The Ionian Revolt III

After the sea-battle off Miletus, the Phoenicians reinstated Aeaces in Samos as directed by the Persians in recognition of the great and valuable service he had done them. The Samians were the only people who had rebelled against Darius who did not have their cities and temples burned down, and this was because of their desertion with their ships in the battle. Once Miletus had been dealt with, the Persians went on to take control of Caria, some cities submitting voluntarily, others being forcibly subdued. So that was the end of it. (6.18–20, 25)

But not quite … Histiaeus, still ambitious to regain his former power, came south with his Lesbian fleet and conquered Chios, exploiting the island’s weakness after its fleet’s mauling at the battle of Lade. He then raised a larger force from Ionia and Aeolis and mounted an attack on Thasos but abandoned this when he heard that the Phoenician fleet was sailing up the Ionian coast from Miletus. He brought his fleet back to Lesbos, but food was in short supply so he took it over to the mainland to plunder the grain harvest on the plains along the River Caicus.

A Persian general called Harpagus happened to be in the area with a substantial force and attacked the Hellene landing party. He killed most of them but took Histiaeus alive and this is how it came about. The Hellenes fought the Persians at Malene and held out until the cavalry was sent in and charged them. This was decisive, and the Greeks turned and ran. But Histiaeus, confident that the King would not have him executed for his latest transgression, displayed his instinct for survival in this way: when a Persian seized him as he fled and was about to skewer him, he came out with a few words of Persian to let him know that he was Histiaeus the Milesian. (6.28)

So Histiaeus survived, but Harpagus and Artaphernes had no intention of allowing him to charm the Great King yet again. So, they took him back to Sardis and had him impaled and decapitated, then delivered his embalmed head to Darius. The King was not pleased and ordered them to give the head a proper burial because he still thought that Histiaeus had served him and Persia very well. Herodotus ends this episode with a dismissive ‘So that’s what became of Histiaeus.’ The final suppression of the Hellenes of the eastern Aegean took a little more time:

The Persian fleet wintered at Miletus and campaigned again the following year, easily conquering the islands lying off the western coast, Chios, Lesbos and Tenedos. When they had occupied an island the barbarians ‘netted’ the men on it. This is how it is done: each man joins hands with the next forming a chain from north shore to south and they work their way along the whole length of the island, flushing the male islanders out. The Persians also took back the Ionian cities on the mainland, though netting was not practicable there. And now the Persian commanders did not shy away from carrying out what they had threatened to do to the Ionians who had gone to war against them. They picked out the best-looking boys and made them eunuchs and transported the most beautiful young women from the coast to the King, and when they had done this they burned down the Ionians’ cities and their holy places too. And this is how Ionia came to be enslaved three times over, first by the Lydians then twice in succession by the Persians. Afterwards the Persian fleet sailed north and took back everything on the western side of the Hellespont. Everything on the eastern side was already under Persian control.

In the year that followed the Persians brought all hostilities against the Ionians to an end and, in fact, did some things which were very much to their benefit. Artaphernes, the governor of Sardis, summoned representatives from all the cities and, through them, required the Ionians to draw up treaties amongst themselves under which they would settle disputes through litigation rather than by rape and pillage. This is what he made them do, and he also had their land measured in parasangs (the Persian term for a distance of 30 stades). Artaphernes set the amount of tribute to be paid by each city according to this assessment of the Ionians’ property and the amounts remained much the same in living memory; they were actually not much different from what they had been before. So, there was peace.

Then, the following spring, Mardonius, son of Gobryas, came down to the coast in command of a very large land army and fleet. He was a young man who had recently married the King’s daughter, Artozostre. He arrived in Cilicia at the head of this army and there went on board one of the ships and sailed with the fleet. Other commanders led the army on to the Hellespont. Sailing along the shores of Asia, Mardonius reached Ionia and there, I tell you, he did something that will come as a great surprise to Hellenes who find it impossible to believe that Otanes, one of the seven Persians who chose Darius as King, suggested that democracy might be the best form of government for Persia. Mardonius deposed all the tyrants in Ionia and introduced democracy in place of tyranny. (6.31–33, 42–43)

In fact, tyrannies were not universally replaced with democracies and, in any case, the political systems adopted did not affect the cities’ subject status. The Persians’ priority was compliance, stability and internal order at both local and regional level, and, of course, revenue. But they appear to have made genuine efforts to address grievances and frictions that had fuelled the dissatisfaction and unrest which Histiaeus and Anaxagoras had so successfully exploited. A later, 1st-century bc source, Diodorus Siculus, involves the wise Hecataeus in this episode:

Hecataeus the Milesian, who had been sent as an envoy by the Ionians, asked Artaphernes why he did not trust them. When Artaphernes replied that he feared that they would feel bitter resentment because of the pain they had suffered in defeat, Hecataeus responded, ‘Well, if ill treatment breeds bad faith, fair treatment will surely cause our cities to be well disposed toward the Persians.’ Artaphernes agreed with this and gave the cities back their laws and assessed their tributes according to their ability to pay. (Library of History 10.25.4)

This policy was in line with present-day counter-insurgency doctrine, recognizing that lasting success is achieved not by military force but through political and social measures. However, it was clearly still thought necessary to project military power beyond the western frontiers of the empire to reinforce this newly established stability.

Mardonius pressed on to the Hellespont where a massive fleet and land army were now assembled. They sailed across the Hellespont and advanced into Europe. Their destination was Eretria and Athens, or that was the declared purpose of the expedition. In fact, the Persians’ intention was to subdue as many Hellene cities as they could. This is what they did to Thasos with their fleet and the Thasians did not lift a finger to resist, and, with their army, the Persians added the Macedonians to their stock of slaves. All the peoples closer than Macedon were already in their power. The fleet crossed over to the mainland coast from Thasos and sailed along to Acanthus, and set out from there to round the Athos peninsula. As it was on the way round, a gale struck it from the north and it was very roughly tossed about. The ships could not ride the storm out and many of them were hurled onto the coast of Athos. It is said that 300 ships were lost and more than 20,000 men. The sea around Athos is full of man-eating fish and some were snatched and killed by these, some were smashed against the rocks, some died of cold and some perished because they could not swim. So that’s what happened to the fleet. As for Mardonius and his army, the Brygoi, a Thracian tribe, killed many of them in a night attack on their encampment in Macedonia and Mardonius himself was wounded. However, the Brygoi were not to escape slavery, for Mardonius did not leave their territory until he had made them Persian subjects. After subduing Macedon, he led his command back because it had been so badly battered, the land force at the hands of the Brygoi and the fleet by the ocean off Athos. His mission had been a disgraceful failure and he withdrew into Asia. (6.42–44)

If Herodotus is right about the broad scope of this mission, Mardonius had indeed fallen short in failing to drive deep into the heartland of Hellas and, specifically, to reach and punish Athens and Eretria. However, he had re-established or at least reinforced the empire’s control of Thrace and Macedonia, securing the land route for any future thrust into Europe, and the rich island of Thasos was a substantial prize. His losses at sea may be somewhat over-dramatized, and the clash with the Brygoi did not affect the successful outcome of that piece of the campaign, so the expedition had not been a total failure. Nevertheless, Darius did not put him in command of his next thrust into Europe. Still, by the middle of the following decade, Mardonius ‘had more influence with the Great King than any other Persian’ and was to be a central figure in the campaign of 480/79.

The destruction of Miletus and the inevitable collapse of the Ionian Revolt shook Hellas:

The Athenians displayed their profound grief at the fate of Miletus in many different ways, most notably when Phrynichus put on his play The Fall of Miletus,46 and the entire audience was reduced to tears. Phrynichus was fined 1,000 drachmas for reminding the Athenians of a disaster that was so close to home, and the play was banned. (6.21)

Through this decade, the Hellenes had continued to fight their internal wars and the Persians would have looked on with interest. For example, at Sepeia in 494, the Spartans wiped out their neighbours and old enemy, the Argives, as a serious military force for a generation and consolidated their leadership of the Hellenes of the Peloponnese. However, the deposition and exile of Demaratus, one of their two kings, and the subsequent disgrace and strange and gruesome end of Cleomenes, the other, would have been seen as encouraging evidence of instability within one of the leading nations of Hellas. Darius made Demaratus welcome at court and he became an adviser to Xerxes, his successor. In the meantime, the Athenians were constantly at war with Aegina. The Persians continued to cultivate subversive links with reactionary factions in Athens through Hippias, like Demaratus a welcome Hellene exile, and his diminishing but influential body of supporters. For their part, the Athenians had been looking east, uncomfortably aware of the threat that grew as their eastern cousins, the Ionians, were progressively subdued. As in Britain in the run-up to World War II, there was a polarizing split between the forces of appeasement, spearheaded by a reactionary rearguard, who wanted to turn the political clock back, and the forces of resistance and active opposition. The latter were reinforced by the emergence of two strong war-leaders, Miltiades and Themistocles:

Miltiades had recently returned to Athens from the Chersonese and had escaped death twice before becoming an Athenian general. First, the Phoenicians had chased him as far as Imbros, making great efforts to capture him and deliver him to the Great King, but he got away from them and reached home. He thought he was safe, but then his rivals brought him to trial on a charge of ruling as a tyrant in the Chersonese. He survived this as well, and afterwards he was elected general by the choice of the people. (6.103–04)

Ironically, the aristocratic Miltiades owed his many lucrative years as an autocratic colonial governor to Hippias and had served the Great King, albeit with selective loyalty, for some of that time. Themistocles had risen from a less gilded background and was to become, in all but name, supreme commander of the Hellene fleet at one of the most critical wartime moments in the history of the western world. The war with Aegina enabled him to focus on the development of Athenian seapower, which at the end of the next decade was to lie at the core of the strategy for the defence of Hellas. Herodotus introduces him only when his narrative reaches the events of the first half of 480:

There was a certain Athenian who had recently taken his place amongst the most prominent citizens. His name was Themistocles and he was called the son of Neocles. (7.143)

This is more of a put-down than a fanfare; he is more generous in his appreciation of him later in the Historia, but Thucydides supplies important detail about Themistocles’ earlier career and neatly summarizes his strategic vision:

Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to complete the fortification of Piraeus, a project he had initiated in the year he held the office of archon.49 He saw that the place was excellently situated with its three natural harbours and reckoned that it would strongly support the efforts of the Athenian people to build the power of their city, now they had become seamen. Themistocles was the first to venture to suggest that they make the sea their own, planting the seeds of empire at that very moment … He made seapower his priority because, I think, he had noted that the Great King’s invasion force had come much closer to Athens by sea than by land. So, Themistocles considered Piraeus to be of much greater value than the upper city and he frequently gave the Athenians this advice, that if they were ever struggling to defend themselves on land, they should go down to Piraeus and their ships and then could take on the whole world. (History of the Peloponnesian War 1.93)

Persia increased the pressure on Hellas in 491. Herodotus continues:

Darius wished to find out if the Hellenes would put up a fight or surrender. So he sent heralds all over Hellas with his personal demand for offerings of earth and water. He also sent heralds to his subject cities on the coast of Asia, ordering them to build warships and horse-transports, and those cities set to work. The heralds who went to Hellas collected what the King had demanded from many of the cities of the mainland and from all the islands they visited. Aegina was one of the islands that offered earth and water to Darius and the Athenians strongly objected to this. They saw it as an act of hostility signifying their intention to side with the Persians in making war on Athens. Pleased to have this justification, the Athenians took the matter up with the Spartans and accused the Aeginetans of betraying Hellas. (6.48–49)

On the evidence of what happened at the time of Xerxes’ invasion ten years later, it is likely that most of the cities of Boeotia and Thessaly offered submission. The islands of the eastern Aegean were already under Persian control, but earth and water may have been collected from some of the Cyclades. Later in the Historia Herodotus tells the story of the Athenians’ and Spartans’ emphatic rejection of Darius the King’s command:

Xerxes sent no heralds to Athens or Sparta to demand earth and water for this reason. Ten years earlier, when Darius had sent heralds with the same purpose, the Athenians had thrown them into the Pit52 and the Spartans had thrown them down a well, telling them to get their earth and water for the Great King from there. But I cannot say what disaster the Athenians suffered for treating heralds like this. Certainly, their city and lands were laid waste, but I think that was for a different reason. (7.133)

Herodotus may be signalling a degree of scepticism here. Mistreatment of heralds was regarded as extreme sacrilege and laid the guilty open to the avenging curse of the hero Talthybius, King Agamemnon’s herald in the Trojan War. Herodotus is rather weakly arguing that, if the Athenians did suffer from a curse, it was laid on them for a different reason, perhaps their part in the destruction of the temple of Cybele in Sardis. Because of what had already passed between Athens and Persia, it could be argued that a state of war existed between them, so Darius would have had no great reason to include them in his diplomatic offensive; Marathon would give Xerxes even less reason. Retribution had to be delivered and to be seen to be delivered, but, on the other hand, it was Persian policy always to keep open the option of diplomatic resolution. However, the invitation to collect earth and water from the bottom of a well has a salty Spartan flavour to it and the sense of solidarity shared between two leading Hellene cities rings true. Whatever dealings there may have been, Herodotus does give a feel for the internal political manoeuvring of the time. A later source links Miltiades with the Athenians’ execution of the heralds. Members of the ‘war party’, including Themistocles, probably sponsored Phrynichus’ Fall of Miletus. Sparta supported Athens in the conflict with Aegina, and Corinth, another major power, also became involved. Athens, given the opportunity to exploit a planned coup on the island, took a fleet of 70 ships, 20 of them on loan from Corinth for a nominal fee, but arrived a day too late. Nonetheless, the Athenians won a sea-battle and also defeated the Aeginetans on land before losing four ships in a subsequent skirmish. This episode seems to have been inconclusive but it usefully flexed Athens’ muscles on land and sea, and affirmed the strategic stance that Miltiades and Themistocles and their supporters were promoting.

On nearly all the evidence of its campaigning over the past six decades of its existence, the Persian Empire had proved itself invincible. However, its first invasion of Europe had met with failure north of the Danube. Its second thrust to the west, the attack on Naxos in 500, had been unsuccessful and its third and most recent campaign led by Mardonius had fallen short of its objectives in mainland Hellas. The Ionian Revolt had been suppressed but operations had been stretched out over five or six years. Hellenes motivated to protect their homeland and freedoms could demonstrate that the Great King’s mighty war machine was both fallible and resistible. Some could support this belief with plausible strategic and tactical insights based on first- or close second-hand experience of the way the Barbarians waged war. They could also suggest that geography and the gods of wind and ocean would be on their side. For his part, the Great King had already established that Hellas, even mainland Hellas, would not unite against him when he launched his next attack and he could be confident that any smaller alliances that might be formed would be fragile. On the evidence of several victories won on land in the suppression of the Ionian Revolt, he could also be confident of success in any future confrontation with Hellene armies, especially as he was now able to reinforce his Asian troops with Hellene levies. Herodotus makes no comment on the apparent trust in the latter to fight kindred Hellenes with commitment and some may have been token contingents taken along as hostages, in effect, to insure against insurrection in their home cities. More value may have been attached to Hippias, now in his 80s, and presumably other Pisistratid exiles who were to sail with the invasion force to connect with the small like-minded minority that still existed in Athens and would be willing to accept Persian rule as the price of rolling back the democratic reforms of still quite recent years; they would also be restored to power as puppet rulers with Hippias, tyrant of Athens once again, as their leader, or so the old man wished. At sea, the Hellene fleets that had defeated his Phoenicians off Cyprus and posed a significant threat in the early stages of the siege of Miletus would be fighting for him or sidelined. Moreover, through the 490s and well into the 480s, even if the Hellenes of mainland Greece who had not submitted to him had combined all their fleet, it would have been only about half the size of the fleet assembled by the Ionian alliance at Lade. The Persians’ fourth campaign into Europe was to be seaborne and aimed directly at Eretria and Athens, delivering retribution for these cities’ part in the burning of Sardis, but it had the larger goal of establishing a strategic foothold in mainland Greece. The Athenians, at least, were ready.

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