Agathocles

Agathocles (361-289 BC), (Greek name "Αγαθοκλής" ("Agathokles"): derived from "αγαθός" ("agathos") "good" and "κλέος" ("kleos") "glory"), was tyrant of Syracuse (317-289 BC) and king of Sicily (304-289 BC).

Biography

Agathocles was born at Thermae Himeraeae (modern name Termini Imerese) in Sicily. The son of a potter who had moved to Syracuse in about 343 BC, he learned his father's trade, but afterwards entered the army. In 333 BC he married the widow of his patron Damas, a distinguished and wealthy citizen. He was twice banished for attempting to overthrow the oligarchical party in Syracuse.

In 317 BC he returned with an army of mercenaries under a solemn oath to observe the democratic constitution which was then set up. Having banished or murdered some 10,000 citizens, and thus made himself master of Syracuse, he created a strong army and fleet and subdued the greater part of Sicily.

War with Carthage followed. In 311 BC Agathocles was besieged and defeated in Syracuse in the battle of Himera. After defeat in 310 BC he took the desperate resolve of breaking through the blockade and attacking the enemy in Africa. In Africa he concluded the treaty with Ophellas, ruler of Cyrenaica. After several victories he was at last completely defeated (307 BC) and fled secretly to Sicily.

After concluding peace with Carthage in 306 BC, Agathocles styled himself king of Sicily in 304 BC, and established his rule over the Greek cities of the island more firmly than ever. A peace treaty with Carthage left him in control of Sicily east of the Halycus River. Even in his old age he displayed the same restless energy, and is said to have been contemplating a fresh attack on Carthage at the time of his death.

His last years were plagued by ill-health and the turbulence of his grandson Archagathus, at whose instigation he is said to have been poisoned; according to others, he died a natural death. He was a born leader of mercenaries, and, although he did not shrink from cruelty to gain his ends, he afterwards showed himself a mild and popular "tyrant." Agathocles restored the Syracusan democracy on his death bed and did not want his sons to succeed him as king.

Agathocles married Theoxena, stepdaughter of Ptolemy I of Egypt. His daughter Lanassa married King Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Legacy

Agathocles was cited as an example of “those who by their crimes come to be princes” in Chapter VIII of Niccolò Machiavelli’s treatise on politics, "The Prince" (1513).

Primary sources

* Justin
* Diodorus Siculus xix., xxi., xxii. (follows generally Timaeus who had a special grudge against Agathocles)
* Polybius ix. 23

References

* Schubert, (1887) "Geschichte des Agathokles"
* Grote, "History of Greece", ch. 97.


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