Some Features of Greek Tyranny

Tyrants are found in association with (or exploiting) one or more of:
(1) hoplite armies
(2) religion (and factors of race)
(3) financial interests
(4) interrelationships


Pheidon (675-657) (hereditary king according to Aristotle Pol. 1310b26)
     (1) battle of Hysiae (669) (victory over Sparta; military prestige)
     (2) took over Olympic games (668) (an act described by Herodotus 6.127 as 'unsurpassed arrogance')
     (2) claimed 'heritage of Temenos' (500-year-old claim to rule, going back to Dorian conqueror of NE Peloponnesus)
     (3) reformed weights and measures, coined money (commerce)
     (4) support of one faction at Corinth
Cypselus (657-625)
     (1) had no bodyguard (nor need for one)
     (2) support of oracle at Delphi
     (2) father not Bacchiad
     (3) colonies in NW (Leucas, Anactorium, Epidamnus)
     (3) exports of local pottery in great quantities

Periander (625-585)
     (1) seized Epidaurus
     (2) offerings to (negotiations with) Delphi and Olympia
     (3) controlled Corcyra
     (3) foundation of Poteidaia (NE)
     (3) building program
     (3) flourishing of arts & crafts, industry & commerce
     (3) foundation of diolkos across the Isthmus of Corinth
     (4) amicable relations with Thrasyboulus of Miletus and Alyattes of Lydia; contacts with Egypt

Psammetichus Cypselus, nephew of Periander (585-583)

Theagenes (640?-620?; eventually banished)
     (1) (3) successfully disputed Athens for control of Salamis
     (1) had a bodyguard
     (3) destroyed flocks of the rich, who monopolized pasture land
     (3) public works (incl. aqueduct)
     (4) married daughter to Cylon; supported his attempted coup in 631
     (4) Periander's father-in-law (also deposed by him)
     (1) anti-Argive policy
     (1) military reputation vs. Pellene in Achaea

Myron I (Myron II) and Isodemus [relationships unclear]

Cleisthenes (600-570) (probably great-nephew of Orthagoras)
     (2) drove out Adrastus, established festival of Dionysus
     (2) anti-Dorian measures
     (1) (2) alliance (with Thessaly, Athens) in First Sacred War ca. 590
     (4) marriage alliance with Athenian Megacles (575)

Aeschines (evicted by Sparta 556)

Islands and Asia Minor

Thrasyboulos (ca. 600, contemporary with Periander & Lydian Alyattes)
     (1) fended off Lydian military attempt to take over Miletus
     (1) navy took harbor at Sicyon (to help Corinth)
     (3) used oracle at Delphi vs. Alyattes
     (4) relationship with Periander
Polycrates (ca. 540-522)
     (1) archers and fleet (used for organized piracy)
     (1) support of Corcyra vs. Corinth
     (2) religious festivals; support of poets
     (3) public works, including aqueduct (tunneled through a mountain) and a mole to protect the harbor
     (4) friendship with Amasis of Egypt
Mytilene (Lesbos)
Melanchrus (overthrown 612-608)

Myrsilus (after 600)

Pittacus ('elective tyrant' ca. 590-580; aisymnetes: Ar. Pol. 1285a)
     (1) war vs. Athens for control of Sigeum
     (1) overthrew Melanchrus
     (3) 'democratic' reforms upset aristocratic class


Solon (archon ca. 593) [NB: not a tyrant, but an elected reformer]
     (1) war with Megara over Salamis ca. 600
     (3) cancellation of debts
     (3) reform of coinage, weights and measures
     (3) law vs. agricultural exports (except olive oil)
     (3) offered citizenship to immigrant craftspeople
     (3) constitutional reform by property classes

Peisistratus (561-?, 550-549, 546-527)
     (1) as polemarch defeated Megara ca. 565
     (1) (3) power supported by mercenaries and money
     (1) military campaigns and territorial gains in NE
     (2) restored by 'Athena'
     (2) four-year Panathenaia, City Dionysia, took over Eleusis and mysteries
     (2) purification of Delos
     (3) support of agriculture, mercantile & manufacturing interests
     (3) building program
     (4) supported Lygdamis as tyrant of Naxos ca. 540-530

Hippias (527-510)
     (2) patronized arts, religious festivals
     (3) reduced taxation

Last updated: 29 August 2013
Send Comments to Barbara Saylor Rodgers
Copyright © 2013 Barbara Saylor Rodgers
All Rights Reserved.