1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Periander
PERIANDER (Gr. Περίανδρος), the second tyrant of Corinth (625–585 B.C.). In contrast with his father Cypselus, the founder of the dynasty, he is generally represented as a cruel despot, or at any rate as having used all possible devices for keeping his city in subjection. Among numerous anecdotes the following is characteristic. Periander, on being consulted by the tyrant Thrasybulus of Miletus as to the best device for maintaining himself in power, by way of reply led the messenger through a cornfield, and as he walked struck off the tallest and best-grown ears (a legend applied to Roman circumstances in Livy i. 54). It seems, however, that the prevalent Greek tradition concerning him was derived from the versions of the Corinthian aristocracy, who had good reasons for giving a prejudiced account, and the conflicting character of the various legends further shows that their historical value is slight. A careful sifting of the available evidence would rather tend to represent Periander as a ruler of unusual probity and insight, and the exceptional firmness and activity of his government is beyond dispute. His home administration was so successful that he was able to dispense with direct taxation. He fostered wealth by the steady encouragement of industry and by drastic legislation against idleness, luxury and vice; and the highest prosperity of the Corinthian handicrafts may be assigned to the period of his rule (see Corinth). At the same time he sought to check excessive accumulation of wealth in individual hands and restricted the influx of population into the town. Employment was found for the proletariat in the erection of temples and of public works. Periander further appears as a patron of literature, for it was by his invitation that the poet Arion came to Corinth to organize the dithyramb. He devoted no less attention to the increase of Corinthian commerce, which in his days plied busily on both eastern and western seas. With this end in view he established colonies at Potidaea and Apollonia in Macedonia, at Anactorium and Leucas in north-western Greece, and he is said to have projected a canal through the Isthmus, In Greece proper he conquered Epidaurus, and with the help of his fleet of triremes brought the important trading centre of Corcyra under his control, while his interest in the Olympian festival is perhaps attested by a dedication which may be ascribed to him—the famous “chest of Cypselus.” He cultivated friendly relations with the tyrants of Miletus and Mytilene, and maintained a connexion with the kings of Lydia, of Egypt and, possibly, of Phrygia In spite of these varied achievements Periander never entirely conciliated his subjects, for he could not trust himself without a bodyguard. Moreover his family life, according to all accounts, was unfortunate. His sons all died or were estranged from him, and the murder of his last remaining child Lycophron, the governor of Corcyra, is said to have broken his spirit and hastened on his death.
Periander was reckoned one of the seven sages of Greece, and was the reputed author of a collection of maxims (Ὑποθῆκαι) in 2000 verses. The letters ascribed to him by Diogenes Laërtius are undoubtedly spurious.
Herodotus iii. 48–53, v. 92; Aristotle, Politics, v. 6, 10–12; Heracleides Ponticus in C. Müller’s Frag. hist. graec. ii. 212; Nicolaus Damascenus, ibid, iii, 393; Diogenes Laertius, De vitis clarorum philosophorum, i. ch. 7. (M. O. B. C.)