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Mary Macgregor

Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant

Solon did not expect the laws he made to please each of the three parties in Attica. So he was not greatly surprised that while the Plain and the Coast were more or less content, the Hill was dissatisfied and even rebellious.

Pisistratus wished to help the Hill folk, who were shepherds and herdsmen, and he hoped at the same time to fulfil his own ambition, which was to become tyrant of Athens.

Solon did not think that it was good for the State to have a tyrant at its head. He warned the people again and again that Pisistratus would take away their freedom. But it was in vain that he spoke, no one would listen to him.

One day as Pisistratus drove in a chariot to the market-place, the citizens saw to their horror that he had been wounded. They crowded round his chariot begging to be told what had happened. This was what Pisistratus wished. He pointed to his wounds, telling them that the men of the Plain had attacked him, because he was defending the rights of the poor Hill folk. But Pisistratus was deceiving the people, for he had given himself these wounds that he might gain the sympathy of the people and be voted a bodyguard.

Lest he should be killed outright by his enemies, the citizens agreed that he should have a guard of fifty clubsmen.

At first Pisistratus seemed content with his guard, but after a time he began to add to its number now one, then another, until he knew that he was strong enough to defy his enemies. He then seized the Acropolis and soon made himself master of the State.

The leaders of the Plain and the Shore were forced to flee, and the people, in spite of the warnings of Solon, were amazed at the cunning and the boldness Pisistratus had shown.

Solon himself felt that all he had done for the State was undone when a tyrant ruled at Athens.

Old as he now was, he was brave enough to go to the market-place to upbraid the citizens for their folly in having allowed Pisistratus to deceive them, and to beg them not to lose their freedom without a struggle. "You might with ease," he said, "have crushed the tyrant in the bud; but nothing now remains but to pluck him up by the roots."

It is said that he even begged the people to take up arms against Pisistratus, but they were not bold enough to defy the tyrant.

So Solon went home sadly, gathered together his arms and laid them on the threshold of his house, saying, "I have done my part to maintain my country and my laws, and I appeal to others to do likewise."

Here is a verse from one of the poems which he wrote at this time—

"If now you suffer do not blame the Powers,

For they are good and all the fault is ours.

All the strongholds you put into his hands,

And now his slaves must do what he commands."

His friends feared that Pisistratus would punish Solon for his bold words and actions, perhaps even take his life, so they begged him to leave the country, but he refused to go.

When they asked him why he was not afraid, and to what he trusted to save him from the anger of the tyrant, he answered simply, "To my old age."

And his trust was well founded, for Pisistratus treated Solon with kindness and with respect. He even asked his advice in matters of State.

But the overthrow of his reforms was more than the old lawgiver could bear, and two years later, when he was eighty years of age, he died. It is said that by his own wish his ashes were scattered on Salamis, the island which he had won for Athens.

Pisistratus was a good tyrant. For five years he ruled, doing all that he could for the welfare of the State. But his enemies, although they saw that Athens grew more prosperous under his control, were ever plotting to get rid of him. At the end of five years the Plain and the Coast joined together and succeeded in driving Pisistratus from the city.

But Megacles, the leader of the Coast, quarrelled with the Plain, and he then offered to help Pisistratus to return to Athens.

It was by a strange trick that the Athenians were persuaded once more to allow the tyrant to rule.

In one of the villages of Attica, Megacles knew of a woman named Phya, who was taller and more stately than most Greek women. He ordered Phya to be clad in armour, such as was worn by the goddess Athene, and then seating her in his chariot he drove to Athens. Before the chariot went a herald to proclaim that the goddess Athene was herself coming to bid them open their gates to Pisistratus and to restore him to power.

The story tells that the Athenians believed that Phya was indeed the goddess, and they hastened to obey her behests. Pisistratus was allowed to enter the city and rule it as before.

For six years all went well, then the tyrant quarrelled with Megacles, who again joined the Plain, and Pisistratus was expelled for the second time.

But the tyrant was a patient and a persistent man. For ten years he lived in a province called Thrace, keeping in touch all the time with the Hill. In 535 b.c. he was back again in Attica, with no goddess to help him, but with a band of hired soldiers to strengthen his party.

The Athenian army was sent against the invaders, but Pisistratus pretended that he did not mean to fight. So the Athenians, thinking themselves safe, sat down to their midday meal. Then, while they were eating and drinking, the tyrant fell upon them, scattering them with but little loss on either side. As the Athenians fled, the sons of Pisistratus, Hippias and Hipparchus, rode after them, crying aloud that all who went quietly home would be pardoned. The citizens saw that it was useless to resist, so Pisistratus entered Athens as tyrant for the third time.

During the next eight years Pisistratus devoted himself to making Athens the most beautiful city of the world. He ordered that a new feast should be held in honour of the gods, and he began to build a magnificent temple to Zeus, which he did not live to finish. Many learned men were invited to Athens, and poets and historians were encouraged to write and to read their works to the people. It is even said that Pisistratus collected a library, which he urged the citizens to use, but of this we cannot be sure.

Then, thinking perhaps that Athens was strong enough to defy her enemies, the tyrant ordered the walls of the city to be pulled down. So that for half a century Athens, like Sparta, was an unwalled town.

In many of the States where tyrants ruled, Pisistratus had formed allies, and he even offered his friendship to Sparta, the State that despised tyrants and would not allow them to rule in Peloponnesus.

Pisistratus died in 527 b.c. , and was succeeded by his two sons, Hippias and Hipparchus.