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[1285a] [1]

Now it is at all events easy to discern that kingship includes several kinds, and that the mode of government is not the same in all. For the kingship in the Spartan constitution, which is held to be a typical royalty of the kind guided by law, does not carry sovereignty in all matters, though when a king goes on a foreign expedition he is the leader in all matters relating to the war; and also matters relating to religion have been assigned to the kings. This kingship therefore is a sort of military command vested in generals with absolute powers and held for life; for the king has not authority to put a subject to death, except [in a certain reign]1 as in ancient times kings on their military expeditions could kill an offender out of hand, as Homer proves, for Agamemnon endured being reviled in the assemblies but when they were on an expedition had authority to put a man to death: at all events he says“ But whomsoe'er I see far from the fray . . .
Shall have no hope to fly from dogs and vultures,
For death is in my hands!2

This then is one sort of kingship, a lifelong generalship, and some of the kingships of this kind are hereditary, others elective; and by its side there is another sort of monarchy, examples of which are kingships existing among some of the barbarians. The power possessed by all of these resembles that of tyrannies, but they govern according to law and are hereditary; [20] for because the barbarians are more servile in their nature than the Greeks, and the Asiatics than the Europeans, they endure despotic rule without any resentment. These kingships therefore are for these reasons of a tyrannical nature, but they are secure because they are hereditary and rule by law. Also their bodyguard is of a royal and not a tyrannical type for the same reason; for kings are guarded by the citizens in arms, whereas tyrants have foreign guards, for kings rule in accordance with law and over willing subjects, but tyrants rule over unwilling subjects, owing to which kings take their guards from among the citizens but tyrants have them to guard against the citizens. These then are two kinds of monarchy; while another is that which existed among the ancient Greeks, the type of rulers called aesymnetae. This, to put it simply, is an elective tyranny, and it differs from the monarchy that exists among barbarians not in governing without the guidance of law but only in not being hereditary. Some holders of this type of monarchy ruled for life, others until certain fixed limits of time or until certain undertakings were ended, as for example the people of Mitylene once elected Pittacus to resist the exiles under the leadership of Antimenides and the poet Alcaeus. That they elected Pittacus3 as tyrant is proved by Alcaeus in one of his catches; for he rebukes the people because “ The base-born Pittacus they did set up
As tyrant of the meek and luckless city,
And all did greatly praise him.

1 Inexplicable, and omitted in one of the earliest editions; possibly βασιλείᾳ is to be emended to ἐλάσει‘except on some march-out.’

2 Quoted from Hom. Il. 2.391, but the last line is not in our Homer.

3 Pittacus held the office 587-579 B.C. He was one of the Seven Sages. Antimenides and Alcaeus were brothers.

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 1.27
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 7.173
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