Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC

Phalaris of Akragas (fl.c.571-554 BC) was one of the first Sicilian tyrants about whom we have any substantial information. He appears to have been a successful military leader, famous for his cruelty and who was overthrown by his own people after ruling for sixteen years.

The city of Akragas (Agrigentum in later Latin) was founded in 580 BC by colonists from Gela. The two cities were both located on the south coast of the island, with Akragas well to the west of Gela.

Phalaris apparently held public office before become tyrant, possibly as a farmer of the public revenue. Another story suggests that he was appointed to build a temple overlooking the city and instead used the money to build a fortress that dominated the place, allowing him to seize power. An alternative story has him given high office by his fellow citizens and then seizing power.

Phalaris gained a reputation as a successful conqueror, extending the area under his control as far as the north coast of Sicily, where he may have been the strategos autocrator (general with all powers) of Himera. Many of his success must thus have come against the Sicils, the native inhabitants of that part of Sicily.

Phalaris was known for his cruelty, which was recorded by the poet Pindar (c.520-440 BC). The most famous story about Phalaris was that he constructed a hollow brazen bull. Victims were sealed within the bull and a fire was lit underneath. The cries of the victims were said to represent the shrieks of a bull.

Phalaris was overthrown by a revolt, possibly led by or involving Telemachus, an ancestor of Theron, tyrant of Akragas from 488-473 BC. According to some sources he became the last victim of the brazen bull.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 July 2012), Phalaris of Akragas, fl.571-554 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_phalaris_of_akragas.html

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