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Polycrates (c. 440—370 bc)


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Tyrant (see tyranny) of Samos, seized power c.535 bc, with his brothers, but soon made himself tyrant. Almost unrivalled in magnificence, he made Samos a great naval power (see navies; sea power), and subjected neighbouring islands, including Rheneia near Delos, which he dedicated to Apollo. He formed a defensive alliance with Amasis (see saïtes), but seems to have broken it off deliberately (contrast the moralizing tale of Polycrates' ring) when Cambyses tried to acquire Egypt, and supplied him with 40 Samian ships. The Samians mutinied and went over to Sparta; Sparta and Corinth, apparently to prevent Polycrates Medizing, tried to overthrow him, unsuccessfully (525). He was lured to the mainland, c.522, by the satrap Oroetes, who pretended to be plotting against Darius I, and was crucified. He pursued a piratical and opportunist thalassocracy, upset by the gradual advance of Persian power, which he tried to court. He attracted poets, artists, and craftsmen (Anacreon, Ibycus, Theodorus ). The three famous building achievements praised by Herodotus, the temple of Hera, the harbour mole, and the tunnelled aqueduct bringing water to the city, may all be attributable to Polycrates.

Subjects: Classical studies

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