stating that the first Olympiad, i.e. 776 B.C., fell during the tenth year of each of the last two listed kings' reign. Unfortunately, this doesn't add up in either case.