Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.03.05

Nino Luraghi, Tirannidi arcaiche in Sicilia e Magna Grecia. Da Panezio di Leontini alla caduta dei Dinomenidi.   Firenze:  Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1994.  Pp. 430.  ISBN 88-222-4238-6.  

Reviewed by Mischa Meier, Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum (
Word count: 1486 words

This is a somewhat older text, which was already published in 1994. Luraghi deals with the tyrannies in southern Italy and Sicily from archaic to classical times and tries to grasp them as a specific historical phenomenon of this area. A further aim of his book is to elaborate the way in which the tyrannies had an influence on the development of society in their poleis (6). So Luraghi presents a welcome counterpart to L. de Libero, Die archaische Tyrannis, Stuttgart 1996, in which Italy and Sicily are excluded. Both texts are similar in structure and method: Every tyrant is treated separately and systematically, and Luraghi has always included the complete available literary, archaeological and numismatic evidence, which is discussed in detail, using a good deal of modern scholarship (see the long bibliography pp. 385-415), so that his book is a comprehensive presentation of tyranny in southern Italy and Sicily. Due to the sources, the longest part of the text deals with the Deinomenids (ch. IX: I Dinomenidi, 273-373). In the first chapters Luraghi treats persons who only seldom have been noticed by modern scholars before: Panaetius of Leontini (ch. I, pp. 11-20), Phalaris of Acragas (ch. II, pp. 21-49), the mostly unknown tyrants of Selinus (ch. III, pp. 51-58), the tyrants of Sybaris, Croton, Metapontum and Tarentum, who are also poorly documented in the sources (ch. IV, pp. 59-77), then the enigmatic Aristodemus of Cyme (ch. V, pp. 79-118) and, finally, the great 5th-century rulers Hippocrates of Gela (ch. VI, pp. 119-186), Anaxilaus of Rhegium (ch. VII, pp. 187-229) and Theron of Acragas (ch. VIII, pp. 231-272).

Luraghi starts with some remarks on the tyranny of Panaetius of Leontini and tries to draw conclusions from a notice in Polyaenus (5,47) about social conflicts in this polis which Panaetius had created. Nevertheless, he has to concede that this late source can hardly offer any sure information. So his interpretation of the heniochoi of Leontini as "un gruppo subalterno agli hippeis", whose clients they could have been (17-18), is not more than a speculation. On the other hand, concerning Phalaris of Acragas, Luraghi shows how even late sources are colored by anti-tyrannical topoi and projections of the Acragantines in later times (33-34). Luraghi explains the rise of Phalaris with the early expansion of Acragas in the first half of the 6th century B.C. (34-35). He then deals with the myths concerning Phalaris and shows that it is very difficult to take Phalaris as an historical person (36-49). His considerations concerning the tyrants of Selinus again corroborate the fact that we know nearly nothing about these men (51-58). However, his speculations about a connection between the tyranny and the rise of the polis of Selinus, of which we possess archaeological and numismatic evidence, are worth considering.

One should probably agree with Luraghi's explanation of the tyranny of Telys of Sybaris as an indication of a deep crisis within the aristocracy (71). He carefully analyzes the sources, which are very problematical and colored by a late myth of the Sybarites, and demonstrates that the tyranny of Sybaris is similar in structure to most tyrannies in Greece. We can hardly say anything about the tyranny of Cleinias of Croton, as Luraghi rightly emphasizes.

With the relatively extensive material about Aristodemus of Cyme, Luraghi deals in detail. He shows that we have to use the literary sources with care because they are interspersed with anti-tyrannical topoi and later projections, so that only little material remains that is trustworthy. Nevertheless, Luraghi tries to find an historical context for the rise of Aristodemus. Rightly he describes Cyme as a polis, which was ruled by the aristocrats before the coming of the tyrant (105-106), but it is doubtful whether -- as Luraghi implies -- complete political rights were restricted to aristocrats exclusively (106). Further it is questionable whether political rights had been already defined in late 6th-century Cyme at all. Unfortunately, we know nothing exact about the development of political institutions in Cyme before Aristodemus. Conflicts between the aristocrats and the demos could have cleared the way for the tyrant to gain power, but we cannot be sure about this. However, Luraghi's interpretation of Aristodemus' upbringing (paideia) of the male youth is worth considering: He connects this enigmatic paideia with 'rites de passage' which are attested in some Greek poleis (Luraghi cites the examples of the Athenian ephebeia and the Spartan krypteia), but he calls the upbringing which Aristodemos practised an "anti-efebia" (102), because in contrast to the examples of Athens and Sparta the aim of the paideia in Cyme was not the introduction of young men into the rights and duties of full citizens. Luraghi assumes that Aristodemus wanted to introduce the fashion and lifestyle of the Ionian aristocrats in his own polis for all young citizens in order to avoid social differences, but our late sources, which are hostile to the tyrant, have misinterpreted this -- so Luraghi -- as an attempt to feminize the young men, as an "anti-efebia" (101-105).

The rest of the book deals with the prominent 5th-century tyrants: According to Luraghi, Hippocrates of Gela deserves the central place in the history of the Western-Greek tyrants, because his rule initiated a new style of tyranny, which was different from the earlier tyrannies in various aspects ("sviluppi politici assolutamente nuovi", 376). Hippocrates used mercenary troops, and his foreign policy was very aggressive ("una politica che possiamo [...] definire imperialista", 378), even far from his own polis. He did not establish a great territorial state connecting the cities which he had conquered, but he installed tyrants who depended directly on Hippocrates himself ("una rete di alleanze impari", 169). Luraghi assumes that Hippocrates followed the system of Achaemenid rule in Asia Minor when he established his own tyranny (174-176). This is a main thesis of his book, which the author stresses at various places, but his arguments are not convincing. The elements Luraghi puts forward to prove his thesis are to be found throughout the Greek world and -- this seems to be important -- in Carthage: Vassal-tyrants, mercenary troops, foundation of cities, aggressive foreign policy, visits to panhellenic sanctuaries, participation in panhellenic games (see pp. 377-378) -- these are not characteristic only of Achaemenid-rulers, but of a number of Greek tyrants long before Hippocrates, and some of these elements we can find also in Carthage, perhaps in Carthagian Sicily. On the other hand, Luraghi's reservations concerning the older opinion that Hippocrates was supported by the Geloan aristocracy, deserve respect (177-181).

Luraghi argues that Anaxilaus of Rhegium was influenced by the new style of rule put forward by Hippocrates, his earlier contemporary. Indeed there are a lot of aspects which prove that the tyranny of Anaxilaus was similar to the rule of Hippocrates. Anaxilaus took part in panhellenic games with the purpose of self-representation and legitimation (218). The author assumes that the "messenismo" of Anaxilaus first of all was a political program, because there is hardly any trace of Messenian influence in Rhegium in archaic times. According to Luraghi even the Messenian descent of the tyrant is doubtful. But in this point the author seems to underestimate the Messenian element in Rhegium in archaic and classical times, which is well attested.1

The rule of Hippocrates was also the model for Theron of Acragas and his tyranny. Luraghi states that his rule was less stable than the tyrannies of Hippocrates and Anaxilaus. This was caused by the fact that the rule of Theron was more moderate ("un passo indietro", 379). He did not use an army of mercenaries, his foreign policy was less aggressive, and he avoided strong self-representation (271). But, if the differences between the tyrannies of Hippocrates and Theron are as plain, can we really say that the rule of Hippocrates was the model of Theron's tyranny, as Luraghi states? More likely is his thesis that the Deinomenids too took the rule of Hippocrates as model for their own tyrannies. In this last chapter Luraghi's arguments are convincing again.

The author treats a great number of problems in detail and offers some interesting new arguments. What is lacking, however, is a general question. The method of case studies is useful, if one tries to study every tyranny separate from the others, but the specific nature of tyranny in southern Italy and Sicily -- if there is one -- does not become clear in this way. To seize Western-Greek tyranny as a specific historical phenomenon of this area, Luraghi should have compared the western tyrannies with the rules in Greece and Asia Minor in archaic times. On the other hand, Carthaginian influence on Western-Greek tyrants should have been taken into account more extensively. Nevertheless, this book is a very scholarly treatise, which contains a good deal of source-material (including archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence) and modern scholarship concerning the specific problems of this region. It is a welcome presentation of Western-Greek tyrannies.


1.   See F. Kiechle, Messenische Studien, Kallmünz 1959, pp. 6sqq., 106sqq.; D. Asheri, La diaspora e il ritorno dei Messeni, in: E. Gabba (ed.), Tria Corda. Scritti in onore di A. Momigliano, Como 1983, pp. 27-42.

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