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The Thirty Tyrants ( ) were a pro-Spartanmarker oligarchy installed in Athensmarker after its defeat in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC. Contemporary Athenians referred to them simply as "the oligarchy" or "the Thirty" ( ); the expression "Thirty Tyrants" is due to later historians. Its two leading members were Critias and Theramenes.

The Thirty severely reduced the rights of Athenian citizens. Imposing a limit on the number of citizens allowed to vote (limiting the franchise for example to the wealthiest citizens) was a standard move on the part of wealthy people who objected to being bossed around by the votes of the "rabble" in a broad-based democracy where all free adult males could vote. Participation in legal functions — which had previously been open to all Athenians — was restricted by the 30 to a select group of 500 persons. Only 3,000 Athenians were granted the right to carry weapons or receive a jury trial.

The Thirty Tyrants forced many Athenians into exile and threw their leaders into jail.

The Thirty began a purge of important leaders of the popular party during the Peloponnesian War. Hundreds were condemned to execution by drinking hemlock, while thousands more were exiled from Athens. One of the most famous men who escaped from Athens during this reign of terror was the wealthy Lysias, the same Lysias mentioned in Plato's Republic.

In Plato's Apology, Socrates recounts an incident in which the Thirty once ordered him (and four other men) to bring before them a certain man for execution. While the other four men obeyed, Socrates refused, not wanting to partake in the guilt of the executioners. By disobeying, Socrates knew he was placing his own life in jeopardy, and claimed it was only the disbanding of the oligarchy soon afterward that saved his life.

As a result of the Phyle Campaign the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown. A group of exiles led by the general Thrasybulus after setting out from Thebesmarker in 403 BC ended their regime of just over a year. After the Thirty had been overthrown in a coup that killed Critias, Lysias accused Eratosthenes of the wrongful death of Lysias' brother Polemarchus.

List of the Thirty Tyrants (a.k.a. "The Council of Thirty")

The names of the Thirty are listed by Xenophon in his Hellenica 2.3.2.


  1. Rhodes, P. A History of the Classical Greek World: 478-323 BC. Blackwell, 2006, p. 257.

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