Gyges was the first to be known to the Greeks as tyrant and the one who introduced the institution of tyranny to the Greeks. No matter what was the original meaning of the word .us tyrannos, the Greeks understood it as having the meaning of military leader, specifically of leader of hoplite troops. The Greeks understood it as being derived from otrunw, which has two basic meanings: "to further" and "to lead to battle." This explains why the term tyrannos was applied to the new type of political leader and, since the Hymn to Ares, to divinities. A careful study by Kurt Stegmann von Pritzwald of the Greek terminology applying to rulers reveals that .us archagetes is the word nearest in meaning to tyrannos. Archagetes has the meaning of "furtherer" and is applied both to divinities and to military leaders; in its second use it can be compared with words such as strategos or strategetes, lochagos or lochagetes, choragos or mosagetes. It seems that all the Greek words that can be associated with tyrannos have in common the idea of leading some organized formation of people. We shall see that Bakchylides actually renders tyrannos by archagetes.

It is very important to define exactly what the Greeks meant by tyranny, an institution which for them had very precise characteristics. In attempting a definition of the institution, scholars have been unduly influenced by a short communication by Eduard Zeller to the effect that a sharp distinction must be drawn between an original concept of tyranny and the one developed by the philosophers. Francesco Ercole has remarked that philosophers did not alter the original concept except for what was necessary to make it fit into their schemes of succession of government.

The historical data about tyranny are aptly summed up by Malcolm McLaren, Jr.

The actual process of setting up a tyranny often followed a fairly uniform pattern. Somehow the potential tyrant acquired a personal bodyguard. . . . Frequently a surprise attack by these troops captured a city's acropolis. . . . Another important factor in the tyrant's success was wealth, owned by the tyrant himself or by the state or by the citizens whom he could despoil. Money made it possible to hire a bodyguard; and the average tyrant required large sums for carrying on his government. . . . .

In other words, the tyrant was a person who had managed to become commander of a body of mercenary troops owing allegiance to him personally and which he could use as a police force to control the state, and he used the state to collect the money with which to buy the soldiers. To become a tyrant is an economically paying proposition and for this reason often tyrants can hire their first troops by contracting a debt to be repaid after seizure of power. The real problem for a tyrant is how to succeed in getting his body of troops before the seizure of power. Concering Peisistratus we are told that once he caused a personal bodyguard to be granted him by the Athenians, and another time he hired mercenaries with the money he had made by the exploitation of the mines of Mount Pangaion in Thrace.1

These facts that characterize a tyranny in its historical instances agree with the definition given by philosophers. Aristotle, who based his theory on the empirical study of the constitutional history of the single cities, distinguishes monarchy from tyranny as follows:2 "The guard of the king is composed of his citizens, but that of a tyrant of foreign mercenaries. The one rules according to nomos over willing subjects, the other over those who consent not. The one, therefore, is guarded by the citizens, the other against them." He further elaborates on his definition by these statements (V 1311 A): "A tyrant is ambitious of increasing his wealth, but a king rather of honor. Besides, the guards of a king are citizens, but those of a tyrant are foreigners. . . . Tyranny has gain for its end, for thus only will the tyrant be sure of the continuation of his guard and his luxuries, and he puts no confidence in the people, and therefore deprives them of his arms." The normal practice of a tyrant is the collection of a direct tax, .bi eisfora (V 1313 B; 1314 B); he can lavish on foreigners the hard-won money of the citizens, because "as long as he is master of the city he has never to fear a lack of money" (V 1314 B). Aristotle also stresses that "the aim of tyranny is self-protection (fulakh)." This is in agreement with Thoukydides' (I 17) report that whatever tyrants there were in Greece at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War had no other aim but that of "protecting their own body and increasing their private estates"; this remark is usually interpreted as referring to a specific characteristic of that historical moment, but is a general statement valid for tyrants in all times.

Plato, whose conclusions are considered as based on his personal experience with Sicilian tyrants, stresses that the crucial moment in the establishment of tyranny is "the typical request for a bodyguard"3 once in power the tyrant must impoverish the citizens through taxes (567 A), unless he confiscates the sacred treasures in the city (568 D); the more the citizens become hostile, the more he shall need guards that he shall get from abroad by offering them pay (567 D).

All these data support the conclusion of Kurt Stegman von Pritzwald that the term tyrannos is the one that stresses the element of command of mercenaries.

Once the exact meaning of the term tyranny has been defined, the information that Gyges of Lydia was the first to be called a tyrant acquires a particular significance.4 This statement of ancient sources is supported by the fact that there seems to be no doubt about the Phrygian or Lydian origin of the word turanno|s. The name of the Phrygian Moon-god Men is often followed by the epithet turanno|s in Greek inscriptions of Attica and Phrygia, and the name of some divinities is followed by the epithet .bd turan in Etruscan inscriptions. From Herodotos (I. 14) one gathers that the Herakleid kings supplanted by Gyges had the title of tyrannos. It may be that tyrannos was the name given to the priest-consort of the high-priestess of Nymph Gygaia who, by what the Greeks would have called an "intercourse and wedding" with the Nymph, acquired the rank of King of Lydia. Modern scholars tend to agree that the word is nothing but the equivalent of basileu|s. I would agree with this interpretation, but stress that the word is equivalent with basileu|s in its original meaning of "full of power." The nature of tyranny may be carried even further by analyzing it from two points of view, that of military tactics and that of money.

Gaetano De Sanctis has stressed the link between tyranny and hoplite tactics: "Tyrannies . . . in general were made easier by the spread of the new tactics . . . The generals that were first able to discipline the phalanx of hoplites often found in these the support necessary to assume the authority of a coup d'etat." Georg Busolt (I.37) remarks that "with the end of the seventh century B.C. there begins the datable lot of polemarchs and strategoi who with the help of their bodies of troops set themselves up as masters of the state."

A few years after the establishment of Gyges' tyranny, the tyranny was established at Sikyon (660 B.C.) and at Korinth (657 B.C.). Protagoras became tyrant of Sikyon thanks to its office of polemarch, and the same was done by Kypselos at Korinth. These two early tyrants have in common with Gyges the fact of having been able to establish a dynasty of tyrants. Later tyrants were less successful in this respect, but they all seem to have come to power through the office of military commander. Aristotle notices that Peisistratos became tyrant after having distinguished himself as strategos in the war against Megara. Strategos, or military commander, was the official title of Sicilian tyrants.

The accounts of Gyges' tyranny stress the fact that the kings of Maionia had a hoplite bodyguard, that Gyges was a member of this bodyguard (of which his father Daskylos had been commander) and that he was able to seize power and to maintain it by buying over a part of this bodyguard or by hiring another force of hoplite mercenaries. There is certain ambiguity in the terms used in the accounts of Gyges' adventures because the term .bi oploforo|s (Xen. .us Hier. II. 8) means both a soldier with hoplite armor and a mercenary soldier; the same is true of the terms .bi doruforo|s and custoforo|s (Alkaios, fr. 37B Edmonds). These terms also designate the member of the bodyguard of a dynast. The .bi doruforoi and the .bi fulakh of a tyrant are the same thing: in the Korinthian Constitution Aristotle (fr. 516 Rose) says that Periandros prwto|s| doruforo|s| esxe kai thn arxhn ei|s| turannida metesthse|. For this reason the word doruforo|s, which literally means a soldier with a short lance, in contrast with the long heroic spear, acquired the meaning of satellite of a king and hence of a mute character on the stage. The word doruforew means "to be on watch." A passage of Demosthenes shows that the word .bi doruforo|s suggests the idea of mercenary service.5 If the word doruforo|s or oploforo|s, like the word upaspisth|s, which in general have the same meaning of oplith|s, acquire the special meaning of bodyguard of mercenary character, it means that the first to use the hoplite armor consisting of an iron spear shorter than the Homeric bronze one and of a round metal shield, were the mercenary bodyguards of tyrants. Gyges as the first tyrant may have made the first use of hoplites; the hoplite bodyguard was one of the particular features of Lydian kingship, since Alkaios (loc. cit.) gives the Lydian king as example of a person who is accompanied by a relative even when the makes love. The relation between hoplite armor and mercenary service is indicated by the circumstance that to the Karians is ascribed the invention of both (Ephoros fr. 23). Perhaps at the beginning only professionals had the training required by the new tactics.

All this indicates that the new armament and technique of warfare was first used by Daskylos and his son Gyges, who commanded the bodyguard of the Maionian king composed of Ionian and Karian mercenaries. It was this body of mercenaries that allowed Daskylos to achieve his military successes and that allowed Gyges to seize and maintain power. Apparently it was Daskylos who by organizing the bodyguard of the king of Maionia as a hoplite force set the foundation for his successes as general and for the future rule of his son as tyrant. That Gyges owed his power to mercenaries is certain: Herodotos (I 13) relates that the Lydians resented the murder of their king and took up arms against Gyges, and Nikolaos of Damaskos (fr. 49 Jacoby) adds that Gyges was able to force the revolting Lydians into submission with his mercenary hoplites. Whether or not these hoplites were Greeks is not said, but money to hire them was provided by Melas, lord of Ephesos6 After the beginning of his revolt, help was afforded also by a body of troops from Mylasa in Karia.7 The hiring of Greek mercenaries was a standard practice of the Mermnad kings, as indicated by the hiring of Kolophonians by Alyattes. To beat Pantaleon's claim to the throne Kroisos borrowed from a rich Ephesian the money to hire mercenaries8 that is, he repeated the operation that had been performed by Gyges. The last resistance of the dynasty against the Persian conquest, more than a century later, is described thus by Herodotos: "Paktyes made the Lydians revolt against Tabalos and Kyros; since he had all the gold of Sardis, going down to the sea he hired mercenaries and convinced the men of the coast to serve under him." It was the Greek cities of the coast, particularly Ephesos, that were the recruiting centers of mercenaries.

Gyges was the first tyrant, because he discovered the secret of the power that could be obtained by the hiring of a body of Greek hoplites, a secret that he shared with Psammetichos I of Egypt when he sent him the Ionian and Karian "brazen men" to help him in his revolt against Assurbanipal. Gyges initiated Psammetichos of Egypt into the use of hoplite troops by sending him Ionian and Karian mercenaries, as Assurbanipal bitterly complains. From this moment the Greek mercenary hoplites became the basis of the power of the new Saite dynasty of Egypt.

The notion of basing the power of the state on a bodyguard of hoplite mercenaries may have come to Maionia from Assyria. From the middle of the eighth century B.C., the moment at which Assyria begins her era of ruthless imperialist aggression, the core of the army was the king's bodyguard composed of foreigners. These soldiers carried the short lances and the small round shields of the hoplites and fought in phalanx formation. The data suggest that it was because of the contact with Assyrian military power that the people of Western Asia Minor learned to use hoplite tactics, and that they improved on them so as to be able to use them successfully against the Assyrians themselves.

Assyria may have passed to Lydia the very conception of tyranny: the Assyrian empire was based on the might of the mercenary army and in turn an ever-expanding empire was made necessary by the need of providing pay for the mercenary army. Hugo Winckler states: "Assyria's power rested, therefore, upon her army. This was a composite of mercenary force made up of parts drawn from all quarters. Their support devolved upon the king, who had to provide their pay. Hence the motive was always present for fresh expeditions of conquest and plunder." Concerning the end of Assyrian power he remarks that the empire "had been held together by an army of mercenaries and an official class -- the empire vanished when they disappeared. That no one arose to charm to life again these leeches that lived upon the blood of the people is what was to be expected."9 The impassioned words of the great Assyriologist sound indeed very similar to the statements of Greek philosophers about tyrants.


1. Aristotle, The Constitution of the Athenians 14;15

2. Politics III 1285 A.

3. (Republic VIII 566 B).

4. Euphorion, fr. (FHG III 72);Etymologicum Magnum 771, 56; cf. Etymologicum Gudianum, Sturz 537, 26.

5. Against Aristokrates 123.

6. Radet

7. Plutarch, Quaest. Graik. |XLX 302 A.

8. Nik. Dam., fr.

9. Hugo Winckler, The History of Babylonia and Assyria (New York, 1907), p. 298.