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Highlights of Ancient Greek History: 515 BCE to 508 BCE

By Yona Williams    10/24/10

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Ancient Greece has seen its fair share of tyrants. In this article, you will meet Hippias, who ruled Athens after his father Peisistratus. Other information presented touches upon the philosophical contributions of Parmenides, as well as the power struggle that took place between Cleisthenes and Isagoras.

515 BCE: Parmenides is born.

Parmenides was an ancient Greek philosopher who was born in Elea – a Greek city found on the southern coast of Italy. He would later become the founder of the Eleatic school, which focused on metaphysics and philosophy. Parmenides is mostly known for one single work. Sadly, only fragments of his poem have survived. In the poem, he describes two views of reality. The contents of this poem would greatly influence people, such as Plato. Part of the poem was called "The Way of Truth," which explained how "reality is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and unchanging"

510 BCE: In Athens, the tyrant Hippias (son of Pisistratus) is driven out of the city.

In 527 BC, Hippias succeeded Peisistratus in ruling Athens. By 525 BC, he was introducing a new system of coinage in the city. In an effort to rid the city of tyrants, Hippias' brother (Hipparchus) was murdered by a duo known as the Tyrannicides in 514 BC. Hippias learned of the murderers and had them executed. The event made him an even crueler and bitter ruler. He was eventually forced to leave the city in 510. When the Athenians successfully removed Hippias, a struggle for power emerged with Cleisthenes and Isagoras at the forefront.

508 BCE: Cleisthenes flees Athens as Spartan troops come to the aid of Isagoras. As a result, Isagoras becomes ruler of Athens.

Cleisthenes was a noble Athenian who belonged to the Alcmaeonid family. He played a role in reforming the constitution of ancient Athens and setting it on a path towards democracy. Because of these kinds of achievements, historians often call him "the father of Athenian democracy." His actions also increased the power of assembly and lessened the influence that nobility had in Athens.

Isagoras on the other hand was an Athenian aristocrat who stayed his ground during the tyranny of Hippias. However, after Hippias was overthrown, he decided to make a move for power against Cleisthenes. In 508 BC, he was elected archon eponymous, which meant that he was the chief magistrate of an executive government. With the support of most of the population, Cleisthenes opposed him. This forced Isagoras to request assistance from the Spartan king Cleomenes I, who was an old friend.

With the help of Cleomenes, Cleisthenes was driven out – along with other member of the Alcmaeonidae family. Supporters of Cleistenese were not too happy. They trapped Isagoras and Cleomenes on the Acropolis for two days. On the third day, a truce was established, which permitted the escape of Cleomenes and Isagoras. Three-hundred of Isagoras' supporters were executed during this time. Cleisthenes was then free to return to the city, where he became archon in 507 BCE.

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