The son of a potter who had removed to Syracuse, he learned his father's trade, but afterwards entered the army. In 333 he married the widow of his patron Damas, a distinguished and wealthy citizen. He was twice banished for attempting to overthrow the oligarchical party in Syracuse; in 317 he returned with an army of mercenaries under a solemn oath to observe the democratic constitution which was then set up. Having banished or murdered some 10,000 citizens, and thus made himself master of Syracuse, he created a strong army and fleet and subdued the greater part of Sicily.
War with Carthage followed. In 310 Agathocles, defeated and besieged in Syracuse, took the desperate resolve of breaking through the blockade and attacking the enemy in Africa. After several victories he was at last completely defeated (306) and fled secretly to Sicily. After concluding peace with Carthage, Agathocles styled himself king of Sicily, and established his rule over the Greek cities of the island more firmly than ever. Even in his old age he displayed the same restless energy, and is said to have been meditating a fresh attack on Carthage at the time of his death.
His last years were harassed by ill-health and the turbulence of his grandson Archagathus, at whose instigation he is said to have been poisoned; according to others, he died a natural death. He was a born leader of mercenaries, and, although he did not shrink from cruelty to gain his ends, he afterwards showed himself a mild and popular "tyrant."
See Justin xxii., xxiii.; Diodorus Siculus xix., xxi., xxii. (follows generally Timaeus who had a special grudge against Agathocles); Polybius ix. 23; Schubert, Geschichte des Agathokles (1887); Grote, History of Greece, ch. 97;
from a 1911 encyclopedia