Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

Harmodius and Aristogiton

Hippias and Hipparchus were as eager as their father Pisistratus had been to govern Athens well. Nor did they quarrel as to the way in which they could best do this, as brother-tyrants might have done.

But one day Hipparchus quarrelled with a citizen named Harmodius, and to quarrel with Harmodius meant to make an enemy of his great friend Aristogiton.

Harmodius showed that he was angry with Hipparchus, who then used his power as tyrant to punish the citizen. This was unfair, as the quarrel was a private one.

The tyrant even refused to allow the sister of Harmodius to carry a basket in the procession of the gods, an insult which the citizen could ill brook. He therefore resolved to revenge himself, and together with Aristogiton he made a plot to slay not only Hipparchus but his brother Hippias as well. Only a few friends were told of the plot, which they hoped to carry out on the day of the procession. As it was usual to carry arms at the festival, it would arouse no suspicion if the friends were seen to carry theirs.

When the day arrived, Harmodius and Aristogiton appeared at the festival bearing lances, as did the other citizens. But to be the more certain of carrying out their plan, they also carried daggers concealed beneath their cloaks.

The conspirators wished to kill Hippias outside the city gates, while he was arranging the order of the procession. But when they approached the tyrant he chanced to be talking to one of those who knew of the plot, and the conspirators fled, thinking that Hippias had learned their secret.

Hippias was saved, but rushing to the market-place the two friends fell upon Hipparchus and killed him.

The conspirators expected the citizens to rally round them, but they stood aloof, while Harmodius was seized by the guards and put to death. Aristogiton was tortured to make him betray the names of those who knew of the plot, but he too died, steadfastly refusing to speak.

Although at first the Athenians paid little attention to what Harmodius and Aristogiton had done and had suffered, they began ere long to think of them as heroes who had freed Athens from the rule of one of the tyrants. Perhaps this was because Hippias, frightened by his brother's death, brought hired soldiers into the city, raised the taxes that he might have money with which to pay his mercenaries, and began to oppress the citizens in many other ways.

The discontent of the people encouraged Cleisthenes, the son of Megacles, to put himself at their head and lead them against Hippias, but they were soon crushed by the hired soldiers of the tyrant.

Cleisthenes then tried to do by a trick what he had been unable to do by force. He knew that he was liked by the priests at Delphi, for he had given munificent gifts to the temple. So he begged them if a Spartan came to consult the oracle, no matter about what, to answer always, "Athens must be set free." This the priests promised should be done.

The Spartans had been friendly with Pisistratus, and they did not wish to harm his son. But when the oracle's one answer to all their requests was "Athens must be set free," they knew that they must march against the tyrant if they wished their own affairs to prosper. At first they were defeated by the mercenaries of Hippias, but one of their kings then took command of the army and defeated the tyrant, who took refuge in the Acropolis.

The citadel would stand a long siege, as Hippias was well aware. But he was soon forced to surrender, for his children whom he was sending secretly out of the country were captured by the Spartans. On condition that their lives should be spared, Hippias promised to leave the state within five days.

So the children were released and sailed with Hippias, under a safe conduct, to Asia, where they lived in a small town which had belonged to Pisistratus.

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