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Kritias ( Greek Κριτίας Kritías ; * around 460 BC; † 403 BC near Munychia ) was an Athenian politician, philosopher, writer and poet.


Critias came from a noble and wealthy family. His ancestor Dropides , who lived in Athens in 593/592 BC. He was an eponymous archon , who held the highest office of state for a year, was a friend and relative of the legendary Athenian legislator Solon . Periktione , the mother of the philosopher Plato , was his cousin.

Philosophically, Critias is assigned to the sophists . This fits the fact that his traditional philosophical statements are characterized by clear moral relativism. Biographically, however, he already belonged to the Socrates students, whereby, according to Xenophon , Socrates is said to have distanced himself significantly from him.

After the end of the Peloponnesian War with the defeat of Athens, Kritias, along with 29 other oligarchs ( "Council of Thirty" ) and with the help of the Spartan occupiers , seized state power and began, after he was able to eliminate his adversary Theramenes , with the systematic murder of political opponents and the pursuit of wealthy metics to get their fortune. Some authors, notably Karl Popper , believe that by conspiring with the enemy, he contributed to the defeat of his hometown. Prominent examples of persecution are the famous speechwriter Lysias and his brother Polemarchus. The famous athlete Autolykos , whom Xenophon describes in his "Banquet", was also killed by the thirty. In just eight months, 1,500 Athenians forcibly lost their lives during the rule of the oligarchs. Only the rebellion led by Thrasybulus ended the rule of the thirty. Critias was killed in the fighting in the Munychia area .


Critias wrote a number of works partly in prose, partly in verse, of which only fragments have survived. The question of whether he also wrote tragedies has long been controversial in research. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff has ascribed to him a tetralogy of three tragedies ( Tennes , Rhadamanthys and Peirithus or Peirithoos ) and a satyr play ( Sisyphos ). According to this hypothesis, a surviving fragment of 42 verses comes from the Sisyphus of Critias. The origin of the fragment from a satyr game is not certain, but it is likely. According to current research, the 42 verses are more likely to be attributed to Euripides than to Critias. The tragedies - fragments of the Peirithus and Rhadamanthys have survived - possibly come from Euripides.

Literary figure

Critias is one of the characters that Plato often allows to appear in his dialogues . But it is controversial which Critias tells of Atlantis in Timaeus and then also in Critias ; it could also mean an older person with the same name. Other Platonic dialogues in which Kritias appears are Charmides and Protagoras as well as the pseudo-Platonic Eryxias .

Since then, Kritias has also been portrayed in numerous other literary works, for example in the popular science novel Atom by Karl Aloys Schenzinger and in 2008 in the historical novel Murder in the Garden of Socrates by Sascha Berst.


Overview representations in manuals


  • Alfred Breitenbach : Kritias and Herodes Attikos: Two tyrants in Philostrat's sophist life. In: Wiener Studien 116, 2003, pp. 109–113.
  • György Németh: Critias and the utopia of the tyrants. In: Acta Antiqua 40, 2001, pp. 357-366, doi : 10.1556 / AAnt.40.2000.1-4.31 .
  • György Németh: Kritias and the Thirty Tyrants. Studies on the politics and prosography of the ruling elite in Athens 404/403 BC Chr. (= Heidelberg ancient historical contributions and epigraphic studies. Vol. 43). Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-515-08866-0 .
  • Thomas G. Rosenmeyer : The family of Critias. In: American Journal of Philology 70, 1949, pp. 404-410.
  • Dorothy Stephans: Critias. Life and Literary Remains. Cincinnati 1939 (dissertation)
  • Mario Untersteiner: The Sophists. Barnes & Noble, New York 1954.
  • Stephen Usher: Xenophon, Critias, and Theramenes. In: Journal of Hellenic Studies 88, 1968, pp. 128-135.
  • Henry Theodore Wade-Gery: Kritias and Herodes . In: Henry Theodore Wade-Gery: Essays in Greek History. Blackwell, Oxford 1958, pp. 271-292.

Web links


  1. ^ Plato, Timaeus 20e and Charmides 155a. See John K. Davies: Athenian Property Families, 600-300 BC , Oxford 1971, pp. 322-326.
  2. An overview of the research discussion and its results are provided by Bernhard Zimmermann and Rebecca Lämmle in: Bernhard Zimmermann (Ed.): Handbook of Greek Literature of Antiquity , Volume 1: The Literature of Archaic and Classical Time , Munich 2011, pp. 608f., 660f.
  3. See e.g. B. Laurence Lampert and Christopher Planeaux: Who's Who in Plato's Timaeus-Critias and Why , in: The Review of Metaphysics Vol. 52 No. 1, 1998, pp. 87-125.