CSPSCentre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

Tyrannica: The Interdisciplinary Network for the Study of Tyrannies, Personalist Dictatorships and Authoritarian Regimes

A portrait of a tyrant: Hipparchus of Athens, son of Peisistratus, is murdered by the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton in 514 BC. Drawing from a Greek Vase, produced in Athens c. 470 BC.
Source: Wiki Commons File:Die_Ermordung_des_Hipparchos

Project Summary

This project, a collaboration between the UoN Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies and Adam Mickiewicz University, aims to further the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Tyranny. We seek a better understanding of tyrannies globally, across time (from ancient Greece to modern-day regimes such as Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China) and from multiple disciplinary perspectives (including Ancient and Modern History, Philosophy, Economics and Political Science).

We aim to encourage greater dialogue on these topics between academic researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and all those who have first-hand experience of tyrannical regimes (whether as citizens, activists or former or current members of government). If you have an interest or expertise in any of these areas, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Tyranny is a political regime in which one individual controls a monopoly of power in a state and is therefore not in practice constrained by legal checks and balances of power. This type is also commonly described as a ‘personalist’, ‘sultanist’ or ‘patrimonial’ form of dictatorship / authoritarian regime. The words ‘tyranny’ and  ‘tyrant’ are derived from the classical Greek τυραννίς and τύραννος, in origin themselves terms borrowed from Luvian (a language of ancient Anatolia).

While Tyranny is a concept of considerable antiquity, it is nonetheless highly relevant today. Tyrannies, when defined as personalist dictatorships, can be shown to be increasing in number and are largely responsible for the recent ‘global expansion of authoritarian rule’ (as documented by Freedom House). This is a serious threat to global peace and prosperity, since Tyrannies are associated with high levels of repression, corruption and belligerence

Key Findings 

This project aims to further the reintroduction of Tyranny as a concept in modern political discourse. Tyranny, and ancient theories of Tyranny, have generally been neglected since at least the nineteenth century by those interested in political practice. However, the study of Tyranny offers advantages, in (1) providing an explicitly historical perspective on a contemporary problem and in (2) emphasising ‘the moral component’, and the moral consequences, of authoritarianism, the loss of which has been (in the words of Garry Kasparov) ‘a catastrophe’ for foreign policy in the West – as exemplified in particular by the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.   

We aim to further study, and improve the understanding of the public and policy makers, in three areas:

  1. The Concept of Tyranny: what Tyranny has meant in theory throughout history and what it means now.
  2. The Application of the term Tyranny to historical and contemporary regimes: we seek in the long-term to provide a framework by which regimes may be classified as tyrannies empirically and objectively.  
  3. The Behaviour of Tyrants and their subjects:  Tyrannies have different interests, provide different incentives and so promote different patterns of behaviour from those common to democracies. For democratic policy makers to successfully negotiate with Tyrannies and predict their behaviour, they need to understand the nature of tyrannical society and the type of ‘soul’ it produces.  


Forthcoming Events

In-person Workshops

Conference Announcement: Understanding Authoritarianism, University of Ostrava, 29th-31st May 2024

Our partners the M.O.R.D.O.R. consortium announces their  upcoming international conference dedicated to dictatorships and non-democracy, taking place in Ostrava (Czech Republic) from Wed. 29 May to Fri. 31 May 2024. Aimed foremost at political scientists, area experts, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, policy-analysts and other experts working on political regimes and autocracy; this conference will be a one-time event, co-funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Union.

Click here or consult the attached leaflet to read more and register for the conference.

Tyrannica Westminster Launch, The Henry Jackson Society (Online and in person), 11 June 2024, 6.00-8.00pm (London time), The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower

A panel discussion including Aliona Hlivco (Former Ukrainian MP and Managing Director, HJS), Paul Kenyon (BAFTA-winning journalist and author of Dictatorland) and Benedict Rogers (Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch and author of The China Nexus). Wine and refreshments will be served following the panel and plenary discussion. This event is funded by the AHRC Impact Accelerator Account.

For more information, please email edmund.stewart@nottingham.ac.uk

Online Lectures

30th January 2024, 4.00 p.m. GMT Juan Antonio Senent de Frutos (Loyola University in Seville), Political community, common good and tyranny in the School of Salamanca (sixteenth century): Join here.

19th February 2024, 6.00 p.m. GMT – panel discussion: Join here.

31 January 2024, 6.00 p.m. (London time), Thucydides on Traps and Wars (Online),  A conversation betweenMarek Węcowski (University of Warsaw) and Edmund Stewart (University of Nottingham) Join here

This event is a collaboration with Antigone Journal (antigonejournal.com).

Past Events

In-person Workshops

Lessons for Modern Politics and International Relations: The Ancient Spartan Constitution, The House of Lords, Wednesday 9th March 2022. For full details see here.

The Ancient Spartan Constitution II: Lessons for Modern Politics and International Relations

This panel will take place as part of the Conference ‘Ancient Sparta and Laconia in the 21st century: Recent Trends and Developments’ Sparti,
8-11 June 2023, organised by the Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies at the University of Nottingham.
Further details here.
Register for the conference here.

Online Webinars

Ongoing online lecture series (see below): Tyranny and Freedom in Early Christian Thought and the Middle Ages

All lectures on Microsoft Teams. Contact mateusz.strozynski@amu.edu.pl to register.

Laurent Baggioni (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3), Tyranny and Freedom in Italy in the Late Middle Ages: Ancients and Moderns
Monday, 22 May 2023, 7p.m. (Polish time).

Loïc Chollet (University of Bern), Talking about crusades and political freedom at the Council of Constance: Pawel Wlodkowic in the European context
Monday, 5 June 2023, 7p.m. (Polish time)

Panel discussion II, Monday, 26 June 2023, 7p.m. (Polish time).

IAS Invited Lecture Series On Tyranny and Democracy: Dictators and Democrats in the Ancient Greek World

An international webinar series hosted by the Institute of Classical Philology and Institute for Advanced Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań.

Organisers: Mateusz Stróżyński (Poznań) and Edmund Stewart (Nottingham) Official web page here 

Online lecture series: Tyranny and Freedom in Early Christian Thought and the Middle Ages

Cary J. Nedermann (Texas A&M University), Tyranny and Consent in Marsiglio of Padua’s ‘Defensor Pacis’
Monday, 3 Apr 2023, 7p.m. (Polish time).

Sylvain Piron (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris), The Pope as a tyrant? Tyranny and freedom in the conflict between the Spiritual Franciscans and papacy,
Monday, 6 March 2023, 7p.m. (Polish time).


Links to Recordings

Part 1: The Classical World

Edmund Stewart ‘What is a tyranny? How can you tell the difference between a tyrant, an oligarch and a democrat?’, 4th November 2021, Recording available here.

Edward Harris, ‘The Origin of Tyranny as a Political Slogan and the Rise of Freedom and the Rule of Law?’, 17th November 2021, Recording available here.

James Kierstead, ‘How Fine a Thing’: Isēgoria, State Performance, and Democratic Dignity’, 7th December 2021, Recording available here.

Xavier Marquez, ‘Ancient Tyranny and Modern Dictatorship: The Changing Face of Non-democracy’, 11th January 2022, Recording available here.

Mirko Canevaro, ‘What is it like to live under a tyrant? Esteem, honour, and respect in tyrannical regimes’, 2nd March 2022, Recording available here.

Ellodie Paillard, ‘Why Did Tyrants Sponsor Theatre?’, 6th of April 2022, Recording available here.

Andrew Hanssen and Robert Fleck, ‘What Can We Learn by Comparing the Modern World to Ancient Greece?’, 4th of May 2022, Recording available here.

Josiah Ober, ‘What can Political Science tell us about ancient tyranny and ancient democracy?’, 1st of June 2022, Recording available here.

Part 2 Tyranny and Freedom in Early Christian Thought and the Middle Ages

Juan Antonio Senent de Frutos (Loyola University in Seville), Political community, common good and tyranny in the School of Salamanca (sixteenth century). Recording available here

Richard Dougherty, ‘Augustine on Human Freedom: Politics and Theology in the Roman World’, 10th October 2022, Recording available here.

Constantine Bozinis, ‘Dogma and Politics in Gregory of Nyssa’, 14th November 2022, Recording available here.

Andrew Fear, ‘Tyranny and Democracy: Gregory, Isidore, and Hamlet's dilemma’, 24th January 2023, Recording available here.

Pawel Figurski, ‘Tyranny and Freedom in the Making of Sacramental Rulership from Charlemagne to Gregory VII’, 30th January 2023, Recording available here.

24th October, 5.00 p.m., Cary J. Nedermann (Texas A&M University), The Theory and Practice of Tyranny in Machiavelli’s Writings. Recording available here

28 November, 4.00 p.m., GMT Ronald G. Asch (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg), The figure of the tyrant in political thought and practice in the later sixteenth century: Recording available here

Other events

Thucydides on Traps and Wars,  A conversation between Marek Węcowski (University of Warsaw) and Edmund Stewart (University of Nottingham). Recording available here.


Policy Briefs / Discussion Documents

Policy Discussion Document produced for the workshop ‘The Spartan Constitution’, held at The House of Lords, 9th of March 2022.

Academic Publications

Stewart, E., 2023. Tyranny in Tragedy, Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought. 40: 234-58.

Stewart, E., 2021. The Tyrant’s Progress: the meaning of the ΤΥΡΑΝΝΟΣ in Plato and Aristotle, Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought 38: 208-36.

Stewart, E., 2021. Tragedy and Tyranny: Euripides, Archelaus and popular patronage, in S. Lewis (ed.) 

Tyranny: New Contexts (Dialogues d'Histoire Ancienne, Supplément; Besançon: Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté), 81-101.

Media, Blog Posts and Press Coverage

Ισχυρό το αποτύπωμα του Πανεπιστημίου του Νότινγκαμ στη Σπάρτη, Lakonikos.gr, 11th January 2023, available here.

Stewart, E., 2022. What is the difference between a populist and a dictator? The ancient Greeks have answers, The Conversation, 27th October 2022, available here

Stewart, E., 2022. Confusing populism with tyranny’, The Critic, August-September 2022: 77-8, available here.

Stróżyński, M. 2022. Ukraine’s Island of Heroes, Antigone Journal, available here

Stróżyński, M. 2022. Classics and Freedom in the Younger Europe, Antigone Journal, available here.

Stewart, E., 2021.Thucydides’ Trap: are the USA and China today’s Athens and Sparta?, Antigone Journal, available here.

Stewart, E., 2021. ‘What do you fear most? Tyranny and the polis’, Antigone Journal, available here.

Linked Projects

MORDOR: Mapping and Organising Research on Dictatorships: Erasmus+ project, co-funded by the European Union focusing on improving general education on authoritarianism and to prepare recommendations for EU foreign policy stakeholders regarding democracy support.


Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0)115 951 4800
fax: +44 (0)115 951 4811
email: csps@nottingham.ac.uk