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Coinage of Miletus at the time of Aristagoras. 5th century BC

Aristagoras (Greek: Ἀρισταγόρας ὁ Μιλήσιος), d. 497/496 BC, was the leader of the Ionian city 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. He was the son-in-law of Histiaeus, and inherited the tyranny of Miletus from him.


Map of the ancient Greek western coast of Anatolia. Ionia is in green. Miletus and Naxos are shown.

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 brother-in-law[1] (and nephew[2]) of Histiaeus, whom the Persians had set up as tyrant, but never quite trusted. After general Megabazus presented his complaints about Histiaeus to Darius I of Persia, the latter summoned Histiaeus to his court and detained him at Susa, the main reason being that he wanted a trustworthy advisor.[1] On the recommendation of Histiaeus, the Achaemenids then appointed Aristagoras as the new ruler of Miletus.[1] Aristagoras ruled Miletus while Histiaeus remained in Susa. The assignment was put forward as temporary. Privately, everyone knew that he was being kept under observation away from his troops.[3]

Timeline of Aristagoras
511 BC Histiaeus cedes his position as tyrant of Miletus to his son-in-law, Aristagoras.
502 BC Naxos revolts against Persia, and asks Aristagoras for support. The invasion ends in disaster.
499 BC Histiaeus encourages Aristagoras to rebel.
499 BC Aristagoras starts a rebellion of the city of Miletus against Achaemenid rule.
498 BC Aristagoras looks for Greek allies. Cleomenes I of Sparta refuses to help. Athens offers help.
497 BC With the help of Athens, the rebels capture and burn Sardis, the capital of the Achaemenid satrapy of Lydia. Miltiades, tyrant of the Chersonese, flees to Athens.
494 BC The Ionian revolt is put down by the Achaemenids, Miletus is sacked. Aristagoras flees to Thrace, but is killed by the Thracians.

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 satrapy of 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 Miletus. Aristagoras was gone. According to Herodotus, they never met again.

Histiaeus never succeeded in reaching Miletus. Reporting first to Sardis, undoubtedly still recovering from fire, whether with or without the Great King's complicity (Herodotus does 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 stitching; Aristagoras has but put it on."[4]

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 revolutionaries. 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[edit]

Ruins of Miletus

Certain exiled citizens of Naxos came to Miletus to seek refuge. They asked 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.[3] 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 agreed to Aristagoras seeking Artaphernes' support and supplied him with money.

Aristagoras travelled to Sardis and suggested that Artaphernes attack 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.”[5] 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.[5] 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 ship). 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 home.[6]

Ionian Revolt[edit]

The burning of Sardis, capital of the Asia Minor Satrapy of Lydia, during the Ionian Revolt in 498 BC.

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 BC. Aristagoras was supported by most of the citizens in council, except the historian Hecataeus.[7] 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 specific – 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.”[8]

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.[8] Finally he ordered all of the states to create a board of generals[9] 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 tyrant of 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.[10]

One can only assume a leadership role of some kind of Aristagoras over 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.

Apparently 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 troops. 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 to provide assistance[edit]

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."[11] 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.[12] 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 time, Sparta was concerned over possible attacks from the Argives.[13] 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.[14] Aristagoras left without the requested assistance.

Defeat of the Athenians[edit]

Aristagoras next went to Athens, where he made a convincing speech, promising “everything that came into his head, until at last he succeeded.”[15] Won over, the Athenians agreed to send 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. Herodotus described the arrival of these ships as the beginning of troubles between Greeks and barbarians.[16] 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.

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.[17] The reinforcements followed the Ionians, caught up with them near Ephesus and soundly defeated them.[18]

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.”[19] 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 Persians while Onesilus took over and convinced the Cyprians to revolt. They then proceeded to lay siege to the city of Amathus.[20]

Manville's theory of a power struggle between Aristagoras and Histiaeus[edit]

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 defence 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 such as 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 history.

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.[21] Some of the high points of the argument are as follows.

While 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 Artaphernes would 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 to power.

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 deposed.

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.[22] The tale told by Manville thus contains events related by Herodotus supplemented by non-events coming from Manville's imagination.

Myres’ Theory of a balance of power between thalassocracies[edit]

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 used this meaning for its motto, ‘’ex scientia tridens’’, “sea-power through knowledge.” It named one of its buildings, Mahan Hall.

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[edit]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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 as Jerome utilized the chronology of Eusebius, so Eusebius utilized 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 Chronography.

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[25] In a short work composed in 1769, published in 1771,[26] 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 thalassocrat,” 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 the source document might have been available to them all (but not necessarily, the cautious Myres points out).[27] 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 included 200 new Athenian triremes plus all the ships of its new ally, Aegina. Despite various revolts Aegina went on to become part of the Delian League, an imperial treaty of the new Athenian thalassocracy. Thucydides writes 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.[28]

Myres’ historical reconstruction of the list[edit]

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 BC there is a gap in the list. Lesbos and one or more unknown thalassocrats held the sea in unknown order.[29] In 577 BC began the thalassocracy of Phocaea. Breaking out of its Anatolian cage, it founded Marseilles and cities in Spain and Italy, wresting a domain away from Carthage and all other opponents.[30] 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 Phocaeans abandoned Phocaea about 534 BC and after much adventuring settled in the west.

The thalassocracy of Samos spans the career of the tyrant, Polycrates, there.[31] 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, sailed to 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.[32] The sea was now available to Naxos, 515-505.


The Hellenes had obtained a foothold on the coast of Anatolia by siding with rebel coastal Anatolian states against the Hittite Empire.[33] 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 invasion of Anatolia by joining with the rump Anatolian states, while the Hittites withdrew into neo-Hittite states in Syria. The coastal cities, now entirely Hellenic, continued to receive immigrants from mainland Greece.

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 Persia.

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 independence.

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 severe casualties.

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.[34]

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.[35] By an accidental sequence of historical events his reputation drew the ire of his main historian, Herodotus of 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[edit]

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[edit]

Manville's cynical view concerning an imaginary power struggle between Aristagoras and 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 example, Histiaeus originally won the Great King's favor by protecting his escape from Scythia over a key bridge of the Danube.[36] 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."[37] 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 ...."[38] 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[edit]

The cynical view described above reflects a difference in expectation between 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. Herodotus is 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 and period.”[39]

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 the 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.[40]

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.[41]

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.

Validation of 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,[42]

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.

In short, Herodotus is personal because the Homerica are personal. Both genres intend to portray the illustrious or non-illustrious 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,”[43] 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 inconsistencies of 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 true”).

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 neo-ideologic terms.

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."[44] 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 paradoxical, 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.


  1. ^ a b c Dandamaev 1989, p. 152.
  2. ^ Anepsios, often "cousin", but in Herodotus, according to Liddell and Scott, "nephew."
  3. ^ a b Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 320, Book V Chapter 30
  4. ^ Histories, Book VI, Chapter 1.
  5. ^ a b Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 321, Book V Chapter 31
  6. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 322–323, Book V Chapters 33-35
  7. ^ Book V, Chapter 36. The text is one of those telescoping of events that confuse translators and provide fuel for the fires of the critics. 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 consultation Aristagoras has given up tyranny and has convened an assembly of the people, which hears proposals and votes on them.
  8. ^ a b Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 324, Book V Chapters 36-38
  9. ^ 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 Aristagoras was interpreted as establishing democracies, most commentators presume that for 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.
  10. ^ 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 with 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 "Histiaeus at Susa was not a pampered political prisoner," Georges attributes the influence of Miletus to Darius himself, in support of Histiaeus: Georges 2000, pp. 13–14.
  11. ^ Book V, Chapter 49.
  12. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 328, Book V Chapter 49
  13. ^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 482, Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray, The Ionian Revolt
  14. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 329–330, Book V Chapters 50-51
  15. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 351, Book V Chapter 97
  16. ^ Bury & Meiggs 1975, p. 155
  17. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 352–353, Book V Chapters 99-101
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 354, Book V Chapter 105
  20. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, p. 353, Book V Chapter 104
  21. ^ Manville 1977, pp. 80–81
  22. ^ Manville 1977, pp. 82–90
  23. ^ A translation can be found in "Eusebius: Chronicle". Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  24. ^ The relevant section of the Chronicon in Latin may be found at "Hieronymi Chronicon pp.16-187". Retrieved 29 May 2017..
  25. ^ 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 Hieronymus.
  26. ^ Heyne, Christian Gottlob (1771). "Commentario I: Super Castori Epochis etc". Novi commentarii Societatis Regiae Scientiarum Gottingensis.
  27. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 84–86
  28. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 87–88
  29. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 103–107
  30. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 102–103
  31. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 101–102
  32. ^ Myres 1906, pp. 99–101
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ Herodotus & Sélincourt 1954, pp. 357–360, Book V Chapter 126
  35. ^ The unobectivity of Herodotus' emotional reaction to Aristagoras' departure from 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.
  36. ^ 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 bridge.
  37. ^ Lang 1968, p. 25
  38. ^ Lang 1968, p. 24
  39. ^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 463, Part II, Chapter 8, Oswyn Murray, The Ionian Revolt
  40. ^ The CAH article summarizes several historians whose fragments are similar to passages in Herodotus, to be found at Boardman et al. 1988, pp. 467–468
  41. ^ Boardman et al. 1988, pp. 461–462
  42. ^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 464
  43. ^ Boardman et al. 1988, p. 486
  44. ^ Georges 2000, p. 1


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