“The Peisistratid Tyranny At Athens: Conflicting Sources And Revisionist History At Work” by Mara Kutter
July 17, 2015
The picture ancient sources paint of the tyrant Peisistratus’ reign in Athens is overall a moderate one, not at all befitting of the modern connotation of the word “tyrant.” Peisistratus died in 528/7 after nearly twenty consecutive years in power, and thereafter the historical record becomes increasingly obscure.1 Herodotus and Thucydides agree that Peisistratus’ son Hippias succeeded him, though the author of the Ath. Pol. speaks of a joint rule between Hippias and his brother Hipparchus.2 Meanwhile, Plato and Hellanicus record that Hipparchus alone became tyrant.3 Most, if not all, sources attest that the tyranny became more oppressive following the murder of Hipparchus, but diverge on the issue of the nature of the rule preceding it. They deviate again regarding the motivation of the tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton. Herodotus remains silent, while Thucydides cites Hipparchus’ sexual advances on Harmodius as the origin of the conflict, arguing against the popular belief that it developed from political opposition.4 The author of the Ath. Pol. reiterates the murder’s personal impetus, but transfers responsibility from Hipparchus to a third brother.5 Plato returns the blame to Hipparchus and transforms the conflict into a matter of intellectual jealousy rather than sexual.6 The ancient sources fail to achieve unanimity even regarding the end date of the tyranny, pointing either to the deposition of Hippias by the Spartans in 510 or the murder of Hipparchus in 514.
Herodotus and Theucydides tell the Peisistratids’ story within different contexts and thus emphasize separate aspects. The two accounts remain compatible, however, and do not contradict one another, something that cannot be said for the various accounts of Plato, Aristotle and his school, and the Atthidographer Hellanicus. Despite the plethora of conflicting sources and tendentious informants surrounding the tyranny after the year 528/7, Herodotus and Thucydides’ versions complement one another to provide the most plausible and comprehensive account of the sixth-century tyranny, and to reveal the prevailing Athenian anti-tyranny attitudes in the fifth century.
Although Herodotus and Thucydides incorporate slightly different parts of the tyranny’s history into their narratives, the main points of the stories coalesce satisfactorily. The story told by the overlap of their accounts goes as follows. Hippias succeeded his father as tyrant, and his rule became harsher after the lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton murdered his brother Hipparchus. Despite the more oppressive reign, the tyranny did not end until the Spartans intervened and deposed Hippias several years later. Thucydides focuses on the actual event of Harmodius and Aristogeiton’s killing Hipparchus and their presumed motives for doing so, whereas Herodotus finds it sufficient to name the tyrannicides without providing insight as to their driving rationale.7 Moreover, in describing the nature of the rule prior to the murder, Thucydides delves into material that Herodotus does not cover, such as the confusion regarding who rose to power after Peisistratus’ death.8 Herodotus instead goes into detail about the post-Hipparchus phase, describing the Athenian exiles’ failed attempt to bring down the tyranny and the Alcmaeonid family’s involvement in galvanizing the Spartans to intervene.9 Save the single sentence proclaiming that the Spartans and the Alcmaeonids liberated Athens from tyranny, Thucydides does not concern himself with events in the aftermath of Hipparchus’ murder.10 Together, Herodotus and Thucydides’ narratives flesh out a more complete picture of the demise of the Peisistratids than either one alone. Theirs are not the only extant accounts of the tyranny, however, and those of Plato, Aristotle and his pupils, Hellanicus, and popular opinion (relayed by Thucydides as he refutes it), deserve mention as well.
Closest in time to the events in question, Herodotus does not deal specifically with issues of succession or even hint at any polemic regarding who rose to power after Peisistratus’ death. He merely begins the chapter on Hipparchus’ murder by referring to him as the “brother of the tyrant Hippias,” an implicit but clear statement that Hipparchus himself did not succeed Peisistratus.11 On the other hand, Hellanicus presumably cited Hipparchus as Peisistratus’ eldest son and successor (judging from the refutations contained in Thucydides’ work, for Hellanicus’ own no longer survives).12 Hellanicus’ work might have served as the basis for Plato’s forth-century casting of Hipparchus as the tyrant in his philosophical-and, notably, not historically-minded-dialogues.13 Arguing against this version, Thucydides emphasizes the ignorance of the Athenian people in regards to their own history, for not knowing “that Hippias, the eldest of the sons of Peisistratus, was really supreme.14
Thucydides later contradicts himself somewhat, however, by speaking of tyrants in the plural form. He lauds the sons of Peisistratus for their moderation, using phrases such as “their government” and “these tyrants,” implying some sort of joint rule between the two.15 The author of the Ath. Pol. follows suit, stating that a joint rule began after Peisistratus’ passing, but he notes that “Hippias, who was the elder…was at the head of the regime.”16 While the possibility of a joint rule cannot be dismissed, the possibility that Hipparchus held power only through association with his older brother, the one true tyrant, should also be considered. Even the accounts which provide evidence for a joint rule concede that Hippias emerged as the pre- eminent of the two, and so even if it cannot be determined definitively that Hippias succeeded his father as sole tyrant, most sources agree that he did come to power of some sort² either as sole ruler or as the predominant player of a pair. Herodotus and Thucydides both explicitly name Hippias as tyrant, with the author of the Ath. Pol. and possibly Thucydides supporting a joint rule; only Hellanicus and Plato tell of Hipparchus alone succeeding his father.
The scarcity of details regarding the nature of Hippias’ time in power makes it difficult to discern anything with certainty, but prior to the death of his brother, he most likely ruled with an overall mild hand and did not terribly offend the Athenian people. After detailing Peisistratus’ numerous rises to power, Herodotus’ next mention of the tyranny at Athens finds both Peisistratus and Hipparchus dead, and the Athenians under Hippias’ rule.17 Herodotus does not directly describe Hippias’ rule prior to Hipparchus’ murder, but leaves the reader to make inferences about it from what he says of the rule afterward. Hipparchus’ demise inaugurated a new phase of the tyranny under Hippias, in which the Athenians “lived under an even harsher tyranny than before,” according to Herodotus.18The comparative nature of the phrase “even harsher” implies that the tyranny was harsh before as well, but Herodotus leaves exactly how harshly he rule during either stage highly open to interpretation. Herodotus’ silence about Hippias’ rule becomes more conspicuous in comparison to his description of other Greek tyrants. Not long after the story of the Peisistratids, Herodotus tells the story of the Cypselids of Corinth, in which he records both the political and personal atrocities Periander commits.19 Given that he provides details about Periander’s rule, it is reasonable to question why he did not do the same for Hippias’ regime. One explanation is that Hippias committed no such atrocities in the first place.
Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides directly discusses the nature of the rule prior to Hipparchus’ murder.. Although he agrees that the tyranny grew more oppressive afterward, Thucydides differs from Herodotus in describing the preceding phase of the tyranny. He reports that “generally their government was not grievous to the multitude, or in any way odious in practice…the city was left in full enjoyment of its existing laws.20 Noticeably, Thucydides’ first statement does not describe the government in positive terms but rather by the absence of oppression. His account thus suggests that, while Hipparchus lived, Hippias’ rule manifested itself moderately, even if not magnanimously.
Although Plato names Hipparchus as his father’s successor and therefore the rule preceding his murder would be his own and not Hippias’, Plato’s take on the nature of the tyranny cannot be ruled out as wholly irrelevant. Plato likens Hipparchus’ rule to the reign of Cronus-the time of the supposed golden race of men, when men lived like gods, free from cares.21 This is an exaggeration, but more likely than not it contains some kernel of truth. Plato wrote not as a historian but as a philosopher, but even if he did not concern himself primarily with historical accuracy, it is improbable that he would have completely reversed what he understood to be the truth, meaning the information he gleaned from his sources would have had to present the rule prior to Hipparchus’ death as tolerable, at the Least. The author of the Ath. Pol. draws a comparison to the age of Cronus as well, but instead in reference to Peisistratus’ time in power. He goes on to say that “when his sons took over, the regime became much more cruel.”22 He contradicts himself in the very next chapter, however, when he reports that the sons “continued the management of affairs in the same way” as Peisistratus had managed them.23 Given that he describes in some detail the moderation of Peisistratus’ hand and provides no evidence pointing to any significant deterioration of the tyranny under his sons, in all likelihood the tyranny after Peisistratus (and prior to Hipparchus’ death) remained relatively mild, as opposed to turning abruptly toward cruelty.
A further attestation to Hippias’ moderation is the fact that he held power securely for more than a decade, from the death of his father in 528/7 until the murder of Hipparchus in 514. During this time period, the only mention of questionable behavior is the brothers’ involvement in the murder of the Olympic victor Cimon.24 This violence can be attributed to the perceived threat he represented to Hippias; succession, and while this does not excuse the act, it prevents it from appearing as a wholly spontaneous and irrational murder.25 Except for this one instance near the beginning of Hippias’ time in power, the sources do not raise evidence against the calmness of his rule. While this is an argument from silence, it cannot be considered insignificant. In order to demonstrate and/or justify Athenian initiative in resisting tyranny, the sources-especially Athenians such as Thucydides-would have more readily fabricated artificial conflict during this period than gloss over any such conflict.
While Plato portrays the tyranny directly after Peisistratus’ death as being benevolent, and Herodotus and Thucydides depict Hippias as neither terribly good nor bad (and putting aside the author of the Ath. Pol., who himself seems confused about it), fifth-century popular opinion in Athens represents the third option, namely, that Hippias was a harsh and oppressive ruler. According to Thucydides, in his day, Athenians held the opinion that both the tyranny of Peisistratus and that of his sons had weighed heavily upon the people, although Thucydides himself dismisses this notion.26 It is not difficult to see how revisionist history could have played a role in shaping popular opinion. Fifth-century Athens promoted democracy above all other forms of government; embarrassed at having lived complacently under tyranny for decades, many Athenians-especially those whose families had alleged ties to the tyrants-began altering the stories they told, much of which people accepted as fact by the second half of the fifth- century.27 Given the malleability of popular opinion, it does not pose any significant obstacle to the argument that Hippias ruled with an overall sensible and temperate hand.
The murder of Hipparchus in 514 came as a jarring interruption to the calm regime preceding it. Driven proximately by personal motives, Harmodius and Aristogeiton plotted to kill both Hippias and Hipparchus. They succeeded in killing only Hipparchus, however, the brother whose actions had sparked their anger. Aristotle cites what happened to Hipparchus as a prime example of an attack :upon the person of the rulers,” as opposed to “upon the office,” thus highlighting the personal rather than political nature of the murder.28 While Harmodius and Aristogeiton did not aim specifically to bring down the tyranny, they attracted a number of co- conspirators.29 The existence of co-conspirators suggests either extremely loyal friendship and/or familial ties to the tyrannicides, or latent political opposition.30 Hipparchus had made known his desire for Harmodius, and Aristogeiton, the jealous lover, wanted to prevent him from gaining Harmodius’ reciprocal affections.31 Furthermore, Hipparchus had offended Harmodius by inviting his sister to take part in a festival, and then later rejecting her publicly on the basis of her alleged lowly birth.32 These personal motives to take revenge on Hipparchus would have more easily galvanized others to participate in such a highly dangerous act if they too harbored some resentment toward the Peisistratids’ rule.33 Nevertheless, the sources do not indicate any political reasons outright, and so while certainly a possibility, political opposition must be relegated to an underlying cause, secondary to the personal reasons named.
Although only several decades removed from the events, Herodotus provides no motives whatsoever for Hipparchus’ murder. He later ties the story of the Peisistratids to his overarching history of the Persian Wars via Hippias’ aid to the Persians, to which the circumstances of his brother’s murder bear no immediate relevance.34 Moreover, Herodotus emphasizes that the Alcmaeonid family served as the true liberators of Athens “far more…than were Harmodios and Aristogeiton.”35 Presuming that Herodotus himself knew the reason for which they murdered Hipparchus, its omission from his narrative might have been a tactic employed to minimize the tyrannicides’ overall importance.
While Herodotus remains silent, other later sources fill in the gaps that he left. The reasons Aristotle gives for the murder of Hipparchus align with those of Thucydides in terms of casting Hipparchus in the role of antagonist, although Aristotle does not spin it as a story of lovers. Indeed, Thucydides was the first to describe Harmodius and Aristogeiton as such.36 Aristotle’s pupil, the author of the Ath. Pol., shifts the role of antagonist onto another of Pesistratus’ sons, Thessalus, but sticks with the idea of a personal grudge as the drivince force.37 This variation is an outlier, however, and can be discarded on the basis that Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle-all closer in time to the event in question-are in accordance with one another that it was Hipparchus who so aggravated the tyrannicides.38
While most sources confirm that a personal rather than political agenda led Harmodius and Aristogeiton to murder Hipparchus, they are not necessarily in unison concerning what precisely sparked the plot. As stated earlier, Thucydides was the first to portray Harmodius and Aristogeiton as lovers. He describes how Aristogeiton grew immediately alarmed upon learning of Hippparchus’ desire for Harmodius, and how Harmodius himself became ill-disposed toward Hipparchus when the latter insulted the former’s sister at a festival.39 Three possibilities exist regarding this story: the story is true, the story is a rumor that Thucydides believed to be true, or the story is Thucydides’ own fabrication. That Thucydides invented such a tale is improbable, given his preoccupation with accuracy and his disdain for reporting things “without applying an critical test whatever.”40 He had no reason to invent the details of Harmodius and Aristogeiton’s motives, especially given that doing so would have risked fundamentally weakening his credibility. Thus it is more plausible that Thucydides believed it to be true, whether it actually was or was just a rumor he believed.
It makes little sense, however, that the Athenians themselves would have created such a rumor. Consider that Plato tweaked the story to have a nobler flavor in the H ipparchus. In this dialogue, because Aristogeiton prided himself on educating people,” losing a pupil to Hipparchus struck him as so unbearable that he and Harmodius killed Hipparchus.41 Presumably Plato knew this to be false, for in the Symposium, he names “Aristogeiton’s love and the strength of Harmodius’ reciprocal affection” as the force that led them to slay Hipparchus.42 He merely manipulated the plot line in the Hipparchus to suit his didactic purposes there. Plato altered the story to make it more virtuous-a squabble over wanting to educate the youth-rather than less so. If the Athenians had spun a rumor regarding the motives of the tyrannicides, they would have aggrandized the dispute, rather than trivialize it by making it center on a lover’s spurned advance. This then leaves that the story is true as the most viable possibility.
Following his brother’s death, Hippias’ reign became increasingly harsh and more despotic than before. Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, and the author of the Ath. Pol. echo one another on this point.43 While the sources agree that the tyranny grew more oppressive than before, given the discrepancies among accounts regarding the prior rule, it remains ambiguous exactly how oppressive the tyranny afterward became. Thucydides does not elaborate much on this time period, except to say that because of his fear and paranoia, Hippias:put to death many of the citizens” and that the tyranny “pressed harder on the Athenians.”44 While Thucydides uses the comparative adjective “harder” on its own, Herodotus and the author of the Ath. Pol. stress the disjoint between the two phases of the tyranny with their use of auxiliary words in addition to comparative adjectives. Herodotus reports that the Athenians thereafter “lived under an even harsher tyranny than before,” while the author of the Ath. Pol. describes the second phase as “much more cruel.”45 Since the author of the Ath. Pol. relies heavily on Herodotus for this phase of the tyranny and his account thus resembles Herodotus’, it will here suffice to focus on Herodotus alone.46
Hippias undoubtedly ruled with a more severe hand after his brother’s death, but still he did not gain the notoriety of Periander, whom Herodotus treats with much harsher language. Soon after recounting the story of the Peisistratids, Herodotus provides an account of Periander’s tyranny in Corinth, describing him as “bloodthirsty” and acting with “every kind of evil.”47 Herodotus does not show Hippias in a positive light, but he does not depict him as inherently malicious, like Periander, either. Herodotus reports that the actions of Harmodius and Aristogeiton “drove the surviving Peisistratids to savagery,” and that the Alcmaeonids were :considering every strategy they could think of against the Peisistratids.”48 The Alcmaeonids and other Athenian exiles failed, however, to oust Hippias from power, and he remained there for several years after the murder in 514. That his exiled opponents could not sufficiently incite the Athenian people against him suggests that Hippias’ rule, although more stringent than before, still did not oppress the Athenians to the point of being unbearable.49
The sources all confirm the deterioration of Hippias’ regime, but the facts remain: in spite of the executions and expulsions Hippias ordered, it was the Spartans who ejected him after his Athenian opponents failed to garner enough support to do so. To understand the unanimously negative depictions of Hippias in the second phase of the tyranny, one must consider his actions after his removal from power, which influenced the manner in which sources portray the final years of his rule. He made his way to Persia and blatantly betrayed his former city by leading Darius’ men to Marathon against the Athenians during the first of the Persian Wars, cementing the Athenians’ hostility toward him and coloring their later perceptions of him.50
According to Herodotus, the tyranny at Athens came to an end in 510 when, urged on by the oracle at Delphi (whom the Alcmaeonid family had bribed), the Spartans sent forces to depose Hippias.51 Thucydides and the author of the Ath. Pol. agree with Herodotus on the topic of Spartan involvement, but present varying ideas about the nature or degree of Alcmaeonid involvement.52 Herodotus reports that, after going above and beyond the specifications detailed in the contract to rebuild the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Alcmaeonids bribed or otherwise influenced the oracle to tell the Spartans to “liberate Athens.”53 Thucydides says that Hippias was “deposed…by the Spartans and the banished Alcmaeonidiae” together, implying that the Alcmaeonids accompanied the Spartan expedition force.54 The author of the Ath. Pol. reports nothing of bribery or of Alcmaeonid military collaboration with the Spartans, but instead states that they used the funds they acquired from the temple contract to hire Spartan help.55 Although these three sources are not in unison regarding the capacity in which the Alcmaeonids were involved, they do concur on the more important main point, that the tyranny ended in 510, as a result of the combined initiative and efforts of the Alcmaeonids and Spartans.
Plato instead considers the end of the tyranny to be a direct result of Hipparchus’ murder in 514.56 Many Athenians adhered to this variant as well, eager to believe that Harmodius and Aristogeiton had ended the tyranny, in order that Athens could claim to have put an end to her own tyranny.57 This is one of the main contentions that Thucydides aims to refute, a report mostly likely put in writing by Hellanicus.58 That later Athenians believed Harmodius and Aristogeiton had brought down the tyranny is evident in a drinking song, a version of which Athenaeus, writing in the third century A.D., preserves: “Ever shall your fame live in the earth, dearest Harmodius and Aristogeiton, for that ye slew the tyrant, and made Athens a city of equal rights.59 Athenians in the sixth century surely must have known Harmodius and Aristogeiton’s actions did not signify the end of the tyranny, but by pretending this was the case (and so in time, beginning to truly believe), they could appropriate and generalize credit for the deed to the people as a whole, thereby classifying Athenians as perpetual tyrant-haters.
The idea that the tyranny ended in 514 can also be explained through beliefs regarding the succession after Peisistratus’ death. Both Hellanicus and Plato name Hipparchus as the new tyrant, and so it follows that they would consider the tyranny to have been extinguished once Hipparchus was dead.60 However, this overlooks the fact that Hippias remained in power for several years afterward, which Herodotus, Thucydides, and the author of the Ath. Pol. all state unequivocally.61 There would have been no need for the tyrant-hating Spartans to intervene and eject Hippias from Athens if the tyranny had already ceased to exist, and therefore it is clear that the tyranny ended several years after Hipparchus’ murder, and not as a direct result of it.
The sources for the Peisistratids all composed their works at least several decades after Hippias’ removal from power, rendering all of them susceptible to the influence of later anti- tyranny attitudes.62 Herodotus was born around 490, already two decades after the Spartans ousted Hippias from power.63 Hippias joined the Persians before the first invasion of Greece under Darius; he led them to Marathon in 490 to face the Greeks, solidifying and fueling the Athenians’ hatred of him.64 Thus by the time Herodotus composed his works, the Athenians were staunchly and zealously opposed to tyranny, which would have made it extremely difficult to obtain unbiased, unaltered information about the events in question. It is hardly to be expected that Thucydides and Hellanicus, writing near the end of the fifth century, would have procured strictly objective information any more than Herodotus did. Even with the problems the lack of unaffected testimonies introduces in studying the Peisistratids, however, these sources still provide invaluable information as to the fifth-century perceptions of and attitudes toward tyranny.
While any part of the Peisistratids’ history was susceptible to revisionist influences at the hands of the Athenians, the acts of the tyrannicides in 514 and the Alcmaeonid and Spartan intervention in 510 were the most viable targets for embellishment. They provided an opportunity for the Athenians to claim active involvement and thereby exonerate themselves from blame for having remained complacent under tyranny for so many years.65 The Athenians had been forewarned. In the early sixth century, the lawgiver Solon had cautioned the Athenians against tyranny, and when Peisistratus first came to power, Solon tried to “urge [the Athenians] not to throw their freedom away,” though clearly his efforts proved unsuccessful..66 The Athenians’ embarrassment at having lived under tyranny for over thirty consecutive years might have led them to venerate the tyrannicides unduly, as seen in the drinking song. By claiming to have supported or even to have highly respected Harmodius and Aristogeiton after the fact, the Athenians cast themselves as long-standing opponents to tyranny, although this was not the case in actuality.
By 500, the Athenians had erected statues of the tyrannicides in the Athenian agora, the first statues of historical (rather than mythological) figures to be featured there.67 The Athenians considered Harmodius and Aristogeiton to be champions of and/or martyrs for democracy, ignoring the tyrannicides’ lack of overt political motives in killing Hipparchus.68 In his comedy Acharnians, Aristophanes makes a reference to the drinking song honoring the tyrannicides, calling it a “patriotic tune.”69 The comedy is dated to 426/5, indicating that the belief that Harmodius and Aristogeiton brought down the tyranny had engrained itself deeply enough in Athenians’ minds that they created a song about it less than a century afterward.70
In addition to the embarrassment and guilt that plagued the Athenian people as a whole, the Alcmaeonid family felt an especially strong need to prove themselves opposed to tyranny. At minimum, they had associated with the Peisistratids, and many suspected them of having collaborated and conspired with them as well.71 Unable to deny that they had indeed helped Peisistratus gain power on at least one occasion, they tried to compensate by emphasizing their influence and initiative in ousting Hippias.72 The Alcmaeonids had the most to gain by tweaking the historical record, and they fabricated lies such as that they were in exile :during all the years of the tyranny, as reported by Herodotus.73 The archon list published in the fifth century sheds light on the falsity of this statement, for a member of the Alcmaeonid family, Cleisthenes, not only remained in Athens, but held the eponymous archonship in 525/4.74 The Peisistratids had at least one family member on the board of archons each year, indicating that they influenced the selections; Cleisthenes’ archonship during Hippias’ reign suggests then no mere familiarity between the two, but a close association.75 Herodotus does not cite his sources for the Peisistratids, but his account suggests Alcmaeonid informants, especially in light of his defense of them in the context of their suspected aid to the Persians. He describes them as “tyrant haters,” “the real liberators of Athens,” and “illustrious among the Athenians from their very beginnings.”76 The Alcmaeonids had a major vested interest in how the story was portrayed, and as they were continually implicated in treacherous activities throughout the fifth century, they repeated their defensive lies.77 In time, the lies became accepted as truth. Even though the aftermath of Hippias’ expulsion contained some anti-tyranny backlash and certainly the Athenians did not rally for the tyrant to be reinstated, the universal denunciation of tyranny was not immediately achieved. The Athenians elected Hipparchus, son of Charmus, to the eponymous archonship in 496, regardless of his familial affiliation with the Peisistratids.78
That the Athenians felt no immediate need to completely purge Athens of all the Peisistratids indicates the lingering of ambivalent feelings toward the former tyrants, unlike the Romans, who around the same time drove out the last of their kings, Tarquinius Superbus, as well as all of his relatives.79 They even went so far as to eject one of their new consuls, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, from Rome because of his familial ties, despite his cooperation in removing the former king from power.80 Attitudes toward tyranny in Athens soured significantly and irreversibly when Hippias led the Persians back to Greece during Darius’ invasion in 490. The victory of the Athenians at Marathon confirmed in their eyes the superiority of democracy, which had triumphed over tyranny.81 The finalization of attitudes toward the Peisistratids and toward tyranny in general can be seen in the first application of ostracism in Athens, which sent the former archon Hipparchus into exile from Attica in 487.82 In the aftermath of Marathon, the condemnation of tyranny and tyrants became harsher and more widespread in Athens, and dissenters in the fifth century largely kept their opinions to themselves.83
This hatred toward tyranny in Athens, however, only necessarily applied to the idea of having a traditional tyrant wielding supreme power in the city, and the Athenians adopted the practice of ostracism in order to safeguard against a recurrence of this.84 The Athenians were not actually loath to thinking of their own leadership over the Delian League in the fifth century as a metaphorical tyranny. Indeed, Thucydides has the esteemed Athenian general Pericles himself accept the analogy in a speech: “For what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny.”85 Thus the legacy of the Peisistratids did not create a blanket aversion to tyranny as a concept, but rather a strong distaste for the formal type of tyranny in which a single man ruled the city, as was the case with the Peisistratids.
Herodotus and Thucydides’ reports emerge from a cacophony of varying accounts to form a harmonious and complementary story of the seventeen years following Peisistratus’ death in which the tyranny remained intact. Thucydidies tells of Hippias’ succession after his father’s death and of the moderate and highly constitutional regime he initially led. He then details how, having been provoked by Hipparchus’ advances and insults, the lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton conspired to kill both brothers but succeeded only in killing Hipparchus. Herodotus describes the deterioration of the tyranny after Hipparchus’ death, and how the Alcmaeonids worked to remove Hippias from power. Both Herodotus and Thucydides point to Hippias’ ejection in 510, brought about by the intervention of Spartan forces, as the marker of the end of tyranny in Athens.
When the word “tyrant” first appeared in Greek, in the seventh-century lyric poetry of Archilochus of Paros, it had not yet acquired its negative connotation.86 As Herodotus and Thucydides’ works together illustrate, the Peisistratid tyranny went unopposed for years until Hipparchus’ murder, after which anti-tyrannical attitudes intensified, due to the increasing harshness of Hippias’ regime. The backlash against tyranny grew exponentially greater after the Spartans deposed Hippias, and was accompanied by embarrassment and shame for having complied with it for decades. When the Athenians realized Hippias had gone to conspire with the Persians, any remaining ambivalence toward the institution of tyranny turned to fierce hatred. Thus in the midst of recording the history of the Peisistratid tyranny at Athens and its demise, ancient sources simultaneously shed light on the process by which Athenian attitudes toward tyranny evolved from acquiescence during most of the latter half of the sixth century into abhorrence by the fifth century.
1 All dates noted are B.C., unless specified otherwise.
Raphael Sealey, A H istory of the G reek C ity-States ca. 700-338 B. C . (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2 Herodotus, The Landmark H erodotus: The H istories, trans. Robert B. Strassler (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007), 5.55; Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, trans. Robert B. Strassler (New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1996), 6.54.2; [Aristotle], The Athenian Constitution (Ath. Pol.), trans. P.J. Rhodes (London: Penguin Group, 1984), 17.3.
3 Plato, H ipparchus, in Plato in Twelve Volumes, vol. 8, trans. W.R.M. Lamb (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955), 228b; Felix Jacoby, Atthis: The Local Chronicles of Ancient Athens (Salem: Ayer Company, Publishers, Inc., 1988), 158.
4 Thucydides 6.54.1.
5 Ath. Pol. 18.2.
6 Plato, H ipparchus 229c-d.
7Thucydides 6.57.3; Herodotus 5.55.
8 Thucydides 6.54.5-6.
9 Herodotus 5.62.2.
10 Thucydides 6.59.4, 6.54-57.
12 Jacoby, Atthis, 158.
13 Plato, H ipparchus 228b.
14 Thucydides 1.20.2.
15 Ibid., 6.54.5.
16 Ath. Pol. 18.1.
17Herodotus 1.64.3, 5.55.1.
18 Ibid., 5.55.1.
20 Thucydides 6.54.5-6.
21 Plato, H ipparchus 229b; Hesiod, Theogony and Works and D ays, trans. M.L. West (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1988), 97-134
22Ath. Pol. 16.7.
23 Ibid., 17.3.
24 Herodotus 6.103.3.
25 H.T. Wade-Gery, Essays in G reek H istory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), 157.
27 Brian M. Lavelle, The Sorrow and the Pity: A Prolegomenon to a H istory of Athens under the Peisistratids, c.
560-510 B. C . (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1993), 23, 75.
28 Aristotle, Politics: Books V & VI, trans. David Keyt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 1311a31-32.
29 Thucydides 6.56.3; Ath. Pol. 18.2.
30 A.W. Gomme, A. Andrewes, and K.J. Dover, A H istorical Commentary on Thucydides, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1970), 318.
32 Ibid., 6.56.1.
33 Thucydides 6.57.3.
34 Herodotus 5.96.
35 Ibid., 6.123.2.
36 Aristotle, Politics 1311a35-8; Thucydides 6.56.1-2; P.J. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), 230.
37Ath. Pol. 18.2.
38 Plato, H ipparchus 229d.
39 Thucydides 6.54.3, 6.56.2.
40 Ibid., 1.20.1, 1.22.2; Michael W. Taylor, The Tyrant Slayers: The H eroic Image in F ifth C entury B. C . Athenian
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45 Herodotus 5.55; Ath. Pol. 19.1. Emphasis my own.
46P. J. Rhodes, The Athenian Constitution, by [Aristotle] (London: Penguin Group, 1984), 55.
47 Herodotus 5.92.û, 5.92.s.
48 Ibid., 6.123.2; 5.62.2.
49 Kuat A. RaaIlaub. “Stick and Glue: The function of Tyranny in Fifth-Century Athenian Democracy. In Popular Tyranny, ed. Kathryn A. Morgan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 61; Antony Andrewes, The Greek Tyrants (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1956), 113.
51 Ibid., 5.62.1-5.65.3.
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