Dionysius the Elder

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Dionysius the Elder

c. 430-367 b.c.

Greek tyrant of Syracuse who helped establish Hellenistic control in Sicily and southern Italy and developed the first catapult for warfare. Dionysius rose to power as tyrant in 405, after distinguishing himself in a war between the Greeks and Carthaginians of North Africa. In 399 b.c., while preparing for another battle against the Carthaginians, he invited Greek craftsmen to the island of Syracuse in Sicily to help him develop new weaponry. Their work resulted in the invention of more powerful ships, called quinqueremes, which had four or five banks of oars instead of the previous three banks, as well as the first catapults—machines able to hurl objects with deadly force. These innovations helped Dionysius lead the Greek army to victory against the Carthaginians in two conflicts, the first in 396 b.c. and the second in 392 b.c. He was finally defeated by Carthage during the third war (383-c. 375 b.c.).

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Dionysius the Elder, c.430–367 BC, tyrant of Syracuse. Of humble origin, he entered politics as a supporter of the poorer classes. Having prompted (400 BC) a measure to elect truly democratic generals, he secured for himself one of these generalships. His next move was to arouse distrust of his colleagues, and so well did he succeed that he soon became tyrant. Fundamentally his reign was characterized by a consistent policy of maintaining the obedience of the Syracusans through fear of the constant menace of the Carthaginians, then masters of a large part of Sicily. At the same time he kept alive the enthusiasm of his subjects by expeditions against the cities of the Italian mainland and by his none too successful efforts to repel the Carthaginians. He sided with Sparta against Athenian naval predominance. He wrote tragedies and was patron of the arts.

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Dionysius the Elder (c.430–367 bc) Tyrant of Syracuse (405–367 bc). His ambitions were to spread Hellenism beyond Syracuse. Dionysius tried to form an empire in Lower Italy by seizing Rhegium (387), Caulonia and Croton (379). He then mixed the various populations. A supporter of the arts and an erstwhile playwright, he once sold Plato as a slave.