The Athenian "golden age" occurred in the fifth century B.C.E. and was attributed to their great achievements in art, literature, science, and philosophy. However, the most important achievement of the time was the political movement from tyranny to democracy. Though tyranny is thought to be democracy's opposite and deadly enemy, that is not always the case. In Fame, Money, and Power, Brian Lavelle states that the perceived polarity between tyranny and democracy does not reflect the truth in this instance.
The career of the tyrant Peisistratos resembles the careers and successes of early democratic soldier-politicians. As with any democratic political system, Peisistratos' governance depended upon the willingness of the Athenians who conceded governance to him. This book attempts to show how the rise of Peisistratos fits into an essentially democratic system already entrenched at Athens in the earlier sixth century B.C.E.
Emerging from the apparent backwater of eastern Attika, Peisistratos led the Athenians to victory over their neighbors, the Megarians, in a long, drawn out war. That victory earned him great popularity from the Athenians and propelled him along the road to monarchy. Yet, political success at Athens, even as Solon implies in his poems, depended upon the enrichment of the Athenian demos, not just fame and popularity. Peisistratos tried and failed two times to "root" his tyranny, his failures owing to a lack of sufficient money with which to appease the demos. Exiled from Athens, he spent the next ten years amassing money to enrich the Athenians and power to overcome his enemies. He then sustained his rule by grasping the realities of Athenian politics. Peisistratos' tyrannies were partnerships with the demos, the first two of which failed. His final formula for success, securing more money than his opponents possessed and then more resources for enriching the demos, provided the model for future democratic politicians of Athens who wanted to obtain and keep power in fifth-century Athens.
B.M. Lavelle is Professor in the Department of Classical Studies at Loyola University of Chicago.