Dionysius, tyrants of Syracuse. I. The Elder, born in 431 or 430 B. C, died in 367. After completing his education he became a clerk in a public office, which he appears to have left at an early age to enter the army. In the political quarrels of the citizens he took the side of Hermocrates, and was severely wounded in aiding that party leader in his attempt to gain his restoration from exile. He afterward served with merit in the war against the Carthaginians. He availed himself of the general discontent with the conduct of the war to come forward in the popular assembly as the accuser of the unsuccessful Syracusan commanders, who had suffered Agrigentum and other important cities of Sicily to be taken. He displayed so much vigor, and the condition of Syracuse was so critical, that he obtained a decree for deposing the obnoxious generals, and for appointing others in their stead, and was himself elected among the new officers. He then brought false accusations against his associates, and the people in 405 appointed him sole general, with full powers, and allowed him a body guard. He now began those measures which made him proverbial in antiquity as a tyrant. Concerning himself no longer for the deliverance of Sicily from the Carthaginians, he aimed only to subdue his native city.
He induced the Syracusans to double the pay of the soldiers, appointed officers who were in his own interest, and by marrying the daughter of Hermocrates secured the support of the partisans of that leader. As commander-in-chief of the Sicilians, who had concentrated their forces at Gela, he offered battle to the Carthaginians in a manner so unskilful as to make it probable that he did not regret the defeat in which it resulted. He withdrew the inhabitants of Gela and Camarina to Leontini, and left the whole S. W. coast to the Carthaginians. This reverse enabled his enemies to raise a revolt in Syracuse, where he was now looked upon as a manifest traitor. They gained possession of the city, but their plans being disconcerted by the sudden return of Diony-sius, they were driven out, though not until hi8 wife had fallen a victim to their cruelty. The Carthaginian generals now besieged Syracuse, but the plague having broken out in their camp, they were satisfied with the immense advantages offered them by Dionysius without storming the place. He was recognized as ruler of Syracuse, and of a district around the city, but was to resign all claim to dominion over the island.
He availed himself of the peace to establish his tyranny more firmly; and having fortified the isle of Ortygia, and excluded from it all but his immediate dependants, he built upon it a citadel which might serve as an impregnable asylum. The Carthaginians lost the advantages of the peace through negligence. Syracuse had in six years recovered her strength, and Dionysius undertook the recapture of the cities he had surrendered. The immense preparations which he made form an epoch in ancient military history. His machinists invented engines for throwing missiles, and especially devised the catapult. He also constructed ships having four or five banks of rowers, instead of the old triremes. He gained at first great success, and conquered Motya, the ancient seat of the Carthaginian dommion (396). His fleet, however, was defeated by that of the Carthaginians, which ravaged the northern coast of the island, overpowered Messana and Catana, and laid siege to Syracuse (395). But the plague, or some similar malady, again breaking out in the camp of the enemy, proved the safety of the city. Nearly the whole Carthaginian army was lost by the pestilence, and the remainder purchased from Dionysius the privilege of a free departure.
In the treaty which followed, the restrictions which had been imposed by the last treaty upon the government of Syracuse were removed. Dionysius carried on also a third and fourth war with Carthage, the results of which seem to have been only to reestablish the terms of the former peace. The intervals between these wars were harassed by the revolts of his subjects, which he avenged with cruelties. The frequent attempts upon his life made him suspicious. He durst not trust even his relatives, and his body guard was formed of foreigners. His palace was surrounded by a ditch, crossed by a drawbridge, and when he harangued the people it was from the top of a lofty tower. He built the terrible prison of the lautumioe, cut deep into the solid rock; another of his prisons was so arranged that every word spoken within it was reechoed into his chamber, and he is said to have passed entire days listening to the complaints of his victims. But tradition, in making of Dionysius the type of cruelty, has doubtless transmitted many unauthenticated stories concerning him.
Dionysius was long engaged in ambitious projects against the Greek cities of southern Italy. He formed an alliance with the Lo-crians, and after suffering some reverses besieged and conquered Rhegium (387). Italy was now open to him, and he sought by establishing colonies upon the Adriatic to secure for himself a way into Greece. Already his name was known in the Peloponnesus, where he had contracted an alliance with the Lacedaemonians. He was now the recognized master of southern Italy, interfered in the affairs of the Illyrians, sent an army into Epirus, and received an offer of friendship from the Gauls, who had burned Rome. His settlements upon the Adriatic increased his wealth and strengthened his power, but they were his last great undertakings, and henceforth he disappears from history. His reign, which lasted 38 years, became milder toward its close. He left an immense military force and a powerful empire; and though he had governed as a tyrant, the old republican forms remained. Dionysius had a passion for literature, and wrote lyrics and tragedies, none of which have been preserved. II. The Younger, son and successor of the preceding, born early in the 4th century B. C. On his accession to power in 367 he was entirely unused to public affairs, and devoted to pleasure.
He hastened to conclude a peace with the Carthaginians, abandoned his father's projects of foreign settlements and power, and gave himself up to luxury and sensuality. His brother-in-law Dion undertook to excite him to a noble career. He conversed with him upon the doctrines of Plato, and through his influence that philosopher was invited to revisit the court of Syracuse, at which under the elder Dionysius he had met with very unfavorable treatment. Plato proposed an amendment to the constitution, changing the government from nominal democracy and real despotism to a limited popular authority, in which all the members of the ruling family should form a college of princes; but the monarch rejected this proposal. Soon afterward he took up his residence in Locri, and gained some advantages against the Lucanians; but the wild orgies to which he surrendered himself drew upon him the contempt both of his subjects and of foreigners. With a small band of exiles, and with two vessels laden with arms, Dion landed in Sicily in 357, and was joined by thousands as he marched toward Syracuse. Dionysius, hearing of his coming, instantly returned from Locri, but his troops were defeated, and he was obliged to retreat to the citadel; and finding it impossible to retain his power, he collected his most valuable property and fled to Italy, leaving the citadel in possession of his son and friends.
He returned to Locri, where he was kindly received; but he took advantage of the good will of the people to make himself tyrant of their city, and treat them with the greatest cruelty. He held Locri thus for several years; but in 346 he availed himself of internal dissensions in Syracuse to recover his power in his old capital, and continued to reign there during the next three years. The former Syracusan empire was now, however, in fragments; and even the garrison which defended the tyrant in the citadel was rebellious. Timoleon, the Corinthian, landed in Sicily, and marched against Syracuse, and Dionysius consented to an arrangement, by which he was allowed to depart in safety to Corinth (343). He passed the remainder of his life with low associates, supporting himself, according to various traditions, as schoolmaster, actor, and mendicant priest of Cybele.