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A tyrant (from Ancient Greek τύραννος (túrannos) 'absolute ruler'), in the modern English usage of the word, is an absolute ruler who is unrestrained by law, or one who has usurped a legitimate ruler's sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may defend their positions by resorting to repressive means.[1][2] The original Greek term meant an absolute sovereign who came to power without constitutional right,[3] yet the word had a neutral connotation during the Archaic and early Classical periods.[4] However, Greek philosopher Plato saw tyrannos as a negative word, and on account of the decisive influence of philosophy on politics,[5]




Tyrant


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The English noun tyrant appears in Middle English use, via Old French, from the 1290s.The word derives from Latin tyrannus, meaning "illegitimate ruler", and this in turn from the Greek τύραννος tyrannos "monarch, ruler of a polis"; tyrannos in its turn has a Pre-Greek origin, perhaps from Lydian.[9][10] The final -t arises in Old French by association with the present participles in -ant.[11]


Ancient Greek and Sicilian tyrants were influential opportunists that came to power by securing the support of different factions of a deme. The word tyrannos, possibly pre-Greek, Pelasgian or eastern in origin,[13] then carried no ethical censure; it simply referred to anyone, good or bad, who obtained executive power in a polis by unconventional means. Support for the tyrants could come from fellow oligarchs, from the growing middle class or from the peasants who had no land or were in debt to the wealthy landowners.


The Greek tyrants stayed in power by using mercenary soldiers from outside of their respective city-state. To mock tyranny, Thales wrote that the strangest thing to see is "an aged tyrant" meaning that tyrants do not have the public support to survive for long.


One of the earliest known uses of the word tyrant (in Greek) was by the poet Archilochus, who lived three centuries before Plato, in reference to king Gyges of Lydia.[14] The king's assumption of power was unconventional.


The heyday of the Archaic period tyrants came in the early 6th century BC, when Cleisthenes ruled Sicyon in the Peloponnesus and Polycrates ruled Samos. During this time, revolts overthrew many governments[15] in the Aegean world. Chilon, the ambitious and capable ephor of Sparta, built a strong alliance amongst neighbouring states by making common cause with these groups seeking to oppose unpopular tyrannical rule. By intervening against the tyrants of Sicyon, Corinth and Athens, Sparta thus came to assume Hellenic leadership prior to the Persian invasions. Simultaneously Persia first started making inroads into Greece, and many tyrants sought Persian help against popular forces seeking to remove them.


Corinth hosted one of the earliest of Greek tyrants.[16] In Corinth, growing wealth from colonial enterprises, and the wider horizons brought about by the export of wine and oil, together with the new experiences of the Eastern Mediterranean brought back by returning mercenary hoplites employed overseas created a new environment. Conditions were right for Cypselus to overthrow the aristocratic power of the dominant but unpopular clan of Bacchiadae. Clan members were killed, executed, driven out or exiled in 657 BC. Corinth prospered economically under his rule, and Cypselus managed to rule without a bodyguard. When he then bequeathed his position to his son, Periander, the tyranny proved less secure, and Periander required a retinue of mercenary soldiers personally loyal to him.


Nevertheless, under Cypselus and Periander, Corinth extended and tightened her control over her colonial enterprises, and exports of Corinthian pottery flourished. However, tyrants seldom succeeded in establishing an untroubled line of succession. Periander threw his pregnant wife downstairs (killing her), burnt his concubines alive, exiled his son, warred with his father-in-law and attempted to castrate 300 sons of his perceived enemies.[17] He retained his position. Periander's successor was less fortunate and was expelled. Afterward, Corinth was ruled by a lackluster oligarchy, and was eventually eclipsed by the rising fortunes of Athens and Sparta.


Athens hosted its tyrants late in the Archaic period.[18] In Athens, the inhabitants first gave the title of tyrant to Peisistratos (a relative of Solon, the Athenian lawgiver) who succeeded in 546 BC, after two failed attempts, to install himself as tyrant. Supported by the prosperity of the peasantry and landowning interests of the plain, which was prospering from the rise of olive oil exports, as well as his clients from Marathon, he managed to achieve authoritarian power. Through an ambitious program of public works, which included fostering the state cult of Athena; encouraging the creation of festivals; supporting the Panathenaic Games in which prizes were jars of olive oil; and supporting the Dionysia (ultimately leading to the development of Athenian drama), Peisistratus managed to maintain his personal popularity.


He was followed by his sons, and with the subsequent growth of Athenian democracy, the title "tyrant" took on its familiar negative connotations. The murder of Peisistratus' son, the tyrant Hipparchus by Aristogeiton and Harmodios in Athens in 514 BC marked the beginning of the so-called "cult of the tyrannicides" (i.e., of killers of tyrants). Contempt for tyranny characterised this cult movement. Despite financial help from Persia, in 510 the Peisistratids were expelled by a combination of intrigue, exile and Spartan arms. The anti-tyrannical attitude became especially prevalent in Athens after 508 BC, when Cleisthenes reformed the political system so that it resembled demokratia. Hippias (Peisistratus' other son) offered to rule the Greeks on behalf of the Persians and provided military advice to the Persians against the Greeks.[19]


The best known Sicilian tyrants appeared long after the Archaic period.[20] The tyrannies of Sicily came about due to similar causes, but here the threat of Carthaginian attack prolonged tyranny, facilitating the rise of military leaders with the people united behind them. Such Sicilian tyrants as Gelo, Hiero I, Dionysius the Elder, Dionysius the Younger, and Agathocles of Syracuse maintained lavish courts and became patrons of culture. The dangers threatening the lives of the Sicilian tyrants are highlighted in the moral tale of the "Sword of Damocles".


Under the Macedonian hegemony in the 4th and 3rd century BC a new generation of tyrants rose in Greece, especially under the rule of king Antigonus II Gonatas, who installed his puppets in many cities of the Peloponnese. Examples were Cleon of Sicyon, Aristodemus of Megalopolis, Aristomachus I of Argos, Abantidas of Sicyon, Aristippus of Argos, Lydiadas of Megalopolis, Aristomachus II of Argos, and Xenon of Hermione.


Against these rulers, in 280 BC the democratic cities started to join forces in the Achaean League which was able to expand its influence even into Corinthia, Megaris, Argolis and Arcadia. From 251 BC under the leadership of Aratus of Sicyon, the Achaeans liberated many cities, in several cases by convincing the tyrants to step down, and when Aratus died in 213 BC, Hellas had been free of tyrants for more than 15 years. The last tyrant on the Greek mainland, Nabis of Sparta, was assassinated in 192 BC and after his death the Peloponnese was united as a confederation of stable democracies in the Achaean League.


Citizens of the empire were circumspect in identifying tyrants. "...Cicero's head and hands [were] cut off and nailed to the rostrum of the Senate to remind everyone of the perils of speaking out against tyranny."[23] There has since been a tendency to discuss tyranny in the abstract while limiting examples of tyrants to ancient Greek rulers. Philosophers have been more expressive than historians.


The Greeks defined both usurpers and those inheriting rule from usurpers as tyrants.[4] Polybius (150 B.C.) indicated that eventually, any one-man rule (monarchy/executive) governing form would become corrupted into a tyranny.[24]


The first part of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy describes tyrants ("who laid hold on blood and plunder") in the seventh level of Hell, where they are submerged in boiling blood. These include Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun, and share the level with highway robbers.


Niccolò Machiavelli conflates all rule by a single person (whom he generally refers to as a "prince") with "tyranny", regardless of the legitimacy of that rule, in his Discourses on Livy. He also identifies liberty with republican regimes. Sometimes he calls leaders of republics "princes". He never uses the word in The Prince. He also does not share in the traditional view of tyranny, and in his Discourses he sometimes explicitly acts as an advisor to tyrants.[26][27]


Edward Sexby's 1657 pamphlet, "Killing, No Murder" .mw-parser-output div.crossreferencepadding-left:0(PDF file) outlined 14 key traits of a tyrant, as the pamphlet was written to inspire the assassination of Oliver Cromwell, and show in what circumstances an assassination might be considered honorable. The full document mulls over and references points on the matter from early pre-Christian history, up into the 17th century when the pamphlet was writ. Of the most prevailing traits of tyranny outlined, "Killing, No Murder" emphasizes:


Hence the road to power in Greece commercial cities was simple: to attack the aristocracy, defend the poor, and come to an understanding with the middle classes. Arrived at power, the dictator abolished debts, or confiscated large estates, taxed the rich to finance public works, or otherwise redistributed the overconcentrated wealth; and while attaching the masses to himself through such measures, he secured the support of the business community by promoting trade with state coinage and commercial treaties, and by raising the social prestige of the bourgeoisie. Forced to depend upon popularity instead of hereditary power, the dictatorships for the most part kept out of war, supported religion, maintained order, promoted morality, favored the higher status of women, encouraged the arts, and lavished revenues upon the beautification of their cities. And they did all these things, in many cases, while preserving the forms of popular government, so that even under despotism the people learned the ways of liberty. When the dictatorship [of the tyrant] had served to destroy the aristocracy the people destroyed the dictatorship; and only a few changes were needed to make democracy of freemen a reality as well as a form.[41] 041b061a72


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