The Ionian Revolt II

Two of Caria’s most important cities, Cnidus and Halicarnassus, had been founded as Hellene settlements centuries before, and Herodotus associates his ancient compatriots with the evolution of hoplite equipment. He credits them with teaching the Greeks how to fix plumes on their helmets and paint blazons on their shields, and with the invention of the revolutionary hoplite shield-grip system. He also tells of the impression hoplites made when they raided Egypt in the 7th century: ‘an Egyptian who had never seen men in bronze armour before reported that “men of bronze” had arrived from the sea and were plundering the land’ (2.152). In the early 5th century ‘the Carians’ equipment was Hellene except for their billhooks and daggers’ (7.93). The Milesians, who joined them at Labraunda, were probably conventionally equipped hoplites. There would have been light-armed support alongside the hoplites but, it seems, no cavalry. Herodotus’ generously rounded and most likely inflated casualty figure of 10,000 suggests a substantial force, which Caria and Miletus together were capable of mustering. Apart from stating that the Persians outnumbered them in the initial clash, Herodotus offers even less information about the force the rebels faced in these two battles. It probably outnumbered them quite significantly and consisted of a core of Persian and Median infantry and cavalry with levies from Lydia and other adjacent territories that had remained loyal. The Lydians, ‘armed very much like the Hellenes’, would have been a better match for the rebel hoplites in close quarter-fighting than the less heavily armed Persians and Medes. The Carians appear to have been led by committee without a formally or informally recognized commander-in-chief, and their decision to let the Persians make an unopposed crossing of the Maeander was as poor tactically as the suggestion that they fight with the river at their backs. As it turned out, the Marsyas probably complicated their retreat after the first battle, which was fought between the two rivers. The Milesian reinforcements were clearly not sufficient to give the Carian survivors a better chance in the second battle.

Caria may have held out for two or three more years till 493, and this final episode recorded by Herodotus suggests that the conflict became ‘asymmetric’ after Labraunda. However, the defeat at Pedasa, the Persians’ only defeat on land in the whole of the Ionian Revolt, must have set counter-insurgency operations back for a while. The fact that the Carian commander was from the leading non-Hellene city in the region may indicate that the forces involved were significant, but it is equally possible that the Persian generals were caught travelling with only a modest escort.

At this point Artaphernes became directly involved and, with the general Otanes, campaigned west from Sardis and retook the important coastal cities of Clazomenae and Cyme. Herodotus brings Aristagoras into his narrative for the last time, making his opinion of him very clear:

With these cities fallen, the Milesian demonstrated what a feeble character he was. For, seeing the great chaos and upheaval he had brought upon Ionia, he now began to plan his own escape, realising that he could not possibly get the better of Darius. (5.124)

He offered to take his followers to Myrcinus, the Thracian city that Darius had given to Histiaeus as a reward for his services in the Danube campaign, or to Sardinia, where he proposed to found a colony. However, it is unlikely that the Carthaginians would have made him welcome in Sardinia. The wise Hecataeus recommended retreating to the nearby island of Leros, fortifying it and waiting there for better times in Miletus:

That was Hecataeus’ advice, but Aristagoras thought it best to take himself off to Myrcinus. So, he accordingly entrusted Miletus to an eminent citizen called Pythagoras and sailed to Thrace taking along any who would join him, and set himself up in that place as he had planned. But campaigning out of Myrcinus, he and his whole army were wiped out by the Thracians while laying siege to a town, even though the Thracians inside were willing to agree a truce and give it up. (5.126)

Aristagoras’ co-conspirator, Histiaeus, still trusted by Darius and sent from Susa to assist in the resolution of the Ionian conflict, found it rather harder to deceive Artaphernes in Sardis:

Artaphernes, who had accurate information about the insurrection, saw through his fabrications and said, ‘This is how things are, Histiaeus: you cobbled the sandals and Aristagoras strapped them on.’ (6.1)

Histiaeus slipped out of Sardis that night and was able to secure enough support amongst the Ionians to pursue his personal goal of reinstatement as tyrant of Miletus. But the Milesians had no desire for this and beat off his attempt to take the city back in a night attack. He was in communication with various Persians with whom he had already plotted, but Artaphernes intercepted the messages and had the conspirators executed. Now Histiaeus had lost most of the support he had built up in the region, but he was able to persuade the Mytileneans of Lesbos to give him eight triremes. He took these to Byzantium and used them for piracy in the Hellespont.

Dealing with Histiaeus was not Artaphernes’ highest priority:

A large Barbarian army and fleet were now bearing down on Miletus. The Persian generals had consolidated all their resources into a single task force and were leading this against that city; the rest of the rebel strongholds were a lower priority. In the fleet, the Phoenicians were the most highly motivated, but the recently subdued Cypriots and the Cilicians and the Egyptians were deployed with them. This assault on Miletus was, in effect, an attack on the whole of Ionia, and when the Ionians learned of this, each city sent delegates to the Panionium. They gathered there and conferred, and they resolved that they should not assemble an army to confront the Persians on land, but that the Milesians should defend themselves from inside their city walls while the rest of them manned all their ships, not leaving a single one in port. They were to assemble as soon as possible at Lade, a small island lying just off Miletus, and mount a seaborne defence of the city from there. And so the Ionians, including the Aeolians who lived on Lesbos, manned their ships and came to Lade.

The Hellene battle order was as follows: the Milesians brought 80 ships and were positioned on the right wing; next to them were the Prieneans with 12 ships, and the Myesians with three; next to the Myesians were the Teans with 17 ships and, next to them, the Chians with 100; then came the Erythraeans, who brought eight ships, and the Phocaeans with three; then there were the 70 ships from Lesbos and finally the Samians, positioned on the left wing with 60. In total there were 353 triremes. So that was the Ionian fleet. The Barbarians had 600 ships. When they reached Miletus and the land army had also arrived, the Persian commanders found out how many Ionian ships there were and became worried that they were not there in enough strength to defeat the Hellenes. They knew that if they did not have control of the sea, they would not be able to take Miletus, and would then face the threat of punishment by Darius. With this in mind, they gathered together the Ionian tyrants who had been removed from their positions by Aristagoras of Miletus and had taken refuge with the Medes, and had, as it happened, joined them on campaign against Miletus. The Persians summoned them all and said, ‘Men of Ionia, now is the time for you to show how you can be of good service to the House of the Great King by endeavouring to detach your countrymen from the rebel alliance. Make them this promise: if they are so persuaded by you, they shall not suffer punishment for their rebellion: their holy places and property shall not be burnt; nor shall they be treated any more strictly than before. But if they do not comply and are set on fighting, then deliver this threat: when they have been defeated, they shall be taken into captivity as slaves; we will make their sons eunuchs and carry off their maiden daughters to Bactria; and we will give their lands to others.’ This is what they said, and the Ionian tyrants passed on the message that night, each to his compatriots. But the Ionians who received the message were stubborn and none of them would contemplate such treachery, each thinking that the Persians were making this offer to him alone. This is what happened immediately after the Persians’ arrival at Miletus. (6.6–10)

Miletus occupied the tip of a promontory on the southern side of the opening of the Latmian Gulf. The city was strongly fortified on its southern landward side with two substantial natural harbours on its western side, facing the Aegean. Lade was about 4km to the west and the Hellene fleet was well placed there to command the approaches. In spite of their recent losses in Caria, the Milesians were clearly still capable of defending their city walls and manning the second-largest element of the rebel fleet; they probably operated out of their home port, which was not large enough to accommodate the rest. The Hellenes’ naval strategy, to focus on protecting the city from seaborne attack and to keep its approaches and harbours open for the delivery of supplies and reinforcements, was sound enough. But they were presumably dependent on a steady shuttle of food and drink from the mainland, and unable to close off the 16km span of the gulf to prevent the Persian fleet occupying the beaches immediately to the south and east of the city in close contact with the besieging army. In any case, this was to be a fight to the finish that the Persians could not allow the Hellenes to win.

The ousted Hellene tyrants were not with the Persians by chance but would have been enlisted by the Persians as advisers and for use as envoys or covert negotiators in their customary strategy of combining the display and application of force with diplomacy and subversion. Reinstatement to their former positions, serving the Persians as compliant vassals, would be the tyrants’ reward. Herodotus’ use of the Greek word agnomosune, ‘obstinacy’ or ‘stubbornness’, to describe the rebels’ seemingly honourable rejection of the Persian offer can be seen as criticism of their unwillingness to bow to the inevitable and makes sense as the opinion of the ‘medizing’ Hellene who may have been his source for this story; medizing was the term used for collaboration with Persia (the Medes) and could be applied to individuals or states. On the face of it ‘disdainful’ might fit the context better than ‘stubborn’. But there is a general sense that Herodotus did not think very highly of the Ionians or their conduct of this war.

The Ionian fleet’s battle order can be taken at face value. The 600 total given for the Persian fleet is a familiar stock figure. If the fleet had been that large, comprising, as it did, contingents from the four main sources of Persian seapower, its commanders would have had little cause for concern, even when bearing in mind their defeat off Cyprus. But, perhaps, their fleet was smaller or was a mix of triremes and less potent warships, and they had not anticipated how big the rebel fleet would be. It was actually almost as large as the fleet mustered by the Hellene Alliance in 480 and consisted entirely of triremes. On land the contest had for the most part been between two distinctly different methods of war, the close-quarter, close-formation shock fighting of the heavy-armed hoplite and the more fluid, long-range fighting of the lighter-armed Barbarian missile warrior, on foot or mounted. At sea, there would be little difference between the opposing forces, both consisting of triremes and with the same repertoire of tactics. The troops on board the Barbarian ships would have been a good match for the Hellenes when it came to deck-fighting. The Cypriots were very similarly equipped, and the Phoenicians and Egyptians also wore helmets and armour; the Cilicians, on the other hand, were less heavily armed:

The Egyptians carried hollow shields with broad rims, naval pikes and great battle-axes, and most of them also had body armour and long dirks … The Cilicians had their own type of helmet and their shields were not hoplite shields but made of oxhide, and they wore woollen tunics. They each carried two javelins and a short sword very similar to the Egyptian dirk. (7.89, 91)

After they had all gathered at Lade, the Ionians held meetings and amongst the several individuals that, I am sure, had their say at them, was Dionysius, the leader of the Phocaeans, and this is what he said: ‘Ionians, we are now on the razor’s edge. Are we to be free men or slaves, runaway slaves at that? If you are willing to face hardship and put in the effort now, you will be able to overcome your enemies and go on living as free men. But if you are feeble and undisciplined, I can hold out no hope that you will be saved from paying the Great King the price of your rebellion. So, put your trust in me and I promise you our enemies will not take us on in battle, or, if they do, that they shall be soundly beaten, if the gods treat us fairly.’ The Ionians heard Dionysius out and put their trust in him, so every day he took them out to sea, lined them up and had the oarsmen practise the diekplous manoeuvre on the other ships, and he also had the deck crews train and equip themselves for action. Then for the rest of the day he kept the ships at anchor and made the men carry on training. (6.11–12)

Dionysius was in command of only three ships, but Phocaea had been a leading maritime power amongst the cities of Ionia until around 540 when most of its population had migrated to southern Italy to escape Persian rule. Their new settlement, Elea, thrived and was the birthplace of an influential early 5th-century philosophical school, but the home city never recovered. Dionysius’ apparent reputation as an expert naval commander may have been acquired through privateering and mercenary activities in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, and perhaps he had distinguished himself in the Ionians’ victory off Cyprus. Herodotus pointedly contrasts his professionalism and dedication with the softness of most of the other Ionians and this episode allows him to present some of the reasons he assembles for the failure of their rebellion. Leaving aside the underlying weaknesses of the alliance and the faultlines that ran through it, and the prejudices of Herodotus and his sources, the beaches of the small island of Lade would have been very crowded and the sickness that broke out probably had more to do with living conditions than unaccustomed exertion. The Persians could afford to watch and wait:

For seven days the Ionians were obedient to Dionysius and carried out his orders. But they were not accustomed to such hard work and were worn out by their efforts and the heat of the sun, and this is what they began to say to each to other, ‘Which of the gods have we so offended that they force us to do this? We are out of our minds, taking leave of our senses to put our trust in this Phocaean tramp who is contributing just three ships! He has completely taken over and is inflicting terrible suffering on us. Many of us are sick already, and many more are likely to fall ill as well. We’ll surely be better off with any kind of suffering in place of our present hardship, even enduring the slavery that may be in store for us. Whatever form that suffering takes, it will not be as terrible as the burden that now weighs down on us. Come on, let’s stop obeying this man’s orders!’ That’s what they said and, from then on, no one obeyed Dionysius’ orders, and they pitched tents on the island as if they were soldiers and lay around in the shade, refusing to get on board their ships and do any more training.

When the Samian commanders became aware of what was happening in the Ionian ranks, they thought again about the message that Aeaces son of Syloson had been ordered to send to them from the Persians, calling upon them to desert the Ionian alliance. Now, having observed the total lack of discipline amongst the Ionians, they welcomed the invitation. In any case, they thought the Great King’s power was irresistible and were certain that even if they defeated the fleet currently facing them, another one five times the size of it would come along. So, when they saw that the Ionians were not prepared to do their duty, they had their excuse, and they could also see how they would benefit by keeping their temples and homes safe. Aeaces, from whom they received the message, was tyrant of Samos until he was deposed by Aristagoras of Miletus along with the rest of the Ionian tyrants.

When at last the Phoenicians put to sea, the Hellenes went out to meet them in line-ahead. The two sides bore down on each other and engaged, but I cannot say with any accuracy which of the Hellenes fought with gallantry in this sea-battle and which did not, because they now all blame each other. However, it is said that right at the start the Samians, having agreed terms with Aeaces, hoisted their sails, abandoned their positions in the line and set course for Samos, all of them except for 11 ships whose captains ignored their commanders and stayed and fought. (Afterwards the people of Samos honoured these men by setting up a column inscribed with their names and a proclamation that they had proved their gallantry, and that column is still there in the marketplace.) Seeing the ships next to them deserting, the Lesbians did the same, and so did most of the Ionians. Of those who stayed to fight, the Chians did not behave like cowards but did glorious deeds, and so had the roughest time of all. They had provided 100 ships, as already mentioned, with 40 picked men on the deck of each. When they saw the majority of their allies betraying the alliance, they were not prepared to display such cowardice. Abandoned by the rest, they fought on with the support of just a few of the allies, breaking the enemy line and taking a large number of ships, but also losing most of their own; those in the ships that survived finally made their escape and returned home.

The crews of the Chian triremes that were crippled by battle damage escaped their pursuers by making for Mycale. They beached their ships and abandoned them there and set off across the mainland on foot, and their march took them onto Ephesian soil. It was night when they reached it and the women were celebrating the Thesmophoria. The Ephesians had not yet heard what had happened to the Chians and were convinced that this was a robber band invading their territory and coming after their women. So, they came out in full force and slaughtered the Chians. As for Dionysius, when he saw that all was lost for the Ionians, he sailed off with the three enemy ships he had captured. But he did not immediately make for Phocaea because he knew very well that the city would be enslaved along with the rest of Ionia. Instead he sailed directly to Phoenicia, where he captured three merchant ships, and then on to Sicily with a load of booty. He made his base there and operated as a pirate, but only preying on Carthaginians and Etruscans, not on Hellenes. (6.12–17)

The Persians most likely had good intelligence of the condition and state of mind of a large proportion of the more than 70,000 Hellenes they were about to face and went into battle confident that their subversion had worked. They probably came out from the beaches on either side of Miletus in line-ahead and then formed into line abreast to bear down on Lade and simultaneously threaten the two harbours of Miletus. The Hellenes had no option but to come out and meet them as they would have been unable to mount any kind of defence with their ships beached or at anchor. Herodotus, for the first time in any of his dealings with sea-battles, provides some tactical information. He has already mentioned the training that Dionysius had given to the fleet. The Hellenes moved out in line-ahead, presumably led by Dionysius’ flagship, with the aim of using the diekplous manoeuvre. This tactic principally involved ramming. The Chians, with 40 hoplites on each of their ships, were also ready to fight in ‘the old-fashioned way’. After the Samians, Lesbians and ‘most of the Ionians’ had turned and run, Dionysius was probably left with considerably fewer than 200 ships, but it seems he was still able to put up a good fight, suggesting that the Persians even then did not outnumber the Hellenes by a large margin.

In the absence of any reference to its part in the fighting, it seems probable that the substantial Milesian fleet fought its way home to the city’s harbour when it became clear that the battle was lost. The explanation of the Chian survivors’ cruel fate may have been invented, although interruption of the Thesmophoria, from which men were strictly excluded, would have been an act of great sacrilege. Ephesus was one of Ionia’s foremost cities but did not have a fleet and is not mentioned as taking any part in the land warfare of the Ionian Revolt. The Ephesians may have been more sympathetically inclined towards Persia than the other Hellene cities of Asia, and the story told by Herodotus could have been created to cover up a shameful act of treachery. Dionysius’ retirement to, or resumption of a life of patriotic piracy ends the account of the battle of Lade on a happier note.

After defeating the Ionian fleet, the Persians were able to blockade Miletus by land and sea, and they undermined the walls using all kinds of siege machinery. And they took the city, town and acropolis, five years after Aristagoras’ rebellion and enslaved its people. This disaster came about as prophesied by the oracle at Delphi:

‘O Miletus, contriver of troubles!

Many shall feast upon you.

You shall become a glittering gift-offering.

Your women shall wash the feet of long-haired men

And other hands shall tend our holy place at Didyma.’

And this is indeed what happened to Miletus. Most of the men were killed by Persians, who wear their hair long, the women and children were reduced to slavery, and the holy place at Didyma, the temple and the seat of the oracle were looted and torched. I have told of the wealth of this holy place at other points in my narrative. The Milesian men who had been taken prisoner were brought to Susa and Darius the King did no more harm to them but settled them in Ampe on the Erythraean Sea close to where the Tigris flows into it.

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