Aristagoras (Greek: Ἀρισταγόρας ὁ Μιλήσιος), d.
497/496 BC, was the leader of
Miletus in the late 6th century BC and
early 5th century BC and a key player during the early years of the
Ionian Revolt against the Persian Achaemenid Empire.
2 Failure of the Naxos expedition
3 Ionian Revolt
4 Spartan refusal of assistance
5 Defeat of the Athenians
6 Manville’s theory of a power struggle between
7 Myres’ Theory of a balance of power between thalassocracies
7.1 The list of thalassocracies
7.2 Myres’ historical reconstruction of the list
Herodotus as a source
9.1 The cynical view
9.2 The affirmative view
12 External links
By the time extant history hears of him,
Aristagoras is already
serving as deputy governor of Miletus, a polis on the western coast of
Anatolia around 500 BC. He was the son of Molpagoras, previous tyrant
of an independent Miletus, and son-in-law (and nephew) of
Histiaeus, whom the Persians had set up as tyrant, but never quite
Histiaeus was being detained
by the Achaemenid King
Darius I of Persia
Darius I of Persia at the capital of Susa.
Ostensibly his services as advisor were required there. The assignment
was put forward as temporary. Privately, everyone knew that he was
being kept under observation away from his troops.
Aristagoras was the main orchestrator of the
Ionian Revolt on secret
instruction by Histiaeus, when the latter learned of Persian plans to
interfere directly in Miletus.
Aristagoras took advantage of Greek
dissatisfaction with Persian rule to incite an alliance of the Greek
poleis of Ionia. Soliciting assistance from the states of mainland
Greece he failed to obtain the help of a major state, Sparta. He did
obtain the half-hearted assistance of Athens. Their attack on the
Lydia having been defeated, they withdrew, abandoning
Aristagoras to his fate.
In the last months of the failing revolt, the Persians were
reconquering rebel country city by city. Choosing not to remain and
make a stand alone,
Aristagoras led a colony to Thrace, where he had
negotiated a franchise to settle from the Thracians. No sooner did he
arrive than he and all his men were massacred in a surprise attack by
the Thracians, for reasons unspecified by Herodotus, whether loyal to
the Great King, or influenced by the Scythians, who hated the Ionians
for their rescue of the Great King, or just because they changed their
minds about the number of Hellenes they would allow in their country.
The revolt gained momentum briefly but then began to fail again. When
all was nearly lost, the Great King allowed
Histiaeus to convince him
that he could settle the conflict and now should be sent back to
Aristagoras was gone. At least in the annals of Herodotus,
they never met again.
Histiaeus never succeeded in reaching Miletus, either.
Reporting first to Sardis, undoubtedly still recovering from fire,
whether with or without the Great King's complicity (
not say), he was interrogated concerning his true loyalties. Histiaeus
swore complete ignorance of the events of the revolt and
unquestionable loyalty to the Persians. He admitted nothing, but the
satrap, Artaphernes, was not in the least deceived. He said, "I will
tell thee how the case stands, Histaeus: this shoe is of thy
Aristagoras has but put it on.
Seeing that the jig was up,
Histiaeus escaped that night and took ship
at the coast, probably at Ephesus. He had no trouble raising troops
and finding ships, but he found that he was not trusted by the
Miletus would not have him back. He became a soldier
of fortune in the Aegean until he was hunted down and executed by
Artaphernes. The Ionian revolt was finally settled in 494/493 BC. The
Persians went on to plot the conquest of Greece under the pretext of a
punitive campaign against Athens.
Failure of the Naxos expedition
Main article: Siege of Naxos (499 BC)
Certain exiled citizens of Naxos came to
Miletus to seek refuge. They
Aristagoras to supply them with troops, so that they could
regain control of their homeland.
Aristagoras considered that if he
was able to supply troops to the Naxians, then he could become ruler
of Naxos. So he agreed to assist the Naxians. He explained that he
did not have enough troops of his own, but that Artaphernes, Darius’
brother and the Persian satrap of Lydia, who commanded a large army
and navy on the coast of Asia, could help supply troops. The Naxians
Aristagoras seeking Artaphernes' support and supplied him
Aristagoras travelled to
Sardis and suggested that
Naxos and restore the exiles. The Persians would then gain control of
the island. He explained to
Artaphernes that Naxos “was a fine and
fertile island, close to the Ionian coast, and rich both in treasures
and slaves.” It was also the gateway to the Cyclades, which the
Persians did not yet rule.
Aristagoras promised that he would both
fund the expedition and give
Artaphernes a bonus sum. He also tempted
Artaphernes by adding that capturing the island would place other
poleis of the
Cyclades under his control. They would serve as bases
for an invasion of Euboea. After securing the permission of Susa,
Artaphernes agreed and promised 200 ships.
The following spring,
Aristagoras and the Naxian exiles sailed with
the fleet. Unfortunately for the success of the invasion, Aristagoras
quarrelled with the Persian admiral Megabates. He interfered in the
discipline of the latter over the ship captains to save a friend from
harsh punishment for an infraction (failure to set a watch on his
Aristagoras saved his friend but lost the friendship and
loyalty of the Persian admiral, who expected to be in overall command.
The schism was irreparable, being the very first incident of the
subsequent Ionian revolt.
Megabates sabotaged the entire operation by
secretly informing the Naxians that they were about to be attacked,
taking away the element of surprise. Naxos then had enough time to
prepare for a siege. Four months later, the siege still held, the
Persians were out of supplies and had only limited funds remaining.
The expedition was then considered a failure and the Persians sailed
Main article: Ionian Revolt
Due to his failure to make good on his Naxian promises, Aristagoras’
political position was at risk. He began to plan a revolt with the
Milesians and the other Ionians. Meanwhile, Histiaeus, still detained
at Susa, had tattooed a message upon the shaved head of a slave. Once
his hair had grown back, he sent him to Aristagoras. The message told
Aristagoras to revolt. Histiaeus, desperate to resume his authority at
Miletus, hoped Darius would send him to deal with a Milesian revolt.
Both leaders being of the same mind,
Aristagoras conferred with a
council of his supporters, who agreed to a rebellion in
Miletus in 499
Aristagoras was supported by most of the citizens in council,
except the historian Hecataeus. Hecataeus voted against the revolt
because he believed that the Ionians would be out-matched. Defeat
would be inevitable. Once the vote was taken, however, there is no
evidence that he recused himself from the revolt. In fact, he had
suggestions to make. Once the war began, the Ionians did not allow any
fence-sitting among themselves, although they could not stop the
larger allies from withdrawing. In general knowledge, warring nations
do not allow citizens of any social status to comment from the
sidelines without participating in the war effort.
As soon as the vote for war was certain,
Aristagoras took steps to
secure Persian military assets. The Naxos fleet was recovering from
its ordeal at Myus. Now in a position of command -
Herodotus is not
Aristagoras sent a party under Iatragoras to arrest the
admirals still with the fleet, some several men. Ironically, these
were mainly Greek. They were later released and sent home. Now that
the rebellion was in the open,
Aristagoras “set himself to damage
Darius in every way he could think of.”
The scope of the revolt spread rapidly to all Ionia. Aristagoras
foresaw that one city would soon be crushed. He therefore set about to
create an alliance of all the Ionian cities, but the members also came
from regions beyond Ionia. He made a number of constitutional changes,
not all of which are clear. First he relinquished his own tyranny.
Approaching the other states, he convinced them to end theirs.
Finally he ordered all of the states to create a board of generals
to report, apparently, to him. When his government was in place he
sailed to Lacedaemon and other states of Greece in search of allies.
There has been some question as to the exact meaning of Herodotus'
governmental terms, and as to the form of government of the Ionian
alliance. The most fundamental question is where
Aristagoras got his
authority over the Ionians in the first place. They were all under the
satrapy of Lydia, not under Miletus. The satrap was Persian. The
Miletus was appointed by the satrap, but he also appointed
all the other tyrants. For reasons not specified in Herodotus, Miletus
had the upper hand.
One can only assume a leadership role of some kind of
the other tyrants, whether personal or according to some unspecified
convention. In order to gain the participation of the people in the
revolt, we are told,
Aristagoras "let go" the tyranny and established
isonomia, which the translators translate variously with imprecise
terms, such as "equality of government." According to Liddell and
Scott, a standard dictionary of ancient Greek,
Thucydides uses it to
mean the "equality of rights" in a democracy.
Aristagoras established democracy, but then he went on to
"put a stop to tyranny" in all the other Ionian cities, and moreover
to insist that they select boards of generals reporting to him, which
are not democratic powers. No voting is mentioned. Apparently a new
sovereign state had been formed with
Aristagoras as its chief. He had
not stepped down, but up. The state had the power to levy taxes and
Aristagoras was commander of the joint armed forces. Miletus
was to be the new capital. In fact the new sovereign
Ionia issued its
own coinage between 499 and its destruction by the Persians in 494.
Spartan refusal of assistance
Ruins of Sparta
Aristagoras appealed to the Spartan king, Cleomenes I, to help them
throw off the Persian yoke. He praised the quality of the Spartan
warriors, and argued that a pre-emptive invasion of Persia would be
easy. To illustrate his view, he had brought along a "bronze tablet on
which a map of all the earth was engraved, and all the sea, and all
the rivers." No more information is given about the map, but the
circumstantial evidence suggests it was most likely the world map of
Hecataeus of Miletus, an important player in Milesian political life
of the times.
Aristagoras claimed that the Persians would be easy to defeat, as they
fought in “trousers and turbans,” clearly not a sign of good
warriors. He also tempted him with Persian riches. Cleomenes asked
Aristagoras to wait two days for an answer. When they next met,
Cleomenes asked how long it would take to reach Susa, and upon
learning that it was a three months’ journey, he firmly refused
Spartan assistance as his troops would be gone for too long. At the
Sparta was concerned over possible attacks from the Argives.
The Greek historian
Herodotus claimed that
Aristagoras attempted to
change Cleomenes’ mind with bribes, until the king's young daughter
Gorgo warned that
Aristagoras would corrupt him.
without the requested assistance.
Defeat of the Athenians
Aristagoras next went to Athens, where he made a convincing speech,
promising “everything that came into his head, until at last he
succeeded.” Won over, the Athenians sent ships to Ionia, and
Aristagoras went before them. The Athenians subsequently arrived in
Miletus with twenty triremes and five others that belonged to the
Eretrians. Once all his allies had arrived,
Aristagoras put his
brother Charopinus and another Milesian, Hermophantus, in charge of
the expedition, and the whole contingent set out for the provincial
capital, Sardis, while
Aristagoras remained to govern at Miletus.
Ruins of Ephesus
The acropolis at Sardis, now forested and eroded, with a few pinnacles
of ruins. About half the massif is shown at an angle of elevation so
close under the cliffs as to accentuate the perception of height.
The first leg of the journey was to proceed along the coast to
Ephesus. Using it as base, they went overland to Sardis, on which they
descended by surprise. The satrap
Artaphernes and his forces retreated
to the acropolis immediately. A fire, started by accident in the town,
accidentally burned down the temple of the Lydian goddess Cybebe
(Cybele). Attributing the fire to Ionian maliciousness, the Persians
later used it as an excuse for burning Greek temples.
The fire forced the defenders of the acropolis to abandon it in favor
of the marketplace. Its defence coincided fortuitously with the
arrival of Persian reinforcements. Interpreting the tumult as a
counter-attack, The Ionians retreated to Tmolus, a nearby elevation,
from which they escaped by night. The reinforcements followed the
Ionians, caught up with them near
Ephesus and soundly defeated
The Persians had obtained Lydia, including all the Greek cities, by
defeating the last Anatolian-speaking kingdom of the same name. They
made such a show of mercy as to win the hearts and minds of the
Anatolians, as well as of some of the Greeks. In that sense, the
"Ionian Revolt" was de facto an Anatolian civil war. A call for
assistance went rapidly around the satrapy. Joint Persian-Anatolian
forces hastened overnight to the assistance of the satrap.
They arrived with such short notice and major fanfare as to frighten
away the Ionian-Athenian forces.
The Cambridge Ancient History article
attributes this swift arrival to the Persian cavalry, which also had
no trouble tracking and catching the Ionians before the gates of
Ephesus. The losses of the East
Greeks were so great that they slunk
away, so to speak, leaving
Aristagoras and the rebels to fend for
themselves. An air of doom pervaded the revolt, but they fought with
such spirit that the rebellion spilled over into the islands
After this battle, the Athenians refused to continue to fight in the
Ionian Revolt and returned to Athens. Because of their participation
in this battle, however, the Persian king, Darius, swore vengeance on
Athens and commanded a servant to repeat to him three times every day
at dinner, “Master, remember the Athenians.” The story is
somewhat and probably hypocritically naive (but not necessarily on
that account false), as the Persians intended expansion into the
Balkans all along. They still held parts of
Thrace from their previous
abortive expedition into Scythia, only stopped when they learned the
true size of the country (most of Russia) and the danger of their
position in it.
The Ionians fought on, gaining control of
Byzantium and the
surrounding towns as well as the greater part of
Caria and Caunus.
They were not, however, alone. In this last phase of the conflict,
almost all of
Cyprus also rebelled against the Persians. Onesilus, the
younger brother of Gorgus, the ruler of Salamis, tried to convince his
brother to rebel against Persia and join in the Ionian Revolt. When
his brother refused to support the revolt,
Onesilus waited until he
left Salamis and then shut the city gates on him. Gorgus fled to the
Onesilus took over and convinced the Cyprians to
revolt. They then proceeded to lay siege to the city of Amathus.
Manville’s theory of a power struggle between
Herodotus’ account is the best source we have on the events that
amounted to a collision between Persia, which was expanding westward,
and classical Greece at its peak. Nevertheless its depictions are
often scanty and uncertain, or incomplete. One of the major
uncertainties of the Ionian revolt in
Herodotus is why it occurred in
the first place.
In retrospect the case seems obvious: Persia disputed the Hellenes for
control of cities and territories. The Hellenes had either to fight
for their freedom or submit. The desirability of these material
objects was certainly economic, although considerations of defense and
ideology may well have played a part. These are the motives generally
accepted today, after long retrospect.
Herodotus apparently knew of no such motives, or if he did, he did not
care to analyse history at that level. J D Manville characterizes his
approach as the attribution of “personal motivation” to players
Aristagoras and Histiaeus. In his view,
Herodotus “may seem
to overemphasize personal motivation as a cause,” but he really does
not. We have either to fault
Herodotus for his lack of analytical
perspicacity or try to find credible reasons in the historical context
for actions to which
Herodotus gives incomplete explanations.
Manville suggests that the unexplained places mark events in a secret
scenario about which
Herodotus could not have known, but he records
what he does know faithfully. It is up to the historian to reconstruct
the secret history by re-interpretation and speculation, a technique
often used by historical novelists. Manville puts it forward as
The main players are portrayed by
Herodotus as naturally hypocritical.
They always have an ulterior motive which they go to great lengths to
conceal behind persuasive lies. Thus neither
Aristagoras nor Histiaeus
are fighting for freedom, nor do they cooperate or collaborate. Each
has a personal motive related to greed, ambition, or fear. Manville
fills in the uncertainties with hypothetical motives. Thus he arrives,
perhaps less credibly for his invention, at a behind-the-scenes
struggle for dominance between
Aristagoras and Histiaeus. They can
best be described as rivals or even enemies. Some of the high
points of the argument are as follows.
Histiaeus was away serving Darius,
Aristagoras acted in his
stead as deputy of
Miletus where, it is argued, he worked on securing
his own power. The word for deputy is epitropos, which he was when the
Naxian deputation arrived. By the time the fleet departs for Naxos,
Aristagoras has promoted himself to “tyrant of Miletus.” There is
no explicit statement that he asked Histiaeus’ permission or was
promoted by Histaeus. Instead,
Aristagoras turned to Artaphernes, who
was said to be jealous of Histiaeus. It is true that
not move without consulting the Great King, and that the latter’s
advisor on Greek affairs was Histiaeus. However, Manville sees a coup
by Aristagoras, presuming not only that the Great King’s advisor did
not advise, but was kept in the dark about his own supersession.
When the expedition failed,
Histiaeus sent his tattooed slave to
Aristagoras, not as encouragement to revolt, but as an ultimatum.
Manville provides an underlying value system to fill in the gap left
by Herodotus: revolt was so unthinkable that
Histiaeus could bring the
fantasies of his opponent back to reality by suggesting that he do it,
a sort of “go ahead, commit suicide.”
Histiaeus was, in
Manville’s speculation, ordering
Aristagoras to give up his rule or
suffer the consequences. Apparently, he was not being kept in the dark
by the king after all. Manville leaves us to guess why the king did
not just crush the revolt by returning the supposedly loyal Histiaeus
However, at this time
Histiaeus was still required to remain in Susa
and, despite his threat, he was unable to do anything if Aristagoras
did revolt. Realizing that this would be his last chance to gain power
Aristagoras started the revolt despite Histiaeus’ threat. This is a
surprise to Manville’s readers, as we thought he already had power
via a coup. Manville does note the contradiction mentioned above, that
Aristagoras gave up tyranny, yet was able to force democracy on the
other cities and command their obedience to him. We are to see in this
paradox a strategy to depose Histiaeus, whom we thought was already
The tale goes on to an attempt by
Histiaeus to form an alliance with
Artaphernes to depose the usurper and regain his power at Miletus.
Artaphernes, though he was involved in open war with Aristagoras,
refuses. The tale told by Manville thus contains events related by
Herodotus supplemented by non-events coming from Manville’s
Myres’ Theory of a balance of power between thalassocracies
John Myres, classical archaeologist and scholar, whose career began in
the reign of
Queen Victoria and did not end until 1954, close friend
and companion of Arthur Evans, and intelligence officer par excellence
of the British Empire, developed a theory of the
Ionian Revolt that
explains it in terms of the stock political views of the empire,
balance of power and power vacuum. Those views, still generally
familiar, assert that peace is to be found in a region controlled by
competing geopolitical powers, none of which are strong enough to
defeat the others. If a power drops from the roster for any reason, a
“vacuum” then exists, which causes violent competition until the
balance is readjusted.
In a key article of 1906, while Evans was excavating Knossos, the
Ottoman Empire had lost Crete due to British intervention, and
questions of the “sick man of Europe” were being considered by all
the powers, referring to the failing
Ottoman Empire and the power
vacuum that would be left when it fell, the young Myres published an
article studying the balance of what he termed “sea-power” in the
eastern Mediterranean in classical times. The word "sea-power" was
intended to define his “thalassocracy.”
Myres was using sea-power in a specifically British sense for the
times. The Americans had their own idea of sea power, expressed in
Alfred Thayer Mahan’s great strategic work, ‘’The Influence of
Sea Power upon History’’. which advocated maintaining a powerful
navy and using it for strategic purposes, such as “command of the
sea,” a kind of domination. The
United States Naval Academy
United States Naval Academy used
this meaning for its motto, ‘’ex scientia tridens’’,
“sea-power through knowledge.” It named one of its buildings,
Far different is Myres’ “sea-power” and the meaning of
thalassocracy, which means “rule of the seas.“ In contrast to
“tridens,” rule of the seas is not a paternalistic but democratic
arrangement. Where there are rulers, there are the ruled. A kind of
exclusivity is meant, such as in Rule, Britannia!. Specifically, in a
thalassocracy, the fleets of the ruler may go where they will and do
as they please, but the ruled may go nowhere and engage in no
operation without express permission of the ruler. You need a license,
so to speak, to be on ruled waters, and if you do not have it, your
ships are attacked and destroyed. “Shoot on sight” is the policy.
And so Carthaginian ships sank any ships in their waters, etc.
The list of thalassocracies
Thalassocracy was a new word in the theories of the late 19th century,
from which some conclude it was a scholarly innovation of the times.
It was rather a resurrection of a word known from a very specific
classical document, which Myres calls “the List of
Thalassocracies.” It occurs in the Chronicon of Eusebius, the early
4th century Bishop of Caesarea Maritima, the ruins now in Israel.
In Eusebius, the list is a separate chronology. Jerome, 4th-century
theologian and historian, creator of the Vulgate, interspersed the
same items, translated into Latin, in his Chronicon of world
events. The items contain the words “obtinuerunt mare,”
strictly speaking, “obtained the sea,” and not “hold sea
power,” although the latter meaning may be implied as a result. Just
Jerome utilized the chronology of Eusebius, so
the chronology of Castor of Rhodes, a 1st-century BC historian. His
work has been entirely lost except for fragments, including his list
of thalassocracies. A thousand years later, the Byzantine monk, George
Syncellus, also used items from the list in his massive Extract of
Over the centuries the realization grew that all these references to
sea-power in the Aegean came from a single document, a resource now
reflected in the fragments of those who relied on it. C Bunsen, whose
translator was one of the first to use thalassocracy, attributed its
discovery to the German scholar, Christian Gottlob Heyne In a
short work composed in 1769, published in 1771, Eusebius’
Chronicon being known at that time only through fragments in the two
authors mentioned, Heyne reconstructed the list in their Greek and
Latin (with uncanny accuracy), the whole title of the article being
Super Castoris epochis populorum thalattokratesanton H.E. (hoc est)
qui imperium maris tenuisse dicuntur, “About Castor’s epochs of
thalattocratizing peoples; that is, those who are said to have held
the imperium over the sea.” To thalattokratize is “to rule the
sea,” not just to hold sea power like any other good fellow with a
strong navy. The thalattokratizer holds the imperium over the watery
domain just as if it were a country, which explains how such a people
can “obtain” and “have” the sea. The list presented therefore
is one of successive exclusive domains. No two peoples can hold the
same domain or share rule over it, although they can operate under the
authority of the thalassocrat, a privilege reserved for paying allies.
According to Bunsen, the discovery and translation of the Armenian
version of Eusebius’ Chronicon changed the nature of the search for
thalassocracy. It provided the original document, but there was a
disclaimer attached, that it was in fact “an extract from the
epitome of Diodorus,” meaning Diodorus Siculus, a 1st century BC
historian. The disclaimer cannot be verified, as that part of
Diodorus’ work is missing, which, however, opens the argument to
another question: if
Eusebius could copy a standard source from
Diodorus, why cannot Diodorus have copied it from someone else?
It is at this point that Myres picks up the argument. Noting that
thalassokratesai, “be a thalassokrat,” meaning “rule the
waves,” was used in a number of authors: elsewhere by Diodorus, by
Polybius, 2nd century BC historian, of Carthage, of
Chios by Strabo,
1st century BC geographer and some others, he supposes that s stock
document might have been available to them all (but not necessarily,
the cautious Myres points out). The document can be dated by its
content: a list of 17 thalassocracies extending from the Lydian after
the fall of
Troy to the Aeginetan, which ended with the cession of
power to Athens in 480 BC. The
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis included 200 new
Athenian triremes plus all the ships of its new ally, Aegina. Despite
Aegina went on to become part of the Delian League, an
imperial treaty of the new Athenian thalassocracy.
of it after 432 BC, but Herodotus, who visited Athens “as late as
444 B.C.” does not know a thing about it. This tentative date for
the Eusebian list does not exclude the possibility of an earlier
similar document used by Herodotus.
Myres’ historical reconstruction of the list
The order of thalassocracies in the various versions of the list is
nearly fixed, but the dates need considerable adjustment, which Myres
sets about to reconcile through all historical sources available to
him. He discovers some gaps. The solidest part of the list brackets
the Ionian Revolt. The Milesian thalassocracy is dated 604-585 BC. It
was ended by Alyattes of Lydia, founder of the Lydian Empire, who also
fought against the Medes. The latter struggle was ended by the Eclipse
of Thales at the Battle of the Halys River in 585 BC, when the
combatants, interpreting the phenomenon as a sign, made peace. The
Lydians were now free to turn on Miletus, which they did for the next
11 years, reducing it. When the Persians conquered
Lydia in 547/546
they acquired the Ionian cities.
After 585 is a gap in the list.
Lesbos and one or more unknown
thalassocrats held the sea in unknown order. In 577 began the
thalassocracy of Phocaea. Breaking out of its Anatolian cage, it
Marseilles and cities in Spain and Italy, wresting a domain
Carthage and all other opponents. Their thalassocracy
ended when, in the revolt of the Lydian Pactyas, who had been
instructed to collect taxes by the Persians, but used them to raise an
army of revolt, the Ionian cities were attacked by the Persians. The
Phocaea about 534 BC and after much adventuring
settled in the west.
The thalassocracy of
Samos spans the career of the tyrant, Polycrates,
there. The dates of the tyrant are somewhat uncertain and
variable, but at some time prior to 534 BC, he and his brothers staged
a coup during a festival at Samos.
Samos happened to have a large navy
of pentekonters. Becoming a ship collector, he attacked and subdued
all the neighbouring islands, adding their ships to his fleet. Finally
he added a new model, the trireme. His reign came to an end about 517
BC when, taking up the Great King’s invitation to a friendly banquet
for a discussion of prospects, he was suddenly assassinated. There
were no prospects.
However, if he had chosen not to attend, he was doomed anyway. Some of
his trireme captains, learning of a devious plot by him to have them
assassinated by Egyptian dignitaries while on official business,
Sparta to beg help, which they received. The adventurous
young king, Cleomenes I, was spared the trouble of killing Polycrates,
but led an expedition to
Samos anyway, taking the thalassocracy for
two years, 517-515. Adventure and piracy not being activities approved
by the Spartan people, they tagged him as insane and insisted he come
home. The sea was now available to Naxos, 515-505.
The Hellenes had obtained a foothold on the coast of
siding with rebel coastal Anatolian states against the Hittite
Empire. Their position was made more solid by the fall of Troy
against a coalition of mainland Greek kings. The coastal cities
managed to retain their positions against the subsequent Phrygian
Anatolia by joining with the rump Anatolian states, while
Hittites withdrew into neo-Hittite states in Syria. The coastal
cities, now entirely Hellenic, continued to receive immigrants from
The massive transfer of Persian-speaking population from the steppes
of Central Asia to the range they now occupy presented the Anatolian
Hellenes with an impossible strategic problem. They could not hope to
oppose their small armies against the resources of the vast Persian
empire unless they could once again receive major support from the
mainland Greek states, especially the maritime power of Athens. Those
states, however, were reluctant to take on the might of ancient
Consequently the Hellenic states in
Anatolia submitted reluctantly to
Persian rule, and were placed in the new satrapy of Lydia, with
capital at Sardis. The satrap of
Lydia allowed self-rule as long as
taxes were paid and the supremacy of ancient Persia was granted. Many
of the Anatolian cities proved loyal subjects. However, underlying
resentment against Persian rule was universal.
Persia was not interested in the status quo. Their desire to expand to
the west brought them into conflict with
Ionia over the question of
self-rule, one of the principles of the agreement of the city-states
to submit. Their interference in
Miletus was the spark that set off
the Ionian revolt. Aristagoras, the first rebel ruler, appeared then
as the champion of Greek freedom. The Ionians had high hopes of
Due to the disparity in resources and the reluctance of the mainland
states to involve themselves, the tide soon turned in favour of the
Persians. After only one year, the Cyprians were once again forced
into submission by Persia. The cities around the Hellespont fell one
after another to Daurises, the son-in-law of king Darius. The Carians
fought the Persians at the Maeander River and were defeated with
Aristagoras, seeing the rebellion falling to pieces around him, and
little help forthcoming from the Greeks, began looking for a shelter
to which he could execute a strategic retreat. He and his men resolved
on Myrcinus in Thrace, which had been an Ionian stronghold in the
abortive Persian invasion of Scythia. He put Pythagoras, “a man of
distinction,” in charge of
Miletus and set sail for Thrace, where he
attempted to establish a colony on the Strymon river, at the same site
as the later Athenian colony of Amphipolis.
The Thracians, not now disposed to tolerate any further presence of
Greeks in their country, opposed this incursion. He gained control of
the territory but later, while besieging a neighbouring town,
Aristagoras was killed in battle.
Expecting a swift Persian victory,
Aristagoras had hoped to establish
a redoubt of Ionians, who would come to the assistance of
Miletus at a
later time. By an accidental sequence of historical events his
reputation drew the ire of his main historian,
Halicarnassus, an Ionian partisan, to such a degree that it suffers
yet. Although a champion of freedom,
Aristagoras is the only man in
all his histories that
Herodotus openly calls a coward, blaming his
supposed flight for the defeat of the revolt. The revolt apparently
intensified and spread into the islands.
Aristagoras had no way of
knowing that he would have been in the van of it, or that the
Thracians would not allow a redoubt.
The revolt was over by 494/493 BC. Going directly for
Miletus in 494,
the Persians defeated the Ionians with their own weapon, the ship, in
the Battle of Lade, an island off Miletus. The city was then subject
to a siege and the war lost at its fall. Although there was some mild
devastation of rebel cities (except for Miletus, which was razed and
the population decimated and transported), the Persians were
interested in ruling rather than revenge. They began to plan forthwith
for the largest invasion of Greece yet undertaken, executed starting
490 BC in a series of conflicts called the Greco-Persian Wars, which
are yet famous. Unfortunately for the Persians, they were forced to
adopt contingents of Ionian
Greeks into their armies and navies.
Herodotus as a source
Main article: Herodotus
Most of the information on
Aristagoras and his actions comes from the
writings of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. On the one hand he
is virtually the only literary source for the events he presents as
history. While in many ways he reflects some of the best of ancient
historiography, on the other hand, his work is sprinkled with
motivational and logical lacunae, creating textual paradoxes
everywhere, causing some scholars to be critical of his value as a
historical source, especially regarding the Ionian Revolt. For
purposes of this presentation, textual criticism may be polarized into
two camps: the cynical, discrediting
Herodotus as an unreliable
source, and the affirmative, which credits him with being reliable as
far as he goes.
The cynical view
Manville's cynical view concerning an imaginary power struggle between
Histiaeus isolated from the usual contexts of war and
society has already been mentioned above. Manville has no confidence
in Herodotus' ability to relate connected history and therefore
supplies connections for him out of his own speculations. He was
preceded in this method by the earlier work of Mabel Lang. A 1968
article by Lang focuses on the paradoxes of the Ionian revolt. For
Histiaeus originally won the Great King's favor by protecting
his escape from
Scythia over a key bridge of the Danube. Despite
this vital rescue to save the king and all his forces, he shortly
after plots a rebellion!
Lang suggests that one might conclude to an ulterior motive at the
bridge, "to ingratiate himself with Darius so that he could be on the
inside of the king's policy." Apparently, to be on the inside of
his policy he has to save his life and the lives of all his army by
letting him escape from the large Scythian army not far behind. He
prefers to keep him alive for nothing more serious than keeping an eye
on him. Nonchalantly Lang writes: "Presumably revolt was already in
the air,...." It could not have been far in the air if Histiaeus
passed up a chance for total victory at the outset, a prized goal of
many a lightning campaign in world history afterwards.
The basic problem is Lang's cynicism: "we should not hope to discover
the truth about the result merely by accepting the narrative ...."
Accordingly she rehearses a catalogue of paradoxes similar to
Manville's weaving her own fantasy of unattested events to contain it.
Her explanation of why such a tale is necessary is similarly
speculative: "the failure of the revolt not only gave prominence to
every aspect and event which would explain, justify or anticipate the
disastrous results but also cast into the shade any intentions which
deserved a better fate and any temporary successes during the course
of the war." Not having any other account with which to compare these
events, she cannot possibly know that.
The affirmative view
The cynical view described above reflects a difference in expectation
Herodotus and his target audiences, which by the accidents of
time are multiple and various. He did not write for us moderns.
Reading that he was the first historian whose work survived in
anything more than scattered fragments, we expect him to have the
proper concern of modern historians for continuity and causality,
which other ancient historians, such as Thucydides, have.
not one of those. With regard to causation, the Cambridge Ancient
History article asserts: “...
Herodotus does not seem to have
innovated: he merely accepted the causation appropriate to his subject
It would be convenient to attribute this unconcern to a sort of
intermediate phase between mythology and history, as many do. Such a
view is neglectful of the ravages of time.
Herodotus was not the first
historian in any way, only the first whose work survived. He wrote of
Ionian Revolt a full generation after it happened; moreover, he
was not a participant. He relied on the work of several previous
historians at Miletus, of which fragments and mention have survived,
chief of which was Hecataeus of Miletus.
Herodotus apparently designed his work according to a specific plan
and style. Whether the previous historians used it is not known, due
to the paucity of evidence, but it seems unlikely. He appears to use
Hecataeus as a framework for his historical events. The fragments of
Hecataeus suggest that he wrote only an annal-like sequence long on
names and events but short on connecting narrative. To this framework
Herodotus adds the logoi, or independent anecdotes of persons and
events derived from independent oral traditions, which Herodotus
obtained by interview with record-keepers and state historians. The
disconnectedness comes from their being independent. It is pointless,
therefore, to try to invent connections.
The ancient historians have therefore invented a special category for
Herodotus, that he was a logographer, or teller of logoi, based on his
own characterization of his sources as logopoioi, “story makers.”
Usually the logographers include Hecataeus and the other historians of
his generation, who lived through the revolt. There is little evidence
of their logography. Whether
Herodotus stands alone or is part of a
Milesian tradition is a matter of speculation.
Herodotus therefore rests on validation of his logoi.
There is no general validation, but the much-desired archaeological
and inscriptional evidence appears to validate a few events as far as
they go: some names, circumstances of war, and similar peripheral
facts. He cannot be validated as a modern historian, but he does have
an overall design, which is “Biblical” or “Bible-like” in
scope. He is trying to do an epic in prose similar to the Homerica in
verse. His topic is not the Trojan War, but the Graeco-Persian Wars.
(The Homerica have been called the pagan Greek “Bible.") Says Oswyn
Murray in the Cambridge Ancient History,
It is certainly hard to find fault with his general view that the only
adequate explanation for the Persian Wars must be a complete account
of relations between the two peoples since the conquest of the Ionian
cities in 545 B.C.
Herodotus is personal because the Homerica are personal.
Both genres intend to portray the illustrious or non-illustrius deeds
and doings of persons in the contexts of mighty wars. Thus Aristagoras
personally can be called a “coward.” The lying that they do is
metis, “cunning,” an admired Greek virtue practised by the
greatest hero of them all, the crafty Odysseus. The literary tradition
of it went on. Virgil could include the half-line Timeo Graecos dona
ferentes, “I fear
Greeks bearing Gifts,” in the Aeneid.
The expectation of modernity in
Herodotus is misplaced. Validation
must be sought for individual logoi. The whole work or any part of it
cannot logically be condemned on the basis of one or a group of
paradoxes. All scepticism must have a reason for doubting. The
Herodotus are not a valid reason, which is
generally true. But few stories are ever free of inconsistency, and if
they are, they are suspect on that account (“too good to be
Denials of Herodotus' validity, from mild to severe, although
widespread, were never universal. As an example of ancient information
generally agreed to be invalid, many works attributed to various
authors have been placed in the "pseudo-" category after as much as
centuries of review. There was never any such universal and
long-standing denial of Herodotus. On the contrary, the main events,
such as the Battles of Marathon and Thermopylae, have been accepted as
basically credible by many scholars of many ages. It is therefore
misplaced to speak of the "rehabilitation" of
Herodotus in medical or
Accordingly the most sanguine view treats his work as though no
problems exist regarding it. Referring to the Cambridge Ancient
History article on the
Ionian Revolt by Murray, Georges addresses "the
question of Herodotus' veracity and reliability." Repeating
Murray's criticism that "the traditions concerning the revolt itself
are ... fragmented into individual episodes of folly, treachery, or
heroism" and therefore are not "trustworthy materials for the history
of the revolt," he asserts to the contrary that "Herodotus' account
furnishes the material for a coherent and credible account of the
actions and events it presents ...."
Having said this, Georges must now show that, rather than being
Herodotus is coherent and credible. Like Lang, having no
other account to offer, he must make his demonstrations from the text
of Herodotus, which he spends the rest of the article doing, disputing
most of Murray's interpretations. The contradictions are not to be
viewed as contradictions. He does not address the question of why, if
they are not so, it is necessary to spend an article in disputation
over them. The result is a new set of speculations fully as imaginary
as Murray's, not being based on any alternative texts.
There is hope, however, as fragments of Greek texts and inscriptions
continue to be discovered. Meanwhile it seems common knowledge that
the public of any age is not going to relinquish credibility in
Herodotus' great depiction of the Persian Wars.
^ Anepsios, often "cousin", but in Herodotus, according to Liddell and
^ a b
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 320, Book V Chapter 30
^ Histories, Book VI, Chapter 1.
^ a b
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 321, Book V Chapter 31
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 322–323, Book V
^ Book V, Chapter 36. The text is one of those telescoping of events
that confuse translators and provide fuel for the fires of the
Aristagoras calls a consultative meeting (ebouleuonto) with
his partisans, or supporters (stasiotai). The very next sentence
describes a binding vote to revolt (exepheronto keleuontes
apistasthai) and not to adopt the proposals of Hecataeus, a logopoios,
not a partisan. A plenipotentiary emissary is sent to seize the fleet
and arrest its Persian-employed commanders. As tyrants do not rely on
voting to decide policy or send emissaries, the consultative body of
partisans cannot be same as the voting body. Apparently after the
Aristagoras has given up tyranny and has convened an
assembly of the people, which hears proposals and votes on them.
^ a b
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 324, Book V Chapters
^ Strategoi, which can only be high-ranking military officers, and not
some sort of magistrate as some translators say. As
Herodotus does not
clarify the duties of a strategos, considering that
interpreted as establishing democracies, most commentators presume
Herodotus only, a strategos is an archon, or magistrate. The
language precludes determining whether single strategoi or many
strategoi were being set up in each city. The word "command,"
keleusas, refers to an instruction given by a figure in authority to a
subordinate, so to interpret
Aristagoras as democratically suggesting
each Ionian city vote in its magistrates appears somewhat far-fetched
as far as the language is concerned.
^ There are some credible theories. The use of koinon, Latin res
publica, to refer to the Ionians under
Aristagoras suggests that the
former Ionian League, also termed a koinon, had been restored again
Aristagoras as chief officer:Boardman et al. 1988, p. 481,
Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray, The Ionian Revolt. In a second
theory, pointing out that
Histiaeus was arrested by the Chians as a
Persian agent, and asserting "
Susa was not a pampered
political prisoner," Georges attributes the influence of
Darius himself, in support of Histiaeus: Georges 2000,
^ Book V, Chapter 49.
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 328, Book V Chapter 49
^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 482, Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray,
The Ionian Revolt
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 329–330, Book V
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 351, Book V Chapter 97
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 352–353, Book V
^ The scenario is partly covered in Histories, Book V, Chapters
102-103, with additional details to be found in Boardman et al. 1988,
p. 483, Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray, The Ionian Revolt
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 354, Book V Chapter 105
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 353, Book V Chapter 104
^ Manville 1977, pp. 80–81
^ Manville 1977, pp. 82–90
^ A translation can be found in "Eusebius: Chronicle". attalus.org.
Retrieved 28 May 2017.
^ The relevant section of the Chronicon in Latin may be found at
"Hieronymi Chronicon pp.16-187". tertullian.org. Retrieved 29 May
^ Bunsen, Christian C.J. Baron (1860). Egypt's Place in Universal
History: an Historical Investigation in Five Books. 4. Translated by
Cottrell, Charles H. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.
p. 539. Heyne, in his classical treatise of 1771 and 1772,
submitted for the first time the Whole series to connected criticism,
according to the authorities then existing, especially Syncellus and
^ Heyne, Christian Gottlob (1771). "Commentario I: Super Castori
Epochis etc". Novi commentarii Societatis Regiae Scientiarum
^ Myres 1906, pp. 84–86
^ Myres 1906, pp. 87–88
^ Myres 1906, pp. 103–107
^ Myres 1906, pp. 102–103
^ Myres 1906, pp. 101–102
^ Myres 1906, pp. 99–101
^ Questions of settlement of the coast of
Anatolia by Hellenes is a
major topic of Bronze Age studies. A summary can be found in Rose, C.
Brian (2008). "Separating Fact from Fiction in the Aiolian Migration"
(PDF). Hesperia. 77: 399–430. .
Miletus began its career in
history as the city of Millawanda in the Anatolian-speaking state of
Mira in the rebel district of Arzawa, which received assistance from
Ahhiyawa or Achaea, which was Greece (pp 407-408). By 1264 BC
Millawanda was a protectorate of Ahhiyawa, by which time Greek
immigration had begun. By the late 8th century BC Assyrian texts were
calling the region Yaw(a)naya, or Ionia. Presumably it had become
Miletus, from Milawata, and was Hellenic.
Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 357–360, Book V Chapter
^ The unobectivity of Herodotus' emotional reaction to Aristagoras'
Miletus is pointed out in Fink, Dennis L (2014). The
Battle of Marathon in scholarship: research, theories and
controversies since 1850. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland &
Company, Inc. p. 102.
^ Book IV, Chapters 140-141. The bridge had been partly broken down.
Arriving at the bank, the king had a caller call for Histiaeus, who
arrived in a fleet of boats to ferry him across and rebuild the
^ Lang 1968, p. 25
^ Lang 1968, p. 24
^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 463, Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray,
The Ionian Revolt
^ The CAH article summarizes several historians whose fragments are
similar to passages in Herodotus, to be found at Boardman et al. 1988,
^ Boardman et al. 1988, pp. 461–462
^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 464
^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 486
^ Georges 2000, p. 1
Boardman, John; Hammond, NGL; Lewis, DM; Ostwald, M, eds. (1988). The
Cambridge Ancient History. Volume IV: Persia, Greece and the Western
Mediterranean c. 525 to 479 B.C. (2nd ed.). Cambridge [England]:
Cambridge University Press.
Georges, Pericles B. (2000). "Persian
Ionia Under Darius: The Revolt
Reconsidered". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 49 (1):
Herodotus; Sélincourt, Aubrey de, Translator (1954). The Histories.
London: Penguin Books.
Lang, Mabel (1968). "
Herodotus and the Ionian Revolt". Historia:
Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 17 (1): 24–36.
Manville, P.B. (1977). "
Aristagoras and Histiaios: The Leadership
Struggle in the Ionian Revolt". The Classical Quarterly. 27: 80–91.
Retrieved 13 May 2017.
Myres, JL (1906). "On the 'List of Thalassocracies' in Eusebius". The
Journal of Hellenic Studies. XXVI: 84–130.
"Herodotus, The Histories; A. D. Godley, Ed., Book V". Perseus Digital
Library. Retrieved 1 May 2017.