Dion (/ˈdaɪɒn, ən/; Greek: Δίων ὁ Συρακόσιος;
408–354 BC), tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, was the son of
Hipparinus, and brother-in-law of Dionysius I of Syracuse. A disciple
of Plato, he became Dionysius I's most trusted minister and adviser.
However, his great wealth, his belief in
Platonism and his ambition
aroused the suspicions of Dionysius I's son and successor, Dionysius
II. An indiscreet letter from Dion to the Carthaginians led to his
banishment. Settling in Athens, he lived a prosperous life until
Dionysius I dispossessed him of his estates and income. Landing in
Sicily in 357 BC, he was successful in conquering Syracuse (other than
the citadel). However, Dion soon quarrelled with the radical leader
Heraclides and was forced into exile. Recalled in 355 BC, he became
master of the whole city but his imperious behaviour and financial
demands on the people of Syracuse soon alienated the population. His
supporters abandoned him and he was assassinated. His attempts to
Sicily only brought political and social chaos to the island
which would last for nearly 20 years.
2 Advisor to Dionysius I
3 Dion and Dionysius II
6 Leadership of Syracuse
7 Regaining power in Syracuse
8.1 In popular culture
9 See also
Dion was the son of the Syracusan statesman Hipparinus, who had served
with Dionysius I in the Syracusan army. Hipparinus' other children
were Megacles and Aristomache. Aristomache married Dionysius I, who
Doris of Locris at the same time. Although Dion's sister
was popular with her fellow Syracusans, it was Doris who gave birth to
Dionysius I's heir Dionysius II.
Aristomache had four children. Of these children, Sophrosyne married
Dionysius II and Arete married Dion (with their son being called
Advisor to Dionysius I
As a trusted advisor to Dionysius I, Dion was given the most important
diplomatic assignments. Dion excelled in managing the embassies that
dealt with Carthage. Dionysius I was so satisfied with Dion's role as
advisor that eventually Dion was authorized to withdraw money from the
Syracusan treasury. The tyrant demanded, however, to be informed daily
when he did so. Despite this requirement, Dion became extremely rich
and his residence was magnificently furnished. Nonetheless, Dion
occasionally criticized Dionysius I.
Since his youth, Dion had excelled in intellectual activities,
Plato and Dion first met in 387 BC when the
philosopher, on a visit to Tarentum in southern Italy, accepted an
invitation from Dionysius I to visit Syracuse. It was Dion who
instigated this invitation. Dion joined Plato's philosophical
school, with Dion excelling amongst Plato's disciples.
Dion used every effort to inculcate Plato's maxims into the thoughts
of Dionysius I. At one time, Dion invited the despot to a meeting with
Plato. However, Dionysius I was offended by the philosopher when Plato
spoke out against tyrannical leaders. This led to a quarrel, after
which Dionysius I ordered the assassination of the philosopher (who
managed to escape this fate, although he ended up being sold as an
Athenian slave in Aegina). Despite this disagreement over Plato, Dion
and Dionysius I's' close relationship continued as before.
Dionysius I was on his deathbed when Dion attempted to discuss the
succession with him. Dion hoped that Dionysius I would hand over the
rule of Syracuse to him or to his family. However, his attempt to
influence Dionysius I was stopped by Dionysius I's doctors who
supported the younger Dionysius II. On hearing of Dion's plans,
Dionysius II then deliberately poisoned his father, who was unable to
utter another word before passing away.
Dion and Dionysius II
Dionysius I had dreaded that anyone might depose him treacherously.
He had, therefore, cloistered his son Dionysius II inside the
Syracusan acropolis so, as he grew up, he lacked the knowledge,
capabilities, political skills or personal strength expected of a
future leader of men. When Dionysius I died in 367 BC, he was
succeeded by Dionysius II. (References to Dionysius in this article
hereafter refer to Dionysius II unless otherwise specified.) As an
adult Dionysius was given to libertine practices. Cornelius Nepos
was of the view that Dionysius lacked his father’s strength of
character and he paid too much attention to unscrupulous advisers who
wished to discredit Dion.
When he succeeded as tyrant of Syracuse, his entire court was composed
of by licentious youngsters, who were completely disengaged from their
political duties. The Syracusan institutions thus began to collapse.
With his extensive political experience, Dion effectively ruled the
city state. Soon, the people of Syracuse formed the view that Dion was
the only one who might save the city.
In Dionysius' court, Dion proposed a response to the continuing
Carthaginian threat. Dion offered either to travel to Carthage (to
seek a diplomatic solution) or to furnish Syracuse with 50 new
triremes with his own money to fight the Carthaginians. Although
Dionysius was delighted by these suggestions, his courtiers resented
Dion's interventions. They suggested to Dionysus that Dion was trying
to oust him in favour of the line of his sister Aristomache.
Dion concluded that educating Dionysius would be the key to resolving
Syracuse's problems. With his philosophical training, Dion began
teaching him about philosophical principles and the importance of good
governance with the aim of making him a philosopher king. Such
lessons sparked Dionysius' interest, so
Plato was invited again to
Syracuse. The experiment, in spite of a promising beginning, failed,
with Dion's opponents gaining influence over Dionysius, leading to the
Philistus being recalled (after he had been banished by
the elder Dionysius) and then leading the opposition to Dion.
Facing increasing opposition to his plans, Dion began developing a
plot, with generals Heracleides and Theodotes, to overthrow Dionysius.
They agreed that they would wait in the hope of political reform,
although they would oust Dionysius if this did not happen. Eventually
Dion agreed with Heracleides to install a full democracy, by his
wealthy patrician birth, he disliked this form of government.
Plato arrived and was welcomed with much enthusiasm.
Plato's conversations with Dionysius were said to have led to
significant changes in Dionysius' views and behaviour, who, became
sober and attentive, whereas his court continued its libertine
practices. Then, during a traditional sacrifice, Dionysius openly
stated that he did not wish to be a tyrant any longer.
When Dionysius expressed the view that he no longer wished to rule as
a tyrant, this alarmed
Philistus and his supporters and they
campaigned intensively against Dion. They insisted to Dionysius that
Dion was the greatest of deceivers, who was intending to seize the
realm for his own nephews. Dionysius believed their arguments so he
adopted a hostile attitude towards Dion.
The situation reached a crisis point when Dionysius and Philistus
intercepted a letter which had been sent by Dion to the Carthaginians.
In that letter, Dion recommended that the Carthaginians should consult
him regarding a peace agreement, because he would provide all of
Syracuse's demands to them. Fearing a plot between Carthage and Dion
and his supporters, Dionysius feigned a renewed friendship with Dion.
They walked to the seashore where the despot showed the incriminating
letter to Dion and, without giving Dion the opportunity to defend
himself, immediately forced Dion into exile. Dion eventually made his
way to Athens.
Plato was confined inside the acropolis and received excellent
treatment as an important guest, so he would not follow Dion. Later,
when war with Carthage restarted, Dionysius allowed the philosopher to
depart Syracuse, promising
Plato that he would allow Dion to return to
Syracuse during the next summer.
Thanks to these events, there was growing speculation in Syracuse that
Aristomache, who was popular with her fellow citizens, would attempt
to seize the power. Dionysius became aware of these sentiments and he
attempted to address the situation. Publicly, he explained that Dion
was temporarily in
Athens so that he wouldn't provoke some violent
backlash against Dionysius. Dion was allowed to hold onto his
Syracusan estate so he was still receiving his usual revenues.
Furthermore, Dionysius handed two ships to Dion's relatives so they
could send his possessions after him to Athens.
Thus, Dion lived amongst the Athenian high society, dwelling with the
Calippus of Syracuse with whom he had become
acquainted during the celebrations of the Eleusian Mysteries.
Additionally, Dion purchased a rural residence for his leisure. His
closest friend was Speusippus.
Dionysius delayed Dion's return until the end of the war with
Carthage. Dionysius recommended to
Plato that Dion should not publicly
criticise the Syracusan regime. Dion obeyed, staying within the
Athenian Academy and studying philosophy.
Later Dion did begin travelling throughout Greece meeting many local
statesmen. Dion was regarded as a celebrity and many Greek cities
welcomed him. For instance, the Spartans endowed him with citizenship,
although the city state was at war with Thebes and was allied with
Eventually, Dionysius decided to seize all of Dion's properties in
Syracuse and stopped him receiving revenue from his estates. Dionysius
tried to mend his image by forcing
Plato to visit him in Syracuse
through public threats against Dion. The celebrated philosopher
returned to Syracuse, but soon he and Dionysius began arguing bitterly
about Dion's fate. The philosopher was jailed until an Athenian
embassy arranged for his release. In his anger, Dionysus sold Dion's
estate (keeping the proceeds) and compelled Dion's wife (and niece)
Arete to marry the tyrant's close adviser, Timocrates.
In response, Dion sought to start a revolt in Syracuse against
Dionysius and his supporters. Dion's closest friends advised him that
in Syracuse, the population could be expected to enthusiastically join
Dion's revolt, if only he could get to the city. They told him that
Dion did not need to bring either weapons or soldiers.
Nevertheless, Dion managed to gather from his Greek supporters 800
soldiers who gathered on the Greek island of Zacynthus. Dion assured
the leaders of the mercenaries that they would be made commanders once
they defeated Dionysius.
In 357 BC, Dion's fleet sailed for Sicily. As his coming was expected,
Philistus had a fleet in Italian coastal waters ready to
waylay him. So Dion sailed straight across the open sea. After 13
days, Dion's fleet reached
Sicily at Pachynus. However, despite his
own helmsman's advice, Dion sailed further along the southern coast of
Sicily where the fleet was hit by a storm and nearly smashed into
pieces against the rocks near Cercina, in northern Africa. The fleet
had to wait for five days until a favourable southerly wind brought it
back to Sicily. There, Dion had to land in Carthaginian territory. As
he was a personal friend of the governor Synalus of Heraclea Minoa,
the Carthaginians offering lodging and plentiful supplies to Dion's
Then, having learnt that Dionysius had sailed to
Caulonia on the
Italian peninsula with 80 ships, Dion's soldiers insisted on action.
So Dion led his troops towards Syracuse. On the road through
Camarina and the region surrounding Syracuse, they
were joined by 5,000 Sicilians who wished to join the revolt. Near
Acrae, Dion spread rumours that he would be attacking both
Campania. Dionysius' soldiers from these areas deserted Timocrates'
forces to defend their respective towns. Then, during the night, Dion
ordered the expedition to advance, and at daybreak, Dion launched his
With the news of the arrival of Dion, the people of Syracuse slew the
tyrant's supporters and Timocrates had to flee. Dion led his army into
Syracuse. He wore brilliant armour and a garland crowned his head.
Dion was accompanied by Megacles and Callipus. The local community
leaders greeted them. Dion proclaimed that Dionysius was now
A week later, Dionysius returned to Syracuse and, protected by his
loyal fleet, managed to gain entry into the Syracusan island acropolis
which had not been captured as it was guarded by a large garrison
loyal to the tyrant. Dionysus attempted negotiating with Dion but Dion
responded by saying that the now free Syracusans should decide.
Dionysius' proposals were spurned by the people and Dion suggested his
surrender. Dionysus accepted this suggestion and he invited a local
embassy to come to his palace to discuss the details. However, it was
a deception on Dionysius' part and Dion and his representatives were
immediately confined after entering into the palace.
The next day, Dionysius' army surprised and overwhelmed the many
besieging Syracusans who retreated in utter disorder. Because of the
confusion, Dion was unable to issue orders more generally, so he and
his men charged against Dionysius' troops. Dion was injured and ended
on the ground but he was rescued by his men. Dion mounted a horse and
was reunited with supporters. Dion's foreign mercenaries had superior
fighting skills and forced Dionysius' men to retreat back into the
Leadership of Syracuse
Following Dion's defeat of Dionysius' forces, Dion was elected to lead
Syracuse (with his brother). Dionysius and his supporters were
confined to the citadel.
With his long connection with the former tyranny, it soon became clear
to the people of Syracuse that Dion's political views were
conservative and he did not favour the introduction of the democratic
reforms sought by many of Syracuse's citizens. Dion was not a man who
could hold the affections of the people, for he repelled men with his
haughtiness. He was also seen as too keen to direct the Syracusans on
how they were to use their freedom. As a result, the Syracusans
started to distrust Dion's intentions.
Dion soon fell out with Heracleides who formed his own political
party. Heracleides was appointed admiral by the Syracuse assembly
which increased his influence in the city. However, Dion undid this
act on the grounds that his own consent was needed and then came
forward himself to propose Heraclides for the role of admiral.
Heracleides kept arguing in favour of democratic reform. Later, when
Philistus returned from Italy with his squadron, Heracleides led a
Syracusan fleet in a battle in which Philistus' fleet was defeated and
Philistus was executed. The rivalry peaked after Heracleides failed
to prevent Dionysius' subsequent escape from Syracuse, with Dionysius'
Apollocrates being left to command the citadel.
Heracleides then proposed to the popular assembly that:
Syracusan land should be equally redistributed amongst the citizens
the foreign officers should lose their salary
new commanders should be appointed
Dion opposed such plans but the Syracusans reacted decisively against
what they saw as his oppressive government (which relied to a great
extent on unpopular foreign mercenaries). The Syracusans deposed
him from the post of general and appointed 25 new generals, among them
Heracleides. They also refused to pay the Greek mercenaries who had
come with Dion to Syracuse. While Dion and his mercenaries could have
turned against the Syracusans, Dion decided to abandon Syracuse and
with his 3000 foreign mercenaries moved to Leontini.
At Leontini, Dion was well received and his foreign mercenaries were
made local citizens. There, the Sicilian congress held a meeting,
denouncing Syracuse, but the Syracusans responded that they preferred
their actual liberties instead of a continuation of tyranny.
Regaining power in Syracuse
With the departure of Dion and his mercenaries, the Syracusans decided
to lay siege to the island fortress where Dionysius' son,
Apollocrates, and his garrison of mercenaries resided. However, just
as they were about to attack, reinforcements arrived led by a
Campanian from Naples, Nypsius, who sailed his fleet into Syracuse's
At first the Syracusans seem to be winning after Heracleides put out
to sea and won a sea fight against the fleet supporting Nypsius. On
the news of this victory, the people of Syracusan went wild with joy
and spent the night drinking. The next day, while all in Syracuse were
asleep, Nypsius and his troops issued from the gates of the island
citadel and took control of key parts of the city and pillaged the
city at will.
The Syracusans were unable to offer effective resistance, so they sent
an embassy to Leontini to meet with Dion. In response, Dion announced
that his soldiers should prepare to march towards Syracuse on that
When he learnt about Dion's imminent arrival, Nypsius ordered to his
men to burn the city. During that night, the city of Syracuse burned
while many of its citizens were slain. The next day, Dion led his
troops through the city cheered by the local people. However, Nypsius'
troops had hidden behind the destroyed palisade of the acropolis and
the liberating soldiers were unable to reach them. The Syracusans
spontaneously decided to charge the enemy, which ended when Nypsius
and his men retreated back into the citadel where many of Nypsius'
soldiers were then captured. Nypsius somehow managed to escape from
the city. Not long after, Dionysius' son Apollocrates, weary of the
long siege, surrendered the island citadel to Dion and Dion's sister
Aristomache, his wife Arete and the young Hipparinus were freed.
The Syracusan assembly 'supplicated Dion as a god with prayers' when
he returned to Syracuse (Plutarch, Life of Dion 29.2). However,
Diodorus (16.20.6) described these honours as heroic.
During the next days, most of the opponents of Dion fled. Amongst the
few who remained was Heracleides who sought Dion's pardon. Dion's
foreign mercenaries suggested that he should be executed. However,
Dion pardoned him and agreed to the arrangement where Dion would be
general with full power on land while Heracleides would remain admiral
The Syracusans began insisting, once again, about redistributing land
and restoring democracy. However, according to Bury, Dion thought
democracy was as bad a form of government as tyranny. Instead he hoped
to create a Platonic state and establish an aristocracy with some
democratic limitations and with a king and a senate made up of
aristocrats. Also, the people of Syracuse wished to see the citadel of
the tyrant demolished, but Dion allowed it to remain. Dion seemed
to have no intention of allowing the Syracusans to manage their own
affairs. His authority was now only limited by his joint command with
Heracleides refused joining the aristocratic senate even after an
invitation of Dion and, again, the populist leader began conspiring.
He protested because Dion had not destroyed the acropolis and because
he had brought in foreign politicians. At last, Dion was persuaded to
consent to having Heracleides assassinated at his own home.
Although Dion led the funeral for the popular leader, the
assassination was quite resented by the people of Syracuse.
Among those who had come with Dion from Greece to help liberate
Syracuse was a pupil of
Plato named Calippus.
From his exile, Dionysius had offered a bribe to Calippus to kill Dion
and Calippus had accepted the offer. Calippus used the money from
Dionysius to bribe some of Dion’s troops to defect to him. He then
won Dion’s trust by betraying some of these soldiers to Dion, who
then enlisted Calippus as a secret agent to discover further plotters.
So whenever Dion was told that Calippus was undermining him, Dion
simply thought that Calippus was acting in his role as a spy.
Shortly afterwards, Dion’s only son fell from a window and died.
Dion’s wife, Arete, and sister, Aristomache, discovered Calippus’
plot against Dion, but Dion was still paralysed with remorse from his
son’s death, and refused to take action.
Arete and Aristomache continued their enquiries into Calippus' plot
against Dion, and when Calippus discovered their inquisitiveness, he
approached them and told them that he was loyal and that he would
prove his loyalty. They told him to take the Great Oath, involving a
ceremony in Persephone’s temple, which he took. Following the
ceremony, Calippus broke his vow and planned to kill Dion on the day
celebrating the god Persephone.
On that date, Dion was celebrating at home with his friends. The
assassins were Zacynthians, who wore light garments and who were
unarmed. They walked into the house while other accomplices began
shutting all doors and windows. The mercenaries attacked Dion choking
him and then with a short Spartan sword he was stabbed to death.
Following Dion's assassination, Calippus seized power himself and
ruled as tyrant of Syracuse for about a year before Syracuse
successfully revolted against his rule and he was exiled from the
In popular culture
Dion appears as a character in Mary Renault's novel The Mask of
Dionysius I of Syracuse
Dionysius II of Syracuse
Calippus of Syracuse
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae
af ag ah ai aj Plutarch, Lives: Life of Dion. (About/Wikisource)
^ a b c d e Roebuck, R (1987).
Cornelius Nepos - Three Lives -
Alcibiades, Dion and Attacus. Bell and Hyman. pp. 8, 27, 30.
^ Bury, J. B.; Meiggs, Russell (1956). A history of Greece to the
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great (3 ed.). London: Macmillan.
^ a b c d e f g h i Bury, John Bagnell (1900). The History of Greece
to the Death of Alexander the Great. Modern Library.
^ Bruno Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes, Oxford UP, 2005, p.
180, ISBN 0-19-927724-9
^ Duncan Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, Brill, 1987,
p. 4, ISBN 90-04-12539-6
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Cornelius Nepos (cf. Diod. Sic. xvi. 6-20)
Dionysius the Younger
Tyrant of Syracuse
Intermittently from 357 –354 BC
The works of Plutarch
Alcibiades and Coriolanus1
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar
Aratus of Sicyon
Aratus of Sicyon / Artaxerxes and
Galba / Otho2
Aristides and Cato the Elder1
Crassus and Nicias1
Demetrius and Antony1
Demosthenes and Cicero1
Dion and Brutus1
Fabius and Pericles1
Lucullus and Cimon1
Lysander and Sulla1
Numa and Lycurgus1
Pelopidas and Marcellus1
Philopoemen and Flamininus1
Phocion and Cato the Younger
Pompey and Agesilaus1
Poplicola and Solon1
Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius
Romulus and Theseus1
Sertorius and Eumenes1
Agis / Cleomenes1 and
Tiberius Gracchus / Gaius Gracchus
Timoleon and Aemilius Paulus1
Themistocles and Camillus
Translators and editors
Arthur Hugh Clough
1 Comparison extant
2 Four unpaired Lives