Agathocles (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 name Ἀγαθοκλῆς (Agathokles): derived from αγαθός (agathos) good and κλέος (kleos) glory), was tyrant
A tyrant was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.Plato and...

 of Syracuse (317–289 BC) and king of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 (304–289 BC).


Agathocles was born at Thermae Himera
thumb|250px|Remains of the Temple of Victory.thumb|250px|Ideal reconstruction of the Temple of Victory.Himera , was an important ancient Greek city of Sicily, situated on the north coast of the island, at the mouth of the river of the same name , between Panormus and Cephaloedium...

eae (modern name Termini Imerese
Termini Imerese
Termini Imerese is a town and comune in the province of Palermo on the northern coast of Sicily, southern Italy.-Ancient:The site where the town now sits has been populated since prehistoric times, as many archeologial excavations have shown through the years...

) in Sicily. The son of a potter
Pottery is the material from which the potteryware is made, of which major types include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. The place where such wares are made is also called a pottery . Pottery also refers to the art or craft of the potter or the manufacture of pottery...

 who had moved to Syracuse in about 343 BC, he learned his father's trade, but afterwards entered the army. In 333 BC
333 BC
Year 333 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Dictatorship of Rufinus...

 he married the widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

 of his patron Damas, a distinguished and wealthy citizen. He was twice banished
Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

 for attempting to overthrow the oligarchical
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

 party in Syracuse.

In 317 BC
317 BC
Year 317 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Brutus and Barbula...

 he returned with an army of mercenaries
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

 under a solemn oath to observe the democratic
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

 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
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

 followed. In 311 BC Agathocles was besieged
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

 and defeated in Syracuse in the battle of Himera
Battle of Himera (311 BC)
The Battle of Himera was fought in 311 BC between Carthage and a Greek force. Hamilcar, grandson of Hanno the Great, led the Carthaginians, while the Greeks were led by Agathocles of Syracuse. The Carthaginian force was victorious....

. After defeat in 310 BC he took the desperate resolve of breaking through the blockade
A blockade is an effort to cut off food, supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade, and is distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually...

 and attacking the enemy in Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. In Africa he concluded the treaty with Ophellas
Ophellas or Ophelas of Pella in Macedonia was later a king of Cyrene ; his father's name was Silenus. He was considered as one of the closest friends of Alexander the Great. He appears to have accompanied his expedition in Asia, but his name is first mentioned as a trierarch of the fleet on the...

, ruler of Cyrenaica
Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya.Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it was part of the Creta et Cyrenaica province during the Roman period, later divided in Libia Pentapolis and Libia Sicca...

. After several victories he was at last completely defeated (307 BC
307 BC
Year 307 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Caecus and Violens...

) and fled secretly to Sicily.

After concluding peace with Carthage in 306 BC
306 BC
Year 306 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Tremulus and Arvina...

, Agathocles styled himself king of Sicily in 304 BC
304 BC
Year 304 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Sophus and Severrio...

, and established his rule over the Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 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
Archagathus (grandson of Agathocles of Syracuse)
For others of this name see Archagathus Archagathus was a Syracusan Greek Prince.Archagathus was the son of Archagathus by unnamed wife, being a paternal grandson of the Sicilian Greek King Agathocles of Syracuse from his first wife....

, at whose instigation he is said to have been poison
In the context of biology, poisons are substances that can cause disturbances to organisms, usually by chemical reaction or other activity on the molecular scale, when a sufficient quantity is absorbed by an organism....

ed; 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.

The historian Justin says that Agathocles was born in poverty but very early in life parlayed his remarkable beauty into a career as a prostitute, first for men, and later, after puberty, for women, then made a living by robbery before becoming a soldier.

Agathocles was married three times. His first wife was the widow of his patron Damas by whom he had two sons: Archagathus
Archagathus (son of Agathocles of Syracuse)
For others of this name see Archagathus Archagathus was a Syracusan Greek Prince.Archagathus was a son of Agathocles of Syracuse and had a brother also called, Agathocles. His father was the Greek Tyrant of Syracuse who later became King of Sicily...

 and Agathocles, whom they were both murdered in 307 BC. His second wife was Alcia and they had a daughter called Lanassa
Lanassa (wife of Pyrrhus)
Lanassa was a daughter of king Agathocles of Syracuse, Sicily, perhaps by his second wife Alcia. In 295 BC Agathocles married Lanassa to King Pyrrhus of Epirus. Agathocles himself escorted his daughter with his fleet to Epirus to her groom. Lanassa brought the island of Corcyra as dowry into the...

, who married as the second wife of King Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Pyrrhus or Pyrrhos was a Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. He was king of the Greek tribe of Molossians, of the royal Aeacid house , and later he became king of Epirus and Macedon . He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome...

. His third wife was the Greek Ptolemaic Princess
Ptolemaic dynasty
The Ptolemaic dynasty, was a Macedonian Greek royal family which ruled the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt during the Hellenistic period. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC to 30 BC...

Theoxena of Syracuse
For others of this name see Theoxena Theoxena was a Greek Macedonian noblewoman. Through her mother’s second marriage, she was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty and through marriage was a Queen of Sicily....

, who was the second daughter of Berenice I
Berenice I of Egypt
Berenice I was a Greek Macedonian noblewoman and through her marriage to Ptolemy I Soter, became the first Queen of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.-Family:...

 from her first husband Philip
Philip (first husband of Berenice I of Egypt)
Philip was a Greek Macedonian nobleman that lived in the 4th century BC.Philip was the son of Amyntas by an unnamed mother. He served as a military officer in the service of the Greek King Alexander the Great. Philip was known in commanding one division of the Phalanx in Alexander’s wars and...

 and was a stepdaughter of Ptolemy I Soter
Ptolemy I Soter
Ptolemy I Soter I , also known as Ptolemy Lagides, c. 367 BC – c. 283 BC, was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great, who became ruler of Egypt and founder of both the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Ptolemaic Dynasty...

. Theoxena bore Agathocles two children: Archagathus
Archagathus of Libya
For others of this name see Archagathus Archagathus was a Syracusan Greek Prince and was a Ptolemaic Official.-Family Background:Archagathus was a man of Sicilian origin and his name was a well-attested local Greek name in Sicily...

 and Theoxena
Theoxena of Egypt
For others of this name see Theoxena Theoxena, also known as Theoxena the Younger to distinguish her from her mother was a Syracusan Greek Princess and was a noblewoman of high status.-Family Background:...

. Theoxena survived Agathocles. He had further descendants from his second and third marriage.


Agathocles was cited as from the lowest, most abject condition of life and as an example of “those who by their crimes come to be princes” in Chapter VIII of Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

’s treatise on politics, The Prince
The Prince
The Prince is a political treatise by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus . But the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after...

(1513). He was described as behaving as a criminal at every stage of his career. However, he came to "glory" as much as he did brutality by repelling invading Carthaginians and winning the loyalty of the denizens of his land. However, many later disapproved of his actions, including to an extent Machiavelli, who claimed "It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious. ... Still, if the courage of Agathocles in entering into and extricating himself from dangers be considered, together with his greatness of mind in enduring overcoming hardships, it cannot be seen why he should be esteemed less than the most notable captain. Nevertheless, his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity with infinite wickednesses do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men. "

Machiavelli goes on to reason that Agathocles' success, in contrast to other criminal tyrants, was due to his ability to mitigate his crimes by limiting them to those that "are applied at one blow and are necessary to one's security, and that are not persisted in afterwards unless they can be turned to the advantage of the subjects".

Primary sources

  • Justin
    Junianus Justinus
    Justin was a Latin historian who lived under the Roman Empire. His name is mentioned only in the title of his own history, and there it is in the genitive, which would be M. Juniani Justini no matter which nomen he bore.Of his personal history nothing is known...

  • Diodorus Siculus
    Diodorus Siculus
    Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who flourished between 60 and 30 BC. According to Diodorus' own work, he was born at Agyrium in Sicily . With one exception, antiquity affords no further information about Diodorus' life and doings beyond what is to be found in his own work, Bibliotheca...

     xix., xxi., xxii. (follows generally Timaeus who had a special grudge against Agathocles)
  • Polybius
    Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

     ix. 23

External Link

|width=25% align=center|Preceded by:
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

position previously held
by Timoleon
Timoleon , son of Timodemus, of Corinth was a Greek statesman and general.As the champion of Greece against Carthage he is closely connected with the history of Sicily, especially Syracuse.-Early life:...

 in 337 BC

|width=25% align=center|Tyrant of Syracuse
317 BC – 289 BC
|width=25% align=center|Succeeded by:
Hicetas (tyrant of Syracuse)
Hicetas was tyrant of Syracuse, during the interval between the reign of Agathocles and that of Pyrrhus. After the death of Agathocles , his supposed assassin, Maenon, put to death Archagathus, the grandson of Agathocles; and assuming the command of the army with which the latter was besieging...

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