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New Institutionalism and Sole Ruler Legitimization

Sam Ellis

University of Edinburgh

New Institutionalist (NI) approaches to Greek political history have up until now focused overwhelmingly on the situation in Athens and democratic institutions (Ober 2008). These NI approaches have mostly been based on Rational Choice and Historical Institutionalist models and have thus tended to draw a distinct line between institutions and ideational power. For the study of sole rule, the most beneficial model of NI is that of Discursive Institutionalism, which places emphasis on the ideational power of, and within, institutions, focusing on methods of discourse (Hay 2001, 2006; Schmidt 2006, 2008; Lowndes & Roberts 2013). This paper will set out the advantages of examining sole rule by employing Discursive Institutionalist models in conjunction with the notion of path dependency typical of Historical Institutionalism. As a result, it will highlight the sole ruler both as an institution and as an individual capable of institutional redesign when faced with ideological challenges that threaten ruler legitimization. Institutions, and sole rulers controlling said institutions, had to constantly find new ways of legitimizing themselves in tune with the ever-changing dominant social and cultural codes (Lecours 2005; March & Olsen 2006).

As a result of the development of an ideology centred around the rule of law and eunomia in the sixth and fifth centuries BC we see an increasing criticism of sole rule as an institution from within both democratic and oligarchic poleis (Canevaro 2016, 2017). This criticism leads to the path-dependent development of traditional offices of sole rule, such as the office of basileus, into magisterial offices that bore little resemblance to a sole ruler, such as the archon basileus in Athens (Ath. Pol. 47, 56), the dual basileis of Sparta (Hdt. 6.51), the tagoi of Thessaly (Xen. Hell. 6.1.5-18), and the basileis of Cyrene (Hdt. 4.162).

The paper will focus specifically on two elements. First, the change in ideology that led to the imposition of restrictions on the offices, that being the rule of law and eunomia. Secondly, the subsequent response by sole rulers seeking to legitimize their rule in light of the changing communal attitudes towards sole rule. This newfound emphasis on the rule of law meant sole rulers now had to legitimize their power through new forms of ideational power, constructing an image of the ‘lawful’ ruler which they worked hard to promulgate through new forms of persuasive discourse (Carstensen & Schmidt 2016). The negative stereotypes that had come to be associated with a basileus or tyrannos are still present in much of the traditional scholarship on sole rule today and are heavily influenced by the Athenocentric tradition (Andrewes 1956; Berve 1967; McGlew 1993; Morgan 2003). These stereotypes led to sole rulers consciously adopting new forms of nomenclature in an attempt to distance themselves from criticism and legitimize their rule within a constitutional framework, and a NI approach provides new avenues from which to examine these forms of legitimacy.

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New Institutionalism and Greek Communities

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