Ancient Sources on the Tyranny and Murder of Hipparchus

Tyrannicides Aristogeiton and Harmodian assassins of Hipparchos of Athens
The Tyrannicides - Aristogeiton and Harmodion were two Athenian citizens who, in the sixth century BCE, assassinated the tyrant Hipparchus. See Mary Beard's A closer look at the tyrant slayers. CC Flickr User virtusincertus

The tyrant Peisistratus (Pisistratus), father of Hippias and Hipparchus (Hipparchos), took power in Athens in about 560 B.C. [See 6th Century B.C. Timeline.] He died 33 years later and was succeeded by one of his sons. His son Hippias was expelled in 511/10, ending the reign of the Peisistratids. This doesn't mean there was an uninterrupted rule of the Peisistratids for half a century. Peisistratus himself was expelled from Athens twice, once for more than 10 years.

During his second exile, Peisistratus made contact with Macedonia some time between 556 and 546 B.C., marking the first known contact between Athens and Macedonia ("Peisistratus on the Strymon," by J. W. Cole;Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Apr., 1975), pp. 42-44). Peisistratus' rule was considered mild by many, even though supported by mercenary troops paid for by Athens. The tyrant imposed [only] a 5% income tax. He started the building of a temple for Zeus Olympius that was only completed under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, instituted the Greater Panathenaic festival, and supported Athenian culture in other ways.

" Pisistratus appearing the most tractable; for he was extremely smooth and engaging in his language, a great friend to the poor, and moderate in his resentments; and what nature had not given him, he had the skill to imitate; so that he was trusted more than the others, being accounted a prudent and orderly man, one that loved equality, and would be an enemy to any that moved against the present settlement."

... "But Pisistratus, having got the command, so extremely courted Solon, so honored him, obliged him, and sent to see him, that Solon gave him his advice, and approved many of his actions; for he retained most of Solon's laws, observed them himself, and compelled his friends to obey. And he himself, though already absolute ruler, being accused of murder before the Areopagus, came quietly to clear himself; but his accuser did not appear. And he added other laws, one of which is that the maimed in the wars should be maintained at the public charge... and Theophrastus asserts that it was Pisistratus, not Solon, that made that law against laziness, which was the reason that the country was more productive, and the city tranquiller."
Plutarch's Life of Solon

When Peisistratus died, one of his sons succeeded him. There is confusion about this because the son Hippias is thought to have been older and the heir, yet the son Hipparchus was killed by tyrannicides. If he wasn't the tyrant, the murderers weren't tyrannicides.

Here are some of the passages from major ancient historical sources on the tyranny and murder of Hipparchus.

Thucydides on Hippias and Hipparchus

"For the fact of Aristogeiton and Harmodius was undertaken upon an accident of love, which unfolding at large, I shall make appear that neither any other, nor the Athenians themselves, report any certainty either of their own tyrants or of the fact. For the old Peisistratus dying in the tyranny, not Hipparchus, as the most thing, but Hippias, who was his eldest son, succeeded in the government. Now Harmodius, a man in the flower of his youth, of great beauty, was in the power of one Aristogeiton, a citizen of a middle condition that was his lover. This Harmodius, having been solicited by Hipparchus, the son of Peisistratus, and not yielding, discovered the same unto Aristogeiton. He apprehending it (as lovers use) with a great deal of anguish and fearing the power of Hipparchus, lest he should take him away by force, fell presently, as much as his condition would permit, to a contriving how to pull down the tyranny. In the meantime Hipparchus, having again attempted Harmodius and not prevailed, intended, though not to offer him violence, yet in secret, as if forsooth he did it not for that cause, to do him some disgrace. For neither was the government otherwise heavy till then, but carried without their evil will. And to say the truth, these tyrants held virtue and wisdom in great account for a long time, and taking of the Athenians but a twentieth part of their revenues, adorned the city, managed their wars, and administered their religion worthily. In other points they were governed by the laws formerly established, save that these took a care ever to prefer to the magistracy men of their own adherence. And amongst many that had the annual office of archon, Peisistratus also had it, the son of Hippias, of the same name with his grandfather, who also, when he was archon, dedicated the altar of the twelve gods in the market place and that other in the temple of Apollo Pythius. And though the people of Athens, amplifying afterwards that altar which was in the market place, thereby defaced the inscription; yet that upon the altar that is in the temple of Apollo Pythius is to be seen still, though in letters somewhat obscure, in these words:
Peisistratus the son of Hippias
Erected this to stand
l'th' Temple of Apollo Pythius,
Witness of his command.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 6.54
he English works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury. Thucydides. Thomas Hobbes. translator. London. Bohn. 1843.

Aristotle on Hippias and Hipparchus

"Affairs were now under the authority of Hipparchus and Hippias, owing to their station and their ages, but the government was controlled by Hippias, who was the elder and was statesmanlike and wise by nature; whereas Hipparchus was fond of amusement and love-making, and had literary tastes: it was he who brought to Athens poets such as Anacreon and Simonides, and the others.

[2] Thettalus was much younger, and bold and insolent in his mode of life, which proved to be the source of all their misfortunes. For he fell in love with Harmodius, and when his advances were continually unsuccessful he could not restrain his anger, but displayed it bitterly in various ways, and finally when Harmodius's sister was going to be a Basket-carrier1 in the procession at the Panathenaic Festival he prevented her by uttering some insult against Harmodius as being effeminate; and the consequent wrath of Harmodius let him and the Aristogeiton to enter on their plot with a number2 of accomplices.

[3] At the Panathenaic Festival on the Acropolis they were already keeping a watch on Hippias (who happened to be receiving the procession, while Hipparchus was directing its start), when they saw one of their partners in the plot conversing in a friendly way with Hippias. They thought that he was giving information, and wishing to do something before their arrest they went down and took the initiative without waiting for their confederates, killing Hipparchus as he was arranging the procession by the Leocoreum.1

[4] This played havoc with the whole plot. Of the two of them Harmodius was at once dispatched by the spearmen, and Aristogeiton died later, having been taken into custody and tortured for a long time. Under the strain of the tortures he gave the names of a number of men that belonged by birth to families of distinction, and were friends of the tyrants, as confederates. For they were not able immediately to find any trace of the plot, but the current story that Hippias made the people in the procession fall out away from their arms and searched for those that retained their daggers is not true, for in those days they did not walk in the procession armed, but this custom was instituted later by the democracy.

[5] According to the account of people of popular sympathies, Aristogeiton accused the tyrants' friends for the purpose of making his captors commit an impiety and weaken themselves at the same time by making away with men who were innocent and their own friends, but others say that his accusations were not fictitious but that he disclosed his actual accomplices.

[6] Finally, as do what he would he was unable to die, he offered to give information against many more, and induced Hippias to give him his right hand as a pledge of good faith, and when he grasped it he taunted him with giving his hand to his brother's murderer, and so enraged Hippias that in his anger he could not control himself but drew his dagger and made away with him.

After this it began to come about that the tyranny was much harsher; for Hippias's numerous executions and sentences of exile in revenge for his brother led to his being suspicious of everybody and embittered."

Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 20, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1952.

Herodotus on Hippias and Hipparchus

"55. Aristagoras then being driven out of Sparta proceeded to Athens; which had been set free from the rule of despots in the way which I shall tell.-When Hipparchos the son of Peisistratos and brother of the despot Hippias, after seeing a vision of a dream which signified it to him plainly, had been slain by Aristogeiton and Harmodios, who were originally by descent Gephyraians, the Athenians continued for four years after this to be despotically governed no less than formerly,-nay, even more..

56. Now the vision of a dream which Hipparchos had was this:-in the night before the Panathenaia it seemed to Hipparchos that a man came and stood by him, tall and of fair form, and riddling spoke to him these verses:

 'With enduring soul as a lion endure unendurable evil:
  No one of men who doth wrong shall escape from the judgment appointed.'

These verses, as soon as it was day, he publicly communicated to the interpreters of dreams; but afterwards he put away thought of the vision and began to take part in that procession during which he lost his life.

57. Now the Gephyraians, of whom were those who murdered Hipparchos, according to their own account were originally descended from Eretria; but as I find by carrying inquiries back, they were Phenicians of those who came with Cadmos to the land which is now called Boeotia, and they dwelt in the district of Tanagra, which they had had allotted to them in that land....

62. I have told now of the vision of a dream seen by Hipparchos, and also whence the Gephrynians were descended, of which race were the murderers of Hipparchos; and in addition to this I must resume and continue the story which I was about to tell at first, how the Athenians were freed from despots. When Hippias was despot and was dealing harshly with the Athenians because of the death of Hipparchos, the Alcmaionidai, who were of Athenian race and were fugitives from the sons of Peisistratos, as they did not succeed in their attempt made together with the other Athenian exiles to return by force, but met with great disaster when they attempted to return and set Athens free, after they had fortified Leipsydrion which is above Paionia,-these Alomaionidai after that, still devising every means against the sons of Peisistratos, accepted the contract to build and complete the temple at Delphi, that namely which now exists but then did not as yet: and being wealthy and men of repute already from ancient time, they completed the temple in a manner more beautiful than the plan required, and especially in this respect, that having agreed to make the temple of common limestone, they built the front parts of it in Parian marble.

63. So then, as the Athenians say, these men being settled at Delphi persuaded the Pythian prophetess by gifts of money, that whenever men of the Spartans should come to inquire of the Oracle, either privately or publicly sent, she should propose to them to set Athens free. The Lacedemonians therefore, since the same utterance was delivered to them on all occasions, sent Anchimolios the son of Aster, who was of repute among their citizens, with an army to drive out the sons of Peisistratos from Athens, although these were very closely connected with them by guest-friendship; for they held that the concerns of the god should be preferred to those of men: and this force they sent by sea in ships. He therefore, having put in to shore at Phaleron, disembarked his army; but the sons of Peisistratos being informed of this beforehand called in to their aid an auxiliary force from Thessaly, for they had made an alliance with the Thessalians; and the Thessalians at their request sent by public resolution a body of a thousand horse and also their king Kineas, a man of Conion. So having obtained these as allies, the sons of Peisistratos contrived as follows:-they cut down the trees in the plain of Phaleron and made this district fit for horsemen to ride over, and after that they sent the cavalry to attack the enemy's camp, who falling upon it slew (besides many others of the Lacedemonians) Anchimolios himself also: and the survivors of them they shut up in their ships. Such was the issue of the first expedition from Lacedemon: and the burial-place of Anchimolios is at Alopecai in Attica, near the temple of Heracles which is at Kynosarges..

64. After this the Lacedemonians equipped a larger expedition and sent it forth against Athens; and they appointed to be commander of the army their king Cleomenes the son of Anaxandrides, and sent it this time not by sea but by land. With these, when they had invaded the land of Attica, first the Thessalian horse engaged battle; and in no long time they were routed and there fell of them more than forty men; so the survivors departed without more ado and went straight back to Thessaly. Then Cleomenes came to the city together with those of the Athenians who desired to be free, and began to besiege the despots shut up in the Pelasgian wall.

65. And the Lacedemonians would never have captured the sons of Peisistratos at all; for they on their side had no design to make a long blockade, and the others were well provided with food and drink; so that they would have gone away back to Sparta after besieging them for a few days only: but as it was, a thing happened just at this time which was unfortunate for those, and at the same time of assistance to these; for the children of the sons of Peisistratos were captured, while being secretly removed out of the country: and when this happened, all their matters were thereby cast into confusion, and they surrendered receiving back their children on the terms which the Athenians desired, namely that they should depart out of Attica within five days. After this they departed out of the country and went to Sigeion on the Scamander, after their family had ruled over the Athenians for six-and-thirty years. These also were originally Pylians and sons of Neleus, descended from the same ancestors as the family of Codros and Melanthos, who had formerly become kings of Athens being settlers from abroad. Hence too Hippocrates had given to his son the name of Peisistratos as a memorial, calling him after Peisistratos the son of Nestor.

Thus the Athenians were freed from despots; and the things worthy to be narrated which they did or suffered after they were liberated, up to the time when Ionia revolted from Dareios and Aristagoras the Milesian came to Athens and asked them to help him, these I will set forth first before I proceed further."

Herodotus Book 5, Macauley translation


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Gill, N.S. "Ancient Sources on the Tyranny and Murder of Hipparchus." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, Gill, N.S. (2016, August 9). Ancient Sources on the Tyranny and Murder of Hipparchus. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Ancient Sources on the Tyranny and Murder of Hipparchus." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).