There has been a lot of research on non-violent resistance, but looking at Wikipedia's page on the topic, I can't seem to answer this question: What was the first non-violent toppling of a dictator?

N.B.: there is a related but not identical question here What was the first successful non violent independence movement? It gives India as example, but arguably India didn't topple a dictatorship then.

The oldest one mentioned in Wikipedia that seems to unambiguously qualify is perhaps the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. But this seems awfully recent. Are there any older examples?

And since people have quibble about terminology "toppling" is a term used by one of the scholars in this field. (And so is "dictator" and "non-violent".)

  • 4
    The answer to the question as asked is probably somewhere in Ancient Greece; do you want to tighten it up? Apr 4, 2019 at 11:26
  • 3
    Changed it to first "recorded", as that's a bit easier to achieve.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2019 at 12:54
  • 2
    This reads like a contradiction in terms: "overthrow –– remove forcibly from power." Similarly "dictator": the modern meaning of the term makes looking too far back a too big temptation. If you look at Argentina 1982 or Germany 1989: where would you set the line for non-violence? Riots in the streets, police beatings, these are violent; but I guess you look for Breshnev/China tanks firing bullets? When Pinochet went down, the event itself was quite calm (further term denied by plebiscite), but years of resistance went before that. Apr 4, 2019 at 13:42
  • 3
    @Fizz Please include your own research and your own definitions in your question. Without that, it's just opinion-based. People don't want to go through the effort of answering a question only to be told "Naah, that's not really what I meant".
    – Spencer
    Apr 4, 2019 at 14:44
  • 2
    Seems like the first time that a Roman Dictator stepped down at the end of his term of office would qualify.
    – MCW
    May 27, 2020 at 11:49

3 Answers 3


If you accept a Western Roman Emperor as a dictator, then Vetranio (March to December 350 AD) may qualify. This somewaht obscure emperor was deposed peacefully by Contantius II:

Constantius first met with Vetranio at Serdica.... On 25 December 350 both men mounted a platform before the assembled troops; Constantius managed, by means of a strong speech, to have the soldiers acclaim him emperor. He then took the purple away from Vetranio. The emperor led the old man down the stairs of the platform, called him father, and led him to the dinner table. Vetranio was allowed by Constantius to live as a private citizen at Prusa on the equivalent of a state pension for six years until his death.

The problem with other potential ancient 'candidates' for being toppled without violence is the lack of detail in ancient sources. Also, it's sometimes unclear as to whether a tyrant willingly handed over power or was told 'leave or else...'. There are several possibilities among the tyrants on Wikipedia's List of ancient Greek tyrants.

One example of this uncertainty is Mikythos, Greek ruler (until 467 BC) of Rhegium (Reggio Calabria) in southern Italy. Replaced by his predecessor's son Leophron (and possibly his brother), Herodotus says he was 'banished'. However, Diodorus Siculus's more detailed but later account says he was first forced out but then, when asked to continue, refused and willingly resigned. In both accounts, though, Mikythos does seem to have been removed from (or relinquished) power without violence.

  • 3
    I think it's a reasonable example even if just for establishing a pattern: have the army undoubtedly on the side of the (would be) succession. No real violence seems needed then. Apr 4, 2019 at 14:35
  • That's strange. One Caesar 'toppling' his own Augustus again? Now if anyone of both would have persuaded Magnentius to just go home… Apr 4, 2019 at 17:57
  • 1
    I wonder if the question might not be better phrased as "without violence or threat of violence". In this case, esp with the Roman tradition of the Rhine Legions pushing through their emperors, I can easily see Vetranio calling it quits rather than fighting a war he's bound to lose. Does not mean it wouldn't have been violent. Whereas India or depositing Marcos or the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe was never about the people really having violent potential to threaten the government with (not that escalations aren't possible later on, as in Syria). Apr 5, 2019 at 1:07
  • 2
    @ItalianPhilosopher I don't think there's an easy way to phrase a question like this, and proving 'without threat of violence' would not only be difficult but would also be a matter of opinion. How could we know what people were thinking or what threats of violence may or may not have been made behind closed doors? Apr 5, 2019 at 2:25

Some dictators simply resign from their job. I think Sulla was the first. Diocletian is another outstanding example. Technically only Sulla was officially called dictator, Diocletian was emperor.

There is a similar example in modern history: Augusto Pinochet (if dictator has to be understood in an extended sense).

  • 2
    To make sense this answer really needs to discuss the origin and etymology of the word dictator. Technically this answer is correct - but only because the word dictator no longer means precisely what it originally did in the Roman Republic. May 27, 2020 at 18:26
  • @Peter Geerkins: of course I could discuss this at any length. But since this answer is correct (as you say) and has negative votes, I do not care.
    – Alex
    May 27, 2020 at 19:28
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens OP specified 'topple' so resign surely can't count unless it was a forced resignation. Sulla is borderline - technically, the law said he had to go but I doubt if anyone could have done anything if he'd decided to retain power. Diocletian's resignation, though, can fairly be interpreted as 'forced'. May 28, 2020 at 1:39

What was the first recorded non-violent toppling of a dictator?

539 BC..

I would go with Cyrus the Great of Persia, and his conquest of the Babylon king Nabonidus in 539 BC. It's often referred to as a bloodless coupe. There were battles initially between the Persians and the Babylonians (Opis); but when Cyrus laid siege to Babylon, the citizens eventually opened their gates to Cyrus and welcomed his army into the city.

The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time page 42. In 539 B.C. Cyrus turned his army to the rich kingdom of Babylon, to the east. The babylonians, unhappy with their own leadership and impressed with Cyrus's treatment of previously conquered territories, surrendered without a fight. Included in the bloodless conquest of Babylonia were Palestine and Syria. Cyrus's humane leadership continued. Along with a lack of brutality against the citizens of the newly acquired territories, Cyrus righted several previous wrongs.....

Cyrus the Great Persian King (ca 590-ca 529 b.c.) rank 10

The First Roman I can think of doing it would be 458 BC Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus The first dictator of Rome.

Appointed Dictator by the Roman Senate when an enemy invaded their territory, He assumed dictatorial powers, defeated the enemy and then laid down his powers and returned to his farm when the danger was over.

In 458 BC, the Aequi to Rome's east broke their treaty of the year before and attempted to retake Tusculum (Frascati). The consuls for the year—L. Minucius Esquilinus Augurinus and G. Nautius Rutilus—led out two armies, one to Tusculum's relief and another to strike against the lands of the Aequi and their Sabine allies. Upon reaching Mount Algidus in the Alban Hills, the army under L. Minucius Esquilinus Augurinus encamped and rested instead of immediately attacking. The Aequi quickly deployed around their position and successfully besieged them, with only five horsemen escaping2 to tell the Roman Senate what had happened. With the army of the second consul unable to help, the senators fell into a panic and authorized the nomination of a dictator. G. Nautius Rutilus or Horatius Pulvillus named Cincinnatus for a term of six months.[19]

A group of senators was sent to Cincinnatus to inform him of his appointment, finding him while he was plowing his farm.[c] He asked them, "Is everything all right?" and they replied that they hoped "it might turn out well for both him and his country", asking that he don his senatorial toga before hearing the Senate's mandate. He then called out to his wife Racilia, telling her to bring his toga from their cottage.[19] Once he was properly dressed, the delegation hailed him as a dictator and ordered him to come to the city. He crossed the Tiber in one of the senate's boats and was greeted on his return by his three sons and most of the senators. Several lictors were given to him for protection and enforcement of his orders.

The next morning, Cincinnatus went to the Forum and named Lucius Tarquitius as his master of the horse.2 He then went to the assembly of the people and ordered every man of military age to appear on the Field of Mars (Campus Martius) by the end of the day[21] with twelve times the normal amount of encamping spikes. They then marched to the relief of the consul's relieving army. At the Battle of Mount Algidus, they used their spikes to quickly besiege the besieging Aequi. Rather than slaughter them between the two Roman camps, Cincinnatus accepted their pleas for mercy and offered an amnesty provided that three principal offenders were executed and Gracchus Cloelius and their other leaders be delivered to him in chains. A "yoke" of three spears was then set up and the Aequi made to pass under it as an act of submission, bowing and admitting their defeat. Cincinnatus then disbanded his army and returned to his farm, abandoning his control a mere fifteen days after it had been granted to him

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.