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Brendan Nagle

Alexander and Aristotle's Pambasileus

In: L'antiquit classique, Tome 69, 2000. pp. 117-132.

Brendan NAGLE, Alexander and Aristotle's Pambasileus. - Aristotle's or absolute king (Politics III, 14, 1285b 29-33) is not a
theoretical constmct, an hypothetical element in his theory of distributive justice, but a real, existential king who rules justly over
poleis and ethne. The article discusses how it was possible for Aristotle to include this type of king in his list of orthodox,
monarchic politeiai.

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Nagle Brendan. Alexander and Aristotle's Pambasileus. In: L'antiquit classique, Tome 69, 2000. pp. 117-132.
doi : 10.3406/antiq.2000.2425

Alexander and Aristotle's Pambasileus*

The nature and identity of Aristotle's absolute king in Book ?? of the Politics
has long been the subject of dispute1. Should we regard the pambasileus as a real,
existential king whose presence can be accounted for by an extra-philosophical or
biographical explanation, or is he simply a theoretical construct, an intrinsic part of
Aristotle's theory of distributive justice? Newman seems to reflect the first position
when he remarks that "Aristotle probably has the Persian kingship before him",
because the Persian king was a law to the Persians2. In the 1930s Kelsen went so far
as to claim that Aristotle made the choice of kingship as the best constitution because
he was a client of the Macedonians3. On the other hand Schiitrumpf, following
Dummler, holds that the pambasileus is a Platonic ideal4.
This wide divergence of opinion - and its basis - needs explanation. The
awkwardness oi Politics III, 14, where the pambasileus is introduced and defined, was
noted in a footnote by Jaeger5, and followed up by others with the suggestion that
this chapter was inserted by Aristotle after he had developed his analysis of oligarchy
and democracy in Book IV6. More generally scholars tend to solve the discrepancy on
This paper was presented at the 1998 meeting of the Society for Ancient Greek
Philosophy. I am very grateful to David J. Depew, W. Lindsey Adams and David L. Toye for
helpful comments on an earlier version of it.
For the fullest, recent review of the subject see E. SchTRUMPF, Aristoteles Politik,
in H. Flashar (ed.), Aristoteles Werke, 9.2, Berlin, 1991, p. 527-530; cf. also, A. Kamp,
Die politische Philosophie des Aristoteles und ihre metaphysischen Grundlagen, Munich,
1985, p. 296-301; P. CarLIER, La notion de pambasileia dans la pense politique
in M. Pirart (ed.), Aristote et Athnes, Paris, 1993, p. 103-118; F.D. Miller, Jr.,
Nature, Justice and Rights in Aristotle's Politics, Oxford, 1995, p. 191-193, 234-239.
W.L. Newman, The Politics of Aristotle, 3, Oxford, 1887, p. 255-256, 290.
H. KELSEN, Aristotle and Hellenic-Macedonian Policy, in J. BARNES et al. (eds.),
Articles on Aristotle 2: Ethics and Politics, London, 1978, p. 170-194. Others who see
the influence of Macedonia include W.W. Tarn, Politics, Alexander the Great, 2,
Cambridge, 1948, p. 366-368, 371; W.T. Bluhm, The Place of Polity in Aristotle's
Theory of the Ideal State, in Journal of Politics, 24 (1962), p. 753, n. 31; R.G. MULGAN,
Aristotle's Political Theory, Oxford, 1977, p. 87; C. KAHN, The Normative Structure of
Aristotle's Politics, in G. Patzig (ed.), Aristoteles' "Politik". Akten des XI. Symposium
Aristotelicum, Gttingen, 1989, p. 375; B.S. Strauss, Aristotle 's Critique of Athenian
Democracy, in C. Lord and D. O'CONNOR (eds.), Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian
Political Science, Berkeley, 1991, p. 229-232.
F. Dmmler, Kleine Schriften 2, Leipzig, 1901, p. 316-321; cf. p. 324, 328;
Schtrumpf, loc. cit. (?. 1), p. 538.
W. Jaeger, Aristotle: The Fundamentals of the History of his Development,
Oxford, 1948, p. 291 n. 1.
W. Siegfried, Zur Entstehungsgeschichte von Aristoteles' Politik, in Philologus,
88 (1933), p. 377 (= ?. Steinmetz (ed.) Schriften zu den Politika des Aristoteles,
Hildesheim and New York, 1973, p. 81); K. Kahlenberg, Zur Interpretation von Buch III



the basis of the degree to which they think Aristotle is responding to Plato in
philosophical dialogue rather than engaging in empirical analysis of existing or
historical constitutions7.
The basis of the problem and at the same time the means of solving it lies,
I believe, in the fact that in the discussion of kingship in Politics III, Aristotle
describes two kinds of absolute kings, the one real and the other theoretical, the latter
being part of his analysis of who should be sovereign in the state. Nevertheless,
scholars have either passed over without comment the description of what I regard as
the real absolute king in chapter 14, or have assumed without discussion that the
description given there is identical to that of the theoretical absolute king presented
elsewhere in Book III8.
Here I will argue that Aristotle did not subvert his own theory of kingship for
reasons of political expediency, nor did his theory on the subject emerge entirely as
the result of a purely intellectual exercise. Instead, reflection on the historical events
of the times led Aristotle to revise his theory of kingship by adding references to a
real absolute king in chapters 14-17. Aristotle did not so much change his mind on
the subject of kingship as expand his definition of it in light of new political
realities9. The term and the concept of pambasileia are the result10.

der Politik, Inaug. Diss., 1934, also in Steinmetz above, p. 140-145; W. Theiler, Zur
Entstehungsgeschichte von Aristoteles' Politik, in Philologus, 89 [n.s. 43] (1934),
p. 252; Id., Bau und Zeit der Aristotelischen Politik, in MH, 9 (1952), p. 76.
Those approaching the problem from a theoretical viewpoint emphasize
Aristotle's debt to Plato e.g. Dmmler, op. cit. (?. 4), p. 316-320; R.G. Mulgan,
Aristotle and Absolute Rule, in Antichthon, 8 (1977), p. 22-24; D. Keyt, Aristotle's
Theory of Distributive Justice, in D. Keyt and F.D. MILLER Jr., A Companion to Aristotle's
Politics, Oxford, 1991, p. 239-240; Kahn, loc. cit. (?. 3), p. 379-380. ?. Schtrumpf's
argument that Aristotle's composition of Politics IV-VI was not influenced by his
empirical research, is not convincing (Platonic Methodology in the Program of Aristotle's
Political Philosophy: Politics IV. 1, in TAPhA, 119 [1989], p. 209-218).
There is a dispute regarding whether Aristotle thinks his paradigmatic absolute
king could actually exist. A. Kamp, Aristotele e I'ottima polis: leggi, politeia, aristocrazia
o regno?, in ASNP, 5 (1987), p. 370, and Vander Waerdt, Kingship and Philosophy in
Aristotle's Best Regime, in Phronesis, 30.3 (1985), p. 251, n. 4, believe that Aristotle
left the door open to the possibility; D.J. Allan, The Philosophy of Aristotle, Oxford,
19702, p. 145; Bluhm, loc. cit. (?. 3), p. 753; C. Johnson, Aristotle's Theory of the
State, New York, 1990, p. 164, and R.G. Mulgan, op. cit. (?. 3), p. 87, deny it. The
discussion here, however, assumes that this is a misleading issue deriving from a failure to
distinguish between the ideal and the real pambasileus.
I would include under "historical experience" a broad range of factors: Aristotle's
on-going understanding of constitutional development as his students gathered and
documented information on constitutions; the continuing interest in kingship in the
thought of such figures as Isocrates and Xnophon; Aristotle's own experience with
monarchs and strong men; and the communis opinio regarding kingship and tyranny in
Greek popular thought and the particular application of this in the rhetoric of the fourth
century (on this cf. P. Barcelo, Basilia, Monarchia, Tyrannis, Stuttgart, 1993; J. Cobet,
Knig, Anfhrer, Herr; Monarch, Tyrann, in E.C. WELSKOPF, Belegstellenverzeichnis
altgriechischer socialer Typenbegriffe von Homer bis Aristoteles, Berlin, 1985;
G. Giorgini, La citt e il tiranno: II concetto di Tirannide nella Graecia del VII-IV seclo


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Aristotle's discussion of pambasileia in Book III of the Politics comes as part
of his analysis of groups that might legitimately claim sovereignty in the state11. The
main subject of chs. 9-13 is the matter of distributive justice. Is the basis of the claim
to sovereignty to be found in qualities of birth, wealth, goodness, or strength of
In ch. 9 Aristotle examines the claim of the few that if people are unequal in
wealth their rights should be proportionately curtailed, and of the many, that equality
of birth should guarantee equality of rights. He continues the discussion of the
of who is to be sovereign in the state, and we meet for the first time the
of the desirability of the rule of the best man (ton spoudaiotaton). It occurs in the
context of the competing claims of the masses, the rich, the respectable people
(epieikeis), the one most worthy (ton beltiston), the tyrant, and the laws. All of these
claims, Aristotle says, present problems. Even the law reflects the biases of its
makers and the rule of the best man restricts the opportunities of others to have a
share in ruling.
The discussion of the rule of the best man recurs in ch. 13 following an
analysis of the claims of the masses (ch. 11) and of the principle of proportional
equality (ch. 12). Once again Aristotle is analyzing problems regarding the claims of
the various groups to be sovereign, noting that while each may have a certain element
of justice in its claim, none is absolute. Aristotle demonstrates the weakness of the
logic of the claims of individual groups by pointing out that on the same principle
that is argued for the group, an individual within the group, e.g. the richest among the
rich, the best born among those of free birth and so on, could claim on that principle
of "justice", the right to rule. The logic here, however, leads directly to the claims of
the one truly virtuous individual, the one who is better than anyone else (1283b 2123), in regard to whom all the rest are incomparable (m sumbltn) in virtue and
political ability (aret/dunamis politik), a person who is as a god among men, who
is a law unto himself (1284a 5-11). In the best state, Aristotle goes on to say, it
would obviously be inappropriate to exile or otherwise dispose of such an individual;
he should rather be obeyed and be king for all time (1284b 28-34). Having identified
the one best man as a king, Aristotle is now ready to move on to fulfill a promise
made earlier in Book III, namely, that he will discuss in detail the three right
constitutions, kingship, aristocracy and polity (1279a-22f). Thus in ch. 14 begins the
examination of the first of these, royalty.
The chapter announces a discussion of the question "[WJhether it is
for a city or a country that is to be well administered to be ruled by a king,
A.D., Milan, 1993; J.F. MCGLEW, Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece, Ithaca,
I The term pambasileus is rare, but does appear in a text of Alcaeus (fr. 2 Diehl). The
feminine proparoxyton, pambasileia, "all-powerful queen", is found in Aristophanes'
Clouds, 357 and 1150. The term pambasileia does not appear before Aristotle according to
P. Carlier, loc. cit. (. 1), p. 108.
I 1 On the importance of Aristotle's use of the aporetic method in Book III, see
Schtrumpf, loc. cit. (n. 1), p. 110.
12 Sumpheron, not dikaion as it has been to this point. Aristotle is now discussing
real kings, not kings in an ideal state.



whether it is not so but some other constitution is more expedient, or whether royal
rule is expedient for some states and not for others (1284b 37-40)"13. The answer to
this aporia is not provided in ch. 14 and instead the text digresses to provide a list of
types of contemporary or historical monarchies. The discussion of the aporia is then
picked up and continues through chs. 15 to 17. In order to pursue the logic of the
discussion I pass over for the moment the discussion of the historical kings in ch. 14,
and move on directly to ch. 15.
Ch. 15 begins by summarizing the findings of ch. 14. Kingship lies along a
continuum from military commanders for life of the Spartan type, to absolute
kingship. The discussion then moves on to the question of whether it is expedient for
either the Spartan type king to rule or the pambasileus. Aristotle says he will
continue the discussion of the Spartan type general later, and concentrates instead on
"whether it is expedient or inexpedient for one man to be sovereign over everything",
referring back to the definition of the absolute king in ch. 14. However, instead of
answering the proposed question, Aristotle once more digresses and raises a series of
aporiai: Is it "more advantageous to be ruled by the best man (
) or by the best laws (1286a 7-9)"? "Ought the one best man (
) govern or all the citizens" (1286a 25)14?
So, despite the introductory comments (viz. 1285b 33-1286a 7) regarding the
king who is kurios pantn, the king that Aristotle actually ends up discussing in ch.
15 is still the most virtuous man of chs. 10-13.
The king of ch. 16 receives somewhat similar treatment. The account begins
with the declaration that time has come (once again, as in ch. 15) to discuss "the type
of monarchy under which the king governs all men according to his own will", but
the discussion following assumes, as in ch. 15, a polis context, and the pambasileus
is still the best man king. The objection that it is wrong for "one person to be
sovereign over all the citizens where the state consists of men who are alike", is raised
once more. Again, this is a familiar argument we have encountered as early as ch. 10.
In response we are told that it is preferable for the law to rule "rather than any one of
the citizens".
We have finally reached the end of the traditional objections to royal rule and
come, in ch. 17, to what is generally taken to be Aristotle's own opinion. But even
here there is nothing wholly new. The chapter deals with the question raised at the
start of ch. 14: the appropriateness of different kinds of rule for different kinds of
states and peoples. Aristotle reminds us of the principle that constitutions correspond
to the make-up of their constituent populations. Thus, he says, "there is such a thing
as being naturally fitted to be controlled by a master ( ); and in
another case to be governed by a king (); and in another to exercise
citizenship (); and a different government is just and expedient (
) for different people". He goes on to say that from what has been said it is
clear that "among people who are alike and equal it is neither expedient nor just for
one to be sovereign over all". At this point Aristotle repeats the argument of ch. 13
1 3 All translations are from Rackham unless otherwise noted.
14 I.e. since they are collectively better and less corruptible (assuming they are both
good men and good citizens). This is a repetition of the argument already presented at
length in chapter 11 (the summation principle).


12 1

for the necessity of the best man to be incomparably more virtuous and politically
capable than his fellow citizens.
Here in ch. 17, for the first time, all of the actual circumstances envisioned for
kingly rule are brought together. Some populations belong to the category of those
who need the rule of a strongly despotic ruler; others need the more restrained rule of a
king; citizens of pole is will not be ruled by a king but will rule themselves except, of
course per impossibile, in the case of the appearance of the best man king. The
of the rule of the one over equal and alike men is resolved as it was in ch. 13.
The main reason for this lengthy exposition of Aristotle's Politics chs. 9-17 is
to draw attention to what seems to me the anomalous character of the absolute king
delineated at the end of ch. 14. The description of this king is located in the midst of
what otherwise is a rather straightforward analysis of distributive justice in the polis,
and the relevance of the best man to that discussion. All the analysis from ch. 10
onwards involves the best man in the context of the polis addressing the theoretical
question of how equal and alike citizens could be ruled by a king. If we were to ignore
the definition of the absolute king at the end of chapter 14 or read it as referring to a
real world king, and similarly read the references to the pambasileus in the
to chs. 15 and 16 and parts of 17, then the peri basileias section of Book III,
namely chs. 9-17 would read as a coherent whole, in which the best man king would
be a theoretical construct and an integral part of Aristotle's discussion of distributive
justice as Mulgan claimed15. The problem arises with conflating the pambasileus of
the end of ch. 14 with the best man king.
Before moving on, as promised earlier, to chapter 14, we need to summarize
briefly the nature of the best man king Aristotle has delineated for us to this point.
First it needs to be stressed that this king rules in a polis, not some other kind
of state. Secondly, the best man king rules in the best state. We are told that his aret
and politik dunamis are so outstanding that they cannot be compared {m sumbltn)
with those of others. The ruler's qualities are not simply greater than the sum of the
others; they are in a class by themselves16. He is a god among men17. He has no part
of the city because his virtue is incomparable. The best man's will is supreme
because he always makes the right decision; his phronsis is always up to par. It is
1 5 Op. cit. (. 3), p. 87. As we might expect, real kings would not have featured
significantly in this analysis because real kings were irrelevant to contemporary polis life
in so far as potential politeiai were concerned; kingship was not a practicable option. The
fact that some poleis came under the rule of despotic kings was irrelevant to this
discussion; they were conquered poleis, not poleis which had made a choice to be ruled by a
16 Or, as Vander Waerdt puts it: "Aristotle's usage of sumbltos shows that things
are 'comparable' only if they belong to the same kind {eidos ox genos ...); hence the king's
virtue is incomparable to that of his subjects not because it exceeds all of theirs, taken
together, but because it differs in eidos" {loc. cit. [. 8], p. 266).
17 The best man's title to rule "consists not in philosophia, like Plato's philosopher
kings, but in a kind of heroic or even divine virtue which differs in eidos from both moral
and philosophical virtue", Vander Waerdt, loc. cit. (. 8), p. 264.



the unfailing certainty of the outcomes of the decisions of the best man that provides
the reason why all in the city of otherwise equal citizens should obey him. This is
what makes the best man king a god among men for Aristotle18.
Finally we arrive at chapter 14. The chapter begins with the question "whether
it is advantageous for a king to rule if a city is to be well administered, or whether
another constitution is more desirable". Aristotle, as we have seen, does not answer
these questions but digresses to discuss the well know forms (eid) of kingship: The
first form of monarchy is Spartan kingship which is kata nomon and not over
everything; it is merely a generalship for life. Some kingships of this type are
hereditary, others elective. Second is monarchy among "some"19 barbarians,
resembling tyranny but according to law. Succession is hereditary20. Third, elective
tyranny, aisymnts, which, like barbarian monarchy is kata nomon, but differs from

1 8 "Strongly, however, as the Absolute Kingship contrasts with what we may call the
typical form of the State, one paramount feature of the latter still survives in it. It is a
means of placing the individual in constant contact and connection with Reason, here
indeed represented not by Law but by an Absolute King - a means of realizing the highest
and most complete form of human life ... The State may exist without Law, if only it secures
to its members the highest quality of life" , Newman, op. cit. (. 2), 1, p. 289 (emphasis
added). Vander Waerdt makes a related point: the best regime frees up its citizens to
pursue the life of philosophy because the ideal king's "incomparable political virtue and
beneficence make their life of scholl possible ... The king's permanent rule not only
releases them from politics, providing them with the leisure to engage in their highest
activity, philosophia, but it also facilitates the comprehensive reorientation of their
activities toward the proper enjoyment of leisure and thus enables them to become better
citizens and human beings than they could through ruling themselves ... [It] ensures that
the citizens will continue to seek eudaimonia in the proper enjoyment of leisure and not
become distracted by politics or conquest" (loc. cit. [. 8], p. 252, 259, 261).
1 9 The choice of "some" is presumably intended as a contrast with "others" who were
either under the fifth kind of monarchy (absolute kingship), or under tyrants, or were
possibly barbarians not under formal kingly rule at all, but living scattered in the
countryside. Common opinion held that the Persian kings were tyrants as were the kings of
Macedonia, cf. Barcelo, p. 272, and J. Cobet, p. 50f, op. cit. (n. 9). Aristotle could, at
times, accept what looks like common opinion about the Persians as tyrants, as for
instance where he discusses how tyrants stay in power, citing techniques used by the
Persian kings for this purpose: killing off outstanding men, prohibiting associations, "and
all other similar devices of Persian and barbarian tyranny" (1313a 37 - 1313b 10). Yet
Cyrus is cited, along with Codrus and the kings of Sparta, Macedonia and Epirus, as
examples of men who became kings because of their good deeds: "For in every instance this
honour fell to men after they had conferred benefit or because they had the ability to confer
benefit on their cities or their nations, some having prevented their enslavement in war,
for instance Codrus, others having set them free, for instance Cyrus, or having settled or
acquired territory, for instance the kings of Sparta and Macedn and the Molossians. And a
king wishes to be a guardian, to protect the owners of estates from suffering injustice and
the people from suffering insult ..." (1310b 35 - 1311a 2).
20 Barbarian kingship was also elective: "for among some of the barbarians they elect
monarchic rulers with autocratic powers; and also in old times among the ancient Greeks
some men used to become monarchs of this sort, the rulers called aesymnetae" (IV, 1295a


1 23

it in not being hereditary21. Fourth, the monarchy of the Greek heroic period, over
willing subjects, in certain limited areas of responsibility, viz. war, judicial matters
and religion (1285b-22).
After summarizing the four kinds of kingship Aristotle adds what looks like an
afterthought, the fifth form, absolute kingship:
But a fifth kind of kingship is when a single ruler is sovereign over all matters in
the way in which each race and each city is sovereign over its common affairs; this
monarchy ranges with the rule of a master over a household, for just as the master's
rule is a sort of monarchy in the home, absolute monarchy is domestic mastership
over a city, or over a race, or several races (1285b 29-33).
What kind of king is this pambasileus who is described as a householder king
ruling poleis or ethnl How does he compare to the best man king we have been
looking at? Are they the same?
Both, it is true, have in common that they are a law with regard to their
individual communities. The bases of their claim to constitute the law for their
subjects, however, are as different as are their respective subjects. As noted previously
the best man rules because of his incomparable virtue, his politik dunamis, his
indefeasible phronesis. His rule is based on an intrinsically just claim, namely, that
he himself is a just man. On that basis he can legitimately rule over even the most
elite of all citizens - those of equal and similar status. His rule is narrowly focused in
terms of his subjects. They are the inhabitants, by definition, of the best polis.
By contrast the absolute king of ch. 14 is simply a defacto ruler o poleis and
ethn, a despot who rules according to his will, a shade only distinguished from a
tyrant by the fact that he rules over willing subjects22. But willing only because these
subjects have no other choice, just as the members of a family - wives, children and
slaves - have no choice.
Thus the fifth king's power, unlike that of the best man king, is not derived
from his recognized, incomparable virtue and political ability. No claim is made that
his power is the result of his outstanding virtue, his arete or politik dynamis, and
recognized as such by his people, as is the case with the ideal best man ruler (VII,
1332b 20-21). He rules by virtue of his position as head of the state, and not because
21 Aristotle goes on to discuss tyranny in the way he has previously analyzed
democracy and oligarchy (IV, 1291b 30 - 1292a 37; 1292a 39 - 1292b 10). This involves
establishing a continuum of traits by means of which he measures the degree to which a
particular form of rule is more or less tyrannical. At one end of this continuum is the purest
form of tyranny, rule by an individual who does not have to give an account of his actions
(anupeutheunos) over equals or betters, against their will, in the interests of the ruler only.
This kind of tyranny is contrasted with that of the pambasileus who is said to be his
contrary (antistrophos) (1295a 17-23). Lesser forms of tyranny are barbarian kingship and
the Greek elected tyranny of ancient times (1295a 7-17). I am not convinced by F.E.
Romer 's argument that Aristotle knew of only one example of an aisymnts, namely
Pittacus: The Aisymneteia: a Problem in Aristotle's Historical Method, in AJPh, 103
(1982), p. 25-46.
22 Nevertheless, the real absolute king's rule is legitimate; his politeia is among
those designated as orth.



of his accumulated or superordinate virtue and political ability23. And he rules not in
the best polis or even, necessarily in a polis at all, but over the members of his
ethnos or polis. The subjects of the best man king are, by definition, equal and alike
citizens in a polis which is the best polis; those of the fifth king are simply the
members of poleis or ethn who are ruled with the concentrated power of their
respective politeumata concentrated in the hands of a single individual.
To my way of thinking this suggests that the fifth king of ch. 14, is like the
other four kings mentioned in that chapter, a real, existential king, not a hypothetical
construction, a mere, although necessary, element in Aristotle's theory of distributive
justice. He is a real king who somehow (and this is the nub of the problem) rules
justly over poleis or ethn. Accordingly, it would be invalid to predicate of him
qualities of the best man king who presumptively rules only in an ideal state24. The
problem is to understand how this kind of king fits into Aristotle's overall, well
elaborated taxonomy of kings. The resolution will take a number of steps which will
take up the rest of this study.
It might help, first, to say something about how we should see the structure or
context of Aristotle's reasoning in the peri basileias section of Book III. Aristotle's
list of kings, I believe, represents a continuum along which are located the different
types of kingship which are delineated by the presence, and level of intensity of
certain traits. Kings seem to be located along this continuum in terms of the more and
the less principle by which species are distinguished in his biological works25.
23 We learn in Book I that the household is by necessity, 1252a 26-34, and I assume
that this is Aristotle's view here also although the connection between Books I and III is
problematical, cf. Schtrumpf, loe. cit (. 1), p. 115, and IX, 1, 126-128. I take it that
Book III, 12-17 is early, even if it is not, as Schtrumpf believes, Aristotle's response to
Plato's Politicus, loc. cit. (. 1). p. 117-118. Book III is referred to by all other books of
the Politics except Books I and VIII.
24 Above, p. 121-122.
25 J. Lennox in his discussion of biological traits claims that Aristotle "treats
variations between one form of a kind [i.e. the eidos of a kind] and another as differences in
degree", Kinds, Forms of Kinds, and the More and the Less in Aristotle's Biology, in
A. Gotthelf and J. Lennox (eds.), Philosophical issues in Aristotle's Biology,
Cambridge, 1987, p. 340. Notions of deficiency and excess mark off segments of the
continuum that differ from one another to the same extent. "Thus", Lennox continues,
"should one wish to distinguish one sort of bird from another, it will be in part by noting
the differences in degree between the parts of one and the parts of another - thicker or
thinner bone or blood, heavier or lighter body, thicker or thinner beak, and so on",
p. 346. The differentiae of animals within a kind vary only by the more and the less. In
support of this Lennox cites Aristotle as follows: "One should try to take the animals by
kinds in the way already shown by the popular distinction between bird kind and fish kind.
Each of these has been marked off by many differentiae, not dichotomously" (PA 643b 1013). I suggest that this kind of thinking underlies Aristotle's analysis of constitutions as
presented in what follows, i.e. Aristotle sees his types of democracy, oligarchy and kings
as eid along a continuum of traits. On another way of interpreting Aristotle's genos/eidos
division, cf. DJ. Depew, Humans and Other Political Animals in Aristotle's History of
Animals, in Phronesis, 40.2 (1995), p. 156-181.


1 25

Correlations exist among a number of traits, as, for example, between a king's
powers of coercion and the presence or absence of restraints; between a king and the
level of equality or freedom to be found among the people he rules; or between the
type of kingship and its durability.
At one end of the spectrum we are told in ch. 15 are the constitutional kings
such as the kings of Sparta and the rulers of Epidamnus and Opus (III, 1287a 4-8); at
the other, the pambasileus. The kings at the Spartan end of the spectrum exercise their
authority over citizens in a way that is not repugnant to the general principle that
ruling over equals and similars is not justifiable26. What makes this possible is the
fact that the powers of these men are highly circumscribed; they are really magistrates
performing some specific military or civilian functions, as opposed to the
who is kurios pantn. While the powers of coercion of these kings are
restricted, these constitutional monarchies are also the most durable, "for the fewer
powers the kings have, the longer time the office in its entirety must last, for they
themselves become less despotic and more equal to their subjects in temper, and their
subjects envy them less" (V, 1313a 20-24). Aristotle goes on to say that this is why
the Spartan and Molossian kings have survived for so long. There is thus a correlation
of durability and restraint, and its contrary, a correlation of lack of durability and lack
of restraint; high levels of despotism correlate with high levels of instability. It is
interesting that Aristotle uses an example of a barbarian and a Greek monarch to
illustrate this point, suggesting that barbarian kingship is itself a more flexible
category than might appear at first sight, i.e. not all barbarian kings are despotic in
the same degree; some are less so than others and thus manage to survive for longer
periods27. At the other end of the continuum the more despotic kings correlate with
less equal and alike peoples, and with more unrestrained coercive powers. Kings of
this type include "barbarian" kings, and the aisymnts of the Greek archaic age
26 In the eyes of some, according to Aristotle, such rule is against nature, 1287a
2. There is an even more fundamental principle that "the higher the type of subject the
loftier the nature of the authority exercised over them" (I, 1254a 26). This statement occurs
in the context of the discussion of the nature of the household and of the general principle
that authority and subordination {to archein kai archesthai) pervades all of nature. There is
thus a correlation between the level of authority or coercive force possessed by magistrates
and the level of political accomplishments possessed by the citizenry. The more advanced
citizens are in terms of being equal and alike, the lower the levels of coercive powers that
magistrates should possess, and vice versa.
27 This would explain why, among other things, no mention is made of heritability as
a means of passing on the power of the absolute king, whereas heritability is associated
with kings of lesser levels of despotism, such as category #2, barbarian kings. Indeed, as
Aristotle notes, tyrants have difficulty passing on their power (1312b 21-23).
V. Ehrenberg, Alexander and the Greeks, Oxford, 1938, p. 81-82, finds the omission of
Macedonian kings from the list of examples of enduring monarchies significant, and
believes its absence implies criticism of Philip or Alexander, but he does not say on what
grounds. I would suggest that in his decision to omit Macedn Aristotle was applying his
principle that high levels of despotism correlate with instability. The constitutional
contrast between the Epirot koinon and unstable Macedn was striking. Early in the fourth
century Molossia possessed officials {prostates), a secretary (grammateus), representatives
(demiourgoi), and federal officials (sunarchontes) (SEG 23, 471; SGDL 1334f.). According
to Justin King Tharyps in the fifth century gave the Molossians "laws, a senate, annual
magistrates and a regular constitution" (XVII, 3, 9-13).



"which, only
the monarchy that exists among barbarians in not being
This correlation of traits of coercion, restraints and types of people ruled is
why in ch. 15 Aristotle seems to digress from his main argument to offer an
explanation for the rise of kings. Early Greeks, he suggests, lived in small
communities and it was hard in such environments to find significant numbers of men
who excelled in virtue, though it was still possible to discover at least one capable
person. As cities grew it came about that "many men arose who were alike in respect
of virtue and would no longer submit to royalty but sought some form of
and set up a republican constitution" (III, 1286b 11-14). This reflects as well
as demonstrates Aristotle's belief in the incompatibility of kingship with the
of a society of equals and similars. As polis -type societies developed it became
both difficult, and eventually unacceptable, for the coercive powers of a community to
reside in the hands of a single individual. This principle is, in fact, coherent with the
history of the rise of poleis in various parts of Greece28.
Aristotle does not raise the interesting corollary of the possibility of a society
of equals submitting itself willingly to the rule of a less than incomparably virtuous
individual. A reading of chapters 13 and 17 where the arguments for the incomparably
best man are presented, and of V, 1313a (above), seem to suggest that it would be
impossible to find equals who would be willing to submit themselves to a less than
superlatively distinguished leader. Apparently, the difficulty in deciding in a society of
equals who is the relatively best man was seen by Aristotle as insuperable29. Thus he
arrives at the conclusion that, in the absence of a truly incomparable individual, the
normal way a single ruler will come to power will be through force or deception.
To return to the analysis and to the largest of the aporiai that have emerged
from this discussion: At the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of coercive powers
and lack of external restraints, is pambasileia. It is postulated in ch. 14 that the
absolute king rules poleis and ethn legitimately, because absolute kingship is
counted among right forms of government.
This leads us to the core of the problem. Despotic rule over some kinds of
ethn does not present a problem since some ethn, according to Aristotle's general
28 The same principle appears in Aristotle's parenthetical obiter dictum of V, 1313a
3-10: "Royal governments do not occur any more now, but if ever monarchies do occur they
are rather tyrannies, because royalty is government over willing subjects but with
sovereignty over greater matters, but men of equal quality are numerous and no one is so
outstanding as to fit the magnitude and dignity of the office; so that for this reason the
subjects do not submit willingly, and if a man has made himself ruler by deception or force,
then this is thought to be a tyranny". Aristotle has discussed the principle earlier in Book
III: "[Although it is possible for one man or a few to excel in virtue, when the number is
larger it becomes difficult for them to possess perfect excellence in respect of every form of
virtue, but they can best excel in military valour, for this is found with number" (III, 7,
1279a 39 - 1279b 4).
29 It would be interesting to know how he thought it might be possible to identify the
absolutely best man. However, since this was a theoretical consideration, there was no
point in devoting space to it. The historical examples he does cite of the kinds of problems
distinguished men present to all forms of states are those of relatively best men (1284a 15 1284b 34).


1 27

principles, need this kind of rule, but rule over poleis is problematic since high levels
of coercion are not compatible with legitimate rule over communities made up of
who are equal and alike. Yet we are told that the pambasileus' rule is legitimate.
If the king of III, 14 were the best man king there would be no problem
because the fact that he was so incomparably virtuous would give him just title to
rule over poleis and ethn alike. But I have already argued that the fifth king of ch. 14
is not this kind of king. I suggest two approaches to resolving the problem. The one
is extraphilosophical or biographical; the other is contained, I believe, within the
definition itself of the pambasileus of ch. 14. First the biographical.
The evolution of Macedonia from a backward Balkan nation, not greatly
distinguishable from its neighbors, to a powerful, centralized state of immense
though uncertain political power, must have been of more than scientific interest
to Aristotle. It must not be forgotten that Aristotle grew up in a world in which
ethn - Macedonians, Persians, Molossians, Paeonians, Thracians and others - were
as familiar to him as were po/w-dwellers. Stagira was a frontier town, so that beyond
personal connections with the Macedonian court, Aristotle was familiar with a world
many southern Greeks would have found alien. The destruction by Philip of the great
city of Olynthus (348), the most important true Greek metropolitan center in the
region, the dissolution along with it of the Chalcidian league, and the destruction of
Stagira (349), cannot have left him unaffected. True, he was not in the region when
all of this happened; he was in Athens, perhaps pondering, among other things,
Plato's experiences with the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse, as well as the heated
debates over Macedonian policy then taking place in the city30.
From Athens Aristotle journeyed northward again in 347 to Assos under the
sponsorship of Hermeias with whom he developed a close personal relationship.
Perhaps at Hermeias' recommendation Aristotle went on to become tutor of
Following his stint in Macedonia and having had first-hand experience with
Philip and Alexander, Aristotle was again in Athens, soon after the destruction of
Thebes by Alexander. In Athens he was able to witness the reaction of a prominent
Greek state to this event31. He must have watched the progress of Alexander's
closely. There were the results of the visit to the shrine of Zeus Ammon
followed by the claim to the Great King's title in 331; the murder of Cleitus; the
events at Bactra; the execution of Callisthenes; the heavy handed treatment of the

30 He was in Athens for Demosthenes' first Philippic (351 B.C.) and three Olynthiacs
(349 B.C.), with their denunciations of the Macedonian king and their easy equations of
him with tyrant and barbarian. On the use of the title "king" by the tyrants of Syracuse, cf.
S.I. Oost, The Tyrant Kings of Syracuse, in CPh, 71.3 (1976), p. 224-236.
3 1 Aristotle must have been well aware of the tenor of the anti-Macedonian speeches
in the assembly and courts with their themes of loss of liberty, hubris, despotism,
lawlessness, servitude, and of tyrants whose whim was law ([Dem.], 17, 4; 12; 26; Dem.,
18, 65-66; 72; 203; 235; Hyper., 6, 20; fr. 214; Lycur., Leocr., 50; Din., 1, 19-20).



Greek states of Asia Minor; the humiliation of the veterans at Opis, and finally the
promulgation of the Exile's Decree (324 B.C.)32.
It is hardly speculation to think that these events must have made Aristotle
reflect more deeply on the subject he regarded with such importance. The debate with
Plato over kingship belonged in the past, by now long since subsumed by later
experiences, and the acquisition of a considerable body of knowledge about kingship
in its many forms. The debate over kingship was not merely about the hypothetical
king of Plato or even the long tradition regarding tyranny in popular thought. He
must surely have had to factor in the reality of Macedonian overlordship and its
implications for Greece and for his political theory.
What Aristotle saw unfolding before him was something wholly new in Greek
history. Prior to Philip, the inhabitants of the old, independent poleis of the mainland
would not have dreamed of being ruled by a king, neither one of their own nor any
one else's33. The fact that the Greeks of Asia Minor and some of the islanders had
come under the control of a barbarian monarch, the Persian king, was an historical
accident. It did not affect the fact that they were still /?o/zs-dwellers; their
status was not at issue because they were under the overlordship of foreigners.
But the appearance of a king claiming Argive descent was something new. He would
be a Greek king claiming to rule Greek cities34. What is more, this king was now, it
seemed, asserting his power not just over the Greek cities of Asia Minor, but over
those of the mainland as well in much the same way as the Great King had ruled the
rest of his subjects. Such, at any rate, is a reasonable assessment of the implications
of the Exile's Decree35. It was no longer unthinkable that Greeks should be ruled by a
king. Hence the question of kingship needed to be revisited.
32 E. Badin, Alexander the Great and the Greeks of Asia, in E. Badin (ed.), Ancient
Society and Institutions: Studies presented to Victor Ehrenberg, Oxford, 1966, p. 37-69;
A.B. BOSWORTH, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great, Cambridge,
1988, p. 187-228, 250-258.
33 Aristotle was, of course, aware of the existence of tyrants in Greek cities and of
figures such as Hermeias and Evagoras of Cyprus. He would most likely have categorized
most of these technically as tyrants as defined in IV, 1295a. Hermeias as ruler of Atarneus,
a non-Greek city, and Evagoras as ruler of barbarian cities would probably have come under
category #2, barbarian kingship, if they ruled according to law over willing subjects. It is
unlikely that he would have regarded any of the above as candidates for best man absolute
kingship. Whether he might have thought of Evagoras as an example of a real absolute
king (i.e. as the pambasileus of ch. 14) in his capacity as ruler over Greek cities is a
possibility, but not likely to have been uppermost in his mind.
34 For a recent discussion of the claims of the Argeads to Greek ancestry, see
E. Borza, In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedn, Princeton, 1991,
p. 80-83, 110-114, and J.M. Hall, Ethnic identity in Greek antiquity, Cambridge, 1997,
p. 64. Borza argues convincingly that the claim to Greek descent belongs to the fifth
century, probably to the time of Alexander I. Whatever the claims of the Argeads, Greeks,
as Badin has argued, did not regard Macedonians as Greeks nor did Macedonians think of
themselves as Greek: Greeks and Macedonians, in B. Barr-Sharrar and E.N. Borza,
Macedonia and Greece in Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Times, Washington, 1982,
p. 33-51; Borza, ibid., p. 96, agrees with this judgment.
35 "With this decree Alexander treated every single Greek state as though it had been
just defeated. However, as became apparent, this act of authority, of mastery by force,
reflected not the actual ascendancy achieved but only the king's claim to dominate the


1 29

It seems that in a general way Aristotle had at first dismissed the rule of one as
an irrelevancy to the Greeks of his times. At most, Greek kings were like the kings of
Sparta, or the appointed administrators of Epidamnus and Opus, barely kings at all,
weak in the scale of kingship. It was thus a purely theoretical question that a king
should rule over free Greek cities. Correspondingly, his original analysis of types of
kings was restricted to four categories. The highest level of despotism in the list was
category #2, that of barbarian kingship which existed among "some" of the
This kind of kingship was a legitimate constitution and Aristotle may well
have had this category in mind for all barbarian kingships that were real kingships and
not mere tyrannies or ephemeral chiefdoms36. It was a broad category and he may well
have considered it comprehensive. At some point, perhaps in the 320s, Aristotle added
the fifth form oi pambasileus now found in ch. 14 when it became clear to him that
the old category #2, despotic kings ruling over non-Greeks, was no longer precise or
comprehensive enough. This category assumed that only coerced poleis or barbarian
peoples were being ruled, whereas the actual situation was that of a new kind of king
who claimed to rule legitimately over both ethn and poleis. This was the de facto
situation by the time of the Exiles Decree in 324. To the list of four historical
monarchical categories he added a fifth on the consideration that the list was, as he
now realized, incomplete. The list needed expansion beyond barbarian kingship. The
likelihood of kingly rule over Greek poleis had to be dealt with, and Aristotle added
the fifth category to deal with this eventuality.
How Aristotle thought all this might be reconciled theoretically is less clear.
One hint is perhaps contained in his comparison of the rule of the real absolute king
to that of the householder. We already know from principles discussed in book I that
all households are ruled monarchically37, but this rule is divided into three subtypes
corresponding to the constituent sub-koinoniai of the household: over slaves the
Greeks in the same way and from the same place, Susa, from which the Great King of Persia
had for long years held sway over the Greeks of Asia Minor": R.M. Errington, A History
of Macedonia, Oxford, 1990, p. 96; "[T]here was not even lip service to the concept of
autonomy. Alexander simply imposed his will by fiat. He might subsequently be swayed by
diplomacy but the final decision was his alone. It was absolute rule by royal command, the
polar opposite of the facade of consensus which Philip had attempted to create":
Bosworth, op. cit. (?. 32), p. 228.
36 Naturally Aristotle would not have accepted as scientific what was said popularly
about the Persian empire. Strictly speaking (i.e. according to Aristotle's criteria for
legitimate monarchies), the Persian monarchy was not a tyranny. Indeed, he seems to have
thought of tyranny proper as something limited to tyranny in Greek cities since it took the
presence of equals and similars to create the conditions for the most complete category of
37 "Republican government (? d? p???t???) controls men who are by nature free, the
master's authority men who are by nature slaves; and the government of a household is
monarchy (? ?? ????????? ??a???a) since every house is governed by a single ruler
(??a??e?ta ?a? pa? ?????), whereas statesmanship (? d? p???t???) is the government of
men free and equal" (1255b 18-20). Although the relationship of Books I and III is difficult
to determine, there is no inconsistency in the doctrine propounded in Books I and III
regarding the nature of mastership, whether in the household or outside it.



householder rules as a master because slaves need a master, being incapable of ruling
themselves; children are to be ruled royally; wives are to be ruled politiks, but on a
permanent basis38. Thus we might argue that Aristotle believes that the (real) absolute
king rules over some populations despotiks because they require this kind of rule by
nature; others need somewhat less despotic rule and are ruled royally; some are ruled
politiks, but on a permanent basis because they, like wives, are deficient in some
way relative to the householder. This is reminiscent of Aristotle's supposed advice to
Alexander in the doxographic tradition that he treat Greeks hegemoniks and
barbarians despotiks (fr. 658 Rose)39. In a general way this also corresponds to
Aristotle's basic principle that different constitutions are suited to different peoples, as
well as to the conventional wisdom of the fourth century. Thus Isocrates urged Philip
not to rule the Macedonians tyranniks but basiliks and he should rule the Greeks as
an euergets (V, 154-155). The opinion that Macedonians should be ruled by custom
and consent, not force, is also found in Arrian's version of Callisthenes' speech40.
3 8 "And since as we saw, the science of household management has three divisions,
one the relation of master to slave . . . one the paternal relation, and third the conjugal - for
it is a part of the household science to rule over wife and children (over both as freemen, yet
not with the same mode of government, but over the wife to exercise republican
government [p???t????], and over the children monarchical [as??????]) ... it is true that in
most cases of republican government the ruler and the ruled interchange in turn (for they
tend to be on an equal level in their nature and to have no difference at all) . . . but the male
stands in this relationship to the female continuously. The rule of the father over the
children on the other hand is that of a king; for the male parent is the ruler in virtue both of
affection and of seniority, which is characteristic of royal government" (1259a 37 - 1259b
12). Politiks is the rule, in turn, of free and equal citizens (1252a 13-16; 1255b 20; 1261a
32f.; 1279a 8f.; 1287a 12; 1325b 7-10; 1332b 12f.). Although elsewhere Aristotle
describes husbands' rule over their wives as kingly or aristocratic (1255b 19; 1259b 1; EN
1158b 1 If., 1160b 32-35, 1161a 22-25), here he implies that a husband is to treat his wife
as one citizen treats another, i.e. as a person who deserves consultation and argument.
However, because the woman's deliberative capacity is akuros (1260a 13) Aristotle escapes
the inevitable conclusion that a wife will in turn rule her husband. In his excellent
discussion of "gendered virtue" S.G. Salkever, Finding the Mean: Theory and Practice in
Aristotelian Philosophy, Princeton, 1990, p. 185, makes the following comment on this
point: "The rotation in office that ordinarily characterizes political rule is absent here, but
other key elements of political rule are not: rule is to be in the interest of both rulers and
ruled (which is only incidentally so in the case of slaves), there is rough equality of ruler
and ruled, and an impersonal legal authority limits and informs the action-choices of the
rulers. Women should not rule, but they should be ruled as fellow-citizens - that is, they
should get the same benefits from the political relationship as males - and not as children
or slaves, whose needs, and hence, whose status, are entirely different (temporarily or
permanently) from the needs of their rulers". This suggests a way in which the householder
king could take into account the sensibilities of his citizen-subjects while still ruling
39 Cf. ?. Badin, Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind, m Historia, 1
(1958), p. 440-443. Alexander took to heart the second part of this advice but neglected
the first.
40 The authenticity of the speech has been defended recently by E. Badin, The
Deification of Alexander the Great, in H.J. Dell and E. Borza (eds.), Ancient Macedonian
Studies in honor of Charles F. Edson, Thessaloniki, 1981, p. 28-32, 48-54; L. Mooren,
The Nature of Hellenistic Monarchy, in E. Van't Dack et al, Egypt and the Hellenistic



There are other examples so much so that the sentiment that the consent of the
governed be respected was a fourth century commonplace41.
The rule of kings is justified on a sliding scale of proportionality between a
ruler's virtues and capacities and those of the people for whom his rule is intended.
Each eidos of kingship corresponds to the type of population ruled. In his first
consideration of the subject I would argue that Aristotle had come to the well-known
and much-discussed conclusion that truly free and equal citizens could be ruled
legitimately only by a king of incomparable virtue and ability. This was, as Mulgan
rightly points out, an integral part of Aristotle's discussion of distributive justice in
book III42. Only an ideal, superlatively endowed individual, whose existence is very
unlikely, could rule free and equal citizens. The rule of the best man absolute king in
the best state is a theoretical construct43. Initially, at least, Aristotle was not thinking
of the actual possibility of a king ruling in a traditional Greek polis inhabited by free,
equal and alike citizens. After modifying his theory it would still be difficult for a
king to rule in a city such as Athens which was made up of truly free and equal
citizens. The justification of rule by a king over cities of this type would demand a
ruler of outstanding virtue and ability, but not necessarily of the level of excellence
required for the ideal city of equal and alike citizens. Proportional excellence would
suffice. Cities with weaker claims to rule by equal and alike citizens would require
proportionately lower levels of virtue and ability on the part of their rulers. It would
thus not be unthinkable that disorderly poleis, for example, might legitimately be
ruled by a king who would not, however, be justified in ruling an Athens or any other
city where equals ruled each other in some orderly fashion.
Aristotle could not offer a detailed solution to the problem of the just rule of a
monarch over the free cities of Greece, but he could provide a way of thinking
constructively about this problem. It would have been easiest to grasp the extremes of
the proposed sliding scale. At one end was the ideal city with its free and equal
citizens ruled by the presumptively best man. At the other end of the continuum was
the real absolute king ruling despotiks (but still legitimately) over otherwise unruly
peoples. In between lay many, if not the majority, oi poleis and ethn, and here the
application of the principle would depend on the individual historical circumstances of
each particular city or people. Some Greek poleis might be ruled politiks until such
time as their citizens recovered themselves and once more attained the capacity to rule
and be ruled in turn as free and equal people. By the same token, as some ethn
moved from extreme ungovernability, the level of justifiable despotism or force would
have to decline in proportion as they reached the stage of self-rule. Ethn such as the
Macedonians who had long standing claims to freedom and equality, but not at a level
sufficient for self-rule, could claim that they deserved to be ruled basiliks.

World, Louvain, 1983, p. 222; A.B. Bosworth, From Arrian to Alexander, Oxford, 1988,
p. 113-123.
41 Confirmed by the Daochus inscription cited by MOOREN, loc. cit. (?. 40), p. 220221, and Bos worth, op. cit. (?. 40), p. 122.
42 Loc. cit. (?. 7), p. 27.
43 Cf. Mulgan 's comment, op. cit. (?. 3), p. 87: "Nothing that Aristotle says leads
one to believe that justifiable absolute rule for Greeks was anything more than a theoretical



Clearly the principle does not justify, as such, the rule of kings over poleis,
but only over those that needed it at any given time, and only for as long as such rule
was necessary. Meanwhile they would be ruled politiks in the sense suggested above.
The principle allows for flexibility since historically, as Aristotle knew, peoples
moved in both directions, from self-rule to ungovernability and vice versa. Indeed, the
very model for this, I suspect, was early Greece which went from kingly rule to less
despotic forms of government. As the number of free and equal peoples increased over
time in early Greek communities, the rule of kings declined to the point where, as he
says, there are "now no kings in Greece", at least no legitimate ones (1313a 3-10).
With the description of the pambasileus in place Aristotle had in hand a
range oieid of orthodox royalty with which to categorize states ruled by kings.
Beyond the pambasileus was the now accurately identified tyrant44. Aristotle's
is an instrument that comprehends all forms of royalty. He has identified the
key traits for royal rule and the way in which it differs from tyranny45. In his analysis
Aristotle surpassed Plato who limited his view of monarchy to the polis alone and so
produced a relatively undeveloped theory of kingship compared to that of Aristotle. It
is not that Aristotle advocates, contrary to Plato, the real existence of a philosopherking, so much that he takes a hard look at real kings and then explains under what
circumstances a king might reign legitimately. Plato held a more restricted view of
kingly rule. If a monarch rules according to his own devices, behaving as if he really
knew, he is a tyrant (Pol., 301e). Aristotle finds a place in his royal continuum for
someone who rules in this fashion, but who is not a tyrant. He accommodates Plato
in so far as his approach allows for the education of a king, or more precisely, the
development of a community itself as it might move, for instance, from the excessive
power of the tyrant to absolute kingship, to finally, the constitutional kings of Sparta
and elsewhere46. Alexander's contribution to Aristotle was to provide him with the
impetus to consider more deeply the nature of kingship and ways in which real kings
could justly and expediently rule various populations.
University of Southern California
Department of History
Los Angeles CA 90089-0034

D. Brendan NAGLE

44 That is, a tyrant not defined by rhetoric or common opinion, but by comparative
45 Thus I would agree with Vander Waerdt, loc. cit. (?. 8), p. 251, ?. 4, that we
should not underestimate the preeminence of the philosophical aspects of Aristotle's
analysis of kingship in the Politics. By the same token I would disagree with those who
claim that if Aristotle was thinking of Alexander in connection with absolute kingship he
would have come out and said so. Historical and contemporary events were used by
Aristotle to illustrate particular points, not because they were of special interest to him per
se. The absence of an historical example for the fifth type of king in chapter 14 is of no
particular significance. No examples are given either of the barbarian kings who feature so
importantly in category #2 of the same list of kings.
46 On this subject, see H. Berve, Die Tyrannis bei den Griechen, Munich, 1967,
p. 363-364.