The Sicilian tyrants

In the first half of the fifth century BC, many Sicilian cities were governed by monarchs, who tried to enhance their authority and popularity by means of victories in the horse races. Among the most prominent families were the Emmenids from Akragas (Theron, Thrasydaios) and the Deinomenids, who ruled Gela and Syracuse (Gelon, Hieron, Polyzalos, Thrasyboulos). Gelon (488 BC), Theron (476 BC) and Hieron (476, 472, 468 BC) won Olympic victories with single racehorses and four-horse chariots. Theronís brother Xenokrates, and Hieron and Polyzalos won Pythian victories as well. Anaxilas, the ruler of Rhegion, imitated his colleagues and won an Olympic victory with a two-horse chariot drawn by mules in 480.


Because these victories stimulated their popularity, the Sicilian tyrants celebrated them publicly. The famous poets Pindar and Bacchylides were invited at the court to write victory songs. In Olympia and Delphi the rulers erected large bronze monuments, such as the charioteer of Delphi. Several rulers depicted their horses on silver coins. After the battle at Himera in 480 BC, Gelon built a treasury at Olympia. The sprinter Astylos of Kroton probably received a considerable sum to have himself proclaimed as citizen of Syracuse and thus to share his fame with the Deinomenids. The enormous sums, which the tyrants spent on sport (not only expensive monuments, but also onbreeding and transporting the racehorses), demonstrate the importance of sport in their eyes.

© KU Leuven, 2012