The Last Tyrant

The last tyrant of ancient Greece was the Athenian, Pisistratus (Peisistratus). In ancient Greece, the term Tyrant was not always associated with bad or self-indulgent leaders. Some tyrants were noble and benevolent, others were greedy and hypocritical. Regardless of their inclinations, the tyrants of ancient Greece ruled with absolute authority.

In our modern age, we have come to accept the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely and therefore any un-elected leader is either corrupt or will eventually become so. Conversely, we choose to believe that elected leaders are inherently benevolent.

Pisistratus died in 527 BCE and left behind a legacy mixed with egotistical indulgences and priceless contributions to the city and citizens of Athens. Although his rule was tempered by the constitution instituted by the great lawgiver, Solon, he held absolute power during his three terms as tyrant. Generally, he was considered to be a beneficent ruler and, despite his sometimes outrageous public posturing, he was instrumental in expanding the artistic and commercial life of the Athenians to heretofore unknown heights.

In 560 BCE he and his supporters forcefully occupied the Athenian Akropolis (Acropolis) and proclaimed himself tyrant. He was ousted from Athens in 559 after only one year. The government of Athens suffered in his absence because of the in-fighting between the different political factions. One of the faction leaders offered Pisistratus his daughter in marriage if he would resume his leadership. This was, of course, not the majority opinion so Pisistratus devised a clever and, as the historian Herodotus asserts, a simple-minded way to make his return. In 550 BCE Pisistratus hired a stately woman named Phya to dress as the goddess Athene (Athena) and ride beside him in a chariot into Athens. Heralds proceeded the chariot and proclaimed that Pisistratus was returning with the blessing of Athene. Whether the citizens were fooled by this grandiose stunt is a matter of debate but his showmanship and audacity earned him the right to rule again. After another year he was again exiled and did not return to Athens for another ten years.

His next entrance into the city was not as flamboyant as his previous escapade but he managed to retain the rule of Athens from 539 until his death in 527 BCE. During his rule he opened the Euxine (Black Sea) for Athenian traders. He gave pensions to artists such as Simonides, he instituted the Great Dionysia and gave new splendor to the Panathenaic Festival. His public works and beautification of Athens had a practical and altruistic effect on the citizens and elevated Athens to a new level of respect among all the people of Greece.

After his death in 527 BCE, the rule of Athens fell into the indulgent and incompetent hands of his two sons, Hippias and Hipparkhus (Hipparchus). This web site is entitled From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant because the Immortal gods and goddesses of Mount Olympos (Olympus) held absolute power over the Greeks until the death of Pisistratus. After the death of Pisistratus, the government and people of Greece became more tolerant of foreign religions and opened their doors to alien cultural concepts. The new, democratic Greeks embraced these corrosive ideas and the Immortals lost their eight hundred year old grip on the minds and imaginations of the rulers and ruled alike. The decline of religion in ancient Greece led to the eventual end the Greek domination of the ancient world and set the stage for the rise of the Roman Empire and its subjugation of the Greek people and their institutions.

The death of the last tyrant of Greece transformed the moral precepts of the ancient Greek religion into a hodge-podge of mythological fables and ineffectual stories. If Pisistratus had been followed by a series of equally effective and charismatic leaders, the glory and splendor of ancient Greece might have endured and flowered into a world culture of refinement and sophistication that would have precluded the Roman Empire and evolved into a society of unimaginable possibilities.

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