previous next



1. A son of Cypselus, whom he succeeded as tyrant of Corinth, probably about B. C. 625. By his bitterest opponents his rule was admitted to have been mild and beneficent at first; and, though it is equally certain that it afterwards became oppressive, we must remember that his history has come down to us through the hands of the oligarchical party, which succeeded to power on the overthrow of the Cypselidae, and that suspicion therefore attaches to much of what is recorded of him. In the speech which Herodotus (5.92) puts into the mouth of Sosicles, the Corinthian delegate at Sparta, and which is couched in the language of a strong partisan, the change in question is absurdly ascribed to the advice of Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus, whom Periander had consulted on the best mode of maintaining his power, and who is said to have taken the messenger through a corn-field, cutting off, as he went, the tallest ears, and then to have dismissed him without committing himself to a verbal answer. According to the story, however, the action was rightly interpreted by Periander, who proceeded to rid himself of the most powerful nobles in the state. If we may believe another statement, which we find in Diogenes Laertius (1.96; comp. Parthen. Am. Aff. 17), the horrible consciousness of incest with his mother (which some versions of the story represented as involuntary on his part) altered his kindly nature to misanthropic cruelty. Aristotle, without mentioning any change in the character and conduct of Periander, merely speaks of him as having been the first in Greece who reduced to a system the common and coarser arts of tyrant-craft; and, accordingly, in two passages of the Politics (3.13, 5.10, ed. Bekk.), he alludes to the above-mentioned suggestion of cutting off the nobles, as having been made by Periander to Thrasybulus. If we may depend at all on the statements in Diogenes Laertius, we may believe that, while Periander would gladly have trusted for his security rather to the affection than the fears of his subjects, he was driven to tyrannical expedients by what he considered a constraining political necessity; and it is far from improbable that, while the arts which win the favour of the people were less carefully cultivated by him than by his father Cypselus, who had risen to power by popular aid, so the commons, on their side, not having now so lively a sense of the evils of oligarchy, would begin to look with dislike on the rule of an individual. But, whatever might have been their dispositions towards him, he contrived with great ability to keep rebellion in check, protecting his person by a body-guard of mercenaries, and directing, apparently, his whole policy, domestic as well as foreign, to the maintenance of his power. The citizens of noblest rank or feeling were kept down or put out of the way, and common tables, clubs, and public education were suppressed,--actions prompted, not, as Müller supposes (Dor. i. 8.3), by the wish of utterly eradicating the peculiarities of the Doric race, but rather by that of crushing high spirit and mutual confidence among his subjects. To the same end we may refer also his expulsion of many of the people from the city, as we are told by Diogenes Laertius, on the authority of Ephorus and Aristotle, by the latter of whom such a measure is indeed mentioned in the Politics (5.10. ed. Bekk.), but not expressly as one of the devices of Periander. Again, while he made it part of his system to prevent the accumulation of wealth to any dangerous extent by individuals, he placed checks at the same time on habits of wasteful extravagance, and instituted a court for the punishment of those who squandered their patrimony, probably because he knew that such persons are often the readiest for innovation (Arist. Pol. 5.6). The story of his stripping the Corinthian women of their ornaments is variously given in Herodotus and in Diogenes Laertius from Ephorus ; and it seems doubtful whether we should regard it as one of his measures for diminishing the resources of powerful families, or as a perverted account of a sumptuary law. It may also have been as part of his policy for repressing the excess of luxury and extravagance that he commanded the procuresses of Corinth to be thrown into the sea. Being possessed, as Aristotle tells us, of considerable military skill, he made his government respected abroad, and so provided more effectually for its security at home. Yet very little is recorded of his expeditions. Besides his conquest of Epidaurus, mentioned below, we know that he kept (Coreyra in subjection, and we are told, on the authority of Timaeus, that he took part with Pittacus and the Mytilenaeans in their war against Athens (B. C. 606) for the possession of Sigeium and the surrounding coast. If, however, he was at first a party to the contest, he seems to have acted subsequently as a mediator. (Strab. xiii. p.600 ; Hdt. 5.94, 95; comp. Müll. ad Aesch. Eum. § 42; Clint. F. H. sub anno 606.) Another mode by which he strengthened himself was his alliance with tyrants in other cities of Greece (Miletus, e. g. and Epidaurus), and even with barbarian kings, as with Alyattes of Lydia. On the west of Greece, as Müller remarks (Dor. 1.8.3), the policy of the Cypselidae led them to attempt the occupation of the coast of the Ionian sea as far as Illyria, and to establish a connection with the barbarous nations of the interior. In accordance with this policy, Periander kept up a considerable navy, and is said to have formed the design of cutting through the Isthmus of Corinth and thus opening a readier communication between the eastern and western seas; and we find, too, that Apollonia on the Macedonian coast was founded by the Corinthians in his reign. (Strab. vii. p.316; Thuc. 1.26; Plin. Nat. 3.23.) Such a policy, combined with the natural advantages of its situation, stimulated greatly the commerce of Corinth, and we hear accordingly that the harbour and market-dues were so considerable, that Periander required no other source of revenue. The construction of splendid works dedicated to the gods (Κυψελιδῶν ἀναθήματα, Arist. Pol. v. ll), would be recommended to him as much by his own taste and love of art as by the wish to drain the stores of the wealthy. Generally, indeed, we find him, like so many of the other tyrants, a liberal and discriminating patron of literature and philosophy ; and Arion and Anacharsis were in favour at his court. Diogenes Laertius tells us that he wrote a didactic poem (ύποθῆκαι), which ran to the length of 2000 verses, and consisted in all probability of moral and political precepts; and he was very commonly reckoned among the Seven Sages, though by some he was excluded from their number, and Myson of Chenae in Laconia was substituted in his room. The letters, which we find in Diogenes Laertius, from Periander to his brother sages, inviting them to Corinth, and from Thrasybulus to Periander, explaining the act of cutting off the tops of the corn, are obvious and clumsy fabrications. (Hdt. 1.20, 23, 24; Ael. VH 2.41; Gel. 16.19; Plut. Sol. 4, Conv VII. Sap. ; Diod. Fragm. b. ix; Plat. Protay. p. 343; Clem. Alex. Strom. p. 351; Heracl. Pont. 5.

The private life of Periander is marked by great misfortune, if not by the dreadful criminality which his enemies ascribed to him. He married MELISSA, daughter of Procles, tyrant of Epidaurus, having fallen in love with her, according to one account, from seeing her in a light dress, after the Peloponnesian fashion, giving out wine to her father's labourers. (Pythaen. apud Ath. xiii. p. 589f.) She bore him two sons, Cypselus and Lycophron, and was passionately beloved by him; but he is said to have killed her by a blow during her pregnancy, having been roused to a fit of anger by the calumnies of some courtesans, whom, on the detection of their falsehood, he afterwards caused to be burnt alive. His wife's death embittered the remainder of his days, partly through the remorse which he felt for the deed, and which he seems to have tried to quiet by superstitious rites, partly through the alienation of his younger son LYCOPHRON, inexorably exasperated by his mother's fate. The young man's anger had been chiefly excited by Procles, and Periander in revenge attacked Epidaurus, and, having reduced it, took his father-in-law prisoner. His vengeance was roused also against the .Corcyraeans by their murder of Lycophron, and he sent 300 Corcyraean boys to Alyattes, king of Lydia, to be made eunuchs of ; but they were rescued on their way by the Samians, and Periander is said to have died of despondency, at the age of 80, and after a reign of 40 years, according to Diogenes Laertius. He was succeeded by a relative, Psammetichus, son of Gordias.--names which have been thought to intimate the maintenance by the Cypselidae of hospitable relations with the princes of Egypt and Phrygia. For Gordias, however, some would substitute Gorgus (the son or brother of Cypselus), whom Plutarch calls Gorgias; but this conjecture we need not hesitate to reject. Aristotle, if we follow the received text, assigns to the tyranny of Periander a duration of 44 years; but the amount of the whole period of the dynasty, as given by him, does not accord with his statement of the length of the several reigns (Pol. v. 12, ed. Bekk. 5.9, ed. Göttling). To make Aristotle, therefore, agree with himself and with Diogenes Laertius, Sylburg and Clinton would, in different ways, alter the reading, while Göttling supposes Psammetichus, on the ground of his name, to have been not of the blood of the Cypselidae, but a barbarian, to whom Periander entrusted the command of his mercenaries, and who seized the government and held it for three years; and these years he considers Aristotle to have omitted in stating the entire period of the dynasty. But this is a most farfetched and improbable conjecture. In Diogenes Laertius there is a very childish story, not worth repeating here, which relates that Periander met his end by violence and voluntarily. (Hdt. 3.48-53, 5.92; Suid. s.v. περίανδρος ; Clint. F. H. sub annis 625, 585; Plut. de Herod. Mal. 22.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
625 BC (1)
606 BC (1)
hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.23
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.24
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.48
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.53
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.92
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.95
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.20
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.94
    • Thucydides, Histories, 1.26
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.23
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.19
    • Plutarch, Solon, 4
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 2.41
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: