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The Alcmaeonidae or Alcmaeonids (Ἀλκμαιωνίδαι) were a powerful noble family of ancient Athens, a branch of the Neleides who claimed descent from the mythological Alcmaeon, the grandson of Nestor.[1]

The first notable Alcmaeonid was Megacles, who was the Archon Eponymous of Athens in the 7th century BC. He was responsible for killing the followers of Cylon of Athens during the attempted coup of 632 BC, as Cylon had taken refuge as a suppliant at the temple of Athena. Megacles and his Alcmaeonid followers inherited a curse and were exiled from the city. Even the bodies of buried Alcmaeonidae were dug up and removed from the city limits.

The Alcmaeonids were allowed back into the city in 594 BC, during the archonship of Solon.[2] During the tyranny of Pisistratus, the Alcmaeonid Megacles married his daughter to Pisistratus, but when the tyrant refused to have children with her, Megacles banished him. When Pisistratus returned for his third tyranny in 546 BC, the Alcmaeonids were exiled once more. Nevertheless their reputation remained high, and Megacles was able to marry (for a second or third time) Agarista, the daughter of the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon. They had two sons, Hippocrates and Cleisthenes, the reformer of the Athenian democracy. Hippocrates' daughter was Agariste, the mother of Pericles.

This Cleisthenes overthrew Hippias, the son and successor of Pisistratus, in 508 BC. He had bribed the oracle at Delphi (which the Alcmaeonidae had helped to build while they were in exile) to convince the Spartans to help him, which they reluctantly did. Cleisthenes was, at first, opposed by some who felt the curse made the Alcmaeonidae ineligible to rule; the Spartan king Cleomenes I even turned against Cleisthenes and the latter was briefly exiled once more. However, the citizens called for Cleisthenes to return, and the restored Alcmaeonids were responsible for laying the foundations of Athenian democracy.

The Alcmaeonidae were said to have negotiated for an alliance with the Persians during the Persian Wars, despite the fact that Athens was leading the resistance to the Persian invasion. Pericles and Alcibiades also belonged to the Alcmaeonidae, and during the Peloponnesian War the Spartans referred to the family curse in an attempt to discredit Pericles. Alcibiades, as the previous generation of Alcmaeonidae had done, tried to ally with the Persians after he was accused of impiety. The family disappeared after Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War.


Family tree

Because of a family tradition of naming descendants after their forebears, members of the family can easily be confused. Hence, what follows is a partial family tree of the historical Alcmaeonid family. Males are in blue, females in red, and those related by marriage in white.

Alcmaeon (mythology)
Megacles (6th perpetual archon)
Alcmaeon (King of Athens) (d. 753 BC)
Megacles (7th century BC)
Cleisthenes of Sicyon
(c. 600-570)
Agariste of Sicyon
Victor, Pythian Games[7]
(ostracized 486 BC
Hipponicus III
Callias III

See also


  1. ^ Smith, Philip (1867). "Alcmaeonidae". in William Smith. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 105–106.  
  2. ^ See Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Athens, on 1.126.12. Megacles' son Alcmaeon held command during the first Sacred War: Plutarch, Solon 11.2.
  3. ^ Herodotus, vi. 131
  4. ^ Scholiast on Pindar's Pythian Odes, vii. 17
  5. ^ The parentage of this Alcibiades is unknown, but he was said to have been an Alcmaeonid on his mother's side.
  6. ^ Demosthenes, in Mid. p. 561
  7. ^ Pindar, Pythian Odes vii. 15
  8. ^ Plato, Euthydemus p. 265
  9. ^ a b Plutarch, Alcibiades 1
  10. ^ Plutarch, Cim. 4
  11. ^ Xenophon, Hellenica i. 2. §13
  12. ^ Xenophon, Conviv. iv. 12

Other sources

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ALCMAEONIDAE, a noble Athenian family, claiming descent from Alcmaeon, the great-grandson of Nestor, who emigrated from Pylos to Athens at the time of the Dorian invasion of Peloponnesus. During the archonship of an Alcmaeonid Megacles (? 632 B.C.), Cylon, who had unsuccessfully attempted to make himself "tyrant," was treacherously murdered with his followers. The curse or pollution thus incurred was frequently in later years raked up for political reasons; the Spartans even demanded that Pericles should be expelled as accursed at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. All the members of the family went into banishment, and having returned in the time of Solon (594) were again expelled (538) by Peisistratus. Their great wealth enabled them during their exile to enhance their reputation and secure the favour of the Delphian Apollo by rebuilding the temple after its destruction by fire in J48. Their importance is shown by the fact that Cleisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, gave his daughter Agariste in marriage to the Alcmaeonid Megacles in preference to all the assembled suitors after the undignified behaviour of Hippocleides. Under the statesman Cleisthenes, the issue of this union, the Alcmaeonids became supreme in Athens about 5r B.C. To them was generally attributed (though Herodotus disbelieves the story - see Greece, Ancient History, sect. "Authorities," II.) the treacherous raising of the shield as a signal to the Persians at Marathon, but, whatever the truth of this may be, there can be little doubt that they were not the only one of the great Athenian families to make treasonable overtures to Persia. Pericles and Alcibiades were both connected with the Alcmaeonidae. Nothing is heard of them after the Peloponnesian war.

See Herodotus vi. 121 -13r.

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