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The historical existence of Pheidon, the shadowy tyrant/king of archaic Argos unanimously considered by ancient sources as the inventor or reformer of Peloponnesian measures and weight standards, might be not totally beyond doubt judging from the possible allusiveness of his name (Pheidon = «the economiser» / pheidon = «little measuring cup for oil», «oil saver» / pheidon[e]ia metra = «[reduced] measures/weight standards fixed by Pheidon»: cf. vb. pheidesthai, «to save», «to economise ») and from the extreme fluctuations of his chronology (from the 9th to the beginning of the 6th century B.C., according to different dates or implications in ancient sources or questionable arguments by modern scholars). Yet such a conclusion seems to be excluded by Herodotus’ authority, who mentions Leocedes, Pheidon’s son, as one of the suitors of Agariste, Orthagorid Cleisthenes’ daughter: «from the Peloponnese came Leocedes, son of Phidon the tyrant of Argos, that Phidon who made weights and measures for the Peloponnesians and acted more arrogantly than any other Greek: he drove out the Elean contestdirectors and held the contests at Olympia himself» (Her. VI 127: the earliest testimony about Pheidon; also the only one that moves his date – as a contemporary of Sicyonian Cleisthenes – to the second half of the 7th or the beginning of the 6th century B.C.). Herodotus’ list, which probably reflects reliable Alcmaeonid tradition from Periclean entourage, cannot be rejected as pure epic fiction. Probably one of the reasons why Pheidon’s chronology became so puzzling in ancient post-Herodotean tradition is that the tyrant of Argos was not at all – or only vaguely – mentioned in Hellanicus’ Argive Hiereiai; and that his usurped role as an organizer of the Olympic Games, obtained by military force, was intentionally obliterated by the Eleans, who considered that edition of the Games as an Anolympiad (Paus. VI 22, 2-3). As a consequence, the ancients could only guess the Argive tyrant’s chronology, according to different autoschediastical calculations and chronological systems; a circumstance which invalidates also any modern pretention to “correct” and improve such unreliable “data”. This is particularly true in the case of Pheidon’s intrusive genealogical role in the Corinthian tale of Habron and Melissus, connected to the foundation of Syracuse by Archias: a role attested only occasionally in ancient sources, a surreptitious mean to provide a “historical” frame for some originally atemporal cultic aition (concerning ritualized “Dorian” pederasty and/or some Dionysiac/Demetriac ritual in Corinth). Instead, a kernel of historical truth – however alterated and modernized it may be – seems to be preserved in the lexicographic tradition (perhaps originally Aristotelian) concerning Pheidon’s alleged role in the demonetization and dedication of iron spits (obeloi) in the Heraion at Argos; a tradition which found substantial – although problematic – confirmation by Ch. Waldstein’s archaeological discovery of a bundle of iron spits, bound together with a heavy iron bar, near the altar of the archaic Argive sanctuary. On the contrary, the assumption – perhaps not earlier than Ephorus – that Pheidon «invented» silver coinage, precisely at Aegina, and gave it in change of the proto-monetary iron spits which he retired from circulation, is beyond any doubt false: as said above, the latest attested chronology for the Argive tyrant is the beginning of the 6th century B.C. (Herodotus), while numismatic evidence points to a date not earlier than the second or third quarter of the same century for the very beginning of Aeginetan coinage (the so called Aeginetan chelonai, «seaturtles » or «tortoises» in the modern research: a virtual Peloponnesiakon nomisma according to Hesychius s.v. chelone). Perhaps this anachronistic tradition is only a “logic” conclusion drawn by ancient sources on the following heterogeneous grounds: (a) the awareness of Pheidon’s historical role as an inventor of Argive weight standards (later extended to a greater part of Peloponnese), and of a new system of “microscopic” weights suitable for silver in little bars: a reform which promoted silver to the official proto-monetary mean of exchange in the whole area, and made the heavy and unpractical proto-monetary iron spits obsolete; (b) the awareness of a close evolutive connection between the proto-monetary circulation of weighted silver and the beginning of silver coinage, generally considered – at least for mainland Greece – an Aeginetan primacy. Such an hypothesis, increasingly accepted in recent research, may be strenghthened by a literary testimony, sofar unnoticed: Etymologicum Gudianum s.v. pheidesthai. Although somewhat corrupted, this passage seems to depict Pheidon as the author of a new «reduced» weight standard (meiosantos ta metra), which allowed to base exchanges (allagai) on small pre-determined quantities of silver.
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