Herodotus' Histories, book 6

summary and comments by Jona Lendering


Seventeenth logos: the end of the Ionian revolt (6.1-42)

Book Six opens with the arrival of Histiaeus at Sardes. He cannot deceive Artaphrenes, who compares him to the maker of a shoe that Aristagoras has put on. The man from Miletus flees to his home town, but his compatriots and the other Ionians mistrust him too. Even his story that he had ignited the revolt to prevent mass deportation does not help him, and he is forced to leave Miletus and then, with the help of eight warships, starts a career as a privateer, attacking corn ships in the Bosporus.
    As we have seen, Miletus is left isolated. However, the Persians cannot take it as long as the Ionians can supply it from overseas. So, a Phoenician fleet sails into the Aegean and occupies Lade, a small island in front of the harbor of Miletus. After winning a naval battle, the Persians can invest Miletus by land and sea. Five years after Aristagoras' revolt, the greatest city in Ionia is reduced to slavery. Next year, the last Greek resistance is broken; several rebels escape to Sicily, where they found Zancle (modern Messina). Histiaeus surrenders and is impaled by Artaphrenes. The head of the deceitful author of the Ionian revolt is send to Darius.
    This logos continues with some remarks on Miltiades, an Athenian adventurer who had left his home town to escape the tyranny of Hippias and had established a small monarchy for himself at the entrance of the Hellespont. At the approach of the Phoenician fleet, he flees back to Athens.

Eighteenth logos: affairs in Greece (6.43-93)

Darius had implored his god to grant him the punishment of the Athenians. After Ionia has been pacified, he sends an expedition to the Greek mainland under command ofMardonius, a member of the highest Persian nobility: he was the son of Gobryes, one of the seven conspirators (above) and the man who had persuaded Darius to return from Scythia (above). His army adds all Macedonians to the list of the great king's subjects; his navy first attacks Thasos, but it caught in a violent northern gale when it rounds the Athos promontory. Three hundred ships are smashed up, and twenty thousand men are devoured by sea monsters. The great king now tries diplomatic means to subdue Greece; ambassadors demand earth and water, the usual token of submission. Sparta and Athens flatly refuse to consider the demands (below), but several cities are willing to surrender. Among the king's new subjects is the island Aegina, which causes great alarm at Athens and Sparta. King Cleomenes launches a pre-emptive strike towards the unreliable island, but when he is away, the other king -the above mentioned Demaratus- makes trouble, and Cleomenes has to return home. (At this point, Herodotus interrupts his tale and offers a fantastic explanation of the origin of the Spartan dual kingship.) The royal quarrel does not last long: Cleomenes spreads the rumor that Demaratus is an illegal child, bribes the oracle at Delphi to confirm this accusation, and ensures that his colleague goes into exile. Demaratus is succeeded by a strawman, Leotychides. The two kings invade Aegina; arrest the leaders of the pro-Persian party and send them to a prison in Athens.
    When Cleomenes' machinations at Delphi become known, this king has to leave Sparta too; by threatening to start a guerilla war in Arcadia, he brings about his return. However, the king starts to behave himself very strange, and his family is forced to place the madman in the stocks. When he obtains a knife, he starts to mutilate himself until he dies. Herodotus suggests that the madness of the king who had bribed the Delphian oracle was a divine punishment. He adds a story about an earlier impiety of Cleomenes, who had once executed several soldiers in a sanctuary.

Nineteenth logos: the battle of Marathon (6.94-140)

While Aegina and Athens were at each other's throats, Darius continues to make plans for the punishment of the Athenians and Eretrians. Mardonius is relieved from his command and replaced by the Median Datis (above) and Artaphrenes, the son of the governor of Lydia. In their company isHippias, the tyrant who had been driven from Athens by Cleomenes, two decades ago (above). He could still count on some support in Athens. It takes a year to build a new navy of no less than six hundred vessels. The new commanders depart from Miletus and avoid the Athos promontory; their first target is Naxos, the island that Artaphrenes' father had once tried to occupy (above). It offers no resistance to the Persian fleet, which soon subdues almost every island in the Aegean Sea. A few days later, the expeditionary force attacks Eretria; fighting continues for six days, but the town is betrayed on the seventh day. The Persian army enters the city, strips the temples bare and burns them in revenge for the burnt temple of Cybele (above); the inhabitants are carried off as prisoners.
    The part of Athenian territory nearest Eretria -and also the best ground for cavalry to maneuver in- is at Marathon; to this village, therefore, Hippias directs the Persians. The Athenian general Miltiades -the man who had been forced by the Persians to flee from his personal kingdom at the entrance of the Hellespont (above)- hurries to meet the invading army with 10,000 heavy armored infantrymen. At the same time the runner Phidippides is dispatched to Sparta; three days later, he returns (after covering some 450 kilometer!) with the message that the Spartans will send reinforcements as soon as possible. Unfortunately, a religious law forbids any military operation until full moon, which is six days ahead.
    At Marathon, a war of nerves has started. While the Athenians postpone the engagement, they receive reinforcements from their ally Plataea. Their problem is that the Persian cavalry is superior; no infantry line could cross the open plain, because its rear would immediately be attacked by the Persian horsemen. Their opponents, on the other hand, are in a hurry, because they know that the Athenians are waiting for Spartan reinforcements. One day, Miltiades receives favorable omens and moves his army in position: he allows the center to be weak but strengthens the wings. At dawn, suddenly, he orders his heavy armored men to run towards their enemies, about two kilometers away. Herodotus remarks that the Persians considered this charge "suicidal madness". On the wings the Athenians, fighting with better armor and longer spears than their enemies, rout the invaders; after this first victorious engagement, the wings attack the Persian center from the rear. According to Herodotus, the Athenians loose 192 men in the ensuing mêlée, their opponents 6,400.
    However, the rest of the Persian army can retreat safely. The fleet picks up the soldiers and brings them to the harbor of Athens. There, they can see that the Athenian army has marched from Marathon, and is ready to oppose a second invasion. Seeing that it is impossible to take Athens, Datis and Artaphrenes order the fleet to return to Asia. The captive Eretrians are deported to the southern part of modern Iraq.
    After the victory at Marathon, Miltiades leads an attack on the Cyclades, the archipelago that the Persians had recently added to their empire. It is no success: he is wounded and dies from gangrene. Herodotus must have thought that this was not a fitting end for the man who had saved Greece from Persian rule; he ends his logos with a story of a more glorious achievement, Miltiades capture of Lemnos.
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