Pisistratus, son of Hippocrates (Greek: Πεισίστρατος) (c. 602 BC, Athens – spring 527, ibid.) was an Athenian tyrant in 560-527 BC. (intermittently). Pisistratus came from a noble family related to the ancient kings of Athens. Between 565 and 560 BC he commanded the Athenian troops in the Athenian-Megarian war and inflicted a number of defeats on the Megarians. In political life Pisistratus began his career in the ranks of Solon”s supporters. Later he created his own regional political grouping of Diacres.

In 560 BC, after receiving a detachment of bodyguards from the people, he took the Acropolis for the first time and became a tyrant. However, the aristocratic factions united and jointly expelled the tyrant from Athens. Apparently, Pisistratus was allowed to remain in Bravron, within the Athenian polis. After a while, a dispute broke out between the aristocratic groups that had overthrown the tyrant, and the leader of one of them turned to Pisistratus for help. He again became a tyrant, but could not hold power for long. Without waiting to be overthrown, he went into exile. During the ten-year exile he was very active, with the aim of returning to power. In 546 BC he landed at Marathon and soon occupied Athens, eliminating the aristocratic opposition without loss. Pisistratus took control of tyrannical power in Athens for the third and final time. Pisistratus helped the peasants financially, provided income for the urban poor, pursued a protectionist policy toward the merchant and artisan classes, and established good relations with the aristocrats. With the increased wealth of Athens, he pursued an active foreign policy aimed at spreading the influence of the Athenian polis throughout Greece. Under him a series of new cults and festivals were introduced in Athens. He strove to make Athens a major religious center, which aroused the hostility of Delphi. He died in 527 BC.

There are not many sources about Pisistratus. Biographies of the Athenian tyrant seem never to have been written in antiquity. Herodotus described in detail his rise to power, and described in more detail the rule of his sons. The activities of Pisistratus were described in the works of the attidographers, which have come down to our time in insignificant fragments. It was largely on the works of the attidographers that Aristotle relied for his account of Pisistratus” rule in the Athenian Politia. Aristotle tried to describe the tyrant objectively and without prejudice. His treatise contains several chronological errors. Later references to Pisistratus go back to Herodotus, the Attidographers, and Aristotle.

Pisistratus, son of Hippocrates, was born in Athens about 602 B.C. He was a member of a noble family that traced its origins to immigrants from the royal family of the Neleids who had fled from Pylos to Attica during the Dorian invasion. The eldest son of King Nestorius, Pisistratus, and was considered a distant ancestor of the Athenian tyrant. Pisistratides was related to the Athenian kings of the Codrida-Medontidae dynasty and may have been part of their entourage. In 669668 BC, a representative of this family named Pisistratus was an archonet-eponym.

According to a legend relayed by Herodotus, Pisistratus” father, Hippocrates, was once in Olympia during the sporting games before his son was born. As he was offering sacrifices, the cauldrons of sacrificial meat suddenly burst into flames by themselves, without any fire. The Spartan Hylon, who was present, advised Hippocrates to abstain from having children. Hippocrates disobeyed his advice, and some time later his son Pisistratus was born.

The Pisistratids had their residence in Hyperacria or Diacria (“Zagoria”), a region of Attica located on the eastern coast of the country and separated by mountains from the central Athenian plain. The main centers of Diacria were the settlements of Marathon and Bravron. The ancestral estates of the Pisistratids were in and around Bravron. In addition, Diacria was the seat of the Philae family, with whom the Pisistratids had uneasy relations. His family probably had a house in the city when Pisistratus was born, but his rural origins made him an outsider in the eyes of some of the townspeople. But his noble origins, his wealth, and the fame of his ancestors must have contributed to eclipsing the factor of origin from a distant demesne in the public consciousness.

Between 565 and 560 BC Pisistratus commanded Athenian troops in the Athenian-Megarian war and inflicted a number of defeats on the Megarans. In particular, he captured Niseea, a Megarian harbor in the Saronic Gulf. The successful expedition helped to increase Pisistratus” popularity. Some time later, however, the Athenian-Megarian dispute was brought before the court of arbitration of Sparta. The rights of the Athenians were defended by Solon, a relative of the future tyrant. He managed to get Athenian rights to the island of Salamis (because of which the war began), but Niseea was left to the Megarians.

In political life, Pisistratus began his career in the ranks of Solon”s supporters. The regional political groups of the Diacriae (to which Pisistratus belonged) and the Paraliae were a single grouping led by Alcmaeonides Megacles and opposed to the Pedias led by Lycurgus. According to Herodotus, Pisistratus later created his own separate grouping of Diacretians. Aristotle described the political views of each grouping: the Pedii were oligarchs, the Paraliae were moderates, and the Diacriae were democrats. However, this is an anachronism: there were no ideological groupings then.

The First and Second Tyrannies

In 560 B.C. Pisistratus rode in a wagon into the Athenian agora, all wounded, and claimed that political opponents had tried to kill him as he rode in the field. At the popular assembly Pisistratus offered to give him a squad of bodyguards. Antique authors wrote that he had himself mutilated so that he could then seize power with the help of his guards. Many modern historians accept this version, while others believe that an attack by enemies on Pisistratus did take place. Perhaps the antique version developed under Athenian democracy and proceeded from a negative attitude toward tyranny. Despite Solon”s opposition, the decree was passed.

Pisistratus was given a detachment of bodyguards armed with clubs. The number of the detachment varies in the sources: from 50 to 300 men. Soon with their help, Pisistratus unhinderedly occupied the Acropolis and became a tyrant. Probably he became a tyrant with the approval of the people, that is, he came to power quite legally. It is probable that he became a tyrant by sanction of the people, i.e. he came to power quite legally. Pisistratus” guards could not resist the hoplite militia, and if the people had not wanted tyranny, Pisistratus would have been deposed as soon as he seized power. In addition to its important religious and symbolic significance, the Acropolis once housed the palace of the Mycenaean kings.

When tyranny was established, Solon attempted to persuade his fellow citizens to oppose Pisistratus, but was unsuccessful. In a letter to Solon, Pisistratus tried to appease the anger of the former and even invited him back from exile, promising protection. The reaction of the aristocracy to the establishment of Pisistratus” tyranny is unknown. The aristocratic leaders, Megacles and Lycurgus, were apparently not yet greatly alarmed by this and remained in the polis. Then they united and together drove the tyrant out of Athens. Apparently, Pisistratus was allowed to remain in Bravron, in the Athenian polis.

After a while there was a dispute between the Parilians and the Pedians, and Megacles turned to Pisistratus for help. They agreed that Megacles would facilitate Pisistratus” return to power and that the latter would marry the former”s daughter, Cæsiras. Megacles probably expected Pisistratus to become an obedient instrument in his hands.

In order to bring Pisistratus back, Megacles found a certain tall and stately-looking woman named Phoeas (dressed her in armor so that she was supposed to represent the goddess Athena, and accompanied by her, as if under the protection of the goddess herself, Pisistratus ceremonially rode into the city. Herodotus considered this trick a silly trick and wondered how the Athenians, reputed to be the most cunning of the Greeks and free of “silly superstitions,” could have succumbed to such a deception. Aristotle also found it strange. Some modern scholars believe that this trick did not actually happen, while others believe that it was some kind of theatrical religious act. This was probably a manifestation of the religiosity of the Greeks of the archaic era, for which it was characteristic in some cases to see man as an incarnation of God. So the religious Athenians may have seen Fia, a tall, beautiful woman, as the embodiment of Athena. Pisistratus may have reproduced the ancient and authoritative religious and cultural model of the “sacred marriage” of the hero with the goddess, in which Pisistratus himself was the hero (most probably Hercules).

Pisistratus came to power a second time and married Megacles” daughter. He already had adult sons to whom he wanted to pass on power, so he did not want to have offspring from a new wife. It is also possible that Pisistratus did not want to sully himself by marrying a woman of a “profaned” line (see Cylon). According to Herodotus, he lived with Kesira “in an unnatural way. When Megacles learned of this, he considered himself dishonored and decided to take revenge. He made peace with Lycurgus, and they plotted to overthrow the tyrant again. Without waiting to be overthrown, Pisistratus went into exile. His second tyranny lasted a short time, less than a year; Megacles and Alcmaeonides played an important role in governing the state at this time. This time Pisistratus also had to leave the territory of the Athenian polis. Perhaps the aristocrats hostile to him formalized his expulsion as a kind of legal procedure similar to later ostracism. In the Athenian agora, archaeologists found a shard of a vessel similar to the ostracons on which Pisistratus” name was inscribed. Modern scholars have expressed several versions: some believed that the inscription refers to an archonte 669668 BC, others believed that it was the tyrant Pisistratus, others believed that it was a grandson of the tyrant Pisistratus the Younger, allegedly living in Athens in the early fifth century BC.


Pisistratus” second exile lasted ten years (556-546 BC). In exile he was very active, with the aim of returning to power. Pisistratus first went to Eretria, then founded a settlement in Thrace, where he began to develop silver mines, and began to collect aid from his allies. In ten years of exile he accumulated a large sum of money and began to prepare for a campaign against Athens. With this money Pisistratus recruited a detachment of mercenaries and, in addition, received help from his allies: from Thebes he received money; from Naxos came his supporter Ligdades with money and men; from Argos came a detachment of soldiers, and in Eretria he was joined by aristocratic horsemen.

In 546 B.C. Pisistratus landed at Marathon. His supporters began to flock there, especially the inhabitants of Diacria. He stayed there for some time, fortifying his position. The aristocracy in power was strangely passive; evidently it was not sure of the support of the demos. When Athens received the news that Pisistratus had moved on the city, a detachment of Athenians came to meet him. The two armies met at a place called Pallenida, where the sanctuary of Athena was situated. There Pisistratus received a favorable prediction and moved to attack. At that time the Athenians were resting after breakfast: some were asleep, while others were playing dice. The attack took them by surprise and they fled. Pisistratus, to prevent them from meeting up again, sent his sons on horseback to try to persuade the fleeing men to go home. The Athenians obeyed and dispersed. There is a certain mockery of the peasants at the pampered townspeople in this account, as passed down in the sources. The Athenian detachment consisted of aristocrats, and the people were on Pisistratus” side. The story probably originated among the rural population friendly to the tyrant. Pisistratus for the third and final time seized tyrannical power in Athens.

The Third Tyranny

According to ancient sources, the first thing Pisistratus did was to take care of his own safety. Herodotus wrote that he took the children of his political opponents, who had not managed to escape from the country with the Alcmaeonides, as hostages and sent them to Naxos to Ligdades. Aristotle told the story of Pisistratus” disarming of the Athenians:

…having arranged an inspection of the army at the Theseion, he tried to address the people and spoke briefly. When those present began to say that they could not hear him, he asked them to come to the door of the Acropolis, so that they could hear him better. And while he was making his speech, the men who had been specially instructed to do so, picked up their weapons and locked him in a nearby building, the Theseion, and came over and signalled this to Pisistratus. When he had finished speaking of other matters, he said also about the arms – that there was no need to be surprised or worried about what had happened, but that they should return to their homes and go about their business, while he himself would take care of all public affairs.

Most modern scholars recognize this account of Aristotle as unreliable.

The Alcmaeonides, led by Megakles, went into exile. They were followed by many aristocrats who were disgusted by the tyrannical regime and left the Athenian polis. The aristocrats who remained in Athens collaborated with the tyrant. Pisistratus upheld the laws of Solon and changed nothing in them. The organs of government were still in force. But the tyrant recommended his supporters to the people for the position of archons. The power of Pisistratus was in no way legalized. He ruled as a recognized charismatic leader. The ideological basis for his power was religion and the model of ancient royal power. The ancient kings (basileios) had three main functions: military leadership, judgment, and cult.

Domestic Policy

Aristotle wrote that Pisistratus gave loans to the poor so that they could support themselves by farming. According to him, this was done so that they, busy with the economy outside the city, would have neither the time nor the desire to engage in politics. Aristotle saw this as the whole point of the tyrant”s domestic policy; this is confirmed in another of his accounts, in which he says that on coming to power Pisistratus dissolved the popular assembly and ended his speech by calling for everyone to go home and mind their own business and leave him to take care of public affairs himself. According to the philosopher, Pisistratus had intended to lead the people away from politics in order to secure his own security. For this reason he granted loans to the peasants and for the same purpose introduced the institution of “demes judges”, so that the peasants were not distracted from their work in the countryside and did not have to travel to the city for their petty debts. The motivation of depoliticizing citizens could be very advantageous to the tyrant, because by supporting the peasantry, he created a solid social base for himself, and by distracting the people from politics, he strengthened his power. Pisistratus generally patronized the peasants. Aristotle wrote that Pisistratus levied a tithe on all income in the country. Most likely, this tithe had previously been collected by local aristocratic chiefs, but Pisistratus “transferred it to himself.

Pisistratus also patronized other classes of people. The tyrant”s extensive construction activities provided work and income for the urban poor, and his minting of his own coinage depicting Athena stimulated the circulation of goods and money in the country. The development of the monetary system had a positive effect on the creation of a domestic market and was of benefit to the merchant and artisan classes. He probably had a protectionist policy toward them. Under Pisistratus the Athenian economy flourished, Attica became a major exporter of olive oil and handicrafts. Ceramic production was in its heyday.

Pisistratus helped the peasants financially, provided income for the urban poor, pursued a protectionist policy toward the merchant and artisan classes, and established good relations with the aristocrats. The reign of Pisistratus was often referred to as “the age of Kronos,” that is, “the golden age. Pisistratus brought peace to society, promoted social prosperity, significantly improved the condition of the peasantry and other sectors of the common people, and the city reached economic prosperity. Pisistratus established political equality of citizens, in the form of equality of all before the law.

Foreign Policy

Pisistratus, relying on the increased wealth of Athens, embarked on an active foreign policy aimed at spreading the influence of the Athenian polis throughout Greece.

The tyrant retained control of the silver deposits at the mouth of the river Strimon, founded by the Athenians as early as the end of the seventh century BC, was eventually conquered by Mytilene. Pisistratus personally led the campaign, recaptured Sigei and made his third son Hagesistratus the tyrant there. On the opposite shore of the Hellespont, on the peninsula of Chersonesos the Thracian, the Athenian Miltiades, son of Cypselus, became tyrant. Thus, under Pisistratus Athens sought to gain a foothold in the Black Sea straits, the control of which had an important place in the further foreign policy of the Athenians.

Tyrannus continued to maintain allied relations with Argos, Thebes, and the polis of Euboea, based on xenic relations. Friendly relations were also established with Thessaly, the strongest state in northern Balkan Greece, and with Sparta, the strongest state in southern Greece.

On the east, Pisistratus sought to extend his power over the islands of the central Aegean Sea (Cyclades), inhabited by the Ionians, considered a kindred people to the Athenians. Apparently, soon after his third accession to power he undertook a naval expedition to the largest of the Cycladic islands, Naxos, the purpose of which was to establish the tyranny of Ligdades, who in 546 BC had supported Pisistratus. The venture ended successfully for Pisistratus. It is likely that in the course of the same expedition Pisistratus also established his authority over Delos. This island was of great religious importance to the Greeks. After capturing Delos, the Athenian tyrant carried out a demonstrative cult action there – a ritual purification of the island: from that part of it, which was directly adjacent to the temple of Apollo, all the burials were removed, and probably evicted the inhabitants as well. However, the strengthening of Samos, led by the tyrant Polycrates, prevented Pisistratus from establishing a hegemony in the Aegean Sea.

Religious Policy

Some scholars believe that Pisistratus and his sons belonged to the mystical Orphic religious movement. However, Orphism was not yet a strictly formalized movement at that time. To legitimize his power, Pisistratus often turned to the help of soothsayers. It is known that at his court there was Onomakrites, an Orphic exegete and soothsayer. The tyrants even assembled a large collection of ancient oracles, prophecies and predictions on the Acropolis.

Under Pisistratus a series of new cults and festivals were introduced into Athens. The largest festival in honor of Dionysus, the Great (City) Dionysia, was instituted. The Tyrant made the cult of Artemis of Bravron, which he transferred to the Acropolis from Diacria, the general polis. At Eleusinus the Telestherium, the venue for the Mysteries, was built.

The cult of Athena was also important to Pisistratus. On the Acropolis her temple was erected and became the main shrine of the polis (Hecatompedon). Under Pisistratus, the images on Athenian coins became uniform: on the obverse, the head of Athena in profile, on the reverse, the owl, the sacred bird of the goddess.

In the last years of his life Pisistratus conceived a grandiose religious-architectural project, the Temple of Zeus the Olympic, which was to be built on the outskirts of Athens. This temple was to be the largest temple in Greece in terms of size. Construction began under Hippias, was abandoned during the Democracy, was briefly resumed during the Hellenistic era, and it was not until the second century that the temple was completed.

Pisistratus” desire to make Athens a major religious center aroused the enmity of Delphi. Alcmaeonides, an opponent of Pisistratus, settled there.

Pisistratus died in 527 BC.

Pisistratus had three wives. The first marriage took place in his youth, long before he came to power; the wife”s name is unknown, only that she was reported to have been an Athenian. From this marriage were born Pisistratus” two eldest sons, Hippias and Hipparchus, and at least one daughter. Since Pisistratus married Cæsira of the Alcmaeonid family in the early fifties of the sixth century BCE, his first wife was either no longer alive or had been divorced. His brief marriage to Cæsira was childless. Later (most probably during his second exile from Athens) he married a noble Argivian woman, Timonassa. This marriage had a political character: its purpose was to establish friendly relations between Athens and Argos. From this marriage Pisistratus had two other sons, Hegesistratus (nicknamed Thessalus) and Jophonte.

After the death of Pisistratus, Hippias inherited tyrannical power. Hipparchus was the second person in the state, primarily in charge of cultural policy. Hegesistratus remained the vassal tyrant of Cygeus. Jophontes seems to have died before his father, for there is no record of his activities.



  1. Писистрат
  2. Peisistratos