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


Agathocles was born at Thermae Himeraeaemarker (modern name Termini Imeresemarker) 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 Carthagemarker 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 Greekmarker 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 (by his eromenos, Menon of Ægista, who poisoned the tooth-cleaning quill); 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 married Theoxena, stepdaughter of Ptolemy I of Egypt. His daughter Lanassa married King Pyrrhus of Epirus.


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’s treatise on politics, The Prince (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. Many later disapproved of his actions, but Machiavelli, who claimed "It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious.". Machiavelli is simply stating that it cannot be called prowess, as he does with many other examples in Chapter XV. He actually admires Agothocles for his brutality, but criticizes him for being so cruel in public and thus losing the people's trust.

Primary sources



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

  1. The Historical Library of Diodorus the Sicilian, in Fifteen Books, XXI.12
  2. The Prince, page 29, Stage VII

Preceded by:
position previously held
by Timoleon in 337 BC

Tyrant of Syracuse
317 BC– 289 BC
Succeeded by:

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