chapter  3
13 Pages

THE AGE OF GREEK TYRANNY, c. 650–510

THE BACKGROUND Although tyranny existed throughout Greek history from the middle of the seventh century down to the second century, ‘the age of tyrants’ is a term used by modern historians to refer to a period of time when many of the leading Greek cities were ruled by a tyrant, beginning with Cypselus of Corinth around 650 and ending with the fall of Peisistratus’ sons at Athens in 510. This ‘age of tyrants’ was a transitional stage in the political development of the polis, bringing to an end the old aristocratic order and laying down the foundations for the middle-class, hoplite-dominated constitutions that followed the collapse of tyranny. A Greek tyrant was not necessarily a brutal ruler, as the modern sense of the word would suggest, but an individual who had seized power unconstitutionally, usually through a military coup, and ruled as an autocrat outside the institutions of the state. The first generation of tyrants for the most part was noted for the mildness of their rule, as they depended upon the goodwill of the people to maintain their position; it was usually the second generation (most tyrannies only lasted for two generations) that showed all the hallmarks of the traditional wicked tyrant, leading to their overthrow.