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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 7 of 14

· Harmodius & Aristogeiton ·

(“Tyrannicides” = slayers of Hipparchos, brother of the Athenian tyrant Hippias, in 514)

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Herodotus (Hdt.).
Thucydides (Thuc.).
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Background story: Aristogeiton and his youthful lover Harmodius catapulted themselves to the status of civic heroes in 514 BCE when they killed Hipparchos, brother of the Athenian tyrant Hippias. The murder was actually instigated by amorous intrigue: Harmodius had been wooed by Hipparchos, but had rejected him in favor of Aristogeiton, at which point Harmodius and Aristogeiton planned to kill Hipparchos and the tyrant, Hippias, during a procession through the Agora in Athens. Although the lovers failed to kill Hippias (thus the tyranny continued) and were caught and killed themselves, they were glorified posthumously, when the tyranny was finally overthrown in 511/10. (For more on this story see Hdt. 5.55, 6.109, and 6.123, as well as Thuc. 1.20 and 6.54-9.)

Read about the evidence
Pausanias (Paus.).
Pliny (Plin. HN).
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Evidence: After Hippias’ tyranny was brought to an end, ca. 510, Antenor was said to have sculpted a statue group of Harmodius and Aristogeiton that was erected in the Agora (Paus. 1.8.5, Plin. HN 34.70). When this original statue group was stolen by the Persians in 480 (but returned later, by Alexander the Great, according to Arrian, or by Seleukos I, according to Valerius Maximus), the Athenians comissioned Kritios and Nesiotes to make new ones, which were duly set up in 477/6 (Marm. Par. Ep. 54.70; Paus. 1.8.5, Plin. HN 34.70). There is no evidence regarding the appearance of the Archaic original, and it seems that it is the second statue group that was copied in later monuments. The extant copies show an active group: nude, clean-shaven Harmodius thrusting a sword forward in his upraised left hand, and bearded Aristogeiton extended a rock in is left arm, over which a chlamys, or cape, is draped. A composite group in Naples [1] preserves almost complete bodies of both figures, and a head of Harmodius. It has been restored on the basis of a plaster cast of part of Aristogeiton’s head that was found in sculptor’s studios at Baiae (see G. Richter, AJA 74 [1970] 296, pl. 14). A good copy of Aristogeiton’s head is also to be found in the Conservatori, Rome. Several other marble copies of each figure are also known. The group is also represented in several vase paintings [2] and seems to have been quoted in other battle scenes.

Extant portraits:

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  1. Naples 6009/6010: Roman copy (marble, with restorations in plaster) (shown at the top).
  2. Boston ?: Image of Harmodius and Aristogeiton on a red-figure oinochoe fragment (shown here).
  3. London ?: Image of Harmodius and Aristogeiton on the shield device of Athena Parthenos, from a Panathenaic vase, dated 378-370.
  4. The reverse of an electron stater from Kyzikos, dated 477/6, showing the Tyrannicide group, profile to the right.

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page 7 of 14