Scholarship and Leadership on the Black Sea: Clearchus of Heraclea as (Un)enlightened Tyrant[1]

Citation with persistent identifier:

Harris, Jason. “Scholarship and Leadership on the Black Sea: Clearchus of Heraclea as (Un)enlightened Tyrant.” CHS Research Bulletin 5, no. 2 (2017).

1§1 During the fourth century BCE, between the end of the Peloponnesian War and the beginning of the Hellenistic Period, a group of powerful tyrants appeared across the Greek world. Several of these rulers took advantage of developments within the literary and philosophical spheres by inviting scholars to their courts. The creation of such courts furthered their political aims by legitimizing their tyrannies through their self-fashioning as enlightened rulers. Although the Dionysii of Syracuse are perhaps the best examples of this process, we here shall analyze the reign of another tyrant, Clearchus of Heraclea Pontica, who ruled ca. 365 to 353 BCE. As a member of the Heracleote oligarchy with access to networks of learned élites, Clearchus lived in Athens for several years, as he studied at the Academy and under the tutelage of Isocrates. He appears in the sources as a type of failed scholar, whose education did not suppress his autocratic tendencies. In addition, an alternate community in opposition to Clearchus rose from the Academy and assassinated the tyrant. Within this narrative, we see several important themes: the intersection of the political and the intellectual spheres, the identity of the ruler as scholar, and the identity of the scholar as combatant.

From exile to ruler: The rise of Clearchus

2§1 To unlock the mystery of the rise of the fourth-century tyrant Clearchus, the foundation of the site, its ethnic composition, and its political development offer some clues. The polis, founded in 554 BCE on the Bithynian coast of the southern Black Sea, was a joint venture between Megara and the Boeotian League.[2] This dual composition of the early city, with Megarian dialect/institutions and elements of Boeotian religious cult (e.g. the worship of Heracles) mirrored other colonies around the Mediterranean and created diversity and (perhaps) division in the early history of Heraclea.[3] This diversity was enhanced by the presence of the Mariandynoi, an indigenous group scattered throughout the area in small farming villages with Anatolian and Thracian elements, who had arrived perhaps several centuries prior to the foundation of the colony.[4]  Within the original political organization, the dêmos was divided into three tribes and numerous hekatostues, subdivisions that served as the basis for civic and military duties.[5] Although the tribal system remained, oligarchy soon took hold,[6] and the Mariandynoi were subjugated.[7] While internal instability and staseis occasionally beset the city, oligarchic rule remained until 424 BCE. Heraclea Pontica also fell within the realm of Persian influence, although it retained its autonomy with limited tribute and military service.[8] During the later fifth century, Heraclea also joined Athenian political and economic spheres of influence after the likely visit of Pericles in the 440s.[9] Thus, the first centuries of Heracleote history offered perfect conditions for the foundation of the tyranny of Clearchus, through strong political/ethnic divisions within the populace and threats of external interference, all of which he exploited to seize power.

2§2 The status of Heraclea as a center of mobility also encouraged Clearchus in his coup d’état. Although I later will discuss processes of political mobility (e.g. the creation of exiles), I here mention economic and scholarly processes of mobility. The location of Heraclea Pontica on the Black Sea coast and its excellent harbor facilitated the movement of numerous goods and people. Its chora, cultivated by the Mariandynoi, produced exports of wine, aconite, and timber.[10] The importance of Heraclea as a trade center appears in the considerable number of amphora stamps and amphorae of Heracleote influence around the Black Sea region from the beginning of the fifth century, as well as numerous coin issues in silver.[11] Heraclea was also a locus of scholarly activity from the fifth century onward, with local scholars, including Heraclides Ponticus, a famous contemporary of Clearchus and member of the Platonic Academy, known throughout the Greek world.[12] Beginning with Herodorus, a series of Heracleote writers established the importance of Heraclea in Greek culture by inserting their polis into shared Greek mythography (e.g. the presence of Heracles and the Argonauts at their site) through local histories.[13] As analyzed below, many Heracleote scholars participated in networks of exchange with other scholarly centers, including Athens. The position of Heraclea as focus of knowledge and movement also would encourage Clearchus in his dual identification as tyrant and scholar.

2§3 Social divisions and mobility were key elements of a violent political reaction that exploded during a period of stasis and weakened Heraclea sufficiently for Clearchus to seize power. After the overthrow of oligarchy in 424 BCE,[14] democracy persisted until its overthrow between 370 and 364 BCE. Under the aegis of the oligarchic Council of 300, Clearchus was exiled, while internal revolts rocked the city, not only between oligarchs and the dêmos but also among the oligarchs themselves..[15] In 364, the beleaguered oligarchs requested aid from the Athenian Timotheus, proxenos of Heraclea and student of Isocrates, and from the Theban Epaminondas, who both refused.[16] Faced with external pressure from Mithridates (the son of Ariobarzanes, Persian satrap of Phrygia), the Council asked Clearchus to act as arbitrator (arbiter civilis discordiae / ἔφορον τῆς αὖθις ὁμονοίας) to suppress their enemies.[17] Having served in the army of Mithridates, Clearchus used his support and a mercenary force to obliterate the democratic faction and to seize the acropolis of the city.[18] He then betrayed Mithridates, by kidnapping him and holding him for ransom. Having been named stratêgos autokratôr by the Council (a position held by other fourth-century leaders, including Dionysius I and Archytas of Tarentum[19]), he consolidated power by arresting sixty members of the Council (with the remaining 240 fleeing into exile). Thus, rather than arbitrating between political factions, by deceiving those who trusted him (atque ut in illo subitum se ex socio fecit hostem[20]), he became the sole leader.

2§4 The reasons for the rise of Clearchus reflect the political trajectory of other fourth-century tyrants. With constant warfare weakening traditionally strong poleis, the accompanying poverty increasing the gap between rich and poor, and the addition of thousands of mercenaries across the Greek world, conditions were ripe for autocratic rule.[21] Class divisions offered the perfect opportunity for tyrants to seize power.[22] Most important, as in Heraclea Pontica, was the presence of the aristocracy, who provided the perfect foil and internal enemy for tyrants.[23] The larger the void between aristocracy and dêmos, the greater the opportunity for the tyrant to shift economic resources within the city. The more resources shifted from the wealthy to the dêmos (e.g. through debt cancellation and land redistribution), the stronger its support for the tyrant. Two centuries of conflict in Heraclea between the oligarchy and dêmos over rights and money, in-fighting among oligarchic factions (e.g. Doric landowners, military elites, and wealthy traders), Mariandynian discontent, and the threat of Mithridates created the perfect storm for a single leader to swoop into power.[24] In such conditions, Clearchus the pre-tyrant served as mediator and middle ground among warring factions in the city (exilio facinorosior redditus et dissensionem populi occasionem inuadendae tyrannidis existimans).[25] Likewise, he transformed into the prostatês tou dêmou, a protector who provided order and safety in the face of internal and external danger.[26] Although Clearchus had been exiled and cast out, political instability and fear created a breach in the ideological walls of Heracleia for Clearchus to invade its center both physically (i.e. through his takeover of the acropolis) and politically (i.e. by becoming the sole leader).[27] While the impetus in this movement from the exterior of the polis to its center catapulted Clearchus to power, the expulsion of Heracleote aristocrats conversely produced political stability in Heraclea by shielding Clearchus from threats to his hegemony.

2§5 As tyrant, by nominally maintaining the democratic organs of the city (e.g. the assembly), Clearchus secured support of the dêmos throughout his reign.[28] Although some cancellation of debts for the dêmos and manumission of slaves occurred (with these slaves perhaps marrying the wives of the exiled oligarchs[29]), the status of the Mariandynoi and land distribution likely remained as before.[30] Mercenaries appeared as infrequent participants in the life of the city and likely did not suppress the dêmos.[31] The foreign policy of Clearchus was rather limited in comparison to other fourth-century tyrants (e.g. the Dionysii of Syracuse and Jason of Pherae). While sustaining his hegemony through good relations with Persia, he made little effort to expand his territory, save for a failed sack of nearby Astakos on the Propontis.[32] Clearchus maintained a high economic standard for the city, as evidenced by several issues of silver coinage.[33] Exports of goods continued, and the coastal location of Heraclea facilitated grain trade with Athens (although the large number of Heracleote exiles in Athens perhaps guaranteed a chilly reception in Athens).[34] Although Heraclea remained a vibrant center of movement of goods and people with political stability,  the intellectual community soon would threaten the rule of Clearchus.

Clearchus and the scholarly community: An uneasy relationship

3§1 How much did Clearchus participate in this intellectual sphere? Although tyrants were portrayed frequently in Greek literature as barbarians, several fourth-century tyrants vigorously pursued a new identity as poet and/or philosopher. As Clearchus became more autocratic by taking on a monarchic character (nullus locus urbis a crudelitate tyranni vacat; accedit saevitiae insolentia, crudelitati adrogantia),[35] he demonstrated his knowledge of Greek tragedy and poetry by appearing in public as a type of tragic king, adorned with purple robes, buskins, and a crown (veste purpurea et cothurniis regum tragicorum et aurea corona utebatur).[36] Through this theatrical appearance (and by naming his son Dionysius[37]), he tied himself specifically to Dionysius the Elder, who combined political power and military prowess with public speaking skills and the ability to compose tragedies.[38] Clearchus also linked himself with the kings of Persia, whom he imitated through the adoption of proskunêsis.[39] This god-like status of Clearchus was reinforced by his accompaniment in public with a golden eagle and the naming of his son Keraunos (eunti per publicum aurea aquila uelut argumentum generis praeferebatur … filium quoque suum Ceraunon vocat), both associated with Zeus.[40] By using his knowledge of Greek (and Persian) performance culture, he created divine legitimacy not achieved alone from the title of stratêgos autokratôr.[41] Although these narratives seem anecdotal and may represent the topos of unstable tyrant, the actions of Clearchus reflected desires similar to other tyrants of establishing a program of propaganda. Such religious propaganda not only supported the tyrant during his rule[42] but also provided a dynastic foundation for his sons. Just as Dionysius I created his dynasty through Dionysius II,[43] the rule of Clearchus passed first to his brother, Satyrus, and then to his sons, Timotheus and Dionysius.

3§2 For this paper, the most crucial identity of Clearchus is that of tyrant as (failed) philosopher. The importance of this failure lies in its ramifications for both the intellectual and political realms. As we will discuss, defeat within the scholarly community occasionally had strong consequences for political power. Several ancient sources confirm that Clearchus studied for several years during his youth under Plato and Isocrates in Athens. The figure of the traveling scholar-philosopher was common in Greek antiquity; the most famous of them was Plato, who traveled to Syracuse three times in his attempt to persuade the Dionysii to convert their tyranny into a milder form of government.[44] While little is known of Clearchus’ time at the Academy, he studied four years under Isocrates and became his xenos.[45] He also was sponsored for Athenian citizenship by the general Timotheus, a common process in Athens to gain the support of important scholars or political figures.[46] While this process of migration to Athens offered Clearchus limited intellectual and political support, a parallel movement of hostile scholars from Heraclea to Athens under Clearchus damaged his rule and led to his murder. During the Classical Period, the exchange of scholars between Athens and Heraclea Pontica enriched the intellectual life of both cities,[47] as many Heracleotes joined the Academy or Lyceum.[48] Among the Heracleotes in Athens were many exiled aristocrats, expelled from Heraclea at the beginning of Clearchus’ rule. Rather than lessening Heracleote identity and loyalty while separated from their home polis,[49] the rule of Clearchus and their expulsion strengthened their identity and resolve to protect Heraclea from his excesses of tyranny.

3§3 I term these movements between Athens and Heraclea by Clearchus and the oligarchs agonistic processes of mobility, as they were undertaken by characters in political competition with each other. Scholars have used the term ‘agonistic mobility’ to describe various movements (e.g. the travel of athletes to panhellenic games). In these cases, rather than the agôn (e.g. the athletic competition) occurring at the final destination, the processes themselves of travel/mobility (e.g. Clearchus and the Heracleote intellectuals to Athens) were performed in direct competition with each other. The movement of these exiled oligarchs to Athens was imbued with the humiliation of defeat and the loss of homeland. After Clearchus moved into the city to seize power, these aristocrats fled Heraclea, gathered in Athens, and plotted revenge. In direct competition with Clearchus, they then mimicked the movement of Clearchus back into Heraclea to overthrow him. The return of these scholarly conspirators to Heraclea ultimately would force Clearchus to lose this political agôn through his assassination.

3§4 To what extent did the ideas of Plato and Isocrates shape the political ambitions and policies of Clearchus?[50] This battle between philosophy and politics (i.e. the debate between the bios theorêtikos and bios praktikos) shook philosophical schools in the fourth century, especially the Academy. Should philosophers withdraw from the political life of the polis in search of higher ideals, or did they have a duty to serve the city?[51] At first glance, the Academy firmly followed the bios theorêtikos, as they isolated themselves physically from the center of Athens and by educating citizens from other poleis on subjects removed from the everyday banality of politics.[52] In defining his philosopher-king and the ideal state of Kallipolis in his Republic, noting the differences between the base anêr turannikos and the ideal anêr basilikos, Plato prefers to create an ideal state from scratch, rather than wasting his time reforming details within the existing polis.[53] Nevertheless, in light of his failures with the Dionysii and political upheaval in the mid-fourth century, Plato abandons the ideals of the philosopher-king and Kallipolis for more politically relevant actions, including the practical organization of Magnesia in his Laws, his attendance at the Olympic Games of 360, and possible law reform in Cyrene and Megalopolis.[54]

3§5 The true effects of Plato upon the political path of Clearchus seem minimal, as reflected in the tradition of Clearchus receiving a dream to completely stop his study of philosophy (ὄναρ ὁρᾷ ὅδε ὁ Κλέαρχος γυναῖκά τινα, λέγουσαν πρὸς αὐτόν · ἄπιθι τῆς Ἀκαδημίας καὶ φεῦγε φιλοσοφίαν).[55] Upon his return to Heraclea, Clearchus certainly disappointed the Academy with his transformation into anêr turannikos through his autocratic behavior. His arrest, murder, and exile of the established oligarchy, his anti-aristocratic propaganda, and his support of the dêmos and democratic institutions (even in name only) gained the ire of the Academy. While Plato seemingly remained neutral in conflicts between Academy members and tyrants (e.g. Dion vs. Dionysius II of Syracuse[56]), the Academy enacted physical and literary damnatio memoriae upon Clearchus in the coming years by erasing him from their histories and besmirching his reputation.[57] Furthermore, scholars attached to the Academy (which became a fount of tyrant killers[58]) were responsible for the murder of Clearchus in Heraclea.[59] Thus, as Clearchus had actively turned away from the ideals espoused by the Academy, his failure and rejection of the Academy (and the treatment of several of its members) resulted in payback from that community.

3§6 Did Isocrates more positively impact Clearchus? Isocrates certainly did not oppose political influence or the bios praktikos and identified philosophical educational as useful to the polis and relevant to contemporary culture.[60] In face of the Persian threat and the weakening of poleis on mainland Greece, Isocrates searched desperately for someone to stop both the Persians and mutual harm among Greek cities.[61] Thus, in the mid-fourth century, Isocrates sought willing leaders for his plans, by writing letters to various men across the Greek world, including Philip II, Dionysius I, Archidamus III of Sparta, and Timotheus, the son of Clearchus. On the spectrum of tolerance for tyrants, Plato, Xenophon, and Isocrates differ. While Plato wished completely to reform the anêr turannikos into a philosopher-king, Xenophon (as evidenced in his dialogue Hiero) was more comfortable with tyranny and the possibility for the tyrant as Greek savior. Isocrates also was positive to tyrants, as he sought a volunteer for his political plans, by praising them for their willingness to act (e.g. Dionysius I, who protected the Sicilian Greeks from Carthage).[62] Unfortunately for Clearchus, even as Isocrates was more comfortable with tyrants (if they acquiesced to his panhellenic plans), his autocratic actions were criticized by Isocrates.

3§7 In his letter to Timotheus, son of Clearchus and ruler of Heraclea Pontica from 346 to 338, Isocrates decries the behavior of Clearchus. He begins his letter by praising Timotheus for ruling more wisely than his father, as he seeks renown rather than wealth amassed through force and despotically (μετὰ βίας καὶ τυραννικῶς) by Clearchus.[63] Isocrates ends his letter by seeking the friendship of Timotheus and by reminding him of his friendship with Clearchus. Isocrates then notes that he became estranged from Clearchus after his transformation from a pupil liberal, kind, and philanthropic (ἐλευθεριώτατον εἶναι καὶ πραότατον καὶ φιλανθρωπότατον) to the exact opposite (τοσοῦτον ἔδοξε μεταπεσεῖν) after becoming tyrant. The cruelty of Clearchus disappointed Isocrates, while his failure to rule Heraclea by properly treating his citizens also disheartened the rhetor. Most damning was Clearchus’ support of the Persian kings, Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes II, the main threat against Greek sovereignty. Because Clearchus could not undertake Isocrates’ plans, his tyrannical actions caused further disintegration with the Athenian, his most likely source of ideological and political support.

3§8 Although Clearchus communed with scholars in Athens, his own scholarly work and intellectual influence in Heraclea Pontica seems to be limited. Sources state that Clearchus was the first to collect a library (βιβλιοθήκην μέντοι κατασκευάσαι πρὸ τῶν ἄλλων οὓς ἡ τύραννις ἀπέδειξεν ὀνομάζεσθαι).[64] I see two main reasons behind the foundation of this library. First, Clearchus likely followed the example of Isocrates and Athens, where personal collections and editing of texts were common.[65] In this sense, Clearchus mimicked Athenian intellectual atmosphere in Heraclea to appear as enlightened tyrant. Second, the creation of a library is a natural progression and result of tyranny. Tyranny often is a process of collecting: collecting wealth, collecting taxes, collecting wives, collecting slaves. Collecting books was another expression of this tendency. Rather than exhibiting the distributive nature concerning wealth and rights found in democracy, the tyrant was a magnet, drawing all goods and rights within the polis to himself. Thus, this library maintained his autocratic tendencies by demonstrating his power of possession in the scholarly sphere.

3§9 Another object of tyrannical collection was a community of scholars, gathered together physically as a court. While earlier tyrants (e.g. Polycrates and Hieron) had attracted scholars to their palaces, the scope of courts in the fourth century increased, paving the way for Hellenistic courts. The most expansive of these, in Syracuse under the Dionysii, attracted philosophers and poets, including Plato and Philoxenus, to convert the court into a locus of intellectual stimulation and political propaganda. The court became a center of political power as tyrants extended their political hegemony to create nascent empires.[66] The members of the court, the “friends” (philoi), provided counsel on political affairs, acted as intermediaries between leader and subjects, and provided loyal support for the tyrant in face of danger.[67] Most importantly, the positive connections and relationships created through the mobility of scholars to the courts radiated throughout the Greek world, by means of networks of élites.[68] Nevertheless, sources suggest that Clearchus did not have a large court, with perhaps only a few men.[69]

The scholarly agôn: The Academy vs. Clearchus

4§1 Unfortunately for Clearchus, his rule was cut short by an alternate philosophical community, namely the group of scholars who participated in his assassination. This rogue group of scholars acted agonistically, as they competed with Clearchus to control the political direction of Heraclea, by collaborating for a common cause, namely exhibiting the virtue taught by Plato for the good of the polis (erant hi discipuli Platonis philosophi, qui virtutem, ad quam cotidie praeceptis magistri erudiebantur, patriae exhibere cupientes L cognatos vel clientes in insidiis locant).[70] This community was fostered in the environment of the Platonic Academy. While Dionysius I occasionally could count on the political and intellectual support of Athenian factions, due to his military clout and willingness to aid common Greek causes,[71] Clearchus provided few political benefits to Athens (even seeking Persian support). Thus, Athens and the Academy provided an alternate intellectual community to drastically overturned political regimes. Here, we see the scholar as soldier. The understanding of the multiple identities of the scholar in ancient Greece provides greater knowledge of its sociopolitical developments. Although one may think of Plato and other Academy members as “philosophers,” these men often played other roles, including those of diplomats. Furthermore, the scholar could take up arms to fight for the values and philosophical ideals in which he believed.

4§2 To more fully analyze the importance of community (or lack of community, in Clearchus’ case), we analyze a brief novel in epistolary form, namely the Letters of Chion, which commemorates the campaign to assassinate Clearchus. These seventeen letters, most of which are written to Metris, the father of Chion and former student of Socrates, describe the travels of Chion to Athens, his time at the Academy, and his return to Heraclea to murder Clearchus.[72] As a true historical account of events, the work is highly suspect. It suffers from chronological inconsistencies,[73] shows little knowledge of Athens, Heraclea, or the Academy, and reflects information found in other falsified documents.[74] It also contains overly romantic depictions, such as Xenophon as long-haired leader, beautiful and calm (κομήτην ἄνδρα, καλὸν πάνυ καὶ πρᾶον ἰδέσθαι), and portrayals of the protagonist Chion as a swashbuckling scholar, as when he disarms the Thracian bodyguard of Clearchus, who has come to slay him.[75] Although early scholars believed that the letters date from the fourth century BCE, subsequent analysis of philosophical ideas and linguistic phenomena place the letters either in the first century CE (during the reign of Domitian)[76] or in the fourth century CE.[77] The Letters of Chion likely were a progymnasma, a rhetorical school exercise used to instruct in arguing for certain ideas, such as civic virtue, one’s obligation to the community, or kleos.[78] Regardless of this later dating, the letters seem to follow a long tradition of works that commemorate the slaying of tyrants as the triumph of philosophy over tyranny. In addition, while the historical information within the letters may be sorely lacking, the work sheds light on several crucial themes that would appear in the struggle between the Academy members and Clearchus.

4§3 One such theme includes the aforementioned struggle within philosophical schools between the bios politikos and bios theorêtikos. Chion here (and within historical narratives) appears firmly on the side of the former. Within the letters, Plato does not oppose philosophy with an active life (τὴν φιλοσοφίαν οὐκ ἀπολίτευτον ἔργῳ τοῖς γνωρίμοις ποιεῖ) but prefers quiet contemplation (πρὸς ἡσυχίαν ἀπράγμονα).[79] Xenophon, however, personifies the “man of action”, who swoops in to save the day.[80] In Letter 3, where Xenophon single-handedly suppresses the revolt of an army with his speech, Chion notes that Xenophon both leads with great bravery and skill and speaks with judgment and eloquence. Chion, amazed that Xenophon communicates not like a soldier but an educated man (οὐ στρατιωτικῶς μὰ Δι’ ἀλλὰ καὶ πάνυ φιλανθρώπως), states that Xenophon disproves the idea of philosophy making men weak and passive. This idea of action and competition is reflected in the athletic language of the letters, when Chion proclaims that he competes in an honorable contest for a finer prize to become a better fighter (ἄμεινον δὲ ὥσπερ ἀθλοφόρῳ μείζονά μοι προθεῖναι τὰ ἆθλα, ἵνα κρείττων ἐπ’ αὐτὰ ἀγωνιστὴς γένωμαι). This agonistic theme appears in his final letter to Plato, where he describes a dream in which a woman crowns him with olive and headbands (κοτίνῳ καὶ ταινίαις) in the manner of an Olympic victor.[81] In fact, when Chion writes to Clearchus to assuage the suspicions of the tyrant and to hide his machinations, Cleon argues that he is not a man of action but rather follows the doctrine of seeking stillness.[82] Thus, the return of Chion to Heraclea is portrayed as an agôn over virtue between him and Clearchus, an agôn which ultimately ends in victory and self-sacrifice for the philosopher.

4§4 Another influential theme in the letters is the utility of the philosopher for protecting his community. Chion argues that he must learn philosophy in Athens for many years to better serve his polis.[83] His knowledge of philosophy thus is turned outward to the city. Although he portrays himself as a hero who shall sacrifice himself for the good of his community, ironically his friends will suffer first after Clearchus’ murder.[84] The concept of philia within the community appears often, as when Chion encourages his father to support colleagues whom he does not like.[85] Philanthropia is also present, as when Chion encourages Plato to accept his money for a dowry.[86] In opposition to these practices, Chion deceitfully performs the opposite of philia, namely the assassination of Clearchus. [87] Instead of the community espoused by Chion, we now find absolute rupture that results in both the death of tyrant and of philosopher. Regardless of the historical reasoning for the death of Clearchus, whether due to his failure as enlightened ruler or revenge of aristocratic elites exiled by him,[88] such extreme breakdowns in relations between former colleagues occurred frequently during this time. This rupture was a natural evolution in tyranny, as tyrants opposed koinonia and destroyed the institutions or relationships within the polis in pursuit of his own self-interest.[89] The tyrant feared not only the intrigue and threats of his enemies but also members of his family and court.[90] This fear was stenciled onto the physical space of the polis, as tyrants often removed themselves from the center of the city and moved to the acropolis (e.g. Clearchus in Heraclea).[91] Thus, the murder of Clearchus represents the ultimate progression of this break between the tyrant and his community.

4§5 To conclude, this paper has evaluated the tyranny of Clearchus in Heraclea Pontica as a case-study for the intersection of politics and scholarship in the ancient Greek world. While Clearchus had access to philosophical education and networks of knowledge to rule Heraclea as an enlightened ruler, he seemingly rejected these ideals for a rule adhering closely to traditional tyranny. While his rule showed some evidence of education (e.g. the foundation of a library), many autocratic policies, together with his mistreatment of the Heracleote aristocracy, created a community of philosophical and political foes. Instead of the great benefits offered by the movement of scholars and the creation of scholarly centers, hostile philosophical communities (i.e. the Platonic Academy) used their common ideals as a blunt weapon to permanently damage the hegemony of Clearchus. Although his dynasty would continue through his brother and sons,[92] the defeat and murder of Clearchus represented his ultimate failure as scholar, as the very men with whom he had philosophical fellowship gathered together to reject his rule and his transformation into an unenlightened leader.


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[1] I would like to thank the Center for Hellenic Studies and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut for the joint fellowship that allowed me to complete the research for this article. I especially would like to thank the CHS Director, Greg Nagy, as well as the library staff, for their support during my semester in Washington.

[2] Strabo Geography XII 3.4 notes that Miletus founded Heraclea earlier, although lack of Ionian institutions suggests its lack of later influence. Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 3.4–8 and Ephorus FGH 70 F 44b ascribe the foundation to Boeotians, Xenophon Anabasis VI 2.1 to Megara, and Pausanias Description of Greece V 26.7 to both groups. Megara likely sent colonists to Heraclea due to sociopolitical problems during the sixth century. For discussion of early Heraclea, see Burstein 1974:12–22 and Erçiyas 2003:1403–1404.

[3] Sicily had several joint foundations with groups of mixed populations, including Gela, founded by Rhodians and Cretans in 688 BCE (Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War VI 4.3–4). For shared customs (nomima) in these locations, see Malkin 2005:67–71.

[4] In the earliest years of Heraclea, the Mariandynoi likely were allied with the new settlers and were free to farm their own land. Their presence within pre-Trojan War mythical narratives, including the appearance of Mariandynos in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius (II 760), reflects their historical precedence. Scholars debate the date of their arrival in Bithynia (Strabo Geography XII.3.4 and Ephorus FGH 70 F 162 = Strabo Geography XIV 5.23), either during the Iron Age or during the seventh-century after the Cimmerian invasions. Their Thracian background is noted in Strabo Georaphy XII 3.4 and Xenophon Anabasis VI.4.1. For analysis of the Mariandynoi, see Burstein 1974:6–11 and Erçiyas 2003:1404–1406. Vatin 1984:199–203 discusses the Mariandynoi within the context of relations between Greeks and indigenous peoples (e.g. the Killyrioi in Syracuse).

[5] The composition of the hekatostues, either subdivisions of the three Doric tribes or (as Burstein 1974 argues) residence units, became part of governmental reforms, as discussed in Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 11.10–11 and Whitehead 2002:132–133.

[6] For the Heracleote oligarchy, see Aristotle Politics V 1304b–1305b.

[7] For Mariandynian subjugation, see Plato Laws VI 776c–d, Strabo Geography XII 3.4, and Pollux Onomasticon III 83. The status of the Mariandynoi after their suppression by the oligarchs is uncertain. One part perhaps worked land belonging to the polis and paid tribute, while others worked on oligarchic lands. Athenaeus The Deipnosophists VI 263c–d compares their status to Spartan Helots, while Pollux Onomasticon III 83 suggests a status between free and slave. For thorough discussion of status, see Saprykin 1997:27–39.

[8] For relations between Heraclea and Persia, see Strabo XII Geography 3.6 and Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 3.9. Heraclea provided military aid during Xerxes’ invasion of Greece (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XI 2.1), while the Mariandynoi fought for the Persians as light infantry (Herodotus Histories VII 72.1).

[9] For the campaign of Pericles along the Black Sea, see Plutarch Pericles 20.1–2. Heraclea also appears in the Athenian Tribute Lists of 425 BCE (2A9 IV line 127), although Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 3.9–12 notes their refusal to pay.

[10] For Heracleote wine, see Athenaeus I The Deipnosophists 32b. For the export of Heracleote goods, see Xenophon Anabasis VI 2.3 and VI 4.6, along with Athenaeus The Deipnosophists II 53d. Heraclea as center for ship building appears in Xenophon Anabasis V 6.10 and VI 2.17, as well as Pseudo-Aristotle Economics II 1347b.

[11] For analysis of Heracleote trade, see Bittner 1998:108–150. Saprykin 1997:126–129 summarizes Heracleote imports/exports.

[12] The aristocrat Heraclides joined the Platonic Academy during the 360s (although his arrival in Athens after Clearchus’ takeover is speculation). He remained until 339 BCE, when he failed to succeed Speusippus as head of the Academy. After his return to Heraclea, he perhaps started a small philosophical school. See Gottschalk 1980:1–6 for a brief biography of Heraclides.

[13] For Herodorus in the Heracleote tradition, see Desideri 1991:8–13. Amphitheos likely was a contemporary of Herodorus. Promathidas and Nymphis (who helped to repatriate the exiles of Clearchus) dated from the early third century. Memnon, whose fragments are a major source for Clearchus, dates from the first century CE. For an overview of Heracleote authors, see Dana 2011:243–246. Gallotta 2014 focuses on the life and work of Memnon.

[14] Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 11.10 and Pseudo-Aristotle Economics II 1347b.

[15] For the Heracleote Council of 300, see Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 2.4–5 and Polyaenus Stratagems II 30.2. For the exile of Clearchus and subsequent revolts, see Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 4.2 – 6 and the Suda entry Κλέαρχος.

[16] For the desperation of the Council and the refusal of Timotheus, see Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XV 78 and XV 81.6, together with Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 4.3. For Heracleote history during this period, see Burstein 1974:47–49 and Apel 1910:24–30. Dušanić 1980:118–134 thoroughly analyzes the importance of Timotheus in Heracleote and Athenian political and intellectual spheres.

[17] Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 4.4–5, Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 12.5, Aristotle Politics V 1306a, and the Suda entry of Κλέαρχος.

[18] Polyaenus Strategems II 30.1–2. For evaluation of these events, see Burstein 1974:50–54.

[19] During the threat of Carthaginian invasion, Dionysius I was named στρατηγὸς αὐτοκράτωρ by the Syracusan assembly (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIII 94.5–XIII 95.1). De Vido 2013:51–53 analyzes this position, which gave leaders extra powers during imminent threats. Although legitimate, this position became the foundation for expansion of political powers, even after military threats had disappeared. Archytas of Tarentum, the famous philosopher and Pythagorean, was elected to this position, as discussed by Huffman 2005:5–18.

[20] Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 4.10.

[21] Mossé 1962 analyzes the re-appearance of tyranny in the fourth century BCE.

[22] Berger 1992:57–66 details the rise of tyrannies through class divisions, including those between old and new citizens (e.g. mercenaries), between different ethnicities, and between citizens and non-citizens.

[23] Mitchell 2006 argues for the importance of oligarchy in the rise of tyranny during the Classical period. Berger 1992:63–66 discusses the importance of distinctions between dêmos and oligarchy for exploitation by the tyrant.

[24] For political conditions in Heraclea Pontica before the rise of Clearchus, see Mandel 1988:38–40 and 46–50.

[25] Justin XVI 4.6. For the tyrant as mediator, see especially Fabbrini 2002:265–267.

[26] The most famous prostatês tou dêmou was Dionysius I, who becomes ruler in 405 BCE by taking advantage of divisions among the generals, the oligarchy, and the dêmos, along with the danger of the Carthaginians to recast himself as protector.  In his speech to the Syracusan assembly, he reproached the generals for betraying the city and the aristocracy for fleecing the people. Berger 1992:41–44 discusses the strategies of Dionysius to seize power. Péré-Noguès 2009:107–110 analyzes the speech of Dionysius and his self-portrayal as protector.  Bouchet 2008 evaluates the role of the prostatês tou dêmou, especially during the fourth century. The prostatês is especially significant in the works of Isocrates, who searched for such a figure (see Philip 16 and Panegyricus 102–103).

[27] Many narratives of Greek tyrants contain both their removal and return to the city (e.g. Cypselus, Peisistratus, Dionysius I, Agathocles). See Catenacci 1996:56–64 for these narratives and the importance in geographical distance in the creation of the tyrant.

[28] Burstein 1974:58–65, Morawiecki 1974, Mossé 1969:128–131, and Mandel 1988:48–55 examine political conditions under Clearchus.  For social and class characteristics under Clearchus’ tyranny, see Saprykin 1997:131–141.

[29] Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5.2–4. The marriage of slaves to the wives of exiled or murdered citizens was common under Greek tyranny, although authors likely employed this trope to exaggerate the evils of tyranny. Other instances include Aristodemus of Cumae (Dionysius Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities VII 8.3), Chairon of Pellene (Demosthenes On the Accession of Alexander 10), and Dionysius I (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIV 66.5, Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 40.2, and Polyaenus Stratagems V 5.20). Asheri 1977 best describes this phenomenon, while Schmitt-Pantel 1979:227–229 analyzes this attempt of the tyrants to debase the citizenry.

[30] Burstein 1974:58–65 argues for this idea.

[31] Mercenaries appear in Heraclea in Polyaenus Stratagems II 30 and Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 12.5.

[32] For relations with the Persians, see Demosthenes Against Leptines 84. For the sack of Astakos, see Polyaenus Stratagems II 30. Burstein 1974:54–58 examines Heracleote foreign relations, while Müller 2010:26–31 analyzes relations between Heraclea Pontica and the Spartocids of Panticapaeum.

[33] For coinage issues of Heraclea Pontica, see Franke 1966. Issues under Clearchus did not contain a legend with his name, although the letter K was stamped on the reverse (either an abbreviation of Κλέαρχος or a mint mark).

[34] Timotheus had sponsored Clearchus for Athenian citizenship (Demosthenes Against Leptines 84).

[35] Justin XVI 5.6–7. Isocrates (Letter 7.13) notes that Clearchus was kind and humane while in Athens.

[36] For his public dress, see Justin XVI 5.10. Lewis 2000:98–99 notes the theatricality and manipulation of public opinion by tyrants, including Dionysius I’s speech in the Syracusan assembly before taking power (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIII 94).

[37] Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XVI 88.5. This Dionysius apparently purchased the furniture of the Sicilian tyrant, after it was taken by Timoleon and auctioned off (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XVI 70.1–2, Plutarch Timoleon 13.3)

[38] Clearchus seized power in Heraclea three years after Dionysius’ death and spent several years in Athens, where Dionysius was well-known. Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XV 81.5 and Sanders 1990–1991:116–122 argue that Clearchus consciously modeled his rule on Dionysius, who ruled in Syracuse from 405 to 367. Dionysius produced his own plays at the Olympic Games of 388 (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIV 109) and won first prize in the Lenaea of 367 with his Ransom of Hector (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XV 73.5 and Tzetzes Book of Histories V 178). See Duncan 2012 and Monoson 2012 for the importance of tragedy in Dionysian propaganda.

[39] For proskunêsis, see the Suda entry of Κλέαρχος. Scholars debate whether Dionysius also mimicked the Persian king by wearing purple and a diadem. For support of this idea, see Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIV 44.8, Bato FGH 268 F 4, Theopompus FGH 115 F 187, Duris FGH 76 F 14, Sanders 1979–1980:69–70, and Oost 1976.

[40] For these ties to Zeus, see Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5.8-11, Plutarch On the Fortune or the Virtues of Alexander 338b, Memnon FGH 434 F I.1, and the Suda entry of Κλέαρχος.

[41] Muccioli 2011:128–132, while discussing ruler cult under Clearchus and his successors, notes that Clearchus’ political ideology mixed anti-aristocratic propaganda with Persian monarchic influence.

[42] Religious propaganda again was a trademark of Dionysius, as Philistus promulgated myths where Dionysius appeared as legitimized by the gods, specifically Zeus. The most famous narrative detailed the birth of Dionysius, where his mother, having dreamt that she bore a satyr (who were helpers of Zeus), consulted Sicel seers, who foretold his status as great ruler (Cicero On Divination I 39 = Philistus FGH 556 F 57). Valerius Maximus I 7.6 and a scholium to Aeschines On the Embassy 10 relate the dream of a Himeran woman with Dionysius as servant of Zeus, who would conquer Sicily and Italy. See Sammartano 2010 for analysis of the former myth, Sordi 1984 for the latter, and Lewis 2000:99–101 for mythical narratives of tyrants as propaganda.

[43] Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XX 78.3 identifies the dynasty of Dionysius, which represented the assent of the gods and his happiness and blessedness, as argued also by Athenaeus The Deipnosophists XII 545b and Sordi 1989.

[44] For Plato’s journeys to Sicily, see Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XV 7.1 and especially Plato Letter 7, along with Sanders 1979. Plato regretted these travels and compared himself to Odysseus, who was forced to wander (Plato Letter 7.345d–e and 7.350d), as discussed by Montiglio 2000:96–98.

[45] For Clearchus in Athens, see the Suda entry, Memnon FGH 434 F 1.1, and Trampedach 1994:84–87.

[46] For discussion of naturalization as Athenian political tool, see Osborne 1983:187–202. Dionysius I and his family were given Athenian citizenship, as recorded in IG II2 103 and 105.

[47] Early Heracleotes in Athens included Spintharos, a tragic poet derided by Aristophanes (Birds 762 and Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers V 92), and Matris, the father of Clearchus’ murderer, Chion. See Desideri 1991:8–13 and Frede and Burnyeat 2015:10–13 for an overview of scholarly links. Several Athenians likely traveled to Heraclea, including Theaetetus, the friend of Plato. Socrates apparently was popular at Heraclea, as his accuser Anytus, after fleeing Athens, was either expelled from Heraclea or was stoned (Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers VI 9–10).

[48] Heracleotes in fourth-century Athens include the tyrant-slayers Chion, Anthitheos, and Leonides (Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5 and XVI 12–13), along with Heraclides Ponticus and his son Bryson (Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers V 86 and I 16, with Athenaeus The Deipnosophists XI 508c–d = Theopompus FGH 115 F 259). See Dana 2011:268–271 and 288–293 for Pontic scholars at Athens.

[49] Montiglio 2000:86–92 discusses the wandering philosopher and the accompanying loss of polis identity and loyalty.

[50] Lewis 2009:98–101 argues that Clearchus lies at the intersection of Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle. For an overview of Clearchus and philosophy, especially his relationship with the Academy and Isocrates, see Wörle 1981:139–153 and Vatai 1984:88–89.

[51] For this struggle in the fourth-century Academy, see Campbell 1984:49–58 and Konstan and Mitsis 1990:273–279.

[52] For the development of the politically disinterested fourth-century philosopher, see Campbell 1984:40–58.

[53] For the juxtaposition of the anêr turannikos and the anêr basilikos in Plato, see Republic 565d–567d and Squilloni 1990:111–115. Kojève 2013:164–167 notes the paradox that, while the philosopher is equipped to change tyranny, he cannot become a statesman, as he cannot devote his time to current affairs or the needs of the dêmos.

[54] For Plato at the Olympic Games, see Plato Letter 7.350b, Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers III 25, Aelian Historical Miscellany IV 9, and Haake 2006. For Plato as law giver and political activist, see Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers III 23, Plutarch To an Uneducated Ruler 779d, and Desmond 2011:40–43. The evolution of Plato as political reformer is traced in Schofield 1999:31–37 and Scholz 1998:107–119.

[55] See the Suda entry of Κλέαρχος.

[56] While Plato suggested reconciliation between Dion and Dionysius II (as in Letter 7), Speusippus and other Academy members agitated for the overthrow of Dionysius II. Indeed, most Platonic letters likely were composed by Academy members eager to apologize for their actions and to protect the reputation of Plato. See Galvagno 2000:129–136 and 170–174 for analysis of Plato’s role in these campaigns against autocrats.

[57] Note that the list of Academics (the Index Academicorum of Philodemus) did not include Clearchus. The thirtieth book of Theopompus’ Philippic Histories detailed his tyrannical deeds (cf. Theopompus FGH 115 F 181a-b).

[58] For the theme of tyrant killing in the Academy, see Isnardi Parente 1979:289–299. Anti-Platonic forces argued that the Academy paradoxically was a breeding ground for tyrants, as Clearchus, Chairon of Pellene, and other tyrants were students there (Athenaeus The Deipnosophists XI 508e).

[59] For the murder of Clearchus, see Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5.12ff, Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XVI 36.3, Memnon FGH F 1.3–1.4, and his Suda entry.

[60] For Clearchus with Isocrates, see Memnon FGH 434 F1.1. For Isocrates as removed from Athenian affairs, while still politically relevant in Greece, see Azoulay 2007:186–193. For the Isocratean school as practical, see Poulakos 1997:93–104.

[61] For the impulses behind the political actions of Isocrates, see Mathieu 1966, especially 95–112.

[62] For the praise of Dionysius I, see Isocrates Archidamus 44–45, Nicocles 23, Philip 65–67, and Letter 1.

[63] Chapter 6 of Letter 8 (To Timotheus).

[64] For the library of Clearchus, see Memnon FGH 434 F1.2. Peisistratus and Polycrates are two unlikely examples of earlier tyrants with libraries (Athenaeus The Deipnosophists I 3a–b and Aulus Gellius Attic Nights VII 17.1–2), as discussed by Platthy 1968:97–110.

[65] Pinto 2013:85–95 discusses book collecting of Isocrates and within fourth-century Athens.

[66] For court members and other outsiders as the power base of tyrants, see Krasilnikoff 1995 and Engberg-Pedersen 1993. Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 1.4 and 5.1, together with Boëldieu-Trevet and Mataranga 2006:36–38, also discuss these circles of court power within the city.

[67] For the function of the philoi of tyrants and kings, see Herman 1997 and Habicht 1958. Spawforth 2007 provides a more diachronic discussion of courts in the ancient world.

[68] For changes through connections in a network, see discussions of network theory in antiquity, including Collar 2009. Moatti and Van Damme 2007 also discusses the importance of intellectual movement in creating new political and social spaces.

[69] For the possible court of Clearchus, see his Suda entry and Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5.14–15.

[70] Justin Epitome of Pompeius Trogus XVI 5.13.

[71] Dionysius I had a faction in Athens from the 390s (Lysias On the Property of Aristophanes 20 and IG II2 18). By the 370s, Isocrates and other Athenians desired the support of Dionysius, so much so that he was awarded first prize at the Lenaea of 367 and was honored with two inscriptions (IG II2 103 and 105). For the pro-Dionysian faction at Athens, see Sanders 1979-1980:66–70.

[72] One letter is addressed to his fellow student Bion, one to Clearchus, and one to Plato, which serves as a farewell letter and an apology for his attack.

[73] Although the letters are written during a six-year period, they condense forty-eight years. Chion meets Xenophon in Byzantium (who arrived there in 400/399 according to Anabasis VII 1.18–31) and then magically returns to Heraclea to murder Clearchus in 353/2. In addition, many characters mentioned in the letters date from later centuries.

[74] References to Speusippus’ marriage derive from Letter 13 of Plato, which is from a later date. For further analysis of the inconsistencies of the letters, see Malosse 2004:75–88 and Billault 1977:30–35.

[75] This description of Xenophon appears in chapter 3 of Chion’s Letter 3 and the disarming of the bodyguard by Chion in his Letter 13.

[76] Düring 1951:7–25 argues that the writer was inspired by contemporary political issues under Domitian to compose a novel in letters, a popular form at the time. Lana 1974:265–275 further argues that the letters show Stoic tendencies and were a defense for the usefulness of philosophy. Zucchelli 1986 mirrors these arguments and suggests that the letters drew on a type of Lokalpatriotismus after Heraclea’s re-foundation by Caesar.

[77] Malosse 2004:88–105, by identifying linguistic signs and the Neoplatonism of Julian and Maximus of Ephesus, argues that the writer was a student or colleague of Libanius in Constantinople in the fourth century CE.

[78] For analysis of the purpose and common themes of progymnasmata, see Rosenmeyer 2001:234–245.

[79] Chion Letter 5.

[80] For the comparison of Plato and Xenophon in the Letters of Chion, see Penwill 2010:28–34.

[81] The reference to the honorable contest is found in Chion Letter 1 and the reference to olive branches in Chion Letter 17.

[82] Chion Letter 16. Chion also writes to his father in his Letter 13 that his father should convince Clearchus that he is not interested in politics.

[83] Chion notes his service to Heraclea Pontica in Letter 13.3. His argument for staying in Athens longer appears in Letter 11.

[84] Konstan and Mitsis 1990, especially 264–268, analyzes the depiction of Chion as a servant for the city who is constrained to save Heraclea Pontica from tyranny.

[85] For example, Archepolis of Lemnos, whom Chion categorizes as untrustworthy, argumentative, and stupid at the beginning of Letter 7.

[86] Letter 10. For an evaluation of friendship in the Letters, see Konstan and Mitsis 1990:260–264.

[87] Penwill 2010:38–43 notes the regression in the behavior of Chion as the letters progress, when he turns from supporting his enemies to murdering them.

[88] For the juxtaposition of reasons for Clearchus’ assassination offered by Chion in his letters and prosaic political and economic reasons for his overthrow, see Vatai 1984:86–87.

[89] In the famous treatise of Xenophon, Hiero, the tyrant Hieron spends most of the dialogue bemoaning his lack of love and enjoyment in fellowship. The negative effects of tyranny upon the community are a common theme within the Politics of Aristotle (e.g. IV 1262b and V 1313b), as examined in Boesche 1993:13–17 and Giorgini 1993:339–351.

[90] Boëldieu-Trevet and Mataranga 2006:28–31 notes the ubiquity of threats and intrigue in the text of Aeneas Tacticus’ How to Survive Under Siege, where he describes the possibility of metabolê, epiboulê, and neoterismos by exiles (4.1) or by other citizens within the walls of the city (23.6). Although this depiction may be an exaggeration, the hero of Clearchus, Dionysius I, was so untrustworthy of those closest to him that he apparently would only let his daughter shave him and surrounded his bed with a moat for protection (Plutarch Dion 9.3 and Cicero Tusculan Disputations V.20.58).

[91] For Clearchus and the acropolis, see Polyaenus Strategems II 30 and Aeneas Tacticus How to Survive Under Siege 12.5. Aiosa 2001:95–97 describes Ortygia during the rule of the Dionysii, where extra mercenaries were stationed for protection (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XVII 7.5), extra walls were built (Diodorus Siculus Historical Library XIII 35.2, XIV 7.2–3, XIV 10.4, and XVI 11.5), and various gates controlled movements of the dêmos on and off the island. Hartog 2001:84–87 analyzes the ideological and political spaces of tyranny.

[92] Lewis 2009:100 points out that, although ancient sources focus on the failure of Clearchus, he does establish a dynasty with brother and sons that outlasted his death for several decades.