(tyrannos, ‘tyrant’, was perhaps a Lydian word) was the form of monarchy set up by usurpers in many Greek states in the 7th and 6th cents. bc. The term first occurs in Archilochus. Tyranny was not a special form of constitution, or necessarily a reign of terror; the tyrant might either rule directly or retain the existing political institutions but exercise a preponderant influence over their working, and his rule might be benevolent or malevolent. Tyranny acquired a bad reputation esp. from Plato and Aristotle, for whom it was the worst possible form of constitution.
The best known early tyrants were Pheidon of Argos, Cypselus and Periander of Corinth, Cleisthenes (1) of Sicyon, Pisistratus and his sons Hippias (1) and Hipparchus (1) in Athens, and Polycrates (1) of Samos. Archaic tyranny seems to have been a response to the development of the polis: typically a fringe member of the ruling aristocracy would seize power with the support of discontented members of the community; but after a time the rule of the tyrant in turn became a cause of discontent, and tyranny rarely lasted more than two generations. These tyrants ruled in a period of growing confidence and prosperity: by encouraging national cults, by sponsoring public works, and by acting as patrons to writers and artists, they glorified both their cities and themselves. See patronage, literary. Later tyrants were military dictators, among them Gelon and Hieron (1) I of Syracuse and Theron of Acragas at the beginning of the 5th cent. and Dionysius I and of Syracuse in the late 5th and 4th cents.
Subjects: Classical studies