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The Oxford Classical Dictionary

Arnold Wycombe Gomme,

Theodore John Cadoux,

P. J. Rhodes


Athenian politician, the son of a rich tanner. He was perhaps involved in the attacks on Pericles (1) through his intellectual friends in the 430s bc, and in the opposition to Pericles' strategy of refusing battle against the invaders in 431. In 427 he proposed the decree (overturned the next day) to execute all the men of Mytilene after the suppression of its revolt. In 426 he attacked the Babylonians of Aristophanes (1) as a slander on the state. In 425, after the Athenians had got the better of the Spartans at Pylos, he frustrated the Spartan peace proposals, and later accused the generals in charge of the siege of Sphacteria of incompetence. Nicias (1) offered to resign the command to him, and he was obliged to take it, and in co-operation with Demosthenes (1), the general on the spot, he kept his promise and rapidly obtained the Spartans' surrender. In the same year he doubtless approved the measure greatly increasing the tribute paid by the allied states; and he was responsible for increasing the jurors' pay from two to three obols. In 423 he proposed the decree for the destruction of Scione and the execution of all its citizens. In 422, as general, he led an expedition to the Thraceward area, and recovered Torone and Galepsus, but he failed in an attack on Stagira and was defeated by Brasidas and killed in a battle outside Amphipolis.

We have a vivid picture of Cleon in Thucydides (2) and Aristophanes, both of whom had personal reasons for disliking him. He was an effective, if vulgar, speaker, and seems to have been given to extravagant promises and extravagant accusations against opponents. He was one of the first of a new kind of politician, who were not from the old aristocracy, and whose predominance depended on persuasive speeches in the assembly and lawcourts rather than on regular office-holding; when he did serve as general, the undisputed facts include both successes and failures. See also demagogues, demagogy.


Prosopographia Attica 8674; Athenian Propertied Families 600–300 bc 318–20;Find this resource:

    W. R. Connor, The New Politicians of Fifth-century Athens (1971);Find this resource:

      B. Mitchell, Historiae 1991, 170–92.Find this resource:

        Arnold Wycombe Gomme; Theodore John Cadoux; P. J. Rhodes