Athenian politician, b. c.470 bc, the son of a rich tanner. He was perhaps involved in the attacks on Pericles through his intellectual friends in the 430s, 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 as a slander on the state. In 425, after the Athenians had worsted the Spartans at Pylos, he frustrated their peace proposals and later accused the generals in charge of the siege of Sphaktēria of incompetence. When Nicias offered to resign the command to him, he was obliged to take it. In co‐operation with Demosthenes (1), the general on the spot, he rapidly obtained the Spartans' surrender. In the same year he doubtless approved the measure 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 Torōnē, but he 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 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 a politician of a new kind, who was 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.
Subjects: Classical studies