Stasis (ancient Greece)

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In political history, Stasis (Ancient Greek: στάσις; plural: staseis) refers to an episode of civil war within an ancient Greek city-state, or polis. It was the result of opposition between groups of citizens, fighting over the constitution of the city, or social and economic problems.[1] Staseis were endemic throughout the Greek world, in mainland Greece as well as the colonies of Magna Graecia. With 19 episodes of civil strife between 650 and 214 BC, Syracuse in Sicily was the city with the most recorded staseis.[2]

The Aristeuein-ideal[edit]

According to the Iliad, the goal of all men of honour in archaic Greece was to always be the first and superior to the others.[3] This ideal was called the aristeuein- or aristeia-Ideal. In Homer's days, this ideal was mainly based on performance skills in speaking and fighting, and included wisdom, self-restraint, loyalty, and bravery (e.g., leading armies in the front row). For decades, prestige, which was a requisite for might, originated in speaking ability and military virtues. This is true for the cases of both Solon and Peisistratos by Herodotus[4] and by Aristotle in the Athenaion Politeia.[5] In addition, success at the Olympic Games, especially in the field of four-horse chariot racing, was a peaceful way to gain prestige.[6]

The resulting civil wars[edit]

Since ancient Athens before Solon did not have a fixed state order or instruments of power that belonged only to the state, the aristocrats could compete violently for office and property.[7] As a result, as methods became more and more violent, aristocrats and their oikoi (families and followers) were engaged in civil strife against each other. At the beginning of the 6th century, the situation worsened,[8] so that the aristocrats of Athens made Solon a lawmaker and arbitrator. The result was the Solonic Reforms. From then on, the term tyrannos (tyrant) became increasingly connected with violence and lawless might, a development which was fruitful only after the death of Solon's successor, the tyrannos Peisistratos.

Stasis under Peisistratos[edit]

After Solon's retirement from Athenian politics, the struggle for might continued, because the Athenian society wasn't ready for a fixed state order yet.[9] Under Peisistratos' regime, the stasis continued, but only for charges under the tyrant, thus both securing him by appeasing the other aristocrats, and accustoming them to fixed charges given by a ruler, which paved the way for the reforms of Cleisthenes. Thus, aristocrats like Callias and Cimon had to struggle for prestige by winning in Olympia or showing off their wealth, not by becoming tyrants, while Miltiades the Elder emigrated from Athens and became head of a colony.[10]


  1. ^ Berger: Revolution and Society, p. 10.
  2. ^ Berger: Revolution and Society, p. 34. Berger records 72 staseis for all the cities of Magna Graecia.
  3. ^ Iliad 6, 208.
  4. ^ 1,60
  5. ^ 2.1
  6. ^ Herodotus (5, 71 [1]) mentions this when introducing Kylon
  7. ^ Alcaeus writes about 600 BC: "Money is the man", while both Hesiod and Solon mention aristocrats ruthlessly trying to enlarge their wealth during the 7th century BC
  8. ^ Plutarch: Solon, 13, see also Athenaion Politeia: 5,1 [2]
  9. ^ Schlange-Schöningen, p. 32
  10. ^ Herodotus (6,34)


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  • Shlomo Berger: Revolution and Society in Greek Sicily and Southern Italy. Stuttgart 1992.
  • Iain Bruce: The Corcyraean Civil War of 427 B. C. In: Phoenix 25, 1971, pp. 108ff.
  • Henning Börm: Stasis in Post-Classical Greece. The Discourse of Civil Strife in the Hellenistic World. In: Henning Börm, Nino Luraghi (eds.): The Polis in the Hellenistic World. Stuttgart 2018, pp. 53ff. online.
  • Henning Börm: Mordende Mitbürger. Stasis und Bürgerkrieg in griechischen Poleis des Hellenismus (= Historia-Einzelschriften 258). Stuttgart 2019.
  • Hans-Joachim Gehrke: Stasis. Untersuchungen zu den inneren Kriegen in den griechischen Staaten des 5. und 4. Jh. v. Chr. (= Vestigia 35). Munich 1985.
  • Benjamin Gray: Stasis and Stability. Oxford 2015.
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  • Andrew Lintott: Violence, Civil Strife and Revolution in the Classical City 750–330 BC. London 1982.
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  • Nicole Loraux: The Divided City. New York 2002.
  • Jonathan J. Price: Thucydides and internal war. Cambridge 2001.
  • Eberhard Ruschenbusch: Untersuchungen zu Staat und Politik in Griechenland. Vom 7. - 4. Jh. v. Chr. Bamberg 1978.
  • G. E. M. de Ste. Croix: The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. London 1981.
  • Hans van Wees: "Stasis, Destroyer of Men": Mass, Elite, Political Violence and Security in Archaic Greece. In: C. Brélaz et al. (eds.): Sécurité Collective et Ordre Public dans les Sociétés Anciennes. Geneva 2008, pp. 1–39.
  • Ronald L. Weed: Aristotle on Stasis. A Moral Psychology of Political Conflict. Berlin 2007.
  • Aloys Winterling: Polisbegriff und Stasistheorie des Aeneas Tacticus. Zur Frage der Grenzen der griechischen Polisgesellschaften im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. In: Historia 40, 1991, pp. 195ff.