- This page is about Dionysius the tyrant of Syracuse. For Dionysus the Greek god, see Dionysus.
Dionysius (c. 432-367 BC), tyrant of Syracuse, began life as a clerk in a public office, but by courage and diplomacy succeeded in making himself supreme.
He carried on war with Carthage with varying success; his attempts to drive the Carthaginians entirely out of the island (Sicily) failed, and at his death they were masters of at least a third of it. He also carried on an expedition against Rhegium and its allied cities in Magna Graecia. In one campaign, in which he was joined by the Lucanians, he devastated the territories of Thurii, Croton and Locri.
After a protracted siege he took Rhegium (386), and sold the inhabitants as slaves. He joined the Illyrians in an attempt to plunder the temple of Delphi, pillaged the temple of Caere on the Etruscan coast, and founded several military colonies on the Adriatic. In the Peloponnesian War he espoused the side of the Spartans, and assisted them with mercenaries.
His name is most well known for the legends of Damocles and Pythias.
He also posed as an author and patron of literature; his poems, severely criticized by Philoxenus, were hissed at the Olympic games; but having gained a prize for a tragedy on the Ransom of Hector at the Lenaea at Athens, he was so elated that he engaged in a debauch which proved fatal.
According to others, he was poisoned by his physicians at the instigation of his son. His life was written by Philistus, but the work is not extant. Dionysius was regarded by the ancients as a type of the worst kind of despot--cruel, suspicious and vindictive. Like Pisistratus, he was fond of having distinguished literary men about him, such as the historian Philistus, the poet Philoxenus, and the philosopher Plato, but treated them in a most arbitrary manner.
The Ear of Dionysius in Syracuse is named after Dionysius.
See Diod. Sic. xiiL, xiv., xv.; J Bass, Dionysius I von Syrakus (Vienna, 1881).
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.