Pisistratus (c600-527 BC) was a "tyrant" who played a key role in Athens' rise to become the most powerful city-state in Ancient Greece. Although orginially of noble birth, Pisistratus posistioned himself as the champion of the rural farmers to facilitate his rise to power and then rewarded his supporters by enacting needed and farsighted reforms.

It took Pisistratus several tries to become the ruler of Athens. At first he tried trickery. In 561 he inflicted several wounds upon himself and claimed he had been attacked by enemies who opposed his support of the hill farmers. Sympathetic Athenians granted him a bodyguard which he then used to briefly sieze the Acropolis, until most of Athens united to drive him out of the city.

Pisistratus tried trickery again a few years later by dressing in shining armor and marching into the city with a tall beautiful woman at his side, claiming that she was Athena and he was a hero destined to rule. His popularity was so great that even after the woman was exposed as a girl from a nearby village, he still managed to obtain power by marrying into the ruling Alcmaeonid family. This attempt came to an abrupt end when Pisistratus became fearful of a reputed curse on the Alcmaeonidae, divorced his new wife, and was driven out of the city.

Realizing that he would have to do things the hard way, Pisistratus spent the next decade away from Athens, discovering a silver mine in Thrace and making influential friends. Finally in 547 he returned at the head of a large army and siezed power for good.

With widespread popular support from all classes, Pisistratus embarked on a program of social reform and public works that set Athens on the path to ever increasing power. Pisistratus enacted statues to encourage trade and made it easier for farmers to secure loans. Getting loans was especially important because it allowed farmer to plant more olives, which take a long time to pay off, but became a huge cash crop for Athens. Partially as a means of employing the poor, Pisistratus undertook massive new public works projects, building several new temples, constructing a new water works, and building new fountains and parks to beautify the city.

In the cultural realm Pisistratus had the works of Homer written down for the first time, and founded new festivals, most notably the Panathenaic Festival, a midsummer procession and games in honor of Athena, and the Athens Dionysia, a series of drama competitions. In the military sphere, Pisistratus' Athens won the first battle of Salamis and established an Athenian hegemony in the Dardanelles.

When Pisistratus died in 527 BC he left behind an Athens that was economically more stable, militarily mightier, and culturally richer than he had found it, laying the foundation of Athens' ascension.

Our main sources on Pisistratus are Herodotus and Thucydides.

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