Peisistratus And The Peisistratids: Tyrants Of Athens Before Democracy

Peisistratus And The Peisistratids: Tyrants Of Athens Before Democracy

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Peisistratus was a ruler of Athens during the 6 th century BC. Therefore, he is considered to be a “tyrant,” though this does not necessarily have the negative connotations that is attached to this title today.

Although some of Peisistratus’ actions as tyrant would not be considered acceptable today, the tyrant also strove to strengthen Athens’ economy, and promoted cultural activities. The success of Peisistratus’ policies contributed to Athens’ pre-eminence in the 5 th century BC. Peisistratus had two sons, one of whom, Hippias, succeeded him as tyrant after his death. Peisistratus, Hippias, and his other son, Hipparchus, are usually considered collectively as the Peisistratids.

A portrait of Peisistratus, who was born around 607 BC in Attica. (Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Peisistratus Was Born To Famous Bloodlines On Both Sides

Peisistratus was born around 607 BC and was the son of Hippocrates, a philosopher and teacher. Peisistratus is also known to have been related to the great Athenian reformer, Solon, on his mother’s side. Peisistratus came from the eastern part of Attica.

The future Tyrant of Athens is said to have been named after Peisistratus of Pylos, a character in Homer’s Odyssey. The Peisistratus of the Odyssey was the youngest son of King Nestor , and a close friend of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Apart from these few pieces of information, however, little has been recorded about Peisistratus’ early life.

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In the long run, the reforms of Solon led to the establishment of Athenian democracy. In the short term, however, they failed to resolve class conflict. Therefore, at the time when Peisistratus was growing up, Athens was experiencing political instability. In fact, when Peisistratus seized power, he ended 20 years of unrest in the city state.

In any case, the two factions vying for control in this period of unrest were the Pedieis (or “people living on the plains”), led by Lycurgus, and the Paralioi (or “people living along the coast”), led by Megacles. Naturally, this political instability was detrimental to the progress and development of Athens.

Peisistratus’ rise to power began around 565 BC, during the war with the nearby city state of Megara. Peisistratus succeeded in capturing the port of Nisaea, thereby making a name for himself as a military commander. To compete with the two other Athenian factions, Peisistratos organized his own faction, the Hyperakrioi (or “people living in the hills”). This faction consisted not only of the nobles from Peisistratus’ own district, but also a significant portion of the growing population of the city of Athens. His faction outnumbered both the Pedieis and Paralioi, a clear indication of Peisistratus’ popularity as a leader.

According to Herodotus, once Peisistratus had formed his faction, he carried out a cunning plan that allowed him to seize power in Athens. The ancient historian wrote that Peisistratus “wounded himself and his mules and drove his cart into the city square.” Peisistratus, however, told the Athenians that he had been attacked by enemies who sought to kill him whilst he was on the way out of the city, but that he managed to escape from them.

He then asked the Athenians to provide him with bodyguards to ensure his safety. Given Peisistratus’ popularity and reputation as a military commander, the Athenians believed his words. The Athenians selected from its citizens men who would serve in this role. Interestingly, Herodotus notes that Peisistratus’ bodyguards were armed with wooden clubs.

Peisistratus became the Tyrant of Athens when he captured the Acropolis of Athens the first time and the next two times. (Steve Swayne / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Peisistratus Leads An Uprising, And Captures Athens Briefly

With the aid of his bodyguards, Peisistratus led an uprising, and captured the Acropolis. Through his seizure of the city by force, Peisistratus became the Tyrant of Athens.

It should be noted that the concept of a tyrant in ancient Greece is a little different from ours today. In ancient Greece, a tyrant is not necessarily cruel, a trait that we would normally associate with such individuals in the modern world. In fact, according to Herodotus, “Peisistratus ruled Athens, but he did not interfere with the existing structure of offices or changed the laws; he administered the state constitutionally and organized the state’s affairs properly and well.” In contrast to the political chaos that gripped Athens in the previous decades Peisistratus’ tranny must have been a welcome change.

Unsurprisingly Lycurgus and Megacles were dissatisfied with Peisistratus’ rule since they had lost their power. Therefore, the two former rivals decided to join forces against Peisistratus. Although the tyrant had seized power, he did not have enough time to consolidate his position. Therefore, Lycurgus and Megacles succeeded in expelling Peisistratus from Athens.

However once this was achieved, the two men reverted to their old ways, and were once again contending with each other over the control of Athens. According to Herodotus, Megacles was on the losing side, and therefore, he decided to form an alliance with Peisistratus by offering him the hand of his daughter in marriage and placing Athens under Peisistratus’s rule once more.

After listening to Megacles’ offer, Peisistratus accepted it, and agreed to his terms. To bring Peisistratus back to Athens, the two men came up with a ruse that Herodotus described as “by far the most simple-minded one I have ever come across.”

Peisistratus becomes the Tyrant of Athens for the second time, this time accompanied by “Athena.” Here he is welcomed by the citizens of the city on his triumphant return and not his last. (M. A. Barth / )

Basically, Peisistratus and Megacles found a woman called Phya, dressed her up in a full set of armor, and placed her in a chariot. Peisistratus and Phya then set out for the city, with heralds going before them, who made the following announcement, “Athena is giving Pisistratus the singular honor of personally escorting him back to your Acropolis. So, welcome him.” Quite astonishingly, the Athenians believed that Phya was indeed Athena, and welcomed Peisistratus back to the city. Some even offered prayers to this mortal woman.

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The alliance between Peisistratus and Megacles, however, did not last for long. Although the tyrant had married Megacles’ daughter, he refused to have children with her. This was because he already had grown-up sons, and because of the believe that Megacles’ family, the Alcmaeonids, was cursed. Therefore, Peisistratus “did not have sex with her in the usual way.” Initially, Peisistratus’ new wife kept this a secret. Later on, however, she told it to her mother, who in turn informed Megacles of the matter. Megacles perceived this as an insult and was furious with Peisistratus. Therefore, he made peace with Lycurgus, and prepared to take action against Peisistratus.

After being "kicked out" of Athens for the second time, Peisistratus retreated to Eretria, in South-eastern Greece, and for 10 years plotted his return with his sons. (Jebulon / CC0)

Peisistratus Retreats To Eretria And Regroups For 10 Years

When Peisistratus, the tyrant, heard of the political maneuvers against him, he left Athens, and went to Eretria, in South-eastern Greece, where he consulted with his sons about their next course of action. It was decided that they ought to return to Athens to seize power again. Therefore, Peisistratus began raising money from all the communities that were under some form of obligation to him.

Herodotus reports that the Thebans were the most generous of all and contributed greatly to the Peisistratids’ war chest. With the funds they collected, Peisistratus and his sons assembled an army of mercenaries, and marched towards Athens. According to Herodotus, “They set out from Eretria and came home after ten years of exile.” This means that the Peisistratids spent a decade collecting funds and building an army to retake Athens.

The invading army took Marathon and set up its basecamp there. Peisistratus was joined by his supporters who were still living in Athens, as well as “men from the country demes who found the rule of a tyrant more pleasant than freedom.” The rest of the Athenians, when they heard of Peisistratus’s return, prepared to defend the city against the tyrant. At the sanctuary of Athena in Pallene, the two armies met, took up positions on opposite sides, and prepared for battle. It was here that Peisistratus was met by Amphilytus of Acarnania, a seer, who delivered the following prophecy to the tyrant:

“The net has been cast, the mesh is at full stretch, And the tuna will dart in the moonlit night.”

Peisistratus understood the meaning of this prophecy and felt confident that he would be victorious. Therefore, he launched an attack on his enemies. At that time, the Athenians were having their lunch. Those who had finished their meal were either playing dice or sleeping. Therefore, Peisistratus’ attack came as a surprise and the Athenians were easily routed. Thus, Peisistratus established his tyranny in Athens for the third time.

In order to ensure that he would not be overthrown again, Peisistratus kept a mercenary army. This was bolstered by “a substantial income, partly gained locally and partly coming in from the Strymon River area.” The latter is presumed to mean Mount Pangaeum , which is famous for its gold and silver mines. Peisistratus ruled Athens as tyrant until his death in 528/527 BC.

After the death of Peisistratus, his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus, worked together and then fought each other to be the next Tyrant of Athens. The two were so famous that they became the fictional characters Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who became known as the famous Tyrannicides of Greece. And they were the first mortals carved in stone with state funds! (Miguel Hermoso Cuesta / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

After The Death Of The Tyrant Of Athens, His Sons Take Over

After Peisistratus’ death, his eldest son, Hippias, succeeded him as tyrant. Hippias and his brother, Hipparchus, are best-known as the antagonists in the story of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who became known as the famous Tyrannicides. A detailed version of the story is provided by Thucydides. Herodotus also mentions the story, though parts of the story are left out.

According to Thucydides, Hipparchus had been interested in Harmodius, Aristogeiton’s lover. When the young man rejected Hipparchus’ advances, however, the latter decided to humiliate the former. Consequently, Harmodius and Aristogeiton conspired to kill both Hipparchus and Hippias during the Great Panathenaea . Herodotus records that Hipparchus was warned in a dream of his imminent assassination, though the tyrant’s brother decided not to follow through in the end.

On the day of the Great Panathenaea, Harmodius and Aristogeiton succeeded in killing Hipparchus, but failed to assassinate Hippias. As a result of this incident, Hippias became increasingly paranoid, and his rule became more oppressive. Thucydides summarizes the whole episode as follows, “it began with a lover’s resentment, and the final desperate act was the result of a last-minute failure of nerve. The consequence for the people of Athens was that the tyranny now entered a more oppressive stage.” Nevertheless, Harmodius and Aristogeiton were later hailed as the Tyrannicides, and credited with the overthrow of the Peisistratids.

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Harmodius and Aristogeiton were honored with a pair of statues, which were famous in the ancient world. The statues of the two men were created by a sculptor named Antenor and were the first statues of mortals to have been paid for by the state.

When the Achaemenids captured Athens in 480 BC, the statues were sent to one of their capitals, Susa. Therefore, the Athenians commissioned Critius and Nesiotes to create a new pair of statues. According to one version of the story, when Alexander the Great captured Susa, he had the statues sent back to the Athenians. Another version states that it was Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals, who returned the statues. A Roman copy of Critius and Nesiotes’ statues was made, which has survived till this day.

In spite of all this, Harmodius and Aristogeiton did not overthrow the Peisistratid tyranny. On the contrary, they made it more oppressive, and the Athenians suffered under the harsh rule of Hippias for four years. Moreover, Harmodius and Aristogeiton wanted to kill Hippias and Hipparchus for personal reasons, rather than for the sake of Athenian democracy.

The Peisistratid tyranny was only overthrown in 510 BC, when Athens was invaded by the Spartans under Cleomenes I. According to Herodotus, it was the Alcmaeonids (who had been exiled by Peisistratus) who sought the aid of the Spartans. Apparently, the Oracle of Delphi was bribed to advise any Spartan who came to the temple to liberate Athens. In any case, after the invasion, democracy was established by Cleisthenes, a member of the Alcmaeonids. Still, for possibly political reasons, the Athenians chose to honor Harmodius and Aristogeiton as national heroes.

To conclude, the Peisistratids, Peisistratus, Hippias, and Hipparchus, were tyrants. This, however, does not imply that they were oppressive rulers. In fact, Peisistratus was a popular ruler, and managed the affairs of the city state well. Hippias too was a capable ruler, though he became more oppressive after the conspiracy by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, which succeeded in killing his brother. It was thanks to the Spartans that Hippias was deposed, thereby bringing an end to the tyranny of the Peisistratids. Following the reign of Peisistratus and Hippias, democracy was established in Athens.

The origin of political systems has fascinated writers and thinkers in every age, and ancient Greek political history is a particularly interesting and varied area of exploration for students of the ancient world. This depth study will allow candidates to explore aspects of that political history in the 6 th and 5 th centuries BC, focusing on two systems of government (tyranny and democracy) and two Greek city-states (Athens and Samos).

Tyranny was very common across the Greek world during the 6 th and 5 th centuries BC. In this depth study, candidates will examine and compare the origins, workings and development of the tyrannies of Athens and Samos. Moreover, they will investigate how and why the tyrannies in each city-state collapsed. In Athens, the reforms of Cleisthenes led to the creation of the western world’s first known democracy. We will examine how this democracy functioned in its early years. We will look in particular at the achievements and treatment of individual politicians (such as Miltiades, Themistocles and Aristides), and at how the new government reacted to the growing power of Persia. Candidates who choose this depth study will therefore find that it complements their period study.

This depth study also aims to train candidates as historians. There will therefore be a focus on the skills and methods used by historians of all periods when working with sources. Candidates will meet and read portions of key Greek and Roman authors and will work with archaeological sources such as statues and buildings. They will learn to assess the reliability of a source and the usefulness and accuracy of the information it provides.

This depth study is designed to take approximately 27&ndash32 hours of teaching time to complete. This guide will provide an overview of how this content might be taught in that timeframe. The planning guide is structured around the narratives / content and contains possible points that might be considered or discussed in class. The planning guide does not contain activities. This is intentional to enable you to choose a series of activities that compliment your own teaching.

Teachers may use this guide as an example of one possible way of approaching the teaching of the ‘From Tyranny to Democracy’ depth study and NOT a prescriptive plan for how your teaching should be structured.

What this guide is intended to do is to show you what the teaching outline might look like in practice. It should then help you to build your own scheme of work, confident that you’ve covered all the required content in sufficient depth.


The history of democracy begins with two gay lovers and a murder.

The ancient Athenian tyrant Peisistratus was efficient, lenient, and as popular as any steely-eyed autocrat can be, but after he died, control of Athens went to his sons (collectively called the Peisistratids), chiefly his eldest son Hippias, who couldn’t quite earn the same level of respect from the city as their legendary father. In fact, the new tyrants were so merciless and cruel, that when a pair of young Athenian noblemen suddenly attacked and assassinated one of the Peisistratids in 514 BCE during the Panathenaic festival, the city erupted in joyful celebration. The remaining tyrants were driven from the city. When the dust of the rebellion finally settled down, the people of Athens reclaimed their freedoms under a new democratic constitution.

Although the original Tyrant-killers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton , had died in their attacks against the Peisistratids, the grateful Athenians never forgot their heroic deed and voted them many posthumous honors and monuments. The cult of the Tyrannicides became quite important in Athenian civic life, similar to the way Americans invoke the Founding Fathers every Fourth of July. In time, the Athenians erected a pair of gigantic inspirational nude statues of the Tyrannicides brandishing their weapons as a warning to anyone who would ever again try to subjugate the Athenians.

Except history is never so simple.

The conspiracy against the ruling tyrants began when one of the younger sons of Peisistratus – the historian Thucydides said it was the older co-tyrant Hipparchus, but Aristotle claims it was the immature and pleasure-loving Thessalus – became infatuated with a young man named Harmodius, who rejected his advances several times because he was already involved with a middle-aged gentleman named Aristogeiton. Upset and frustrated by the insult, Thessalus (or was it Hipparchus?) found many ways to show his displeasure. Harmodius' little sister was scheduled to carry a flower basket in the Panathenaic religious procession, but Thessalus decided that she wasn’t a virgin, and therefore ineligible. She was thrown out of the proceedings and publicly humiliated.

Harmodius was insulted on behalf of his family and angered that Thessalus had made a little girl cry, so he now plotted with his lover Aristogeiton and several friends with grievances of their own to kill the whole family of tyrants. They planned to strike during the Panathenaic festival when it was hoped the crowds would rally to their aid, but on the fateful day, they saw a co-conspirator chatting pleasantly with the tyrant Hippias. Assuming they were betrayed, the two plotters decided to strike immediately, even without everyone in place, and kill whoever was available before they got arrested. They killed the co-tyrant Hipparchus, who was nearby, but were stopped from getting at Hippias when Harmodius was speared by guards and Aristogeiton was taken prisoner.

Aristogeiton died under torture, but not before he broke down and named names, although these might not have been the names of actual conspirators, but rather friends of the government he wanted to cast doubt on. In fact, legend says that Aristogeiton only agreed to talk if Hippias promised with a handshake to let him live. Then he mocked Hippias for shaking the hand that killed his brother.

The attack made Hippias so paranoid that he started a reign of terror to destroy potential enemies lurking in the city. He purged and exiled many of Athens’ aristocratic families. Among them, Cleisthenes, brother-in-law of Peisistratus and the leader of the banished Alcmaeonid family, who brooded in exile and plotted a return. He needed an army to restore his family to the city, so he endowed the Delphic Oracle, the sacred voice of the god Apollo that was honored and obeyed throughout Greece, with an impressive bribe. The Oracle commanded a visiting delegation of Spartans to use their army (Greece’s largest) to invade Athens on his behalf. The Spartans marched in and surrounded the city. They captured the children of Hippias and threatened to kill them unless he took early retirement.

As Cleisthenes settled in to be the new tyrant, another Athenian nobleman, Isagoras, former ally of the Peisistratids and old friend of the Spartan king (with whom he had shared Mrs. Isagoras, according to rumor) convinced the Spartans to put him in charge instead. Isagoras offered the excuse that Cleisthenes’ family still carried a hereditary curse from when an ancestral tyrant had violated sanctuary and dragged political refugees from a temple to be killed. The Athenian people, however, would have none of it, so after the Spartan coup, they rioted and trapped Isogoras and his Spartan friends in the citadel until they agreed to leave. Cleisthenes was brought back around 508 BCE, and in gratitude, he agreed to distribute power equally among the people of Athens, offering them the first well-documented democratic constitution in history.

One of the reasons I love history is that it’s simultaneously so alien and so familiar. My home state of Virginia would never in a million years erect monumental statutes of nude homosexual assassins, and yet we already have a half-naked amazon② standing over a dead tyrant on our state flag.

Another reason I love history is that it never happens the way you want it to. Modern historians like to point out that democracy evolved in many places along many different paths, often propelled by impersonal forces instead of individuals, and democracy certainly can’t be tracked back to one dramatic act of defiance. More specifically, some historians would minimize the importance of the Tyrant-killers by pointing out that everyone involved in the fall of the Peisistratids acted for entirely selfish and almost petty reasons, and in any case, democracy didn’t fully establish itself in Athens until the power struggle ignited by the Tyrant-killers finally burned itself out many years later. In fact, the contrast between the two versions of the Tyrannicide story (the heroic legend and the cynical love triangle) has been noted for thousands of years, proving that contrarian wiseguys have enjoyed debunking popular historical myths as long as history has existed.

And all history is that way. It would have been nice if the first blow against tyranny had been struck by level-headed ideologists with a clear blueprint for human liberation, but it also would have been nice for the authors of America’s Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights to not own slaves. History is messy and uncooperative. Democracy has often been brought into being by people who probably didn’t think that far ahead.


Unrest, rioting by the lower classes and overall disapproval splintered the city-state. By the middle of the 7th century, in an attempt to right the government, a series of tyrants ruled Athens. To the Greeks the term tyrant did not have the negative connotation it does today.

A tyrant was someone who controlled the state not through bloodlines, as a monarch did, but by taking power. Sometimes this was done by force and other times it was by the will of the people. Three rulers from that era were highly influential—Solon, Peisistratus and Cleisthenes.

Fame, Money, and Power: The Rise of Peisistratos and “Democratic” Tyranny at Athens

The topic of archaic turannides remains, in the words of a recent commentator, “one of Greek history’s most challenging black holes.” 1 Some might beg to disagree with this rather bleak assessment, not least the legions of scholars who have toiled so hard on the subject over the decades, apparently to little effect. But it is a fact that all of our narrative sources for early turannoi, the basis of most modern accounts, are classical or postclassical. And the more we realize just how riddled these texts are with anachronistic prejudices and assumptions, the more positively Sisyphean the task of filling the “black hole” seems to become.

After working on the Peisistratid “tyrants” of Athens for more than twenty years, Brian Lavelle (L.) is all too familiar with such problems. Indeed, not long ago, he wrote a book about them, The Sorrow and the Pity: A Prolegomenon to a History of Athens under the Peisistratids (Stuttgart, 1993). 2 Noting parallels with the memory politics of postwar France, this earlier book argued that Athenian recollections of shameful “collaboration” with Peisistratid oppressors were systematically distorted or supplanted by purpose-built “myths” of resistance and non-compliance. Cultivated by powerful agencies like the Alcmeonid family and the demos-state itself, these “myths” ultimately insinuated themselves into our primary sources, seriously compromising their value as a result.

Undaunted, L. has now written a follow-up, in which he gamely tries to fashion a credible historical narrative from this same tangled web of lies, half-truths, and distortions. Consisting of five chapters and nearly one hundred pages of notes, the new work offers the reader a broadly coherent picture of the career of Peisistratus down to 546/5 BC, when, after two brief flirtations with power, he finally established a “tyranny” that would last until his death in 528/7. However, it is the central thesis of this second book, advertised in the subtitle, that most catches the eye, not least because it adds an intriguing twist to the scenario outlined in the first. Unlike their French counterparts, it seems, Athenian “collaborators” had little to be ashamed of after all. The “tyranny” of Peisistratus and his sons essentially conformed to the norms of “democratic” leadership that had prevailed in Athens at the time. By implication, there was no real need for any “myth” of resistance, since there had been no real oppressor.

In the relatively brief Chapter 1 (“Introduction”), L. recapitulates the findings of his first book, offering a candid appraisal of the sources and all their limitations. He nonetheless insists that his study “must” depend for the most part on these same highly problematic texts, since it is “a history,” and history, for L., demands a “source-critical approach” (8-9). Accordingly, “art, religion, and other cultural aspects of the period” are relegated to the status of “ancillary topics” (9). The case for a “democratic” Peisistratus is also summarized. In the author’s view, Solon’s poems reveal a political culture in which aspiring leaders could attain and exercise power only with the consent of the demos. For L., this constitutes “proof” that the Athenian state was already a functional “democracy” in the later seventh and early sixth centuries (3, 15-16). 3 Under this regime, winning the all-important consent required several specific credentials: an ability to persuade, a record of successful military command, and, above all, the wealth necessary to remunerate non-elite supporters. And it was precisely by acquiring these various power credentials, during a lengthy, single-minded “campaign for the tyranny” (25), that Peisistratus was able to gain the requisite popular support and bring Athens firmly under his sway in 546/5. The course of this relentless quest for power is essentially the story that L. aims to reconstruct in the chapters that follow.

Chapter 2 (“The Path to Fame”) details the beginnings of this quest, offering a picture of a provincial “outsider,” or “new man” (29-30), whose martial exploits fuel a rapid rise from obscurity to celebrity. At some point, Peisistratus sought to avert attention from his humble origins by claiming direct descent from the glamorous Neleids of Pylos (18-30). But according to L., it was his extraordinary prowess on the battlefield that first brought him public acclaim. Herodotus, L.’s main source throughout these chapters, briefly notes that Peisistratus initially won fame for his capture of Nisaea from the Megarians and for other (unspecified) “great deeds” (1.59.4). Seizing upon this and sundry other ancient references to early clashes involving Athens and Megara, L. weaves an elaborate tale of a “great patriotic war” (39) between the two communities (30-65). Apparently, this epic confrontation began back in the mid-seventh century, if not earlier. More important, though, for L. is the end of this war, which came only when the parvenu Peisistratus managed first to recover Salamis for the Athenians and then to break the Megarians’ will with his bold assault on Nisaea. Thus, flush with political capital from these momentous victories, Peisistratus now began to harbor thoughts of “tyranny.”

In Chapter 3 (“Money, Persuasion, and Alliance”), our attention duly shifts to more familiar terrain: Peisistratus’s early bids for power in the period 561/0-556/5. And it is here, in a striking, revisionist reading of these events, that L. introduces us to his “democratic tyranny” thesis in its developed form. Consisting mainly of inferences from the poems of Solon, the premises for his distinctive take on sixth-century Athenian political culture are very briefly presented (73-76). Citing several Solonian passages (esp. fr. 5.1, 3), L. particularly insists that Herodotus misrepresents the principal source of political tension in 561/0 as a three-way power struggle between rival regional “parties.” The tension came rather from a longstanding binary opposition between two city “factions:” the “powerful and wealthy,” now headed by Lycurgus, and the “demos,” or “commons,” led by the Alcmeonid Megacles (76-82). Having thus redrawn the political map of mid-sixth-century Athens, L. embarks on a novel reconstruction of Peisistratus’s interventions in 561/0 and 556/5 (82-115).

On both occasions, it turns out, the real star of the show was Megacles, here boldly recast as “leader of the demos” and “kingmaker.” Without a ready-made constituency of his own, and lacking the all-important finances, the opportunist Peisistratus apparently threw in his lot with the wealthy Alcmeonid. The latter, in return, obligingly secured the imprimatur of the “commons” for his new ally’s first two “tyrannies.” On both occasions, in other words, Herodotus again seriously misrepresents the nature of the events he describes, primarily because his account is distorted by the “myths” of non-compliance that were later circulated by the Alcmeonids and the demos-state. In 561/0, the assembly was not actually tricked into awarding Peisistratus a bodyguard. Rather, under Megacles’ influence, it willingly bestowed “a kind of honor guard” (96) upon him. His subsequent occupation of the Acropolis was therefore no more than a “symbolic” gesture, “indicating the favor of the gods and the Athenians” (94). Likewise, in 556/5, the notorious Phye procession did not deceive the Athenians into believing that Athena herself had restored Peisistratus to “tyranny” after a brief period of exile. On the contrary, the demos fully understood the theatricality of the spectacle and, again with encouragement from Megacles, willingly welcomed back the “tyrant” (98-107). Thus in both cases, L. urges, the demos essentially “voted” (106) Peisistratus into power. Contrary to all appearances, these were “democratic tyrannies.”

Chapter 4 (“The Tide of Wealth and Power”) brings the book’s main narrative to a close with an account of Peisistratus’s various activities in the decade 556/5-546/5. The first half (116-34) tries to trace his movements during the ten-year exile, spent mostly in Thrace, that followed the collapse of his short-lived “second tyranny.” Since the sources for these movements are exiguous, much of this section is predictably speculative and inconclusive. But L. is surely correct to suggest that Peisistratus’s primary concern during these years was to acquire the wealth and the allies necessary to force a return to Athens. In the second half of the chapter (134-54), he then describes this return and the decisive victory at Pallene in 546/5 that would bring Peisistratus to power for the next eighteen years. Again, despite rather strong evidence to the contrary, L. claims that this “third tyranny” also rested on firmly “democratic” foundations. Even if Peisistratus did in fact use force to reclaim power, defeating a militia of Athenian citizens with a private army made up largely of non-Athenian allies, his cause had many supporters in Attica. Indeed, “[d]efections appear to have been numerous” (144, citing Hdt. 1.62.1). So here too, L. infers, we have a display of popular consent the Athenians were in effect “voting. . .with their feet” (16) for another round of “democratic tyranny.” No less important, after ten years of fund-raising, Peisistratus now had a “pay box for his government” (143).

In Chapter 5 (“Summary”), L. reiterates the book’s main findings and concludes with a brief attempt to suggest continuities in Athenian politics between the archaic and the classical periods. In particular, he proposes that we might see Peisistratus as a “prototype” or “model” (162-63) for later leaders, in so far as the likes of Miltiades, Cimon, and Pericles would also gain influence by exploiting their rhetorical ability, their military records, and their wealth. But then again, if some form of “democracy” had actually prevailed in Athens since the time of Solon, as L. claims, such continuities may not be so very surprising.

In a series of eight appendices, L. addresses a number of incidental historiographical, topographical, and prosopographical issues. For some reason, his only sustained discussion of “Peisistratos’ chronology” (and the not insignificant issue of the length of the first two “tyrannies”) is also delayed until this point (Appendix D, 210-18).

This book certainly has its virtues. The author is intimately acquainted with his chosen sources and commendably transparent in his handling of them. Given the great limitations of these materials, it is hard not to admire the passion that L. brings to his subject and the diligence with which he goes about the task of restoring tones and colors to our picture of Peisistratus’s early career. The result is a narrative that is about as rich and comprehensive as we could reasonably expect to have. The book is nothing if not a virtuoso exercise in source criticism. And one therefore expects that it will be most welcomed by those who share L.’s enthusiasm for this kind of approach and his fascination with biographical detail. Such readers will find much here that informs and stimulates.

However, those who are drawn to the book more by the promise of its subtitle may be less enthralled. The “democratic tyranny” thesis is no doubt the most original feature of the work, but it is also quite problematic. Archaic Greek history being what it is, one could of course vigorously contest just about every one of the many premises and inferences that inform the thesis. A few general comments will suffice.

One might note first that the thesis appears to be rooted in rather thin soil. In a work that is prepared to devote over 18 pages (116-34) to Peisistratus’s Thracian adventures, over 20 (134-54) to the battle of Pallene, and fully 35 (30-65) to the reconstruction of a war between Athens and Megara, it is surprising to say the least that the author spends barely a handful of pages (3, 15-16, 73-76) discussing the evidence for “democracy” in Solon’s poems, the premise on which the whole idea of a “democratic tyranny” seems to depend. If these texts offer such a full and straightforward account of historical actualities, one wonders why the nature of political culture in the time of Solon remains one of the field’s more contentious issues. L. may not be the only one to believe in a Solonian “democracy,” but his is hardly a majority position. 4 It requires a much more robust defense.

And, in the absence of such a defense, it is all the more difficult to believe that intimations of a “democratic” Peisistratus can be found buried deep in the pages of Herodotus. While one marvels at the hermeneutic dexterity with which L. attempts to prove otherwise, readers may be forgiven for balking at some of the bolder leaps of faith that his method and his thesis demand. L. could have strengthened his case considerably, one feels, by taking fuller advantage of the material record and adopting a more synoptic, systemic approach, anchoring his account of political culture in analysis of contemporary ritual, iconography, votive practices and the like. This kind of approach is now commonplace in archaic Greek history after all. And as L. knows well, it has long been embraced by students of early turannides, who routinely explore how power played itself out on the planes of culture and consciousness. 5 L.’s reluctance to do likewise is puzzling. 6

That said, it is not entirely clear what kind of evidence or method one would need to verify the existence of a “democratic tyranny,” since the very nature of this novel form of authority remains somewhat elusive. L. himself argues precisely that Peisistratus was not a “tyrant” in any meaningful sense of the word, and one can readily agree with him. 7 Similarly, he is prepared to concede that the pre-Cleisthenic regime in Athens was not quite a full “democracy” his regular use of quote marks around the term indicates as much. And on the strength of the evidence presented, even this rather qualified position seems overoptimistic. 8 It is certainly likely that Peisistratus procured some kind of broad consent for his authority. But if this authority still amounted to “rule” (e.g., 162) or “monarchy” (e.g., 158), as L. also suggests, the consent in question cannot easily be equated with any conventional form of demokratia. One would surely need to know much more about this process and, above all, its context before making even the most cautious comparisons between Peisistratus and fifth-century leaders. In the meantime, any apparent resemblances must be deemed superficial, unless, that is, we can visualize the likes of Cimon squiring “Athena” up to the Acropolis, or forcing his way back from ostracism with his own multinational horde of confederates.

In other words, the “democratic tyranny” thesis remains more suggestive than persuasive. L. makes a good case that Peisistratus did not in fact violate the political norms of the day. But he struggles to convince us that these norms were in any meaningful sense “democratic.”

With this engaging, compendious narrative of the early career of Peisistratus, L. has certainly helped to fill that gaping “black hole.” With a stronger central thesis, he might have helped fill it even a little more.

1. R. Lane Fox, “Theognis: An Alternative to Democracy,” in R. Brock and S. Hodkinson eds., Alternatives to Athens: Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece (Oxford, 2000), 38.

2. The arresting title is a reference to Marcel Ophüls’ film, Le chagrin et la pitié (1971), a documentary which examines social memory of the Nazi occupation of France, starkly exposing the less edifying realities that lay behind the myth of heroic national resistance. Readers may also recall this film as the grotesquely inappropriate “date movie” that Diane Keaton is forced by Woody Allen to endure in Annie Hall (1977).

3. It should be noted that L. almost invariably uses quotation marks when referring to any putative, pre-Cleisthenic “democracy,” and I follow his lead throughout the review. On the implications of this practice for L.’s central thesis, see the discussion below.

4. The fullest recent case for a “democratic” Solon is R. W. Wallace, “Solonian Democracy,” in I. Morris and K. A. Raaflaub eds., Democracy 2500? Questions and Challenges (Dubuque, Iowa, 1998), 11-29. For the view that politics in Solonian Athens was still essentially an elite preserve, see e.g., L. Foxhall, “A View from the Top: Evaluating the Solonian Property Classes,” in L. G. Mitchell and P. J. Rhodes eds., The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece (London, 1997), 113-36 L. G. Mitchell, “New Wine in Old Wineskins: Solon, arete and the agathos,” in L. G. Mitchell and P. J. Rhodes eds., The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece (London, 1997), 137-47 G. Anderson, The Athenian Experiment: Building an Imagined Political Community in Ancient Attica, 508-490 B.C. (Ann Arbor, 2003), 57-76 S. Forsdyke, Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece (Princeton, 2005), 90-101.

5. See e.g., F. Kolb, “Die Bau-, Religions- und Kulturpolitik der Peisistratiden,” JdI 92 (1977), 99-138 M. Stahl, Aristokraten und Tyrannen im archaischen Athen (Stuttgart, 1987) H. A. Shapiro, Art and Cult under the Tyrants in Athens (Mainz, 1989) E. Stein-Hölkeskamp, Adelskultur und Polisgesellschaft (Stuttgart 1989) L. de Libero, Die archaische Tyrannis (Stuttgart 1996) H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg ed. Peisistratos and the Tyranny: A Reappraisal of the Evidence (Amsterdam, 2000).

6. Evidently, this reluctance does not arise from any great discomfort with material culture. L. seems to be well acquainted with the relatively ample archaeological record from sixth-century Athens (briefly discussed e.g., at 1-2, with notes), and he readily draws upon physical evidence in his treatment of certain incidental issues, like the site of the deme Philaidai (171-79).

7. For an argument that an archaic turannis was no more than an amplified form of conventional oligarchic leadership, see G. Anderson, “Before Turannoi were Tyrants: Rethinking a Chapter of Early Greek History,” ClAnt 24 (2005), 173-222.

8. As L. himself rather candidly admits at one point (4): “Precisely how ‘democratic’ the Peisistratid regime was we cannot say.” Perhaps L. will clarify matters in his sequel volume on “the tyranny of the younger Peisistratids” (promised at 306 n. 163).


Ancient Greek governments traditionally were monarchy-based, dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries BC. [5] For the 7th and 6th centuries during the Archaic Period, political power began to be wielded by aristocratic families, who had accumulated wealth, land, and religious or political offices, as the Greek city-states began to develop. The most notable families could trace their lineage back to a legendary or mythological founder/king, such as Herakles (Heracles) or an ancestor who participated in the Trojan War, for example. [6] [7] In the 6th and 5th centuries BC, prominent aristocratic families of Athens were the Peisistratids, Philaids, and the Alkmeonids. [8] The Peisistratid clan were originally from the Mycenaean Bronze Age city of Pylos, located in the region of Messenia, Greece, and traced their ancestry to the mythological king of Pylos, Neleus, whose son, Nestor, the Homeric hero, fought in the Trojan War. [9] [10] The second clan, the Alkmeonids, came to prominence in the 6th century BC during the lifetime of their namesake Alkmeon and whose son, Megakles, both opposed and supported Peisistratos at various points in his reign. [11] [6] Due to the infighting between aristocratic families and the inability to maintain order, a tyrant was well-positioned to capitalize on the discontent of the poor and disenfranchised to make a bid for power. [12] [5] In the age of antiquity and especially in the Archaic Age of Greece, a tyrant was not viewed in the modern sense of the definition, but rather, a ruler who obtained power unconstitutionally, usually through the use of force, or inherited such power. [13] In the first documented instance of Athenian tyranny, Herodotus notes the story of Kylon, an Olympiad champion, who gathered supporters, in either 636 or 632 BC, in an attempt to seize power by occupying the Acropolis. His attempt was unsuccessful and despite assurances to the contrary, Kylon and his supporters were allegedly killed by the Alkmeonids, resulting in the Alkmeonid curse. [14]

Related to Peisistratos through his mother, Solon was an Athenian statesman and lawmaker who, in the early 6th century, restructured the social class system of Athens as well as reformed the law code, originated by Draco. Among his many reforms, Solon eliminated debt slavery which primarily impacted poor Athenians, who were in the majority, and giving the demos, the common people of the city-state, collectively a concession to ease their suffering and possibly preventing a civil war. [15] Peisistratos' later rise to power would draw on support from many of the poor people comprising this constituency.

Not much is known about the early years of Peisistratos' life, but his father, Hippocrates, attended the Olympic games in either 608 or 604 and during a sacrifice to the gods, the meat was boiled without a fire and was witnessed by Chilon the Lacedaemonian. As a result of this sign, Chilon recommended that Hippocrates send away his wife, if she could bear children, and if he had a son, to disown him. Hippocrates did not follow Chilon's advice, and later, he had a son named Peisistratos. [16]

Originally, Peisistratus became known as an Athenian general who captured the port of Nisaea (or Nisiai) in the nearby city-state of Megara in approximately 565 BC. [17] [16] This victory opened up the unofficial trade blockage that had been contributing to food shortages in Athens during the previous several decades. [18]

In the subsequent years after Solon and his departure from Athens, Aristotle reports that the city of Athens was still very divided and in turmoil, with many secondary sources noting the development of three distinct political factions competing for control of Athens and its government. According to Aristotle, these groups were partitioned in both a geographic (as documented below) and economic sense. The first two factions, based on the plains and the coast, appeared to exist prior to the formation of the third faction. The third group, referred to as men of the Highlands (or Hill), had various motives to align with Peisistratos, including those men in poverty, recent immigrants who feared loss of citizenship, and lenders who were denied the ability to collect their debts. [19] Names of the competing factions differ according to the accessed source, with some references offering details on each group's composition while others do not:

  • Pedieis or Pediakoi: the population that resided on the plains, led by Lycurgus. These landowners produced grain, giving them leverage during the food shortage. [20]
  • Paralioi or Paraloi: the population living along the coast, led by Megacles, an Alcmaeonid. The Paralioi party was not as strong as the Pedieis, primarily because they could not produce grain, like the plainsmen. [20] With the Megareans patrolling the sea, much of Athens' import/export power was limited.
  • Hyperakrioi: not previously represented by the first two factions or parties listed above, dwelled primarily in the hills and were by far the poorest of the Athenian population. Their only production was barter in items like honey and wool. [20] Peisistratos organized them into a third faction, the Hyperakrioi, or hill dwellers. This party grossly outnumbered the other two parties combined. [18] R.J. Hopper provides similar names for the factions and classifies them by their region in Attica: Pedion, Paralia, and Diakria. [21]

Pomeroy and her fellow three authors state the three factions of Athens are as follows:

  • the Men of the Plain: the population comprised mostly of large landowners.
  • the Men of the Coast: the population likely included fishermen and craftsmen.
  • the Men of the Hill: the population containing the poorer residents of the Attic highlands, and possibly including residents of Attica cities as well. [22]

Herodotus provides the following information about the three groups:

  • Plains district: led by Lykourgos, son of Aristoleides.
  • Coastal district: led by Megakles, son of Alkmeon.
  • Hill district: formed by Peisistratos in an effort to become tyrant of Athens. [16]

His role in the Megarian conflict gained Peisistratos popularity in Athens, but he did not have the political clout to seize power. Around the year 561 BC, Herodotus writes how Peisistratos intentionally wounded himself and his mules, asking the Athenian people to provide bodyguards for protection and reminding them of his prior accomplishments, including the port capture of Nisiai. Peisistratos had driven his chariot into the agora or marketplace of Athens, claiming he had been wounded by his enemies outside of town, and thus, the people of Athens selected some of their men to function as a bodyguard, armed with clubs rather than spears, for him. Previously, he had assumed control of the Hyperakrioi, which was not an aristocratic group like the other two Athens factions, by promoting his democratic program and securing a mutual agreement with the members or demos of the faction. By obtaining support from this vast number of the poorer population and receiving the protection of bodyguards, he was able to overrun and seize the Acropolis as well as grasp the reins of the government. [16] [23] The Athenians were open to a tyranny similar to that under Solon, who previously had been offered the tyranny of Athens but declined, and in the early part of the Archaic Age, the rivalries among the aristocratic clans was fierce, making a single-ruler tyranny an attractive option, with the promise of possible stability and internal peace, and Peisistratos' ruse won him further prominence. [24] With the Acropolis in his possession and with the support of his bodyguard, he declared himself tyrant. [25]

First period of power Edit

Peisistratos assumed and held power for three different periods of time, ousted from political office and exiled twice during his reign, before taking command of Athens for the third, final, and longest period of time from 546-528 BC.

His first foray into power started in the year 561 and lasted about five years. His first ouster from office was circa 556/555 BC after the other two factions, the Plains people led by Lycurgus and the Coastal people led by Megakles, normally at odds with each other, joined forces and removed him from power. [26] Different sources provide conflicting or unspecified time intervals for the periods of Peisistratos' reign. For example, Herodotus writes that Megakles' and Lykourgos' followers combined after a short time to expel Peisistratos from power. [27] Aristotle comments that Peisistratos was forced out during the year of the archonship of Hegesias, five years after he originally assumed his first tyranny in Athens. [28]

Exile and second period of power Edit

He was exiled for three to six years during which the agreement between the Pedieis (Plains) and the Paralioi (Coastal) fell apart. [29] Soon after, in the year 556 BC or so, Megakles invited Peisistratos back for a return to power upon the condition he, Peisistratos, marry Megakles' daughter. According to Herodotus, the two men concocted a very creative method to rally the people of Athens back to Peisistratos' side. A tall, almost six foot woman, Phya, from the deme or rural village of Paiania was selected to pose as the goddess, Athena, by being dressed in full armor, riding in a chariot, and being counselled on how to portray the goddess. Heralds were sent ahead to announce that Athena herself was bringing Peisistratos back to her acropolis(Athens) and that she exalted him above all other men. Word traveled fast to the people throughout the villages and even to those in the city believing that Phya was the goddess Athena and consequently, Peisistratos was welcomed back by the awestruck Athenians. [27] How much of this story is based in facts versus an oral fabrication or exaggeration passed down to Herodotus is not entirely known. [26] Lavelle writes that this story provides a Homer-type mythological tie-in to the connection between the gods and Greek heroes where Peisistratos' prior resume as a warrior and general would be viewed as heroic and furthermore, Peisistratos would be viewed in a similar manner as the Greek hero Odysseus, who was viewed as cunning and having a special relationship with Athena. [30] It is debated to what extent this staged event impacted the return of many to his side. [31] Krentz postulates that the story should be viewed in the context of a premeditated performance of Athena returning to the temple Acropolis dedicated to her. [32] While some argue that the general public believed he had won the favor of the goddess, others instead put forward the idea that the public were aware that he was using the chariot ride as a political maneuver, drawing comparisons between himself and the ancient kings of Athens. [31] [33] [34]

Conflict, second exile, and return to power for third time Edit

Soon after, Herodotus reports that Peisistratos, who had been previously married and had two grown sons, did not want to have any children with his new wife, the daughter of Megakles, and would not have intercourse with her in the traditional manner. Apparently, Peisistratos was unwilling to compromise the political futures of his children (Hipparchos and Hippias). Furious, Megakles broke off this short-lived alliance with Peisistratos, and drove Peisistratos into exile for a second time, with the help of Peisistratos' enemies. [35] [36] During the length of his exile lasting approximately ten years, Peisistratos relocated to Rhaicelus or Rhaecelus, notable for its good agricultural base, in the Strymon river region of northern Greece, and eventually settled in the vicinity of Mount Pangaeus or Pangaion, accumulating wealth from the gold and silver mines located nearby. [37] [38] Financed by the mining money, he hired mercenary soldiers and bolstered with the support of allies such as the Thebans and the affluent Lygdamis of the island Naxos, he looked southward for a return to power. In 546 BC, using Eretria as a base and supported by Eretrian cavalry, Peisistratos landed at Marathon on the northern side of Attica and advanced towards Athens, joined by some local sympathizers from Athens and the surrounding demes. The remaining Athenians mustered a force in opposition and met Peisistratos' forces at Pallene. [39] [40] Providing some background details, Herodotus comments that just before the battle commences a seer gave Peisistratos a prophecy that the net has been cast and the tuna will swarm through. With the prophecy both welcomed and understood by Peisistratos, his troops advanced and attacked the Athenian forces who were resting after lunch, easily routing them. While the Athenians retreated and in order to prevent them from reforming their forces, Peisistratos directed his sons to ride after the routed Athenians and announce that they should return home, retaining no anxiety or fear from the situation at hand. With those instructions, the Athenians complied and Peisistratos was able to return to rule Athens for a third time as tyrant, with his reign lasting from 546 BC till his death in 528/527 BC. [41]

Analysis of secondary sources regarding both the length, as mentioned previously, and the accomplishments of Peisistratos' first two tyrannies are conflicting and very sparse in details, respectively. For instance, Lavelle hypothesizes that Megakles and the Alkmeonids still

held the majority of the political offices in the Athens government as part of the price and negotiation process that Peisistratos had to pay in order to become tyrant, and consequently, Peisistratos perhaps only functioned as a figurehead during his first two times in power. [42]

During the three reigns of Peisistratos in the mid to latter part of the 6th century BC, Athens was beginning its transition to becoming the largest and most dominant of the cities on the Attica peninsula, which is about the size of Rhode Island in the United States. [43] Starr states that Athens was coalescing into the framework of a city, rather than a loose affiliation of neighboring villages. [44] Perhaps next in importance was Piraeus, the main port city of Attica, just 5 miles southwest of Athens, and this port location was key to granting Athens easy access to maritime trade opportunities and the ocean waterways. [45] Other notable cities in Attica include Marathon and Eleusis.

Culture, religion, and arts Edit

With an emphasis on promoting the city of Athens as a cultural center and enhancing his prestige, Peisistratos instituted a number of actions to show his support for the gods and patronage of the arts. A permanent copying of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey was commissioned by Peisistratos and he also increased the visibility of the Panathenaic festival, whose origins date from earlier in the 6th century and was celebrated to a large degree every four years, with scaled-down versions of the festival every year. Due to the expansion of the Panathenaic festival, Athena became the most revered god (goddess) of Athens, in essence the patron god of the city-state, and the end of the festival would see a parade traveling to Athena's temple at the Acropolis, featuring a robe for the deity made by young Athenian women. Recitations of Homeric poems and athletic competitions became part of the festivities and prizes were given to the winners. New festivals were inaugurated such as the greater and lesser Dionysia which honored Dionysus, the god of wine and pleasure, and vase paintings of that time frame highlighted drinking and exuberant celebratory scenes. [46] [47] At the Dionysia festival, prizes were granted for the singing of dithyrambs and by the year 534 BC approximately, tragedy plays were an annual competition occurrence. [47] [48] Control of the temple of Demeter, located in Eleusis and honoring the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, was also accomplished by Peisistratos and as a result, the floor plan of a great hall, the Telesterion, was redesigned so a much larger building (27m by 30m) could be built onsite, with completion during the last few years of Peisistratos' reign or during the time of his sons' rule. Completely made of stone, the Telesterion had marble upper works, a Doric style portico, and tiles. The Greater Mysteries festival at Eleusis was an annual event held in the fall of each year, and was a Pan-Hellenic cult event for people both inside and outside of the Attica region. [49] [50] Other minor local cults sprinkled throughout Attica were either relocated entirely or in part to the city of Athens. [47]

Domestic Edit

One of the major areas of focus for Peisistratos and his government was the economy, and building and expanding on what his predecessor, Solon, had originally started. Peisistratos, likewise, had a two pronged approach: improve and modify agricultural production as well as expand commerce. In terms of agriculture, Solon had previously initiated a focus on the growth and cultivation of olives, which were better suited to the Athenian climate, as a cash crop. Peisistratos reintroduced a focus on olive production and in conjunction, he allocated funds to help the peasants outside the city of Athens, who were a key constituent bloc of his party, the Hyperakrioi, to obtain land as well as purchase tools and farm equipment. [51] [52] [53] The small farmer loans were funded in large part by an assessment or tax on agricultural production, a rare documented example of an Athenian direct tax, at a rate of ten percent according to Aristotle. [52] [54] A secondary source reports that the tax was closer to five percent. [53] Consequently, providing loans and monies to the rural residents surrounding Athens allowed them to continue working in the fields and to perhaps have them be uninterested in the politics of the city-state. [54] Peisistratos also initiated a traveling system of judges throughout the countryside to conduct trials on location and even the tyrant himself would occasionally accompany these groups for inspection purposes and conflict resolution. At one point, Peisistratos appeared before the court in his own defense, charged with murder, but the prosecution/accuser dropped the charges, being reluctant or afraid to move forward in the case. [54] [53] On the commerce side, Athenian or Attic pottery was a key export, with small numbers of pottery beginning to arrive in the Black Sea, Italian, and French regions (the modern-day names for these regions) in the 7th century. Under Solon, beginning in the early part of the 6th century, these black-figure pottery commodities began to be exported in ever increasing numbers and distance from Athens, arriving throughout the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea regions. Peisistratos continued to expand this vital pottery trade, with the black-figure pottery being found in Ionia, Cyprus, and as far east as Syria, while to the west, Spain was the most distant market. [51] The popularity of Athenian pottery was noteworthy in the fact that its numbers eventually began to surpass Corinthian pottery exports. [52]

As for the city of Athens itself, Peisistratos embarked on a public building project campaign to improve the infrastructure and architecture of Athens, building new and upgrading old. His administration built roads and worked to improve the water supply of Athens. An aqueduct was connected to the Enneakrounos fountain at the edge of the agora and this marketplace was improved by revising the market lay-out in a more systematic way, improving both its effectiveness and use of space. Archaeologists have discovered agora markers from the 6th century supporting such a claim. [53] Aristocrats had previously owned their private wells and Peisistratos elected to construct fountain houses with public access to water. On the Acropolis, the temple of Athena was reconstructed as the 6th century progressed, and during Peisistratos' rule, the building of a very large temple dedicated to Zeus was initiated, stopped upon his death, resumed several centuries later, and finally completed by Hadrian, a Roman emperor, in 131 AD. [55] [56] [57] Public rather than private patronage became the hallmark of a Peisistratos-ruled society, providing a steady source of construction jobs to those citizens in need and more affordable housing in the city center. Consequently, more people were able to move to the city of Athens. [56]

To finance these public infrastructure projects as well as increasing the depth and variety of cultural and arts offerings, Peisistratos used the revenue streams generated from the mining at Mount Pangaeus in northern Greece and the silver mines located closer to home at Laurion, owned by the state, in Attica. [58] [53] However, despite evidence of silver coinage, R. J. Hopper writes that silver was indeed produced during this time, but the amount is unclear for the years prior to 484/483 BC and it is possible that historians and researchers have overestimated the importance of the mines. [59]

Regarding the minting of silver coins, evidence of this production started to appear in the early 6th century in various Greek city-states. [60] Pomeroy contends that the first stamping of coins, imprinted with the image of an owl, was initiated by either Peisistratos or his sons. This owl depiction symbolized the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and these coins quickly became the most widely recognized currency in the Aegean region. [56] Meanwhile, Verlag argues that the minting most likely started in the first decade of Peisistratos' third reign in power (546-circa 535 BC), but the design was the so-called Wappenmünzen (heraldic coins) at first and then followed by a change to the owl currency version. The dating and placement of this change is uncertain, either late in the Peisistratid dynastic era or early in the democratic era of Athens. [61]

Foreign Edit

In conjunction with the burgeoning Athenian commerce, Peisistratos conducted a foreign policy, especially in the central Aegean Sea, with the intent of building alliances with friendly leaders. On the island of Naxos, the wealthy Lygdamis, who assisted Peisistratos in his triumphant return from his second exile, was installed as ruler and tyrant, and Lygdamis, in turn, placed Polycrates as ruler of the island Samos. Peisistratos reassumed control of the port city, Sigeum or Sigeion, on the coast of western Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), placing one of his sons in charge of the government. In addition, Peisistratos was able to establish an Athenian presence in the Thracian Chersonese, now known as the Gallipoli peninsula located in modern-day Turkey, by dispatching Miltiades, son of Kimon, to rule as tyrant. [56] The Hellespont waterway was a very narrow strait of water between the Thracian Chersonese and Anatolia, and the Thracian peninsula was a key location along travel routes between Asia Minor (Anatolia) and the European continent. Herodotus reports in The Histories that Miltiades was sent over to take control of the Chersonese at a later time in the 6th century, in the year 516, by the sons of Peisistratos. In the process of assuming power, Miltiades procured the support of 500 mercenaries, similar to a Peisistratos' tactic, and married a Thracian princess. [62]

As opposed to the modern definition of a tyrant, a one-person leader, whose ruling attributes are often considered to be violent and oppressive, the usage of the term, tyrant, during the Archaic Age of Greece did not automatically imply dictatorial or harsh actions by that individual. Rather, the Greek populace would judge a tyrant's reign, good or bad, in regards to their actions and behavior. Some tyrannies were short-lived while others, like Peisistratos' rule, could last quite longer, even decades, if perceived to be a good tyranny and accepted by the people. By definition, tyrants obtained their ruling position by force or other unconstitutional means, and they did not inherit this authoritarian role in the manner of a king or via monarchial succession. However, once in power, many tyrants attempted to establish the propagation of their rule by passing the leadership mantle to their sons, similar to the approach of Peisistratos. Usually, a tyrant would come from the ranks of fellow aristocrats, but would frequently rally the poor and powerless to their cause in a bid to obtain power, exemplified by Peisistratos when he formed the Hyperakrioi faction. To ease their transition into power and encourage societal security, tyrants could elect to keep the status quo for government institutions and laws, and even legacy officeholders, rather than purge them, [63]

In Herodotus' view as documented in the Histories, after assuming power for the first time, Peisistratos managed the city of Athens even-handedly and fairly, maintaining the government and political office structure as is with no changes to existing laws. However, after reassuming control in 546 BC for his third stint as head of state, Herodotus allows that he firmly established his tyranny with his mercenary force, increased his revenues from mining sources in Attica and Mt Pangaeus, placed opponents' children as hostages on the island of Naxos, and exiled both Alkmeonids as well as other Athenian dissenters (whether by freely chosen exile or by force is unclear). [64] Pomeroy reaffirms Herodotus' commentary regarding Peisistratos third turn in power, adding that Peisistratos installed relatives and friends in the offices of various archonships and detained the children of some Athenians as hostages to deter future uprisings and discourage opposition. [65] [66] Some of these actions would contradict the perception that Peisistratos ruled justly and followed the law. Aristotle seconds the initial remarks of Herodotus by characterizing Peisistratos' reign as moderate and mild, describing the ruler as having a pleasant and tender disposition. As an illustration, Aristotle relates the case of a member of Peisistratos' entourage encountering a man tilling a very stony plot of land and asking what was the yield of this land. The anonymous man responded that he received physical soreness and aches and Peisistratos received one-tenth of this yield. Due to his honesty, Peisistratos exempts the man from paying his taxes. Aristotle also comments that Peisistratos' government functioned more in a constitutional manner and less like a tyranny. [67]

Didrachm of Athens, 545–510 BC
Obv: Four-spoked wheel Rev: Incuse square, divided diagonally
Silver didrachm of Athens of heraldic type from the time of Peisistratos, 545–510 BC

Rosivach writes that the Peisistratid dynasty did not fundamentally change the government as originally comprised by Solon instead, they maintained power by installing allies in important governmental positions, threatening force as needed, and using marriage alliances, all being tactics residing outside the constitution and law. [68] Forsdyke chronicles the certain usage of Greek words by Herodotus in his Histories in reference to Peisistratos' tyranny and advocates that a society ruled by a tyrant has weak citizens while a democratic society has strong and free people. [69]

Peisistratos died in 527 or 528 BC, and his eldest son, Hippias, succeeded him as tyrant of Athens. Hippias, along with his brother, Hipparchus, kept many of the existing laws and taxed the Athenians at no more than five percent of their income. In 514 BC, a plot to kill both Hippias and Hipparchos was conceived by two lovers, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, after Hipparchos had unsuccessfully solicited the younger Harmodius and subsequently insulted his sister. However, Hipparchus was the only one assassinated, and per Thucydides, was mistakenly identified as the supreme tyrant due to being the victim. However, Hippias was the actual leader of Athens, remaining in power for another four years. During this time, Hippias became more paranoid and oppressive in his actions, killing many of the Athenian citizens. [70] The Alcmaeonid family helped depose the tyranny by bribing the Delphic oracle to tell the Spartans to liberate Athens, which they did in 510 BC. Following the capture of their children, Hippias and the other Peisistratids were forced to accept the terms dictated by the Athenians to recover their children and were exiled, being provided safe passage to Sigeion. [71] The surviving Peisistratid ruler, Hippias, eventually joined the court of King Darius of Persia, and went on to aid the Persians in their attack on Marathon (490 BC) during the Greco-Persian Wars, acting as a guide. [72] [73] Upon the fall of the Peisistratid dynasty in 510 and the deposition of Hippias, Kleisthenes of Athens ultimately triumphs in a power struggle, dividing the Athenian citizens into ten new tribes, creating a Council of Five Hundred as a representative assembly, and ushering in the age of democratic government in the year 508/507. [74] [75] According to Pomeroy, the tyranny of Peisistratos and his sons functioned as a social leveling mechanism, regardless of economic status, for those outside the Peisistratid faction and sympathizers. Hence, the democratic style of government that evolved to replace the overthrow of the Peisistratids was aided by the circumstances and outcomes of the outgoing tyranny. [76]

Obol of Athens, 545–525 BC
Obv: An archaic Gorgoneion Rev: Square incuse
An archaic silver obol of Athens of heraldic type from the time of Peisistratos, 545–525 BC

Upon the passing of Peisistratos, the coalescing of Athens and its city-state population into a tightly knit society, both of a religious and civil nature, was well underway, even though Athens was still much less influential militarily and politically compared to Sparta, its future ally and rival of the upcoming 5th century BC. [77] Per Aristotle, the tyranny during the time of Peisistratus was commonly thought of as "the age of gold". This reference to an age of gold harkened back to the mythological god Cronos/Cronus, who ruled during what was called the Golden Age. [78]

During the era of Athenian democracy, the development of ostracism, the expelling of a citizen for up to ten years, as a governmental management tool arose in reaction to the tyranny of the Peisistratids, and was envisioned, in part, as a defense against potential tyrants or individuals who amassed too much power or influence. [79]

The poet Dante in Canto XV of the Purgatorio, the second installment of the Divine Comedy, references Peisistratos as responding in a gentle way when interacting with an admirer of his daughter. [80] [81]

According to Suda, the bodyguards of Peisistratos were called wolf-feet ( Λυκόποδες ), because they always had their feet covered with wolf-skins, to prevent frostbite alternatively, because they had a wolf symbol on their shields. [82]

Peisistratus: The Man who Made Athens

Welcome everyone to my new blog post! Today I have decided to look at the life and career of Peisistratos and how he was able to shape Athens. He destroyed much of the progress towards democracy that had been made by Solon in his constitutional reforms but also began the rise of Athens as one of the major powers of Greece. The economy began to prosper and soon Athens rivaled many other major cities in wealth (but it was not really until after the Persian Wars and the creation of the Delian League that it really became preeminent in its wealth in Greece). Thus, Peisistratus is a truly fascinating character to look at as he really is the person who catapulted Athens into the limelight of Classical history - without him Greece may never have survived the Persian wars. His legacy also helped to develop democracy in Athens and set the stage for our own modern form of government, making his importance truly echo down through the ages. Despite his clear importance, we actually have surprisingly few sources for his life though - he is only really talked about in much detail by Herodotus, Aristotle and Plutarch, with only Herodotus actually focusing at all on the man himself. Despite this, we still have a great deal of archaeological evidence about 6th Century BC Athens and can use the chronology of Peisistratid rule to have a good idea of what was actually built during his rule.

However, before we really delve deeper into the rule of Peisistratus himself, it is worth contextualizing his rule by a bit of background information about Archaic Athens. Archaeological records show that the city really began to develop around the 9th century, possibly due to its strategic location at the heart of Greece as well as the security afforded to it by the Acropolis but is more likely down to its access to the sea, which gave it an advantage over many other inland rivals like Thebes or Sparta. According to Athenian mythological tradition, at this time Athens was also run by Kings a prominent example is Theseus, one of the mythical Kings of Athens referenced in a plethora of sources. At the heart of this system were also the Eupatridae, or the aristocracy, who took up the important positions in government and were the wealthy landowners and elites of Attica. They seem to have controlled the government for the most part from councils on the Areopagus, which retained some importance right into the time of Pericles, but its power was limited under reforms by Cleisthenes and Ephialtes. Aristotle tells us in his remarks on the Athenian constitution that this ultimately led to mass unrest among the poorer population and so Draco was appointed to set up a harsh law code to cool the population (hence the word draconian). That does not mean that his laws were insignificant though, as they provided the first written law in Athens. Nevertheless, his laws did not quell the unrest, so the philosopher-politician Solon was brought in and he made reforms that constituted the first, albeit fledgling, steps towards democracy. The powers did however remain with the aristocracy, as they were the only ones who could hold office. A more unintended consequence of this was that it led to aristocratic families almost developing into factions contesting for power.

In the mid 6th century, the main families were the Boutads, the Alcmaeonids and the Peisistratids. The Peisistratids from whom Peisistratus came were wealthy landowners who owned vast estates i eastern Attica stretching from the sanctuary of Brauron to the plain of Marathon. The family claimed descent from a number of hugely important Athenian figures, including both Codrus, the last great king of Athens, but also Nestor, the wise Homeric King of Pylos during the Trojan War. We cannot underestimate the power that this mythological ancestry may well have had for the Peisistratids. Despite this mythological ancestry though, there were worrying signs about the future of the family: Hippocrates, the eventual father of Peisistratus, was giving a sacrifice in Olympia, but the water in a certain cauldron there boiled and overflowed without it even being heated - this was interpreted to mean that Hippocrates should never have children. Clearly, he did not obey this. Even though he features before even being born, we still know little of his early life. However, we are aware that he was supposedly astonishingly handsome as well as being the cousin (and possibly even lover) of the lawgiver Solon. Some time in the 560s Peisistratus led an Athenian contingent in a war against Megara which was spectacularly successful. Consequently, he became a well known and immensely popular figure in Athens for this victory and in 561 BC, he made his shot at power by trying to become the city's tyrant (NB that tyrannos in Ancient Greek did not mean tyrant in the modern sense so much as a non-constitutional autocrat). In doing so, he came into considerable opposition in the forms of the principal members of the other two major families, Lycurgus for the Boutads and Megacles for the Alcmaeonids.

This presented Peisistratus with a major problem as he was unable to take power with the opposition of these two families. Herodotus tells us an absolutely wonderful story (but, sadly, that is probably all that it is) about how he managed to overcome this. Deliberately wounding both himself and his mules, he hurried into the Agora of Athens on his bloodied chariot claiming that he had been assaulted by his political rivals and had only narrowly escaped assassination. This created uproar among the citizens who were inflamed at this apparent attempt to kill a popular figure. Solon accused Peisistratus of playing political power games, but the citizens remained firm and gave Peisistratus a personal bodyguard and marched him to the Acropolis, thus giving him the power of tyrannos. In this position he utilised his bodyguard to remove opposition and thus became tyrant for this first time. His rule even from the start proved good, to the surprise of the more democratic factions in the city, as he turned out to be in general a just and fair ruler. Despite this, Megacles and Lycurgus soon got together to remove him and they forced him from power only 5 years later in around 556 BC. Immediately after though, their always tremulous coalition collapsed and Megacles actually offered his daughter to Peisistratus to form an alliance. Peisistratus, always a keen political maneuverer (this is one thing all the literary sources are adamant about), accepted and divorced his previous wife.

To return to power was, despite this great change of circumstances in the political landscape of Archaic Athens, was still difficult. To achieve this, he came up with an even wilder, more dramatic and more fantastical way of doing so than the first. This is one of my very favourite episodes of Ancient History! Peisistratus made his way into the countryside of Attica and came across a very tall and beautiful woman called Phyla. He then gathered all his wealth to pay for her to be ornately dressed and put on an ornate chariot and taken into the city in a lavish parade. While she approached, his agents ran through the city proclaiming Athena (yes, the Goddess!) was coming into the city and escorting Peisistratus back, showing his truly divine approval. In truth, it was simply Phyla, but dressed up in dazzling armour and with considerable pomp. Supposedly, the Athenians actually believed this and so Peisistratus once again came to power. The truth of the matter may be actually quite different though, as it seems unlikely that the Athenians would actually have believed that Athena herself was coming into the city, and it is more likely they, like all the later authors who reported the story, would have considered it simply a rather absurd act of flummery. Whatever the case, Peisistratus was back!

However, once again the internal troubles of Athenian politics came back to haunt him. His hasty alliance with Megacles soon also collapsed and Megacles began to spread sordid rumours about Peisistratus forcing his wife (Megacles' daugther) to perform unnatural sex acts. This turned much of the population against Peisistratus even though many later authors such as Herodotus and Aristotle do seem to think that these allegations were unfounded. Thus, Peisistratus was once again forced into exile. By now he had made several powerful connections and so he turned to support from abroad. The cities of Thebes and Argos alongside the island of Naxos all offered to support him with mercenary soldiers and he soon gathered a formidable army with which to march on Athens. Therefore, in 546 BC he marched with his sons Hippias and Hipparchus (both later tyrants in their own rights) into Attica at the head of this large and powerful army. He landed at Marathon (quite possibly an inspiration for the invasion of Attica by the Persians in 490 BC, especially since Hippias was an adviser to Datis and suggested Marathon as an invasion place) and marched towards Athens through Peisistratus' old estates, thus garnering further support. Finally, he caught Megacles almost unawares outside Athens and utterly routed his army, and consequently came to power once more while eliminating his greatest political rival, thus ensuring his survival. He was back for good, and would survive in his position of tyrant for the next 18 years until his peaceful death in 528 BC. Later populations of Athens would remember this period of rule as Athens' first golden age.

Courtesy of his disarming ways and care to cultivate public support for his policies, he regained much of the support of the population during this period. He also once again acquired an image as being compassionate and forgiving - Aristotle famously goes so far as to describe him as being more like a private citizen than a tyrant. He saw how much the city had been divided recently and so brought stability back to the city but not only through tyrannical imposition of authority but also by governing by consensus. However, he did not solely use popular legislation and elaborate public works to make himself more popular, but he also resorted the that age-old use of bribery to ensure his support. Importantly, he was also one of the first Athenians to realize the intrinsic importance of the food supply, especially that from the area of the modern Ukraine that came down through the Hellespont and Bosporus. This made him appoint Miltiades the Elder (ancestor of the later, more famous Miltiades), a member of a rival political dynasty, as tyrant of the Chersonese to ensure the passage of this grain through the straits and his own son Hegesistratus as tyrant of Sigeum on the opposite side of the Hellespont to keep a watchful eye on Miltiades. He also boosted agricultural production in Attica itself bu appointing a board of peripatetic judges to ensure farmers enjoyed the same rights as the urban citizenry.

In Athens itself he initiated a series of major public works. First among these, he built Athens' very first underground aqueduct securing the quickly growing city's water supply - this is also attested in archaeological evidence and can still be seen to this day. He also constructed a new and far grander propylaea (a gateway) on the Acropolis as well as a new temple to Olympian Zeus near the city. These actions kept the city dwellers happy but also crucially meant that they would not be able to revolt as they were busy being involved in these ambitious building projects. Moreover, by increasing the city's wealth greatly, as these projects did, he could increase his own revenue due to the 10% tax he levied on citizens' profits. Despite this, he also went to great lengths to enforce the law, introducing large numbers (around 300) of public slaves in the form of a new pseudo-police force of Scythian archers. This made the city a far safer place and helped to greatly limit crime - few other cities in the entire Ancient World had such an effective anti-crime unit. He also distinguished manslaughter from murder for the first time, greatly increasing his popularity and showing his talent for legal reforms.

The Peisistratids is the term given to Peisistratos and his sons Hipparchus and Hippias. They were consecutive tyrants of Athens for approximately 36 years. Peisistratos came to prominence for his role in the capture of the port of Nicaea in Megara. It was part of a coup that occurred in 565 BC, and unlike Cylon almost 70 years previously, Peisistratos had the support of the people and the Men of the Hill. Despite his popularity, he didn&rsquot have the political connections to seize power, so he deliberately wounded himself in order to receive protection.

With the support of the majority of the people, Peisistratos needed the bodyguards for his next step seizing control of the Acropolis. With the aid of important nobleman Megacles and his party, Peisistratos declared himself tyrant sometime in the late 560s BC. Although his rise to power was almost meteoric, things didn&rsquot go smoothly for Peisistratos during his reign. In around 555 BC, the two original political parties put aside their differences to oust the tyrant.

After a few years in exile, Peisistratos returned to Athens riding a golden chariot with a beautiful woman by his side. She is said to have resembled the goddess Athena, and this was enough to regain popular support. His second reign lasted anywhere between one and six years depending on the source, but ultimately, he was exiled again. However, Peisistratos refused to go away and returned once more, this time with the support of local cities. He probably regained power for the third and final time in 547 BC.

Once again, Peisistratos did not rule in the same way that modern tyrants do. According to Herodotus, he tried to distribute power and benefits instead of hoarding them. He cut taxes for the lower earners in Athens and promoted the arts. Peisistratos died in 528/527 BC and was succeeded by his son Hippias. Along with his brother Hipparchus, Hippias ruled Athens in much the same way as his father. When Hipparchus was murdered in 514 BC, Hippias became more oppressive and lost the support of the people. The tyrant was deposed between 510 and 508 BC when the Spartans invaded Athens. The Peisistratids were forced into exile. An interesting footnote is that Hippias helped the Persians with their attack on Marathon by acting as a guide.

Peisistratus And The Peisistratids: Tyrants Of Athens Before Democracy - History

Lecture 14 - Tyranny in Athens

Solon (Law Giver), Peisistratus (Tyrant), Cleisthenes (Constitution), Pericles (Radical Democracy)

Athens came late to the problem of land hunger and tyranny, probably because Attica as a region possessed more arable land and was able to sustain a larger subsistence population than most neighboring regions of Greece. When it did obtain suitable conditions, the community experienced repeated threats of seizure by outside influences, neighboring tyrannical regimes, Sparta, and Persia. Much of the political development in Athens was affected by the perceptions induced by these threats. Unlike Sparta, Athens underwent the entire tyrannical experience to emerge by 500 BC as the leading urban, commercially oriented state of the Aegean world.

Some important aristocratic families of Athens:

Cleisthenes, tyrant of Sikyon, c. 570
Megacles of Athens married Agariste, daugter of Cleisthenes of Sikyon
Hippocrates (a relative) Cleisthenes (archon 525)
Agariste married Xanthippos
Pericles married Aspasia of Miletus the hetaira
Alcibiades (ward of Pericles)

THE PHILAIDAE (from Brauron)
Cypselus, tyrant of Corinth
Miltiades (grandson of Cypselus of Corinth) Hippokleides, a relative who lost the hand of Agariste to Cleisthenes of Athens
Miltiades, archon 524, victor at Battle of Marathon
Cimon, Delian League general
A relative, Thucydides the historian

These stemma demonstrate not only the longevity of Athenian aristocratic families, but the influence of regional tyrannies and the attempts they made to extend influence on neighboring cities, such as Athens, while constructing networks of tyrannical marriages and "guest friendships" (hospitality).

Another, Theagenes, tyrant of Megara, married his daughter to an Athenian aristocrat named Cylon who led conspiracy to seize power in Athens, 632/1 BC. By that time threat of tyranny in Athens was very real.

Draco's Law code 621/0, very harsh (written in blood), but indicates attempts by aristocracy to head off tyranny. Land conditions noted in earlier lecture -- the hektomoroi, Athenian small farmer citizen soldiers falling into debt and slavery. Athenian small farmers looked to examples such as Sparta and demanded annulment of debts, redistribution of land.

Solon c. 573/2, was appointed (elected?) as "lawgiver" to resolve the debt crisis. Solon was a war hero and the younger son of an aristocratic family who went into trade, sailed extensively in the eastern Mediterranean, became one of the seven sages of Greece, and wrote lyric poetry recording his political actions. He boasted as his accomplishment, seisachtheia (the shaking off of debts).

The avowed Solonian program was to set debtors free avoid land redistribution reform constitution and avoid tyranny.

He abolished all debts by removing the Horos stones (mortgage stones) from indentured land, but he refused to redistribute the land. He created census classes to enable wealthy non aristocrats (emerging traders like himself) to obtain archonship and to enter the Areopagus. This was his main source of support. Solon claimed to have avoided tyranny. He tried to stimulate the development of artisan trades, but he lacked the resources necessary to resolve land problem. He basically delayed tyranny.

After his term as "lawgiver," Solon departed Athens for 10 years. When he returned he found the city in chaos. The Athenian archon list indicates two consecutive years in which no archon was elected, i.e., " anarchia ". His own relative, Peisistratus, a war hero, was seeking tyranny in Athens. Peisistratus attempted to impose tyranny in Athens 561/0, but he was quickly expelled by the Alcmeonidae. He traveled to Macedonia, invested in silver mines, bought mercenary army, made alliances with tyrants of Naxos and Argos, returned to Athens by force, and established his tyranny 546-527 BC. His sons Hippias and Hipparchus maintained tyranny until 510 BC, when Hippias was expelled from city.

Peisistratus used state revenues and his own personal income from mines in Macedonia to resolve the land question.

1. Land reform: Peisistratus redistributed land confiscated from his aristocratic opponents. He put poor farmers on the land, imposed 5% income tax on everyone, and used his revenues to lend farmers money to make the transition from subsistence to surplus agricultural production, especially production of Attic olive oil. This became the celebrated export of Athens.

2. He broke down aristocratic control at the local level by a.) instituting rural circuit court judges b.) Moving religious cults to Athens and making them national in focus. Cult of Artemis of Brauron moved to the Acropolis, popular harvest festival of Dionysus was brought to the urban center. the Dionysus festival was an annual event comprising prayers, choruses, and fertility rites. Chorus writers devised way to bring singers forward from the chorus to engage in poetic dialogues. This marked the beginning of Athenian dramatic performances, and the birth of Greek Tragedy and Comedy. All of this was indebted to Peisistratus. He also founded festivals at Eleusis, and the Panathenaia in Athens.

3. He improved the Athenian commercial position in the Aegean, by creating "favored nation status" with his allies at Naxos, Samos, Argos, Thessaly, and Macedonia. He also enhanced trade through colonial settlements on the Hellespont - Sigeon and the Chersonessos, on the Hellespont, the gateway to the Black Sea grain trade.

4. He fostered the rise of the polis by the following means:

A. He conducted public building enterprises paid for by his own silver he created wage labor opportunities for "thetes" (landless poor citizens). Displaced agricultural laborers quickly migrated from the land to the urban center of Athens. He constructed the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Temple of Athena (the Hekatompedon), Theater of Dionysus, Fountain house of the 9 Springs in the Agora, and the Telesterion at Eleusis.

B. Peisistratus elevated the Panathenaic festival to international status (every 4 then every 2 years). As prizes victors received Panathenaic amphoras of Athenian wine and oil. Amphoras painted first in Black, then in Attic Red Figure style, demonstrating the skill and artistry of Athenian pottery production. Attic Black Figure vases began, c. 600-580 BC the transition to Red Figure vases occurred c. 530 BC during the tyranny. Attic Red Figure vases become the most popular fineware of the entire Mediterranean world. Their presence in excavation stratigraphies clearly identifies Classical layers of occupation (c. 530-400 BC). Attic Red Figure vases were possibly the most significant artifacts of the Classical era.

C. Peisistratus invented the tetradrachmae (4 drachma) coin (roughly 12 grams of silver). Consistent weight and purity of the coin made it the standard for international trade throughout the Classical period. The Athenian drachma was still valued in the Hellenistic era.

D. Peisistratus offered grants of citizenship to wealthy metics (metoikoi, resident aliens). We know this because after the expulsion of the tyranny in 510 BC, Athenian aristocrats demanded a review of the census roles to remove illegal citizens, offering proof that this had been the program of the Peisistratids.

The Peisistratids did not tinker with the constitution, but made sure that their political allies obtained the archonships and entered the Areopagus (council of elders) for life. They did resolve the economic crisis however. One hears no more about land crises or debt bondage in Athens. Estimates for the Athenian hoplite phalanx, approximately 15,000 men, mean that many small farmers were securely installed on the land with small estates of approximately 10-20 acres and 1-2 slaves per household -- sufficient to sustain surplus production. This element became Athen's "broadened aristocracy", a very conservative element compared with the urban poor in the city. Peisistratus found Attica a dispersed uncooperative rural population centered around the large oikoi of the aristocratic families, but he left it as a rural hinterland oriented toward the emerging urban center of Athens, with a population of c. 100,000. Athens became an outward looking, commercially oriented, internationalized community with significant export, artisan, and craft production. The city promptly assumed first place as the trading power of the Aegean world.

Economic depression possibly consequent to the Persian conquest of Thrace and Macedonia in 514 BC (Darius I) made the Peisistratid successors, Hippias and Hipparchus, unpopular in Athens. The Persian conquest to the North possibly shut them off from the revenues of their silver mines and thus they could no longer support public works programs. An aristocratic assassination plot killed Hipparchus. After this, Hippias engaged in purges and ultimately was expelled by various aristocratic factions. He fled to the palace of the Persian satrap at Sardis (Lydia) where he was welcomed and maintained by the satrap as a potential tool for future use. The satrap hoped to reinstate the tyrant in Athens as a way to gain a foothold in mainland Greece. Athenian ambassadors sent to demand his extradition were advised by the satrap to take him back as their ruler. This affair marked the beginning of difficulties between Athens and Persia.

At same time the Athenian aristocracy was torn regarding the direction in which to pursue political reform. Conservatives wishing to turn back the clock began to call for reinstitution of the "ancestral constitution", a political slogan much repeated during the coming century. More moderate aristocrats, led by Cleisthenes the Alcmeonid, realized that by ancestral constitution the conservatives were determined to turn back the clock to the constitution that existed during the pre-Solonian era. Civil war erupted in which the conservatives were outnumbered, so they invited intervention by Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. An aggressive Spartan king, Cleomenes, saw his chance like previous regional tyrants to impose a subservient government in Athens. His effort failed however. He found himself engaged in urban street fighting in Athens, and soon was surrounded on the Athenian Acropolis. The other Peloponnesian League states eventually refused to participate in an intervention in what was essentially the internal affairs of an independent Greek city state and withdrew, leaving Cleomenes and the Spartans trapped in Athens. The Athenian faction of Cleisthenes eventually was persuaded by conservatives to allow Spartan forces and allied conservatives to leave peacefully. The democratic reaction was swift and forceful, nonetheless. Cleisthenes introduced dramatic political reforms to prevent the return of aristocratic dominance in Athenian politics. Peisistratus had reformed the economic order Cleisthenes now reformed the constitution.


In essence Cleisthenic democracy meant hoplite democracy. All those bearing arms were allowed to participate in the assembly.

For one of the most significant political figures of Athenian history, Cleisthenes' career remains a mystery. We do not even know what office he held, for how long, or when. It is clear from Athenian sources, nonetheless, that most of the significant political reforms were attributed to him.

Cleisthenes was clearly influenced by Greek philosophical developments, particularly mathematical breakthroughs of Pythagoras. Pythagoras and his followers taught the notion of putting oneself in harmony with the universe by living one's life according to perceived natural laws, particularly those of "magic numbers". Cleisthenes attempted to organize the Athenian constitution according to the "magic number" 10. He reorganized political institutions in such a way as to eradicate permanently aristocratic influence on Athenian society. Cleisthenes used the slogan isonomia, or equality before the law. This was essentially "one man one vote".

Cleisthenes instituted a new political structure organized according to demes (voting wards). At the local level, some 174 demes were created. These were organized into 30 tritteis or thirds of tribes which were then organized into 10 new voting tribes , each named after a significant Athenian hero. Each tribe consisted of 3 tritteis ideally drawn from different areas of Attica. Tribal organization of the Ekklesia (the assembly), and hence of the national army, now consisted of citizens drawn from throughout Attica. In the phalanx battle line, one's life depended now on the cooperation of those to one's right or left who haled from distant areas of Attica. Artificially, this diminished an individual citizen's need to identify with his local region and compelled him to think in more national terms.

Reorganization of the government:

10 generals (one from each tribe originally) annually elected chief magistrates to direct the military generals could hold office repeatedly and consecutively.

10 archons, after 487 BC selected by lot, one per tribe, to handle the courts. Could only hold office once.

Council of 500 -- 500 representatives, 50 per tribe, selected by lot from all citizens for one year's service. Council itself divided into 10 prytanies or governing committees that performed full time duties in Athens for one month of the year (the Athenian year had 10 months, therefore, 1/month per tribal prytany of 50 councilors). The calendrical order of prytanies was determined by lot. Within prytanies committees of 10 would work through the night each day to handle emergencies, with the order of each committee to be determined by lot. Presidency of the council also was determined by lot. The Council of 500 became a clearing house for all legislation to be put before the Ekklesia, bills were packaged by the council, committees met with foreign ambassadors, etc. Theoretically every Athenian citizen could expect to serve at least once on the council during his lifetime.

The Areopagus -- became a shadow council. It continued to be composed of ex-archons for life and continued to hold certain religiously based political authority, but its supremacy was clearly supplanted by the new Council of 500 of the democracy. Apart from a brief comeback during and after the Persian War, its status declined throughout the Classical period.

The Ekklesia -- organized according to 10 tribes, voted on all public issues. Presided over by president of the council, with generals present, the assembly openly debated questions and answers, and thus introduced the notion of public debate. Business was no longer conducted merely according to yes or no votes. The assembly could ask for amendments, send bills back to the council, etc. All public issues -- war and peace, etc., were decided by the entire body politic in the assembly. Cleisthenic Democracy was essentially participatory democracy by those who could afford to attend.

POPULAR COURTS -- possibly originated with Solon, the courts now became the organ of appeals for the democracy. They were organized according to 10 courts administered by the 10 archons to handle all public and private legal business. Jurors were selected by lot. For public issues that were too complex to be addressed by the Assembly, particularly questions of constitutional procedure and/or accusations of treasonous behavior (i.e., proposing legislation that was contrary to the "ancestral constitution"), an issue would be raised by accuser in the assembly. The suit would be removed from the assembly and thrown into the popular courts where an uneven number of jurors (101, 501, or 1001), chosen by lot, would decide final outcome. The Helaia or popular courts represented a court of appeal whose decision became binding on the state.

Heavy reliance on sortition (selection by lot) and other elements reveal the Cleisthenic leadership's intense fear of aristocratic influence. Sortition was originally a religious tool, essentially leaving the choice to the gods, apparently because selection by humans could not be trusted. Examples of sortition within sortition within sortition, as in the Council of 500, demonstrates the intense jealousy of the new democracy to institute truly random means of selection in order to eliminate any and all influence by existing aristocratic factions. The context of the recent Spartan invasion and the willingness of conservative aristocrats to "sell out" Athens in order to preserve their position in society needs to be borne in mind.

Determined to bring the Acropolis to a level of splendor not seen before, Pericles initiated a massive building project that lasted 50 years. Under his direction, two well-known architects, Callicrates and Ictinus, and renowned sculptor Phidias helped plan and execute the Pericles’ plan.৩১ জানু, ২০১৮

Solon (c. 650-561): Athenian statesman, poet, and lawgiver, one of the Seven sages. One would have expected the rise of tyrant, but instead the Athenians appointed a wise man named Solon as lawgiver (594/593).২৮ অক্টোবর, ২০২০


Even if a man kills another unintentionally, he is exiled. The kings are to adjudge responsible for homicide either the actual killer or the planner and the Ephetai are to judge the case. If there is a father or brother or sons, pardon is to be agreed to by all, or the one who opposes is to prevail but if none of these survives, by those up to the degree of first cousin, if all are willing to agree to a pardon the one who opposes is to prevail but if none of these survives, and if he killed unintentionally and the fifty-one, the Ephetai, decide he killed unintentionally, let ten phratry members admit him to the country and let the fifty-one choose these by rank. And let also those who killed previously be bound by this law. A proclamation is to be made against the killer in the agora by the victim’s relatives as far as the degree of cousin’s son and cousin. The prosecution is to be shared by the cousins and the cousins’ sons and by sons-in-law, fathers-in-law, and phratry members.

Political Identity . The Peisistratid tyranny, that of Peisistratus and his sons Hippias and Hipparchus, who succeeded on his death in 527, was obviously not a time in which Athens’s politics could develop at an institutional level. Peisistratus and his friends and family were in control, even though he allowed the normal mechanisms instituted by Solon to function. The archons were always elected under their supervision and usually from their ranks. This situation meant that the Areopagus Council, which had effective legislative control, was gradually filled up with Peisistratus’s people. However, in less obvious ways their tyranny was crucial for the development of Athens’s democracy. Peisistratus imposed a tax of 5 percent on all produce and used the proceeds to finance a large public works program. This tax served to increase the role of the polis in Athens’s economy, to provide a new sort of employment, and to achieve a great degree of economic stability and prosperity. Peisistratus also cleared Athens’s agora (gathering place or market) of private dwellings in order to achieve a proper civic center. He began the minting of Athenian coinage, and he also used legislation and loans at especially good rates to keep all agricultural land under production in the most effective ways. Under his leadership Athens’s farmland shifted somewhat away from grains and into olives, whose oil could be processed and sold abroad at a much higher added value. He also sent out traveling courts through the countryside of Attica, so that the polis took over judicial functions from local aristocrats. Besides building programs on the Acropolis and in the central agora, Peisistratus and his sons also put polis money behind the large festivals, like the yearly Panathenaia, which was celebrated with pomp every fourth year, and the Dionysia, where Athens’s theatrical traditions were born. Besides making him popular, these actions fostered a stronger sense of Athenian identity than had existed before. Instead of relying on the aristocrats, Athenians now relied on their polis to pursue prosperity.

Tyrannicide . In 514 b.c.e. Athens’s tyranny changed. One of the sons of Peisistratus, Hipparchus, was assassinated, and as a result, his brother Hippias imposed harsh measures on the Athenians, harsh enough for the Athenians ever after to condemn even the notion of tyranny. The family of Alcmaeonids, which had led the shore group in Athens before being driven out by Peisistratus, managed to persuade the Spartans to rid Greece of tyrants, so the Spartans marched on Athens and eventually forced Hippias to withdraw. He went to Asia Minor and enjoyed the protection of the Persians.

Father of Democracy . In Athens, with the withdrawal of the Peisistratids, Athens’s old regional conflicts began to resurface. Legislation was introduced to outlaw “those of impure descent,” which meant the immigrants from Asia Minor and the Alcmaeonids, whose family still suffered from the miasma associated with the massacre of the followers of Cylon more than a century before. The legislation was resisted, but tensions remained, principally between the Alcmaeonids and the other old aristocrats. These tensions were resolved when Cleisthenes, the leader of the Alcmaeonids, “brought the demos into his hetairia” (In this context, demos refers to the mass of citizens in the lower classes hetairia refers to the aristocratic social clubs that formed the basis of political alliances in Athens.) The demos had been the backbone of the Peisistratids’ support until their tyranny became despotic now it would govern itself.

Power of the People . Despite attempts by aristocrats to reenlist the Spartans to drive out the Alcmaeonids, the demos insisted on its independence, and after shedding some aristocratic blood and besieging the Spartans on the Acropolis, they allowed the Spartans to withdraw and won their democracy. Cleisthenes was the reformer who gave Athens’s democracy its definitive shape, although little is known about his life, especially after he was elected archon in 508. His most important step was to redefine Athenian citizenship. From now on, the Athenians would be no longer divided by the traditional divisions into four tribes, which were dominated by the aristocrats with their brotherhoods, or phratries, and their control of many of Athens’s priesthoods. Instead, the Athenians now had ten tribes, membership in which depended entirely on geography, on which demos (town or area) they lived in. (The word for town was also dêmos, but modern scholars call these towns or areas demes [pronounced “deems”] in order to distinguish them from the demos, which became either the mass of citizens of the lower classes or the entire citizen body. Since Athenian politics increasingly worked on the principle of one man/one vote, and the lower classes greatly outnumbered the upper classes, these two meanings were not that distinct in practice.) To cut through Athens’s geographical strife, Cleisthenes constructed each of his 10 tribes from the 139 or so demes in the city center, along the shore, and from the rich plains areas. Each tribe consisted of demes from each of these three areas. To cut across Athens’s old family squabbles, Athenians began to identify themselves not with their patronymic or father’s name, which identified their family, but with their demotic name, which identified their deme.

Military Service . At eighteen years of age, every Athenian male was taken by his father before his local deme assembly, which voted on whether to accept him as a member. Once accepted, he spent the next two years in military training and on garrison duty with the other members of his tribe, drawn from all three of Athens’s regions. The sort of close male bonding that this arrangement encouraged, which was maintained through entire lifetimes, served to break down Athens’s geographical tensions.

Governing Bodies . Each of Athens’s ten tribes elected fifty members to Athens’s Council, or Boulê, which was expanded from four hundred to five hundred members. To make up the fifty, each deme elected a specific number of Council members each year. This Council met regularly and oversaw the administration of the polis, as well as preparing motions to go before Athens’s Assembly, or Ekklesia, which was the sovereign body, making all the important decisions. All Athenian males over eighteen took part in the Assembly. The political year was divided into ten “months,” during each of which the Council members from each tribe formed an executive body, a prutanis, which governed the city. Each day one of the fifty would officially be “president.”

Court System . Athens’s courts were also selected by tribes. Each year six thousand Athenians took the Heliastic oath to serve as judges, and each day the courts sat, up to five thousand of them being called to serve in courts that could number from hundreds to thousands. An elaborate lottery system was used for the selection of dikastai (judges) immediately before they heard and decided their cases. This procedure, and the great numbers involved, ensured that the judges could not be bribed.

Ostracism . Cleisthenes is also said to have introduced ostracism, no doubt to prevent the return of tyranny. Each year at the same time, the Athenian assembly voted whether to conduct an ostracism. If the vote passed, then one month later every Athenian citizen went to the agora and deposited a piece of broken pot, an ostrakon, on which he had written the name of someone he wanted to see ostracized. If enough votes were cast, then the “winner” was required to leave Athens for a period of ten years. He need not have done anything wrong. In fact, some sources report that the individual was ostracized simply because his greatness disturbed the political balance of the democracy. Except for the period 480-450 b.c.e., few people were ever actually ostracized in Athens, but the potential for the use of ostracism was thought to be an indication of the strength of Athens’s democracy.

Equality . In the early years of Athens’s Cleisthenic democracy, much power must still have been in the hands of the Areopagus, whose members, as former magistrates, all belonged to the wealthiest classes. Its role was to protect the constitution, which could give it quite far-reaching powers. The power of the dêmos, although officially sovereign through the assembly of all Athenian citizens, still had to establish itself in practice. Yet, the label that Cleisthenes’s reforms took, isonomia (“equality before the laws” or “a legal system based on equality”), laid the foundation for Athens’s demos to achieve its sovereignty in practice as well as formally.

Watch the video: The Ancient Greeks: Athenian Tyranny and Democracy Pisistratus and Cleisthenes