Ancient Tyranny

Ancient Tyranny

Ancient Tyranny

Ancient Tyranny

Synopsis

Tyrants and tyranny are more than the antithesis of democracy and the mark of political failure: they are a dynamic response to social and political pressures.This book examines the autocratic rulers and dynasties of classical Greece and Rome and the changing concepts of tyranny in political thought and culture. It brings together historians, political theorists and philosophers, all offering new perspectives on the autocratic governments of the ancient world.The volume is divided into four parts. Part I looks at the ways in which the term 'tyranny' was used and understood, and the kinds of individual who were called tyrants. Part II focuses on the genesis of tyranny and the social and political circumstances in which tyrants arose. The chapters in Part III examine the presentation of tyrants by themselves and in literature and history. Part IV discusses the achievements of episodic tyranny within the non-autocratic regimes of Sparta and Rome and of autocratic regimes in Persia and the western Mediterranean world.Written by a wide range of leading experts in their field, Ancient Tyranny offers a new and comparative study of tyranny within Greek, Roman and Persian society.

Excerpt

Euphron, who held a short-lived tyranny at Sicyon in the 360s BC, illustrates some of the complexities of our understanding of ancient tyranny. Assisted by an Arcadian force, Euphron seized power, taking control of the city’s mercenary troops, and establishing a new democratic constitution. He killed or exiled his opponents, seized their property, freed slaves, and took money from the temples. After some time he was deposed by the Arcadians in concert with the Sicyonian aristocrats, but returned with a new mercenary army raised with Athenian money, and recovered the city with the exception of the Acropolis, which was in Theban hands. On going to Thebes to negotiate a settlement of the situation, he was assassinated by a member of the Sicyonian opposition. Xenophon, our sole source for the episode, depicts Euphron as a tyrant of a very recognisable kind: he plotted with outside powers to obtain sole rule at a time of political upheaval, and sought to maintain his power through oppressive and illegal means. Tyranny, on this view, was a disastrous eventuality for a polis; it saw both private and civic interests sacrificed to the benefit of a single individual.

Yet Xenophon’s account reveals that there was a struggle to define the nature of Euphron’s rule even in his own time: although his opponents characterised him as a tyrant of an indisputable type, the citizens of Sicyon brought Euphron’s body back to the city and gave him posthumous worship as founder. He likewise had the support of the democratic Athenians, who forged bonds of xenia with him and his descendants. Xenophon was in no doubt that Euphron was a ‘classic’ tyrant, yet his deeds seem to contradict the simple view: he set up a democracy which continued under his rule, was clearly popular with a large section of the citizens, and used the mercenary forces (which he took over from the previous regime) only in external warfare. Euphron cannot easily be accommodated within the traditional model . . .

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