By the end of the sixth century BC, Anaxandridas of the Agiad royal family, one of the two Spartan kings (Sparta had two kings), had a difficulty in bearing children from his first wife. The Spartan ephors forced him to take a second wife – despite the southern Greek monogamy – in order to obtain a successor. Anaxandridas’ second wife gave birth to Cleomenes, who was destined to become one of the most skilful Spartan kings. However, shortly after the birth of Cleomenes, Anaxandridas’ first wife also gave birth to a son, named Dorieus. Although Dorieus came from the king’s first wife, Cleomenes succeeded Anaxandridas to the throne as firstborn. Dorieus became furious because of the takeover of royal power by Cleomenes. Thus he decided to organize a colonization campaign, in order to leave forever Sparta (515 BC). His first choice for the founding of his colony, was the site of the river Kinyps in Libya. The men who followed him out were referred by the sources as “Lacedaemonians” and it seems that they included a few real Spartans (Spartan citizens, called omoioi). The Spartan omoioi followers of Dorieus were mainly his personal friends and some members of his political faction. The majority were other Lacedaemonians, mainly hypomeiones (fallen citizens, ex-Spartans who were just beginning to become numerous), perioikoi (free Lakonian, Messenian and Pylian subjects of Sparta) and Peloponnesian allies.
A part of Libya, Cyrenaeca, had been colonized by settlers of Lacedaemonian origins. The Cyrenaeans (named after their major city, Cyrene/Kyrene) were originated from the Greek island of Thera, a Spartan colony (modern Santorini). Additionally, close to the neighbouring river Kinyps was Oea, a city which is reported later as a Punic/Phoenician colony. However, a Theran city had the same name (Oea) and therefore it is probable that Oea of Libya was originally founded by Oean Theran or Cyrenaean colonists. Moreover, “Oea” is a Greek name. Probably the Carthaginians expelled later the Greek settlers of the Libyc Oea, colonizing the city with Phoenicians. The Cyrenaeans supported Dorieus’ colonist campaign in Libya because of their Lacedaemonian origins and for their own survival also. At this time, they faced two major threats. To the east, the Persian king Cambyses had conquered Egypt, threatening them directly. To the west, the Carthaginians expanded constantly, approaching dangerously the western Cyrenaean borders. The Cyrenaeans could be crushed by these enemies, and possibly routed out back to Greece. Considering that Dorieus’ mission was organized by the official Spartan state, it was probably a measure taken by Sparta for the salvation of its colony, Cyrene. The Spartans had to act for the salvation of Cyrene and Cyrenaeca, especially at a time when the Greeks were threatened by the expansion of their powerful enemies from the East (Persians and Syro-Phoenicians) and the West (Carthaginians and inland Etruscans). The Cyrenaeans would be happy by the establishment of a “twin” Spartan colony in the valley of Kinyps, that would reinforce the Greek element in Libya.
A pair of ancient Greek bronze greaves, typical of the hoplite armory.
Dorieus’ colonist mission was led by Theran seamen to Cyrene (515/4 BC). There, Dorieus met the exiled Philip of Croton (a Greek city-state of Southern Italy), whom he incorporated along with his comrades (political exiles) in his colonist army. The Spartans marched with Cyrenaean help and finally reached the valley of river Kinyps, where they founded a city. The settlers faced from the beginning the ferocious attacks of the native Libyans. The Carthaginians considered the valley of Kinyps as their own colonization zone, and were alarmed by the establishment of a Spartan colony near their borders. The Greek colonists were held in more than two years, repulsing the Libyan attacks (514-512/511 BC). Eventually the Carthaginians and the Libyans joined forces, and thus they managed to expel the Lacedaemonians from Kinyps. Dorieus and his men returned to Sparta, but his colonist campaign was not in vain. The Carthaginians, who coveted Cyrenaeca, understood that if they tried to march across the river Kinyps, they would “trigger” a new Spartan or generally Greek campaign for the protection of Cyrene and Cyrenaeca. The Carthaginians had already two open fronts with the Greeks in Sicily and Spain (the last against Massalia/Marseille) and did not wish the opening of a third front. Later, they agreed with the Cyrenaeans in defining their common borders on the Altars of Filaini, in the Gulf of Great Syrtis. During the Hellenistic period, the Cyrenaean borders were expanded against the Punic territory, when the Carthaginians were obliged to fall back in front of the mighty Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt which had already incorporated Cyrenaeca.
In Sparta, Dorieus and his men organized a new colonist mission, this time in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy) with a fleet of five triremes, of which one was Crotoniat. The latter trireme belonged to Philip and other Crotoniat political exiles, who hoped to return to their city even by force. Thus Dorieus’ new army consisted of the crews of five triremes, that is 1,000 men: Spartans and other Lacedaemonians, other Peloponnesians and Crotoniates. Additionally, an ancient source mentions 100 Athenians among them. Dorieus’ men landed most likely in Taras, a Spartan colony of Southern Italy. Dorieus marched to the west and found the Crotoniates at war with their former allies, the Sybarites. Croton and Sybaris were major Greek colonies in the area, founded by Peloponnesian Achaeans. Dorieus chose to side with the Crotoniates because of the presence of Philip’s men in his army, among other reasons. The plunderage of rich Sybaris was possibly the main reason. Finally, the Crotoniates and Dorieus’ warriors captured and destroyed Sybaris (511/510 BC). But Dorieus’ men did not remain in Italy, not even the Crotoniat exiles. It seems that they faced the hostility of the Italiot Greeks, inclusive their Crotoniat former allies and their Tarantine kinsmen. None of these wished the establishment of a mighty Spartan colony that would replace Sybaris, consisting a threat to their welfare.
Corinthian bronze helmet and bronze muscled cuirass.
Thus Dorieus’ Greeks sailed or walked along the northern coast of Sicily, ending up in the northwestern promontory of the island, in the territory of mount Eryx. There they founded a new colony, Heraclea. The new city was isolated from the other Greek areas of Sicily, surrounded by the territories of the Phoenicians and Elymians (natives of Sicily), but it flourished and quickly strengthened (in two or three years). The Carthaginians were again alarmed by the new Greek settlement in northwest Sicily which belonged to their sphere of influence. They were alarmed more by the fact that Heraclea was founded by Dorieus’ Spartans, “familiars” of them from the Kinyps campaign. They sent an expeditionary force which joined forces with the Sicilian Phoenicians and the Elymians. Eventually, the far more numerous Punic army crushed Dorieus’ limited forces (508/7 BC). The Spartan prince and three of his four lieutenants, including Philip the Crotoniate, were killed. The Elymians of Egesta (Segesta), allies of Carthage, were so impressed by Philip’s fighting spirit, that their descendants worshipped him as a hero. Heraclea was destroyed by the Carthaginians and its surviving inhabitants took refuge in the territory of Selinus. The only surviving Spartan lieutenant was Euryleon who conquered Minoa, a Selinuntian colony, renaming it to Heraclea (Minoa). Finally Euryleon attacked Selinus and managed to overthrow Pythagoras, the tyrant of the city. But he became tyrant in his place, perhaps intending to continue the war against the Carthaginians. The Selinountians soon overthrew Euryleon and killed him in the Agora (Market) of the city.
In 489/8 BC, king Cleomenes, Dorieus’ brother, died in Sparta. He was succeeded by his younger brother, the famous Leonidas, who was destined to lead the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) and to ‘write’ the most glorious page in Spartan history. King Anaxandridas, Dorieus’ father, was fortunate to have three great sons, each of whom wrote his own meaningful history. Dorieus may not be as famous as his two brothers, but his inexhaustible energy and his unwavering perseverance to acquire a new home far away from Sparta (which disappointed him so much) denote definitely a strong personality. Had Dorieus remained in Sparta, he would succeed Cleomenes and he would probably be the Spartan commander to confront the Persians at Thermopylae instead of Leonidas, thereby “stealing” the eternal glory from the latter, the most famous Spartan of all time.
(1) Diodorus Siculus: HISTORICAL LIBRARY.
(2) Herodotus: HISTORIES.
(3) Pugliese Carratelli G. (Editore): THE WESTERN GREEKS, Venezia-Milano: Bompiani, 1996.