Thirteenth logos: the Thracians (5.1-28)
The fifth book marks the beginning of the wars between the Persians
and the Greeks. After a short digression on Thracian customs, Herodotus
tells us about Megabazus' conquest of Thrace and the ensuing submission
of eastern Macedonia. One of the newly conquered towns is Myrcinus,
which Darius presents to Histiaeus of Miletus as a reward for his role
in the retreat of the Persian army from Scythia. This loyal Greek becomes
one of Darius' advisors in Persia - according to Herodotus a kind of honorable
detention. Megabazus' successor as governor of the European territories
is Otanes, who subdues several Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Herodotus
praises this governor with the words that the troubles between Persians
and Greeks ceased for a while.
Myrcinus was famous for its timber
and its silver mines. Its significance is that Miletus obtained the means
to found a large navy, comparable to that of Polycrates before
and Athens in the fifth century (see below).
It was to become the leading city among the Ionian Greeks. Soon, the great
king had reason to regret his royal gift.
Fourteenth logos: the Ionian Revolt; affairs in Greece (5.28-55)
In the next logos Herodotus explains how the Ionian Greeks living
in the Persian Empire revolt against Darius. He considers this a disaster,
caused by the short-sighted and egoistical behavior of several Greek protégés
of the great king. While Histiaeus stays at the Persian court, Miletus
-Ionia's main city- is ruled by his son-in-law Aristagoras, who tries to
add the Greek island Naxos to the Persian Empire
and his own sphere of influence. He and the Persian governor of Lydia,
Artaphrenes, join forces, but they fail to capture the island.
Naxos was the main island of the Cyclades archipelago. These islands
-several of which were rich in natural resources- were a kind of bridge
to the Greek mainland and a logical aim for Persian expansion; Aristagoras
may have been hoping for the ownership of the silver mines at Siphnos or
the marble quarries at Paros. The incident cannot be dated precisely, but
belongs to the closing years of the sixth century BCE.
Aristagoras does not wait until he has fallen in disfavor with Darius,
and decides to revolt against the great king. However, Herodotus knows
another story: Histiaeus, irked by his honorable detention, had sent a
trusted slave to Ionia, with the word "revolt" tattooed on his scalp. Whatever
the true reason, the Ionian Greeks rebel. The pro-Persian leaders are seized,
democratic government is established, and preparations are made for the
war. The Milesian Hecataeus (the man responsible
for the description of the hippopotamus; above)
proposes to trust on the navy and to pay the marines from the temple treasury
of the Branchidae, an oracle that had received extraordinary gifts from
Croesus. This advise is ignored; instead, Aristagoras decides to ask for
help from Sparta, famous for its army.
The chronology of the events is controversial, but 499 is a good guess;
Aristagoras' embassy may have taken place in the winter of 499-498. Herodotus'
picture of Histiaeus may be a shade too dark: as we will see below,
he may have acted to prevent Darius from deporting the Ionians. Although
Herodotus does not believe this rumor, we may notice that in the ancient
world, this was a common policy. An interesting aspect is the establishment
of democratic government; as we will see below,
the first experiment with this system had started only a few years before
in Athens. From a strategic point of view, Hecataeus' advise to rely on
the navy was better than Aristagoras' idea to ask help from an army: the
Ionian cities had no depth of territory within which armies could maneuver,
whereas a strong navy could have kept the Phoenician ships that formed
the Persian fleet out of the Aegean Sea.
his description of Aristagoras' visit to Sparta with a story about his
host, king Cleomenes. We hear strange rumors about his birth, learn that
he was not quite right in his head and understand that his behavior caused
great trouble in his country. His half-brother Dorieus, unable to accept
the fact that a madman rules Sparta, had even gone off to Sicily. This
Cleomenes receives the Milesian envoy, who delivers a very long speech
about the glories of a war against Persia; the king's laconic answer is
that "the proposal to take the Spartans a three months' journey from the
sea is a highly improper one".
Sparta was famous for its well trained soldiers
(picture). One of the peculiar characteristics of the constitution of this
military state was the fact that it had two kings. Cleomenes ruled from
about 520 until 491; as we will see below,
he managed to usurp the powers of a sole ruler, virtually eclipsing the
other king, Demaratus. After Cleomenes' death, Dorieus' younger brother
Leonidas (below) succeeded him
and the other dynasty regained its influence under Demaratus' relative
Leotychides. When Herodotus says that Cleomenes was mad, he probably echoes
hostile traditions that must have circulated in the families of Leotychides
Fifteenth logos: affairs in Athens (5.55-96)
Next, the Ionian ambassador goes to Athens, which gives Herodotus
a chance to devote a logos to the period in which the Athenian democracy
was founded. Athens had been ruled by a respected man named Pisistratus,
but after his death his son Hippias had ruled the city like a despot. After
his brother had been murdered by two noblemen, his rule had become oppressive
and the noble Alcmeonid family had decided to remove Hippias from Athens.
After a failed first attack, one of them, a man named Clisthenes, bribed
the priestess of the oracle at Delphi to tell the Spartans that it was
their duty to liberate Athens.
A first Spartan expedition had been a disaster,
because Hippias had known of the Spartan plans. This had been unacceptable
to Cleomenes, who had lead the second invasion in person. This time, the
Spartans were successful, and Hippias had left Athens. He settled in Sigeum,
at the Hellespont, but was to come back, as we will see below.
had been free, its troubles had not ended: rivalries between the noble
families had taken their toll. Finally, Clisthenes had been able to overcome
his opponents by allowing every male citizen a vote in the people's assembly.
At the same time, he had divided the population of Athens in new voting
districts, situated across the territories of the old aristocratic families,
and effectively breaking their power. This meant the establishment of democracy,
not exactly what the Spartans had been fighting for. Twice Cleomenes had
returned, but the free Athenians had been able to survive his invasions.
The second of these had been well organized, and Athens had had to cope
with invasions from all its neighbors (Thebes and Aegina); they had even
sent an embassy to the Persian governor Artaphrenes at Sardes to ask for
This logos ends with a story about a meeting
at Corinth, where Cleomenes and his allies had discussed the Athenian problem.
Cleomenes had proposed to restore Hippias, but Herodotus knows of a speech
by the Corinthians, who had shown the true nature of one-man-rule, and
had convinced the Spartans that their cause had been hopeless.
Pisistratus ruled Athens 546-527 BCE. From the Athenian historian Thucydides,
we know that the murder of Hippias' brother, which took place in August
514 BCE, had no political motive (History of the Peloponnesian War 6.53-59).
The first Spartan attack can be dated in 511; Cleomenes' invasion of Attica
in the next year and the establishment of democracy in 509. The other two
Spartan interventions were in 508 and 507. We may notice that Artaphrenes
may have interpreted the Athenian embassy to Sardes as recognition of the
great king's universal rule.
Sixteenth logos: the Ionian Greeks capture Sardes (5.97-5.126)
At the beginning of the fourth logos of Book Five, Herodotus returns
to the point where he had started the preceding logos: Aristagoras
of Miletus asking Athens for help against the Persians. The people's assembly
decides to send a squadron of twenty warships to help the Ionian Greeks.
Five ships are added by the town Eretria, which had to pay a debt of honor
to the people of Miletus. The sailing of this fleet was, in Herodotus'
opinion, the beginning of the trouble for the Greek homeland. Its marines
landed at Ephesus, where they joined forces with the troops of the Ionian
Greeks; this army delivered a surprise attack on the capital of the Persian
governor Artaphrenes, Sardes. Except for the
citadel, the complete town is burnt to the ground, including the sanctuary
of the mother goddess Cybele. After this success, the Ionian Greeks disperse
for the winter; they are an easy target for Artaphrenes' army, which inflicts
a minor defeat on the looters of the sanctuary. This Persian victory cannot
prevent the revolt from spreading to the Greek towns of Cyprus, to the
Carians, and to the Greeks living along the Hellespont and Bosporus.
When king Darius hears from the rebellion, he implores
his god to grant him the punishment of the Athenians; he orders a servant
to remind him of the Athenians three times a day. He levies an army, and
orders his courtier Histiaeus of Miletus (above)
to command it against the Ionian cities. At the same time, the Phoenician
navy ferries a Persian army to Cyprus. In a naval engagement, the Phoenician
is defeated by a squadron of the Ionian Greeks, but treason allows the
Persians to reconquer the island. Two other armies are send against the
Carians and the Hellespontine Greeks; both armies are victorious and Miletus
is left alone. Aristagoras flees from his town to Myrcinus,
where he is killed by the Thracians.
The spread of the Ionian revolt to the Hellespont and the Bosporus
in 498/497 was strategically very important. From now on, the Persian army
in Europe was isolated. Herodotus' judgment that Aristagoras fled
to Myrcinus in Thrace must be incorrect: he and his men were trying to
force the Persians to surrender. Had he been successful, the Ionian Greeks
would have had their back covered. Moreover, control of the straits meant
control of the corn trade from the Black Sea. Small wonder that the Hellespont
was the first target of the Persian counterattack (Summer 497). The Cypriotes
were reduced to submission in 496, allowing a newly built Phoenician navy
to sail into the Aegean Sea. Herodotus does not
tell us that in 495, Rhodes is subjugated by a Median admiral in Persian
service, whose name is Datis.
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