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Tyranny in the City-States

Opposition to oligarchic domination brought the first Greek tyrants1 to power in numerous city-states, although Sparta never experienced a tyranny. Greek tyranny represented a distinctive type of rule for several reasons. For one, although tyrants were by definition rulers who usurped power by force rather than inheriting it like legitimate kings, they then established family dynasties to maintain their tyranny, with sons inheriting their fathers' position as the head of state. Also, the men who became tyrants were usually aristocrats, or at least near-aristocrats, who nevertheless rallied support from non-aristocrats for their coups. In places where propertyless men may have lacked citizenship or at least felt substantially disenfranchised in the political life of the city-state, tyrants perhaps won adherents by extending citizenship and other privileges to these groups. Tyrants moreover sometimespreserved the existing laws and political institutions2 of their city-states as part of their rule, thus promoting social stability.

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  • Cross-references in notes to this page (1):
    • Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander, The Archaic Age
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