A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Δίων), a Syracusan, son of Hipparinus. His father had been from the first a constant friend and supporter of the elder Dionysius, who had subsequently married his daughter Aristomache. These circumstances naturally brought Dion into friendly relations with Dionysius, and the latter having conceived a high opinion of his character and abilities, treated him with the greatest distinction, and employed him in many services of the utmost trust and confidence. Among others he sent him on an embassy to the Carthaginians, by whom he was received with the greatest distinction. (Plut. Dio 3-5; Corn. Nep. Dion, 1.) Dion also married, during the lifetime of her father, Arete, the daughter of Dionysius by Aristomache. Of this close connexion and favour with the tyrant he seems to have availed himself to amass great wealth, so that on the death of Dionysius he offered to equip and maintain 50 triremes at his own cost to assist in the war against Carthage. (Plut. Dio 6.) He made no opposition to the succession of the younger Dionysius to all his father's power, but his near relationship to the sons of the latter by his wife Aristomache, as well as his dangerous pre-eminence in wealth and influence, rendered him an object of suspicion and jealousy to the youthful tyrant, to whom he also made himself personally disagreeable by the austerity of his manners. Dion appears to have been naturally a man of a proud and stern character, and having become an ardent disciple of Plato when that philosopher visited Syracuse in the reign of the elder Dionysius, he carried to excess the austerity of a philosopher, and viewed with undisguised contempt the debaucheries and dissolute pleasures of his nephew. From these he endeavoured to withdraw him by persuading him to invite Plato a second time to Syracuse; but the philosopher, though received at first with the utmost distinction, filed in obtaining a permanent hold on the mind of Dionysius; and the intrigues of the opposite party, headed by Philistus, were successful in procuring the banishment of Dion. (Plut. Dio 7_14; Corn. Nep. Dion, 3, 4; Diod. 16.6.) The circumstances attending this are variously reported, but it seems to have been at first merely an honourable exile, and he was allowed to receive the produce of his vast wealth. According to Plutarch, he retired to Athens, where he lived in habitual intercourse with Plato and his disciples, at times also visiting the other cities of Greece, and displaying his magnificence on all public occasions. But Plato having failed in procuring his recall (for which purpose he had a third time visited Syracuse), and Dionysius having at length confiscated his property and compelled his wife to marry another person, he finally determined on attempting the expulsion of the tyrant by force. (Plut. Dio 15-21; Pseud._Plat. Epist.6; but compare Diod. 16.6.)

His knowledge of the general unpopularity of Dionysius and the disaffection of his subjects encouraged him to undertake this with forces apparently very insufficient. Very few of the numerous Syracusan exiles then in Greece could be induced to join him, and he sailed from Zacynthus

with only two merchant ships and less than 1000 mercenary troops. The absence of Dionysius and of his chief supporter Philistus, who were both in Italy at the time, favoured his enterprise ; he landed at Minoa in the Carthaginian territory, and being speedily joined by volunteers from all parts, advanced without opposition to Syracuse, which he entered in triumph, the whole city being abandoned by the forces of Dionysius, except the citadel on the island. (Diod. 16.9, 10; Plut. Dio 22_28.) Dion and his brother Megacles were now appointed by the Syracusans generals-in-chief, and they proceeded to invest the citadel. Dionysius meanwhile returned, but having failed in a sally from the island, his overtures for peace being rejected, and Philistus, on whom he mainly depended, having been defeated and slain in a seafight, he determined to quit the city, and sailed away to Italy, leaving his son Apollocrates with a mercenary force in charge of the citadel. (B. C. 356.) But dissensions now broke out among the besiegers : Heracleides, who had lately arrived from the Peloponnese with a reinforcement of triremes, and had been appointed commander of the Syracusan fleet, sought to undermine the power of Dion; and the latter, whose mercenary troops were discontented for want of pay, withdrew with them to Leontini. The disasters of the Syracusans, however, arising from the incapacity of their new leaders, soon led to the recall of Dion, who was appointed sole general autocrator. Not long after, Apollocrates was compelled by famine to surrender the citadel. (Diod. 16.11_13, 16-20 ; Plut. Dio 29-50.)

Dion was now sole master of Syracuse : whether he intended, as he was accused by his enemies, to retain the sovereign power in his own hands, or to establish an oligarchy with the assistance of the Corinthians, as asserted by Plutarch, we have no means of judging; but his government seems to have been virtually despotic enough. He caused his chief opponent, Heracleides, to be put to death, and confiscated the property of his adversaries ; but these measures only aggravated the discontent, which seems to have spread even to his own immediate followers. One of them, Callippus, an Athenian who had accompanied him from Greece, was induced by his increasing unpopularity to form a conspiracy against him, and having gained over some of his Zacynthian guards, caused him to be assassinated in his own house, B. C. 353. (Plut. Dio 52-57; Corn. Nep. Dion, 6_9; Diod. 16.31.) According to Cornelius Nepos, he was about 55 years old at the time of his death.

There can be no doubt that the character of Dion has been immoderately praised by some ancient writers, especially by Plutarch. It is admitted even by his admirers that he was a man of a harsh and unyielding disposition, qualities which would easily degenerate into despotism when he found himself at the head of affairs. Even if he was sincere in the first instance in his intention of restoring liberty to Syracuse, he seems to have afterwards abandoned the idea, and there can be little doubt that the complaints of the people, that they had only exchanged one tyrant for another, were well founded. (Plutarch, Dion ; comp. Timol.c. P. Aemil. 2; Athen. 11.508e.)