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Dionysius II


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Tyrant of Syracuse (367–357bc); born c.396, eldest son of Dionysius I and Doris; married half-sister Sophrosyne. Unwarlike and short-sighted, he was estranged from his father, who is said (perhaps falsely) to have excluded him from public life and encouraged his debauchery. Inheriting an empire ‘secured with bonds of adamant’, he ruled successfully for ten years; making peace with Carthage (Halycus frontier), assisting Sparta (365), resisting the Lucanians, combating piracy in the Adriatic, and restoring Rhegium (mod. Reggio), renaming it Phoebia (honouring his suppositious father, Apollo). Encouraged by Dion and Plato himself, he conceived a passion for philosophy, which split his court between the ‘reformers’ and the ‘old guard’, led by the historian Philistus, and led to a rupture with Dion and eventually (360) with Plato. During his absence in Italy (357), Dion liberated Syracuse and dissolved his empire. Dionysius was confined to the citadel (Ortygia), which, after the death of Philistus (356), he entrusted to his son, and withdrew to Locri Epizephyrii in south Italy. In 346 he recovered Syracuse from his half-brother Hipparinus. The Locrians then revolted and massacred his family. Dionysius was again confined to Ortygia by Hicetas, and surrendered it to Timoleon (344), retiring into private life in Corinth. Denigrated by the Academic tradition, Dionysius was neither an ineffectual ruler nor a despot (unless, perhaps, in Locri); but the abandonment of his father's crusade against Carthage deprived the regime of its purpose and its glamour, and it was weakened internally by division and by Dionysius' ill-advised attempt to reduce his soldiers' pay.

Brian M. Caven

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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