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A tyrant (from Ancient Greek τύραννος, túrannos), in the modern English-language usage of the word, is an absolute ruler unrestrained by law, or one who has usurped legitimate sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may defend their position by oppressive means. The original Greek term meant an absolute sovereign who came to power without constitutional right, yet the word had a neutral connotation during the Archaic and early Classical periods. However, Greek philosopher Plato saw tyrannos as a negative word, and on account of the decisive influence of philosophy on politics, its negative connotations only increased, continuing into the Hellenistic period.
The philosophers Plato and Aristotle defined a tyrant as a person who rules without law, using extreme and cruel methods against both his own people and others.The Encyclopédie defined the term as a usurper of sovereign power who makes "his subjects the victims of his passions and unjust desires, which he substitutes for laws".In the late fifth and fourth centuries BC, a new kind of tyrant, one who had the support of the military, arose – specifically in Sicily.
One can apply accusations of tyranny to a variety of types of government:
The English noun tyrant appears in Middle English use, via Old French, from the 1290s.
The word derives from Latin tyrannus, meaning "illegitimate ruler", and this in turn from the Greek τύραννος tyrannos "monarch, ruler of a polis"; tyrannos in its turn has a Pre-Greek origin, perhaps from Lydian. The final -t arises in Old French by association with the present participles in -ant.