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Peisistratos (6th century – 527/528 BC; also spelled Pisistratus; Greek: Πεισίστρατος) was a tyrant, who ruled in Athens during the most part of the period between 561 and 527 BC. His legacy lies primarily in his institution of the Panathenaic Festival and the consequent first attempt at producing a definitive version for Homeric epics. Peisistratos' championing of the lower class of Athens, the Hyperakrioi, (see below) can be seen as an early example of populism or even socialism. While in power, Peisistratos did not hesitate to confront the aristocracy, and he greatly reduced their privileges, confiscated their lands and gave them to the poor, and funded many religious and artistic programs.[1][dubious ]

Peisistratids is the common term for the three tyrants who ruled in Athens from 546 to 510 BC, namely Peisistratos and his two sons, Hipparchus and Hippias.



A long conflict with the Megarans over the disputed territories of Eleusis and Salamis ended when the Athenian army under Peisistratos routed the Megarans in 565 BC. This victory opened up the unofficial trade blockage that had been contributing to the food shortage in Athens during the past several decades.

In the period after the Megarans were defeated, several political factions competed for control in the government of Athens. These groups were both economically and geographically partitioned.[2]

His role in the Megaran conflict gained Peisistratos popularity in Athens, but he did not have the political clout to seize power. Peisistratos staged an attempt on his own life, and in the chaos that followed, he persuaded the Athenian Assembly to issue him bodyguards. Peisistratos, much like his predecessor, Cylon of Athens, used his bodyguard to capture and hold the acropolis. With this in his possession, and the collusion of Megacles and his party, he declared himself tyrant.[3]

Periods of power

Peisistratos was ousted from political office and exiled twice during his reign. The first occurrence happened circa 555 BC after the two original parties, which were normally at odds with each other, joined forces and removed Peisistratos from power. The actual dates after this point become unclear. Peisistratos was exiled for 3 to 6 years during which the agreement between the Pedieis and the Paralioi fell apart. Peisistratos returned to Athens and rode into the city in a golden chariot accompanied by a tall woman playing the role of Athena. Many returned to his side, believing that he had the favour of the goddess.[4] Differing sources state that he held the tyranny for one to six years before he was exiled again. During his second exile, he gathered support from local cities and from the Laurion silver mines near Athens. After 10 years he returned in force, regained his tyranny, and held his power until his death in 527 BC.

Popular tyrant

As opposed to the contemporary definition of a tyrant, which is a single ruler, often violent and oppressive, Peisistratos was the ideal classical tyrant, which was a non-heritable position that a person took purely by personal ability often in violation of tradition or constitutional norms. We see this in remarks by both Herodotus and Aristotle. Herodotus, in his Histories, wrote that Peisistratos, "not having disturbed the existing magistrates nor changed the ancient laws… administered the State under that constitution of things which was already established, ordering it fairly and well",[5] while Aristotle wrote that "his administration was temperate…and more like constitutional government than a tyranny".[6] Peisistratos often tried to distribute power and benefits, rather than hoard them, with the intent of releasing stress between the economic classes. The elites, who had held power in the Areopagus Council, were allowed to retain their archonships. For the lower classes, he cut taxes and created a band of traveling judges to provide justice for the citizens of Athens. Peisistratos enacted a popular program to beautify Athens and promote the arts. He minted coins with Athena's symbol (the owl), although this was only one type on the so-called Wappenmünzen (heraldic coins), and not a regular device as on the later, standard silver currency. Under his rule were introduced two new forms of poetry, the dithyramb and tragic drama, and the era also saw growth in theater, arts and sculpture. He commissioned the permanent copying and archiving of Homer's two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the canon of Homeric works is said to derive from this particular archiving.

First attempt (561) and Second Attempt (556) at Tyranny

With Peisistratus success of invading and capturing the Megarian port of Nisaea, he was able to attain great political standings in his assembly with his military prowess. Although he was pushing hard tyranny, he was met with failure when some of the elites rejected his idea. Prominent families were not fond of the ideas of tyranny and also opposed Peisistratus. He was known for using trickery to influence the people. Herodotus explains his exile “Not much later, however, the supporters of Megacles and those of Lycurgus came to an understanding and expelled him”. After returning from his exile in 556, he was arranged to marry Megacles daughter. He used this opportunity to return to Athens, but he refuses to impregnate his daughter, which ended their coalition. During his exile, he was able to utilize his trickery to again allegiance from powerful allies, and created an independent powerbase by accumulating wealth. With his powerful personal army, he invaded Sigeum which earned his respect from his allegiance. By the time he reached Marathon, his popularity soared and many locals supported him. According to Herodotus, who is critical of Peisistratus followers, admit “that many Athenians has joined his camp”.


Peisistratos died 527 or 528 BC. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hippias. Hippias and his brother, Hipparchus, ruled the city much akin to the way that their father did. After a successful murder plot against Hipparchus conceived by Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Hippias became paranoid and oppressive. This change in attitude caused the people of Athens to hold Hippias in much lower regard. The Alcmaeonid family helped to depose the tyranny by bribing the Delphic oracle to tell the Spartans to liberate Athens, which they did in 510 BC. The Peisistratids were not executed, but rather were mostly forced into exile. Afterward, Cleisthenes, a descendent of Megacles, helped erect a democracy based on the overturned reforms of Solon.

See also


  1. ^ Shanaysha M. Furlow Sauls, The concept of instability and the theory of democracy in the "Federalist", p. 77[who?][when?]
  2. ^ Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, Part 13
  3. ^ Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, Part 13; Herodotus, The Histories, 1.59; Plutarch, “Life of Solon”, in Plutarch’s Lives (London: Printed by W. M'Dowell for J. Davis, 1812), 185.
  4. ^ Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, Part 14; Herodotus, The Histories, 1.60.
  5. ^ Herodotus, The Histories, 1.59.
  6. ^ Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution, Part 16.