In political history, stasis (Ancient Greek: στάσις in the sense of "faction, discord"; 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 over social and economic problems.[1] Staseis were endemic throughout the ancient Greek world, in mainland Greece as well as in 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]

Stasis in Ancient Greece

For centuries, stasis was an important factor in Greek history, and not only in Athens: Almost every major polis suffered from violent stasis at least once between the sixth and first centuries BCE, and many more than once (Lintott 1982; Gehrke 1985; Berger 1992). It has been argued that the Greek cities were largely pacified only at the end of the Hellenistic era with the establishment of the Roman Empire (Börm 2019). Historians have long recognized the importance of stasis and have discussed the question of the causes of stasis. The explanations proposed can be subsumed under three models:

The Aristeuein-ideal

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]

Stasis in Archaic Athens

Since ancient Athens before Solon did not have a fixed state order or instruments of power that belonged only to the state, the aristocrats would 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.

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 seems to have 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 an apoikia.[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)