Tyranny in Ancient Greece

Political Science

Tyranny in Ancient Greece


The people’s notion as well as the aspect of civilization creating democracy and favoring authoritarianism can be proposition that is confusing to the modern society. The issues of supporting authoritarianism depends on the world view of people so that when there was a critical situation between the political, social and military aspects the Ancient Greeks  had the determination of sacrificing their democracy as long as the society was assured of stability (Teegarden,2013). The main argument in this essay is that the cause and effects dynamics on different government frameworks came about due to the contingencies and context of time. This essay is divided in various sections in order to develop my argument. There is the broad view, tyranny in politics and cause and effect of association of Tyranny in political life. In order to explain how Greeks could live in Tyranny as enlightened and democratic people, various philosophies are examined as well as different worldviews. Also, there is a review of how tyranny was accepted in Greek and finally showing how this ideology has affected the society.


The attitude of Greek towards tyranny changed overtime as a result of external events. Citizens were not part of political life during the early stages and power was held by the hereditary aristocracy where the ruling was done by a group (Cartledge, 2009). The appearance of tyrants resulted to controversy in mid-7th century as there was no clear explanation on how they emerged. In this regard some assumptions were developed about their appearance. One of the views was that aristocratic families had fights as they had vied to have all the power in their own hands. Another one was that tyrants represented people who were politically conscious and supported their rise hoping to improve their position in the state. Early tyrants had popular support and in most cases they had reforms that were meant to please the people. These reforms included establishing justice and codifying the law as well as coming up with resources for public projects such as grand temples and fountains for supplying water.

Ideas of governance and philosophy were important to the mindset of the Greek. There were thoughts on ideas of ‘the Good Life’ and ‘Just Society’ which were thought about in most cases and led to emergence of various debates (Ober, 2008). These ideas are important even in today’s world the view on Ancient Greece has always been different from today’s Western world. Greeks focused on preserving balance and order and not dealing with good versus evil.

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In politics, Aristotle politics viewed every state as a community with the intentions of doing well. The political community would achieve good things if the aim of all citizens was to do good since this was the highest element that needed to be embraced. Greeks valued unity in politics as it ensured ‘the Good Life’ although this does not reflect the element of ‘good and evil’ although it is ‘good’ relating to virtue and harmony (Storey & Allan,2014).Understanding the effect and cause of Tyranny is achieved through relating Tyranny to  certain forms of governance.  Plato explained that people are exposed to five types of regimes which include: Democracy, Oligarchy, Timocracy, Aristocracy and Tyranny. All types are important to be understood although this essay focuses on Tyranny and democracy.

Democracy is a force of revolution where Athens established political emancipation by showing that all citizens were equal. There were exemptions to the rule of democracy despite democratic-idealism being realized. There were certain functions which were special such as high military and finance that could not be accessed by ‘average’ citizen. Plato explains that Democracy is followed by Tyranny since a Tyranny man is gotten from failed democracy. However, the tyrant man is created as a result of excess freedom while the democratic man is due to excess wealth (Robinson, 2008). Democracy remodels itself to anarchy when it is corrupted where validity is found in the works of Aristole where he explains that it is when there is overbearing among the Aristole.

Tyranny was viewed as a justifiable force within the politics of Greek. This is due to the fact that Greece had experienced a recovery process from Mycenean civilization which had occurred before and could therefore take part in global trade. Throughout the developing commercial areas, the rise of tyrants was linked with prosperity growth. Aristole supported this theory assigning his students to the correct historical political data that explained the reasons that led to breakdown of democracy. Various evidence was collected that gave suggestions how conflicts within and between classes grew into complete splits. There were great splits between wealth and poverty as well as between depravity and virtue (Fukuyama, 2014). Democracy and oligarchy acted as the main types of government which were viewed as furthering different types of interests.

The consequence of having tyranny on society did not necessary reflect the issue of oppression. Actually, people did not have a problem in abandoning the principal of democracy. The principal had the opportunity of investing in infrastructure and public works among other aspects since tyrants came to power during a period that was economically stable. Democracy development was unforeseen as people could see their political potential through supporting tyrants to popular reforms being enacted.

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Athens in 546 B.C supported the overthrow of democratic government as a way of favoring tyrannical governance. This period of time led to occurrence of the effects and causes of Athenian Tyranny. During this time, citizens were in debts while dependent farmers were reduced to servitude. This led to conflicts between the small holders of land and land –owning aristocrats which led to issued of civil war (Teegarden, 2013). The aristocracy turned to the lawmaker Solon due to the shadow of the tyranny and there was a task of reestablishing the order. The Aristocrats feared that Tyrants could rise to power since during this period a number of Poleis some form of government such as Megara, Corinth and Argos.

Government was established in order to serve people and not to be their master. For instance there was removal of various obligations from farms whose ownership had been avoided during redistribution of land. Plato had given warnings on Athenian democracy as it became corrupted with strife developing among aristocrats due to their ‘overbearing’ nature. People were already longing for a system that restored order despite it being only thirty four years since democracy was re-established by Solon. Aristocrat Pisistratus offered himself as a tyrant at this point as a way of assisting people who are poor as well as those in  upper class in order have a society that was more just.  There were various establishments by 546 B.C through enacting reforms for instance availing funds that could assist peasants in acquiring farm equipment, creation of employment through road construction and carrying out major projects as a way of increasing water supply (Ober, 2008).


It can be argued that based on the context of Ancient Greece, tyranny was not intolerable. This is the case; given that the tyrant had political and socio economic problems were remedied thus maintaining stability and order. In regards to living under tyrant, Greek people did not have a problem. However, as shown by Athenian, when Tyrant was dictatorial, Greek people had no doubts of overthrowing him and adopting democracy. The people were ready to tolerate tyranny when the Tyrant acted according to his duties. The prediction by Plato was that masses could support the rule of tyrants when people were given the power to govern themselves (Cartledge, 2009). Tyranny springs from democracy although looking in the political world in recent times, it is far-fetched. In some democratic nations such as the U.K and Turkey, Brazil and the U.S there is nationalist pride with a wave of populism meaning that there is weakening for liberal constraints on democracy. Liberalism is based on protecting the rights of individuals as well as freedom of lifestyle, religion and thought against abuses of government power and mass opinion. Democracy has meant liberal democracy for almost a century in the west. A political system is not only marked by rule of law but also by free and fair elections as well as the protection of property, religion assembly and liberties of speech.

In today’s world, democracy has been practiced in various nations globally as 193 nations are democratic which is represented by 54.8% of the global population which is an increase from a decade ago. However, there has been a great spread of multiparty elections across Africa, Asia, south-central Europe and Latin America as a result of what happens post elections. Illiberal democracy has been experienced across various countries ranging from tyrannies such as Belarus and Kazakhstan and modest offenders such as Argentina. In this case, most of the elections are rarely based on the element of being free and fair although they act as a reflection of popular participation in politics by supporting those who have been elected (Storey & Allan, 2014). Some regimes are based on consolidated democracy and confirmed dictatorship leading to 50% who do better on political liberties and not on civil ones.


Cartledge, P., 2009. Ancient Greece: A history in eleven cities.

Fukuyama, F. (2014). Political order and political decay: From the industrial revolution to the globalization of democracy. Macmillan.

Ober, J. (2008). What the ancient Greeks can tell us about democracy. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci.11, 67-91.

Robinson, E. W. (Ed.). (2008). Ancient Greek democracy: Readings and sources. John Wiley & Sons.

Storey, I. C., & Allan, A. (2014). A guide to ancient Greek drama (Vol. 4). John Wiley & Sons.

Teegarden, D. (2013). Death to tyrants!: ancient Greek democracy and the struggle against tyranny. Princeton University Press.

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