Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
In modern times the term tyrant has come to mean the worst kind of ruler—someone who exploits his or her power for personal ends, irrespective of the law. For the ancient Greeks, however, a tyrant was not necessarily a bad ruler; in its original form ( tyrannos ) the word was used to describe a man or woman who held absolute and personal power within a state, distinct from a king whose rule was bound by constitution and law. Some were usurpers who came to power by their own efforts, others were elected to rule, and yet others were imposed by intervention from outside. Certain rulers, such as Phalaris, tyrant of Akragas in Sicily, who burned his enemies alive in a brazen bull, were bywords for uncontrolled cruelty and self-indulgence, but others, such as Pittakos at Mytilene, were remembered favorably in later sources as wise and moderate rulers who brought ...