Cleisthenes of Sicyon

Cleisthenes (Greek Κλεισθένης): tyrant of Sicyon (first quarter of the sixth century BCE).

Delphi, Treasury of the Sicyonians

Sicyon, a city on the northern Peloponnese, was ruled by the family of Orthagoras for well over a century.note One of the Orthagorads, Cleisthenes, son of Aristonymus, became tyrant (sole ruler) in about 600 BCE. Originally, Cleisthenes shared power with a relative named Isodamus, but he was involved in a murder case and had to leave the city.

Cleisthenes was remembered as commander in the First Sacred War (c.600-592),note in which the Athenians (led by Solon), Thessalians, and Sicyonians sacked Crissa, the port of Delphi. This was a major victory: Sicyon destroyed its most important commercial rival in the Corinthian Gulf. Having obtained lots of booty, Cleisthenes built the treasury of the Sicyonians in Delphinote and ordered the construction of a stoa in his hometown.note

In this age, the Peloponnese was divided between the towns supporting Argos and the towns opposing Argos (e.g., Sparta). Cleisthenes of Sicyon chose the latter side, although nothing is known about his war against the Argives, except for the fact that it is mentioned in our sources.note

The Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus tells that, in order to eradicate Argive influences from Sicyon, Cleisthenes forbade contests to recite the poems of Homer, which celebrated Argive successes. Next to the shrine of the legendary Adrastus of Argos on the market of Sicyon, the tyrant constructed a sanctuary of his opponent Melanippus.note Cleisthenes also renamed the tribes with Doric (= Argive) names (i.e., Hylleis, Pamphyli, and Dymanatae): instead, they were called “donkeys” and “swine”, calling his own tribe “rulers of the people”.note

Herodotus also tells how many aristocratic bachelors from all over the Greek world, from Ionia to Italy, wanted to marry Cleisthenes’ daughter Agariste, who in the end married to Megacles of Athens, a member of the Alcmeonid family. Agariste and Megacles were the parents of Cleisthenes of Athens, who played an important role in Athens’ early democracy.note

This page was created in 2018; last modified on 14 March 2019.