Peisistratus

Summary

Peisistratus was intermittently tyrant in Ancient Athens, for a total of about 20 years, from 561 to 527 BC. He tried and succeeded in imposing tyranny three times, sometimes using allies from various cities, sometimes from Athens itself where there were intense power struggles between rival powerful families, sometimes using a mercenary army and sometimes using grotesque tricks. The first two times he managed to impose himself for a short time, after which he was overthrown and exiled. The third time, however, he remained in power until his death. This was due to natural causes and in the old age of Pisistratus, in 527 BC, when he was succeeded by the Pisistratids.

During his rule he rarely applied brutal tyranny and was careful to maintain political balance without dismantling all institutions. However, in many ways he obstructed the actual functioning of democracy and controlled all the mechanisms of power, occasionally taking extreme, clearly tyrannical measures.

For example, he banished all his important opponents, who were the “Paralioi”, i.e. the wealthy bourgeois engaged in trade and shipping under Alkmeonides Megacles, and the “Pedians”, i.e. the oligarchic in their beliefs aristocratic landowners under Lycurgus son of Aristolaides. He took relatives of all his opponents as hostages so that those who remained in Athens would not dare to oppose him – he sent the hostages to Naxos where his personal friend Lygdamis became tyrant.

He confiscated the property of those he exiled and distributed it to the “Diakrios”, the class of peasants, shepherds, shepherds and the poor, who were his main popular base and whom he relieved financially.

He supported his policy of “war against the rich” but he also took measures that made him popular even with them, because they stimulated trade and industry. He did this both to make the city prosperous, and to win over those aristocrats and bourgeois merchants who until recently had supported the party of the “coasters” or at that time, the Alcmeonides.

He avoided wars and during the peaceful years of his reign the economy of Athens improved significantly, many projects were constructed and an important library was created.

He himself had considerable income from personal businesses acquired in Paggaio while he was in exile and thus did not burden the state budget with personal expenses that would alienate him from the people.

He associated his name with great landscaping projects (Ekatompπεδο, the creation of temples on the Acropolis, Enneakrounos Pigi, the Elefsina Ceremonial Hall) and the effort to create a library.

He was a scion of an aristocratic family which came from Vlora in Attica. He was born around 607 BC and was the son of a wealthy man who owned property in the inland areas, probably in Marathon or Vravrona, Hippocrates. His mother was a cousin of Solon”s mother and this may have been the reason why some have reported a close relationship between the two men. In particular, Pisistratus as a teenager is said to have been Solon”s lover as well as Charmae”s. When he was a young man, Athens was almost in a state of civil war with intense strife. Disillusionment with Solon”s measures, which poor and privileged alike considered half-measures each for their own reasons, was great, and the city had reached the point where it could not elect a leadership. Most dissatisfied, however, were the landless and those who owned small pieces of land, and the oligarchic landowners. The merchants took a soft stance and were rather in favour of keeping Solon”s measures, while the oligarchs wanted them abolished.

Two men dominated the political scene as representatives of the two powerful classes: one was Alkmonides Megacles, who was relatively moderate and aligned himself with the rich merchants or the bourgeoisie of the time, although he belonged financially to the privileged aristocracy and had a huge fortune. He was particularly disliked because he was burdened with the Cylon Agos. He did, however, lead the “party” of the coast, as the portion with interests in commerce was then called, which sought to open up political power to those who had acquired money from it. The other portion was headed by Lycurgus of Aristolaides, who was the head of the landowners or party of the pediacs.

Pisistratus, before he set his sights on power, had then distinguished himself in a campaign in Megara, and the people esteemed him. The reason was that in 570 BC, during the Athenian war with the Megarians, he captured Nisaea, the port of Megara.

Intelligent and ambitious, he then tried twice to seize power through stratagems, the results of which had short-term success and led him twice into exile.

The first time, in 561 BC, he wounded himself and also stabbed his mules. He appeared bloodied in the marketplace with two wounded mules, and claimed to have escaped certain assassination by defending the rights of the weak. He did not name the opponents who attacked him, but was interposed by a friend and lord, Aristion, who said that the township should pass a resolution for the protection of Pisistratus. According to the resolution, Pisistratus would now be allowed to have a personal guard of armed men, specifically 50 coronephores (men armed with clubs).

Solon reacted strongly to this, but was not listened to. He directly accused Peisistratus of having self-harmed like Odysseus, only he had done it to fool enemies while Peisistratus wanted to fool his fellow citizens. He sounded the alarm about democracy, saying that Pisistratus” aim was to use armed men to overthrow democracy. But he found that the aristocrats were afraid to react (since they were suspected of the alleged incident against Pisistratus) and the republicans were all on Pisistratus” side. So Solon said to the demos “you are all disgusted” and left in despondency. Indeed, Pisistratus very soon used this personal guard – which he artificially increased considerably in number – and seized the Acropolis and power.

Peisistratus ruled the Athenians without completely changing the laws, but governing according to the regime and regulating the affairs of the cities wisely, but very quickly (perhaps in a few months or at most within a year) he was overthrown and exiled. The representatives of the oligarchs and the merchants, namely Lycurgus and Megacles, who had rallied against him, played a leading part in his overthrow. However, the wolfishness of the two men, who represented the interests of opposing social groups, did not last long. The oligarchs wanted to change the situation to the detriment of the bourgeoisie so that political power would once again pass exclusively into the hands of the nobles (i.e. the landowners in fact), while the merchants, who now had enough money, demanded to have an opinion in politics and supported Megacles to resist the oligarchic moves.

Pisistratus, taking advantage of the new conflict between his rivals, allied himself with Megacles, who, in order to get rid of Lycurgus and the oligarchs, and considering that his wealth was enough to control Pisistratus, agreed to support him in a form of mild tyranny so that Solon”s system would not be overthrown. He even gave him his daughter as his wife so that the children he would have with her would unite the two families, the Alcmeonides and the Pisistratids. On this condition Megacles helped Pisistratus to seize power.

In order to win the favour of the Athenians this time, Peisistratus devised a trick that Aristotle describes as grossly inept. He put a young and tall woman dressed in armour and helmet on a chariot and brought her in procession from Peania to the Acropolis, spreading the word that Athena herself had come to crown him lord of the city. The people of Athens were indeed impressed and Pisistratus became tyrant for the second time in 558 BC.

This time the tyranny lasted 2 years (although not all historians agree on the dates). However, soon Pisistratus” alliance with the Alcmeonid Megacles began to falter because the tyrant showed from the beginning that he avoided having children with the daughter of his political ally. Megacles was generally in a difficult position because the people of Athens did not like the Alcmeonides because of the Cylon Saint and also because much of the population was poor and democratic. The latter fully supported Pisistratus and the merchants were not enough to overthrow him. Megacles allied himself in 556 BC with Lycurgus once again and thus succeeded again in overthrowing Pisistratus.

Although exiled and without property, Pisistratus did not remain idle. Thanks to his ingenuity, he managed to gain control of silver and gold mines in Macedonia and Thrace, and become rich. Thus, with mercenaries from Argos and an army provided by his friend Lygdamis from the island of Naxos, and his aristocratic friends from Thebes, Thessaly and Eretria, Peisistratus sailed from Eretria to Marathon. From there he rebelled against Athens and, defeating the forces of Lycurgus and Megacles who were waiting for him at Pallene, he became ruler of Athens for the third time, in 545 BC, and until the end of his life. His opponents were forced to exile themselves, while Solon tried to appeal to the people again to urge them to resist tyranny, without success. Two years later the elderly Solon died of natural causes.

During his tyranny, Pisistratus did not overthrow the institutions. On the contrary, he respected Solon”s laws, maintained the existing administrative apparatus of Athens, but made sure to place people he trusted most in all key positions. He also succeeded by peaceful means in disarming the Athenians by convincing them that he would protect them with an army paid for by personal and public revenues, and he turned their interests to the cultivation of land and the stimulation of trade. To secure his regime from dissenters, Pisistratus took some young men from noble families as hostages and sent them to Naxos, Lygdami, and exiled those who refused to compromise, such as the Alcmeonides.

Pisistratus reforested the land he had confiscated – that is, not all the land of the rich, but those who had been exiled – and distributed it to the landless. He also took care of the peasants by giving them low-interest loans. He established mobile courts in the countryside to settle disputes. In this way he reduced homelessness and increased agricultural production.

Some of the most famous works of the time of Pisistratus were the aqueduct, the Enneacrown or Callirhoe, the Ecatobedon on the Acropolis in honour of Athena, where the Parthenon was later built, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was finally completed centuries later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

However, for some of these works, historians attribute to Peisistratus political expediency, that is, that he sought, for example, with grandiose plans such as the temple of Olympian Zeus to keep the people satisfied and at the same time quite busy, so that he would not become involved in politics and be undisturbed in his tyranny. Political ulterior motive, probably combined with a positive motive to make things easier for the people, is also attributed to his measure of itinerant judges. They did indeed solve on the spot many disputes of citizens in Attica and saved them from injustice and inconvenience in travelling to the Asty, but at the same time they also kept citizens in their own municipalities, far from the municipality of Athens where they could perhaps create problems for Pisistratus.

It was in the era of Peisistratus that the Homeric Epics were recorded for the first time and all citizens had access to his library, the largest in all Greek cities. Attic pottery flourished during his time.

As part of his pro-popular policy, Peisistratus reorganized and upgraded the main festivals of Athens, such as the Dionysia and Panathenaea. He included in the city”s celebrations athletic, musical and poetic games. It is even said that Thespis, the forefather of the ancient Greek theatre, was the winner of the poetic contest of the Great Dionysia of Pisistratus in 535 or 533 BC.

During the almost twenty years of the third tyranny of Pisistratus, Attica was not involved in any war. Pisistratus” relations with his neighbours, and especially with the dangerous Megarid, were excellent. The same with most Greek cities. His friendly relations with the port of Delos (the religious center of the Ionians) resulted in Athens becoming the leader of the Ionian race. According to historical accounts, Pisistratus” tyranny was rather mild, almost “democratic”.

After the death of Peisistratus, he was succeeded by his sons Hippias and Hipparchus, who were the last tyrants of Athens. The tyrannical regime of Athens was abolished in 510 BC with the overthrow of Hippias.

Peisistratus made three marriages and had a total of five or six children. The opinions of historians are not entirely identical either as to the number of children or as to the names of all the children, but they do agree that no children were born from the marriage with the daughter of Megacles. They also agree that Hippias and Hipparchus were unquestionably children of the first marriage.

From the first or the second marriage Peisistratos acquired a daughter.

When he was in exile, in order to ally with the Argives and return to Athens (or in other words, when he was already in power, in order to strengthen Athens” alliance with Argos), he married Timonassa, daughter of the Argive strongman Gorgilos. Timonassa was by then married to a man from Ambracia, a descendant of the Cypselids. However, she married Peisistratus even though the children she had with him were subsequently considered illegitimate by the Athenian registers. One interpretation is that they were registered as Argive citizens rather than Athenians. Alternatively, Peisistratus never married Timonassa according to Athenian custom, precisely so as not to create a dynastic issue with his first-born sons, so the illegitimate marriage could not have legitimate children. From this marriage, however, two boys were certainly born, possibly a third. One was Egesistratus, to whom Pisistratus later entrusted the tyrannical rule of Sigeon in Ionia, and this assignment is taken by historians as keeping an agreement with the Argives-that is, that he gave his son by the Argive wife the territory of Sigeon as an inheritance. The other boy was called Thettalus. Aristotle also mentions an Iophon, but he is not mentioned again. If he did exist, he probably died young. Aristotle also probably mistakenly confuses Hegistratus with Thettalos – he says that “Thettalos” was a nickname for Hegistratus, but this cannot be historically valid since Thettalos turns out to have been living in Athens at the time that Hegistratus was now living in Sidium.

Finally, Pisistratus was a very GG guy because he was a tyrant but he also did public works

Sources

  1. Πεισίστρατος
  2. Peisistratos