4. An Enterprising Ancient Athenian’s Scheme to Free His City From Tyranny
Cleisthenes, born circa 570 BC, is known as “The Father of Athenian Democracy” for creating the system that, with incremental reforms, governed Athens during the Classical era. Before that, Athens had been governed by two tyrants, Hippias and Hipparchus, brothers who had inherited the position from their father, Peisistratos. The siblings governed Athens competently and with a light hand, until Hipparchus was assassinated in 514 BC in a private feud stemming from a romance that went bad. After his brother’s assassination, Hippias grew paranoid, and his rule became oppressive, and wellâ¦ tyrannical.
Hippias lashed out indiscriminately at enemies real and imagined, and his descent into violence eroded the popularity the tyranny had enjoyed since the days of Peisistratos. The number of victims and exiles forced to flee Athens grew, and they included Cleisthenes, who began plotting with other exiles to overthrow the tyranny. Invasion was considered, but Hippias had a well-equipped army, while the exiles did not, and lacked the funds for an army of their own. So they sought to enlist the help of Sparta, which had the Greek world’s best army, to liberate Athens. To secure Sparta’s help, Cleisthenes came up with the enterprising idea to bribe the gods.