Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Rule of the Greek Tyrants

The tyrant Kypselus of Corinth took power with the backing of the hoplites of the citizen army. He proved to be very popular and went about Corinth unarmed and without a bodyguard.

Kypselus used the slogan “Give Justice to Corinth” throughout his rule. His first act to was ensure that all citizens were equal in the law courts. Aristocrats and others all got the same punishments for the same crimes.

The key to the success of Kypselus was probably that he listened to what ordinary citizens wanted and desired. He probably called meetings of the citizens to discuss key decisions.

So popular was Kypselus that when he died his son Periander was immediately installed as the new tyrant of Corinth. When Periander died his son Kypselus II became tyrant.

The city of Sicyon appointed a tyrant in 650bc. The tyrant Orthogoras quickly gained a reputation for being completely honest and impartial, but he impose severe penalties on anyone who broke his laws.

Orthagoras and his descendants ruled as tyrants of Sicyon for more than 100 years. Other tyrants were less successful, being thrown out after just a few years.

The laws of Pittakos, tyrant of the city of Mytilene on Lesbos, were biased against the aristocrats. If an aristocrat committed a crime while drunk he had to suffer double the penalty that would have been given to anyone else.

Pittakos resigned his position as tyrant in about 570bc. He set up a constitution by which the citizens could elect government officials. The new government's first act was to give Pittakos a large, new farm on which to live.

By about the year 500bc most Greek tyrants had either died, resigned or been ousted from power. However tyrants continued to rule in the Greek cities of Sicily and southern Italy.

Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse, invited his rich friend Damocles to a sumptuous banquet, then sat him in a chair with a sword hanging over it. Dionysius said this symbolised the life of luxury and danger led by a tyrant.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts - Ancient Greece by Rupert Matthews

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