Fordham University

 

Home | Ancient History Sourcebook | Medieval SourcebookModern History Sourcebook | Byzantine Studies Page
Other History Sourcebooks: African | East Asian | Global | Indian | IslamicJewishLesbian and Gay | Science | Women's


Ancient History


Full Texts Legal Texts Additions Search Help


Studying History Human Origins Mesopotamia Egypt Persia Israel Greece Hellenistic World Rome Late Antiquity Christian Origins
IHSP Credits

Ancient History Sourcebook:
11th Brittanica: Themistocles

THEMISTOCLES (c. 514-449 B.C.), Athenian soldier and statesman in some respects probably the ablest and most farsighted whom Greece produced in the first ha]f of the sth century. He was the son of Neocles, an Athenian of no distinction and moderate means, his mother being a Carian or a Thracian Hence according to the Periclean law he would not have been a free Athenian at all (see PERICLES). Thucydides properly brings out the fact that, though he lacked that education which was the peculiar glory of the Periclean age, he displayed a marvellous power of analysing a complex situation together with a genius for rapid action. Plutarch similarly enlarges on his consuming ambition for power both personal and national, and the unscrupulous ability with which he pursued his ends. In all these points he is the antithesis of his great rival Aristides (q.v.). Of his early years little is known. He may have been strategus of his tribe at Marathon (FIut. Arist. 5) and we are told that he deeply envied the glory which Miltiades earned. At a~ events the death of Miltiades left the stage to Aristides and Themistocles. It is sufficiently clear that their rivalry, terminated in 483-82 by the ostracism of Aristides, turned largely on the fact that Themistoc:les was the advocate of a policy of naval expansion. This policy was ~nquestionably of the highest importance to Athens and indeed to Greece. Athens was faced by the equal if not superior power of Aegina, while the danger of a renewed Persian invasion loomed large on the horizon. Themistocles therefore persuaded his countrymen to put in hand the building of 200 triremes, and --what was of even greater importance-to fortify the three natural harbours of Peiraeus (see E. Gardner, Ancient Athens, 562 f.) in place of the open roadstead of Phalerum. For the building of the ships Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to allocate 100 talents obtained from the new silver mines at Laurium (Ath. (I0 drachmae each). One hundred of the propose~ 200 were built.

According to the Ath. Pol. it would seem that Themistocles was archGn in 483-82 at the time when this naval programme began. Dionysius of Halicarnassus places his archonship in 493-92, in favour of which are several considerations. In 487 the omce lost much of its importance owing to the substitution of the lot for election: the chance that the lot would at the particular crisis of 483 fall on Themistocles was obviously remote: and the Ath. Pol. is generally wrong about Themistocles. In any case the year prior to the invasion of Xerxes found Themistocles the chief man in Athens if not in Greece. Though the Greek fleet was nominally under the control of the Spartan Eurybiades, it was Thennistocles who caused the Greeks to fight the indecisive battle of Artemisium, and still more it was he who, by his threat that he would lead the Athenian army to found a new home in the West, and by his treacherous message to Xerxes, precipitated the engagement at Salamis (q.v.). The retirement of the Persians left the Athenians free to restore their ruined city (see ATHENS). Sparta, nominally on the ground that it was dangerous to Greece that there should be any citadel north of the Isthmus which an invader might bold, urged that this should not be done, but Themistocles by means of diplomatic delays and subterfuges enabled the work to be carried sufficiently near to completion to make the walls defensible. He also carried out his original plan of making Peiraeus a real harbour and fortress for Athens. Athens thus became the finest trade centre in Greece, and this fact, coupled with Themistocles' remission of the alien's tax induced many foreign business men to settle in Athens.

After the crisis of the Persian invasion Themistocles and Aristides appear to have composed their differences. But Themistocles soon began to lose the confidence of the people, partly owing to his boastfulness (it is said that he built near his own house a sanctuary to Artemis Aristoboule "of good councel") and partly to his alledged readiness to both refer to some accusation levelled against him,1 and some time between 476 and 471 he was ostracized. He retired to Argos, but the Spartans further accused him of treasonable intrigues with Persia, and he fled to Corcyra, thence to Admetus, king of the Molossians, and finally to Asia Minor. He was proclaimed a traitor at Athens and his property was confiscated, though his friends saved him some portion of it. He was well received by the Persians and was allowed to settle in Magnesia on the Maeander. The revenues (50 talents) of this town were assigned to him for bread, those of Myus for condiments, those of Lampsacus for wine. He died at Magnesia at the age of sixtyfive, and a splendid memorial was raised by the people of the town, though it is said that his bones were secretly transferred to Attica. He was worshipped by the Magnesians as a god, as we find from a coin on which he is shown with a patera in his hand and a slain bull at his feet (hence perhaps the legend that he died from drinking bull's blood: cf. Aristoph. Eq. 83, Diod. xi. 58; Plut. Them. 3I).

Though his end was discreditable, though his great wealth can hardly have been obtained by loyal public service, there is no doubt that his services to Athens and to Greece were great. He created the Athenian fleet and with it the possibiLty of the Delian League (q.v.) which became the Athenian empire, and there are many indications (e.g. his wellattested plan of expansion in the west) that the later imperialist ideal originated in his fertile brain.

There are monographs by Bauer (Merseburg, 1881) and Wecklein (Munich, 1882); but the best discussions of his career will be found in the chief Greek histories, e.g. Busolt; on the difficult chronology of his later years see Grote, History of Greece (and the onevol. ed. by Mitchell and Caspari, 1907, p. 283, note 1, with the authorities there quoted); on the Magnesian coin, Rhousopoulos in Athen. Mitteil. (1896), p. 22. On the walls, see Ed. Meyer in Hermes, xl. (1905), pp. 561-569. (J. M. M.)

 

Source:

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

 

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. No representation is made about texts which are linked off-site, although in most cases these are also public domain. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, Janaury 1999
halsall@murray.fordham.edu