When the Paduans defeated Cleomonius' Spartans: the incredible story of 302 BC

In the 302 BCnear Paduaone took place battle which saw a battalion facing each other on one side Spartans led by the prince Cleonymus of Sparta and, on the other, the population of Padua, one of the most important cities in theancient Venetian civilization. The clash ended in an unexpected outcome victory of the Venetians, with the Spartans having to retreat disastrously. The history of this event was handed down to us by Diodorus Siculus and Tito Livio, a Roman historian of Padua origin.

Who was Cleomonius and why did the Spartans come to Italy

Let's start the story by understanding the reasons why the Spartans were on the Italian peninsula. It all starts from a character: the Spartan prince Cleonymus, son of King Cleomenes II. At the end of the 4th century BC the great military power of Sparta was now a distant memory: first the city was defeated by Thebes, then it entered the orbit of the kingdom of Macedonia. Cleonymus was not chosen by his father for the succession, which fell to his brother, and therefore decided to seek fortune and riches in the Adriatic Sea.

The opportunity arose when the city of Tarantoa Spartan colony, asked the motherland for help to defend itself from the attack of the Lucani, the ancient inhabitants of present-day Basilicata, and their Roman allies. Cleonymus gathered an army and launched himself into this adventure in the territories of modern-day Puglia. The Spartan prince's dreams of wealth were soon shattered, because he was put to flight by the Romans south of Bari.


Having once again put to sea, the Greek fleet rounded Salento and found itself again at the mercy of the winds in the middle of the Adriatic. The ships followed a route in the center of the sea, so as not to risk finding themselves on the coast of Italy to the west, which was devoid of ports, but above all to avoid encountering the infamous Illyrian pirates, which infested the eastern coast, along the Balkan peninsula. After a few days of sailing north, Cleonimo arrived on coasts of Veneto.

These territories were little known to the Spartans, who once landed sent explorers, who reported to the prince one of the oldest descriptions of the Venetian lagoon that we own:

(…) there was a thin strip of land beyond which lagoons fed by sea water opened; (…) nearby you could see flat countryside and, a little further on, hills; (…) they had identified the mouth of a very deep river where it was possible to moor the ships safely – the river was the Medoaco – (…)

Medoaco is the name by which the. was known in ancient times Brentawhich crossed and still crosses the territory of the city of Paduaat the time one of the main centers of Venetian civilization.

Venetian lagoon

The clash between the Spartans and the Padua

Cleonymus chose to moor his fleet at the mouth of the Brentaand to go up the river using smaller and lighter boats that would have allowed the Spartans to penetrate deep into the Paduan territory, to raid it. Once you enter the hinterland, about fourteen miles from Padua, the Spartan forces miserable the countryside was ravaged by fire and swordburning villages and capturing slaves and livestock.

The news of the arrival of the invaders reached Padua quickly, and all the men fit to fight they took up arms to march against the enemy. The Paduans divided their army into two detachments: one would march directly against the Spartans, while the other would make a longer circuit to attack and capture the invaders' light boats.

This last detachment attacked the men defending the light boats by surprise, quickly seizing them. The other group attacked the Spartans head-on and put them to flight. In the chaos of the battle, Cleonimo's men sought safety towards the boats moored along the Brenta, but when they discovered that they had been captured by the Paduans, they were surrounded and massacred.


The prisoners let the Venetians know that the bulk of the Spartan fleet moored it was about three miles downstream, at the mouth of the river, and they decided to take action to definitively eliminate the invaders.

On board the light boats captured from the Spartans and some rafts, the Paduans went down the Brenta and fell on the Greek shipswho came surrounded and set on fire. Some Spartan ships, in trying to escape, ran aground on the treacherous seabed of the lagoon. The same prince Cleonimo narrowly escapedand managed to return to Greece without loot and with only a fifth of the men and ships with which he had set out.

To thank the deities for the victory, the rams of the ships and the weapons captured from the Spartans were consecrated to the goddess Reitia, who the Romans assimilated to Minerva. Titus Livy he also tells us that even in his time, that is almost three centuries after the battle, the people of Padua remembered the victory with parties and boat races along the Brenta.

Who were the ancient Venetians

Before Roman colonization, present-day Veneto was inhabited by population of the Venetians, also known as Paleoveneti, an Italic civilization that spoke a language related to Latin and which developed a refined culture. The Venetians founded numerous cities that still exist today, such as Padua, Altino and Este.


One of the best-known elements of the art of the ancient Venetians were the situlae, large bronze vases decorated with geometric motifs, human or animal figures. Their language is also attested by a series of inscriptions in an alphabet derived from the Etruscan one.