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by Mara Kutter


Before the Athenians invented democracy, they lived under tyranny: the Peisistratids
ruled Athens from 546/5 B.C. until 511/0 B.C. After Peisistratus died, Hippias succeeded his
father and continued managing the city moderately, until the lovers Harmodius and Aristogeiton
killed his brother Hipparchus, who had aroused their jealousy through sexual advances. Although
the period between the murder and Hippias` deposition four years later witnessed an increasingly
harsh regime, it did not become a reign of terror, nor was the hatred of tyranny achieved
immediately. It was later, when Hippias led the Persians to Greece, that such abhorrence
solidified. The official stance toward formal tyranny remained negative throughout the fifth
century, eventually transforming the definition of tyranny to include anything anti-democratic.

Herodotus, Thucydides, Hellanicus, Aristotle, the author of the Ath. Pol., and Plato all wrote at
least several decades aIter the tyranny`s end, rendering them susceptible to the inIluence of later
anti-tyranny attitudes. Not surprisingly then, the sources often contradict one another, providing
diIIerent reports about who took over aIter Peisistratus` death, what the tyranny was like in that
time period, the reasons behind Hipparchus` murder, and even when the tyranny came to an end.
This paper will examine the various accounts for each of the points in the chronology of the
Peisistratids after 528/7 B.C., and will demonstrate that the accounts of Herodotus and
Thucydides, which coalesce satisfactorily, reveal the most comprehensive and credible sequence
oI events. It will then evaluate some oI the key ramiIications oI the tyranny`s demise on the
political cognizance of the Athenian people.

Ancient Greece

The Peisistratid Tyranny at Athens:
Conflicting Sources and Revisionist History at Work

History 199
Professor Phillips
Winter Quarter 2009

The picture ancient sources paint oI the tyrant Peisistratus` reign in Athens is overall a
moderate one, not at all beIitting oI the modern connotation oI the word 'tyrant. Peisistratus
died in 528/7 after nearly twenty consecutive years in power, and thereafter the historical record
becomes increasingly obscure.
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.
Meanwhile, Plato and Hellanicus record that Hipparchus alone became
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
The author of the Ath. Pol. reiterates the murder`s personal impetus, but transfers
responsibility from Hipparchus to a third brother.
Plato returns the blame to Hipparchus and
transforms the conflict into a matter of intellectual jealousy rather than sexual.
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 Thucydides tell the Peisistratids` story within diIIerent contexts and thus
they emphasize separate aspects. The two accounts remain compatible, however, and do not

All dates noted are B.C., unless specified otherwise.
Raphael Sealey, A History of the Greek City-States ca. 700-338 B. C. (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1976), 134.
Herodotus, The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, 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.
Plato, Hipparchus, 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.
Thucydides 6.54.1.
Ath. Pol. 18.2.
Plato, Hipparchus 229c-d.
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 diIIerent parts oI 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 Ior doing so,
whereas Herodotus finds it sufficient to name the tyrannicides without providing insight as to
their driving rationale.
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 aIter Peisistratus` death.
Herodotus instead goes into detail about the post-
Hipparchus phase, describing the Athenian exiles` Iailed attempt to bring down the tyranny and
the Alcmaeonid Iamily`s involvement in galvanizing the Spartans to intervene.
Save the single
sentence proclaiming that the Spartans and the Alcmaeonids liberated Athens from tyranny,
Thucydides does not concern himselI with events in the aItermath oI Hipparchus` murder.

Thucydides 6.57.3; Herodotus 5.55.
Thucydides 6.54.5-6.
Herodotus 5.62.2.
Thucydides 6.59.4, 6.54-57.
Together, Herodotus and Thucydides` narratives Ilesh out a more complete picture oI 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
oI succession or even hint at any polemic regarding who rose to power aIter Peisistratus` death.
He merely begins the chapter on Hipparchus` murder by reIerring to him as the 'brother oI the
tyrant Hippias, an implicit but clear statement that Hipparchus himselI did not succeed
On the other hand, Hellanicus presumably cited Hipparchus as Peisistratus` eldest
son and successor (judging from the refutations contained in Thucydides` work, Ior Hellanicus`
own no longer survives).
Hellanicus` work might have served as the basis Ior Plato`s Iourth-
century casting of Hipparchus as the tyrant in his philosophicaland, notably, not historically-
Arguing against this version, Thucydides emphasizes the ignorance of the
Athenian people in regards to their own history, Ior not knowing 'that Hippias, the eldest oI the
sons oI Pisistratus, was really supreme.

Thucydides later contradicts himself somewhat, however, by speaking of tyrants in the
plural Iorm. He lauds the sons oI Peisistratus Ior their moderation, using phrases such as 'their
government and 'these tyrants, implying some sort oI joint rule between the two.
The author
of the Ath. Pol. Iollows suit, stating that a joint rule began aIter Peisistratus` passing, but he notes
that 'Hippias, who was the elder.was at the head oI the regime.
While the possibility of a

Herodotus 5.55.1.
Jacoby, Atthis, 158.
Plato, Hipparchus 228b.
Thucydides 1.20.2.
Ibid., 6.54.5.
Ath. Pol. 18.1.
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 sorteither 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 oI details regarding the nature oI Hippias` time in power makes it diIIicult 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 oIIend the Athenian people. AIter detailing Peisistratus`
numerous rises to power, Herodotus` next mention oI the tyranny at Athens finds both
Peisistratus and Hipparchus dead, and the Athenians under Hippias` rule.
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 oI the tyranny under Hippias, in which the Athenians 'lived under an even harsher
tyranny than beIore, according to Herodotus.
The comparative nature oI the phrase 'even
harsher implies that the tyranny was harsh before as well, but Herodotus leaves exactly how
harshly he ruled during either stage highly open to interpretation. Herodotus` silence about
Hippias` rule becomes more conspicuous in comparison to his description oI other Greek tyrants.
Not long after the story of the Peisistratids, Herodotus tells the story of the Cypselids of Corinth,

Herodotus 1.64.3, 5.55.1.
Ibid., 5.55.1.
in which he records both the political and personal atrocities Periander commits.
Given that he
provides details about Periander` 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 Iirst 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 leIt in Iull enjoyment oI its existing laws.
Noticeably, Thucydides` Iirst
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 maniIested
itself moderately, even if not magnanimously.
Although Plato names Hipparchus as his Iather`s successor and thereIore the rule
preceding his murder would be his own and not Hippias`, Plato`s take on the nature oI the
tyranny cannot be ruled out as wholly irrelevant. Plato likens Hipparchus` rule to the reign oI
Cronusthe time of the supposed golden race of men, when men lived like gods, free from
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 oI the Ath. Pol.
draws a comparison to the age oI Cronus as well, but instead in reIerence to Peisistratus` time in

Ibid., 5.92.-.
Thucydides 6.54.5-6.
Plato, Hipparchus 229b; Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, trans. M.L. West (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1988), 97-134.
power. He goes on to say that 'when his sons took over, the regime became much more cruel.

He contradicts himself in the very next chapter, however, when he reports that the sons
'continued the management oI aIIairs in the same way as Peisistratus had managed them.

Given that he describes in some detail the moderation oI Peisistratus` hand and provides no
evidence pointing to any significant deterioration of the tyranny under his sons, in all likelihood
the tyranny aIter Peisistratus (and prior to Hipparchus` death) remained relatively mild, as
opposed to turning abruptly toward cruelty.
A Iurther attestation to Hippias` moderation is the Iact that he held power securely Ior
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 oI questionable behavior is the brothers` involvement
in the murder of the Olympic victor Cimon.
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.
Except for this one instance
near the beginning oI 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
sourcesespecially Athenians such as Thucydideswould have more readily fabricated
artificial conflict during this period than gloss over any such conflict.
While Plato portrays the tyranny directly aIter 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

Ath. Pol. 16.7.
Ibid., 17.3.
Herodotus 6.103.3.
H.T. Wade-Gery, Essays in Greek History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1958), 157.
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.
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 Atheniansespecially those whose families had alleged ties to the tyrantsbegan altering
the stories they told, much of which people accepted as fact by the second half of the fifth-
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 oI an attack 'upon the person oI the rulers, as opposed to 'upon the oIIice, thus
highlighting the personal rather than political nature of the murder.
While Harmodius and
Aristogeiton did not aim specifically to bring down the tyranny, they attracted a number of co-
The existence of co-conspirators suggests either extremely loyal friendship and/or
familial ties to the tyrannicides, or latent political opposition.
Hipparchus had made known his
desire for Harmodius, and Aristogeiton, the jealous lover, wanted to prevent him from gaining

Thucydides 6.53.3.
Brian M. Lavelle, The Sorrow and the Pity: A Prolegomenon to a History of Athens under the Peisistratids, c.
560-510 B. C. (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1993), 23, 75.
Aristotle, Politics: Books V & VI, trans. David Keyt (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 1311
Thucydides 6.56.3; Ath. Pol. 18.2.
A.W. Gomme, A. Andrewes, and K.J. Dover, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, vol. 4 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1970), 318.
Harmodius` reciprocal aIIections.
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.
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.
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 Ior Hipparchus` murder. He later ties the story of the Peisistratids to his overarching
history oI the Persian Wars via Hippias` aid to the Persians, to which the circumstances of his
brother`s murder bear no immediate relevance.
Moreover, Herodotus emphasizes that the
Alcmaeonid Iamily served as the true liberators oI Athens 'Iar more.than were Harmodios and
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.

Aristotle`s pupil, the author oI the Ath. Pol., shifts the role of antagonist onto another of

Thucydides 6.54.3.
Ibid., 6.56.1.
Thucydides 6.57.3.
Herodotus 5.96.
Ibid., 6.123.2.
Aristotle, Politics 1311
35-8; Thucydides 6.56.1-2; P.J. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion
Politeia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), 230.
Peisistratus` sons, Thessalus, but sticks with the idea oI a personal grudge as the driving Iorce.

This variation is an outlier, however, and can be discarded on the basis that Thucydides, Plato,
and Aristotleall closer in time to the event in questionare in accordance with one another
that it was Hipparchus who so aggravated the tyrannicides.

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
oI Hipparchus` desire Ior Harmodius, and how Harmodius himselI became ill-disposed toward
Hipparchus when the latter insulted the Iormer`s sister at a Iestival.
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 Iabrication. That Thucydides invented such a tale is improbable,
given his preoccupation with accuracy and his disdain Ior reporting things 'without applying any
critical test whatever.
He had no reason to invent the details oI 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 Hipparchus. In this
dialogue, because Aristogeiton 'prided himselI on educating people, losing a pupil to

Ath. Pol. 18.2.
Plato, Hipparchus 229d.
Thucydides 6.54.3, 6.56.2.
Ibid., 1.20.1, 1.22.2; Michael W. Taylor, The Tyrant Slayers: The Heroic Image in Fifth Century B. C. Athenian
Art and Politics, 2
ed. (Salem: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1991), 81.
Hipparchus struck him as so unbearable that he and Harmodius killed Hipparchus.
Plato knew this to be false, for in the Symposium, he names 'Aristogeiton`s love and the strength
oI Harmodius` reciprocal aIIection as the Iorce that led them to slay Hipparchus.
He merely
manipulated the plot line in the Hipparchus to suit his didactic purposes there. Plato altered the
story to make it more virtuousa squabble over wanting to educate the youthrather 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.
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 oI his Iear and paranoia, Hippias 'put to death many
oI the citizens, and that the tyranny 'pressed harder on the Athenians.
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 that Athenians thereaIter lived 'under an even
harsher tyranny than beIore, while the author oI the Ath. Pol. describes the second phase as
'much more cruel.
Since the author of the Ath. Pol. relies heavily on Herodotus for this phase

Plato, Hipparchus 229c-d.
Plato, Symposium, trans. Christopher Gill (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1999), 182c.
Herodotus 5.55; Thucydides 6.59.2; Plato, Hipparchus 229b; Ath. Pol. 19.1.
Thucydides 6.59.2.
Herodotus 5.55; Ath. Pol. 19.1. Emphasis my own.
oI the tyranny and his account thus resembles Herodotus`, it will here suIIice to focus on
Herodotus alone.

Hippias undoubtedly ruled with a more severe hand aIter 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 oI Periander`
tyranny in Corinth, describing him as 'bloodthirsty and acting with 'every kind oI evil.

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 oI against the Peisistratids.
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.

The sources all conIirm the deterioration oI Hippias` regime, but the Iacts 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

P. J. Rhodes, The Athenian Constitution, by [Aristotle] (London: Penguin Group, 1984), 55.
Herodotus 5.92., 5.92..
Ibid., 6.123.2; 5.62.2.
Kurt A. RaaIlaub, 'Stick and Glue: The Function oI Tyranny in FiIth-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.
Darius` men to Marathon against the Athenians during the Iirst oI the Persian Wars, cementing
the Athenians` hostility toward him and coloring their later perceptions of him.

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.
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
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
inIluenced the oracle to tell the Spartans to 'liberate Athens.
Thucydides says that Hippias
was ' the Spartans and the banished Alcmaeonidae together, implying that the
Alcmaeonids accompanied the Spartan expedition force.
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.
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 oI the tyranny to be a direct result oI Hipparchus` murder
in 514.
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

Herodotus 6.102.
Ibid., 5.62.1-5.65.3.
Eric W. Robinson, 'Reexamining the Alcmaeonid Role in the Liberation oI Athens, Historia: Zeitschrift fr Alte
Geschichte 43 (3): 364 (3
Qtr., 1994).
Herodotus 5.62.3-5.63.1.
Thucydides 6.59.4.
Ath. Pol. 19.4.
Thucydides 6.59.4; Ath. Pol. 19.4; Plato, Symposium, 182c.
own tyranny.
This is one of the main contentions that Thucydides aims to refute, a report
mostly likely put in writing by Hellanicus.
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 Iame live in the earth,
dearest Harmodius and Aristogeiton, for that ye slew the tyrant, and made Athens a city of equal
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 aIter 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.
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
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 aIter Hipparchus` murder, and not as a direct result oI 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.
Herodotus was born around 490, already two decades after the Spartans

Thucydides 6.53.3.
Jacoby, Atthis, 158-9, 165; Rhodes, Commentary, 228.
Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, vol. 7, trans. Charles Burton Gulick (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1941), 15.695.
Jacoby, Atthis, 158; Plato, Hipparchus 228b.
Herodotus 5.62.2; Thucydides 6.59.4; Ath. Pol. 19.
Lavelle, Sorrow, 11.
ousted Hippias from power.
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 oI him.
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
While any part oI the Peisistratids` history was susceptible to revisionist inIluences 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.
The Athenians
had been forewarned. In the early sixth century, the lawgiver Solon had cautioned the Athenians
against tyranny, and when Peisistratus Iirst came to power, Solon tried to 'urge |the Athenians|
not to throw their Ireedom away, though clearly his eIIorts proved unsuccessIul.
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

Sealey, Greek City-States, 3.
Herodotus 6.107.1.
Lavelle, Sorrow, 23.
Plutarch, Solon 30, in Greek Lives: A selection of nine Greek Lives, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998).
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.
The Athenians
considered Harmodius and Aristogeiton to be champions of and/or martyrs for democracy,
ignoring the tyrannicides` lack oI overt political motives in killing Hipparchus.
In his comedy
Acharnians, Aristophanes makes a reference to the drinking song honoring the tyrannicides,
calling it a 'patriotic tune.
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.

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.
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.
The Alcmaeonids had the most to gain by tweaking
the historical record, and they Iabricated lies such as that they were in exile 'during all the years
oI the tyranny, as reported by Herodotus.
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

Taylor, The Tyrant Slayers, xiv.
Ibid., xii-xiii.
Aristophanes, Acharnians 980, in Aristophanes: Acharnians, Lysistrata, Clouds, trans. Jeffrey Henderson
(Newburyport: Focus Classical Library, 1997).
Aristophanes, Acharnians 980 with scholion, in Archaic Times to the end of the Peloponnesian War, 2
ed., trans.
Charles W. Fornara (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), no. 39.
Lavelle, Sorrow, 41.
Herodotus 1.60.2.
Ibid., 6.123.1.
only remained in Athens, but held the eponymous archonship in 525/4.
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 Iamiliarity
between the two, but a close association.
Herodotus does not cite his sources for the
Peisistratids, but his account suggests Alcmaeonid informants, especially in light of his defense
oI them in the context oI their suspected aid to the Persians. He describes them as 'tyrant haters,
'the real liberators oI Athens, and 'illustrious among the Athenians from their very
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.
In time, the lies became accepted as truth.
Even though the aItermath oI 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.

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
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

C. W. Fornara, trans., Archaic Times to the end of the Peloponnesian War, 2
ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1983), no. 23.
Thucydides 6.54.6.
Herodotus 6.123.1, 6.123.2, 6.125.1.
Lavelle, Sorrow, 100, 104.
Ibid., 28.
Livy, The Early History of Rome, trans. Aubrey De Slincourt (London: Penguin Group, 1960), 1.59.
former king from power.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.

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 Irom a cacophony oI varying accounts to
form a harmonious and complementary story of the seventeen years Iollowing Peisistratus` death
in which the tyranny remained intact. Thucydides tells oI Hippias` succession aIter his Iather`s

Ibid., 2.2.
Lavelle, Sorrow, 24.
Ath. Pol. 22.4; Sealey, Greek City-States, 202.
Brian M. Lavelle, Fame, Monev, and Power. The Rise of Peisistratos and 'Democratic` Tvrannv at Athens (Ann
Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), 7.
Ath. Pol. 22.3.
Thucydides 2.63.2.
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 oI the tyranny aIter Hipparchus` death, and how the Alcmaeonids
worked to remove Hippias Irom 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 Iirst appeared in Greek, in the seventh-century lyric poetry of
Archilochus of Paros, it had not yet acquired its negative connotation.
As Herodotus and
Thucydides` works together illustrate, the Peisistratid tyranny went unopposed Ior years until
Hipparchus` murder, aIter which anti-tyrannical attitudes intensified, due to the increasing
harshness oI Hippias` regime. The backlash against tyranny grew exponentially greater aIter 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.

Sealey, Greek City-States, 28.

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