Cypselus

From Academic Kids

Cypselus (or Kypselos) was the first tyrant of Corinth, Greece in the 7th century BC.

With increased wealth and more complicated trade relations and social structures, Greek city-states tended to overthrow their traditional hereditary priest-kings; Corinth, the richest archaic polis, led the way. Like the 15th century condottieri of central Italy, the tyrants usually seized power at the head of some popular support. Often they upheld existing laws and customs and were highly conservative as to cult practices, thus maintaining stability with little risk to their own personal security. As in Renaissance Italy, a cult of personality naturally substituted for the divine right of the legitimate royal house.

After the last traditional king of Corinth, Telestes, was assassinated by Arieus and Perantas, there were no more kings; instead prytanes taken from the former royal house of the Bacchidae ruled for a single year each. Cypselus, the son of EŽtion and a disfigured woman named Labda, who was a member of the Bacchiad family, the ruling dynasty, usurped the power in archaic matriarchal right of his mother, became tyrant and expelled the Bacchidae.

According to Herodotus the Bacchiadae heard two prophecies from the Delphic oracle that the son of EŽtion would overthrow their dynasty, and they planned to kill the baby once it was born. However, Herodotus says that the newborn smiled at each of the men sent to kill it, and none of them could go through with the plan. An etiological myth-element, to account for the name Cypselus (cypsele, "chest") accounted how Labda then hid the baby in a chest, and when the men had composed themselves and returned to kill it, they could not find it. (Compare the infancy of Perseus.) The ivory chest of Cypselus, adorned with gold, was a votive offering at Olympia, where Pausanias gave it a minute description in his 2nd century AD travel guide (Pausanias, 5.18.7).

When Cypselus had grown up, he fulfilled the prophecy. Corinth had been involved in wars with Argos and Corcyra and the Corinthians were unhappy with their rulers. At the time, around 657 BC, Cypselus was polemarch, the archon in charge of the military, and he used his influence with the soldiery to expel the king. He also expelled his other enemies, but allowed them to set up colonies in northwestern Greece. He also increased trade with the colonies in Italy and Sicily. He was a popular ruler, and unlike many later tyrants, he did not need a bodyguard and died a natural death.

He ruled for thirty years and was succeeded as tyrant by his son Periander in 627 BC. The treasury Cypselus built at Delphi was apparently still standing in the time of Herodotus.

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