A tyrant (from Ancient Greek τύραννος, tyrannos), in the modern English usage of the word, is an absolute ruler who is unrestrained by law, or one who has usurped a legitimate ruler's sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may defend their positions by resorting to repressive means.[1][2] The original Greek term meant an absolute sovereign who came to power without constitutional right,[3] yet the word had a neutral connotation during the Archaic and early Classical periods.[4] 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.

King Jie of Xia holding a Ji polearm, representing oppression, and sitting on two ladies, symbolizing his abuse of power
Killing No Murder, cover page, 18th century reprint of 17th century English pamphlet written to inspire and make righteous the act of assassinating Oliver Cromwell.

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.[5][6] 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".[7] 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: