Herodotus V.93-102: Athens first fights Persia

On the return of Hippias to Asia from Lacedaemon, he moved heaven
and earth to set Artaphernes against the Athenians, and did all that
lay in his power to bring Athens into subjection to himself and Darius.
So when the Athenians learnt what he was about, they sent envoys to
Sardis, and exhorted the Persians not to lend an ear to the Athenian
exiles. Artaphernes told them in reply, "that if they wished to remain
safe, they must receive back Hippias." The Athenians, when this answer
was reported to them, determined not to consent, and therefore made
up their minds to be at open enmity with the .
The Athenians had come to this decision, and were already in bad odour
with the Persians, when Aristagoras the Milesian, dismissed from Sparta
by Cleomenes the Lacedaemonian, arrived at Athens. He knew that, after
Sparta, Athens was the most powerful of the Grecian states. Accordingly
he appeared before the people, and, as he had done at Sparta, spoke
to them of the good things which there were in Asia, and of the Persian
mode of fight- how they used neither shield nor spear, and were very
easy to conquer. All this he urged, and reminded them also that Miletus
was a colony from Athens, and therefore ought to receive their succour,
since they were so powerful- and in the earnestness of his entreaties,
he cared little what he promised- till, at the last, he prevailed
and won them over. It seems indeed to be easier to deceive a multitude
than one man- for Aristagoras, though he failed to impose on Cleomenes
the Lacedaemonian, succeeded with the Athenians, who were thirty thousand.
Won by his persuasions, they voted that twenty ships should be sent
to the aid of the Ionians, under the command of Melanthius, one of
the citizens, a man of mark in every way. These ships were the beginning
of mischief both to the Greeks and the barbarians.

Aristagoras sailed away in advance, and when he reached Miletus, devised
a plan, from which no manner of advantage could possibly accrue to
the Ionians;- indeed, in forming it, he did not aim at their benefit,
but his sole wish was to annoy King Darius. He sent a messenger into
Phrygia to those Paeonians who had been led away captive by Megabazus
from the river Strymon, and who now dwelt by themselves in Phrygia,
having a tract of land and a hamlet of their own. This man, when he
reached the Paeonians, spoke thus to them:-

"Men of Paeonia, Aristagoras, king of Miletus, has sent me to you,
to inform you that you may now escape, if you choose to follow the
advice he proffers. All Ionia has revolted from the king; and the
way is open to you to return to your own land. You have only to contrive
to reach the sea-coast; the rest shall be our business."

When the Paeonians heard this, they were exceedingly rejoiced, and,
taking with them their wives and children, they made all speed to
the coast; a few only remaining in Phrygia through fear. The rest,
having reached the sea, crossed over to Chios, where they had just
landed, when a great troop of Persian horse came following upon their
heels, and seeking to overtake them. Not succeeding, however, they
sent a message across to Chios, and begged the Paeonians to come back
again. These last refused, and were conveyed by the Chians from Chios
to Lesbos, and by the Lesbians thence to Doriscus; from which placesardis burns.jpg
they made their way on foot to Paeonia.

The Athenians now arrived with a fleet of twenty sail, and brought
also in their company five triremes of the Eretrians; which had joined
the expedition, not so much out of goodwill towards Athens, as to
pay a debt which they already owed to the people of Miletus. For in
the old war between the Chalcideans and Eretrians, the Milesians fought
on the Eretrian side throughout, while the had the help
of the Samian people. Aristagoras, on their arrival, assembled the
rest of his allies, and proceeded to attack Sardis, not however leading
the army in person, but appointing to the command his own brother
Charopinus and Hermophantus, one of the citizens, while he himself
remained behind in Miletus.

The Ionians sailed with this fleet to Ephesus, and, leaving their
ships at Coressus in the Ephesian territory, took guides from the
city, and went up the country with a great host. They marched along
the course of the river Cayster, and, crossing over the ridge of Tmolus,
came down upon Sardis and took it, no man opposing them;- the whole
city fell into their hands, except only the citadel, which Artaphernes
defended in person, having with him no contemptible force.

Though, however, they took the city, they did not succeed in plundering
it; for, as the houses in Sardis were most of them built of reeds,
and even the few which were of brick had a reed thatching for their
roof, one of them was no sooner fired by a soldier than the flames
ran speedily from house to house, and spread over the whole place.
As the fire raged, the Lydians and such Persians as were in the city,
inclosed on every side by the flames, which had seized all the skirts
of the town, and finding themselves unable to get out, came in crowds
into the market-place, and gathered themselves upon the banks of the
Pactolus This stream, which comes down from Mount Tmolus, and brings
the Sardians a quantity of gold-dust, runs directly through the market
place of Sardis, and joins the Hermus, before that river reaches the
sea. So the Lydians and Persians, brought together in this way in
the market-place and about the Pactolus, were forced to stand on their
defence; and the Ionians, when they saw the enemy in part resisting,
in part pouring towards them in dense crowds, took fright, and drawing
off to the ridge which is called Tmolus when night came, went back
to their ships.

Sardis however was burnt, and, among other buildings, a temple ofpersian cavalry.jpg
the native goddess Cybele was destroyed; which was the reason afterwards
alleged by the Persians for setting on fire the temples of the Greeks.
As soon as what had happened was known, all the Persians who were
stationed on this side the Halys drew together, and brought help to
the Lydians. Finding however, when they arrived, the Ionians
had already withdrawn from Sardis, they set off, and, following close
upon their track, came up with them at Ephesus. The Ionians drew out
against them in battle array; and a fight ensued, wherein the Greeks
had very greatly the worse. Vast numbers were slain by the Persians:
among other men of note, they killed the captain of the Eretrians,
a certain Eualcidas, a man who had gained crowns at the Games, and
received much praise from Simonides the Cean. Such as made their escape
from the battle, dispersed among the several cities.

So ended this encounter. Afterwards the Athenians quite forsook the
Ionians, and, though Aristagoras besought them much by his ambassadors,
refused to give him any further help.

Initial Questions I had After Reading the Text:

1) Who is Artaphernes?
2) Where is Lacedaemon, and why is it important?
3) Where is Phrygia, and who are the Paeonians?
4) Why does Aristogoras try and convince the Peonians to flee Phrygia?
5) Who are the Eretians?
6) Who are the Lydians, and why do they live in Sardis?
7) Where is Sardis located, and why is it attacked by the Ionians?
8) Why does Herodotus stress the importance in the destruction of the temple of Cybele?
9) When did the events in this passage take place?
10) How is this battle important in the grand context of Ancient Greek history?

Answering the Questions:

After much research I was able to answer the majority of the questions I posted after initially reading the passage. I answered these questions by providing links in the passage above that can help guide the reader into better understanding the text, and the ancient Greek world.

Lingering Questions:

During my research there were some questions that I could not answer, and simply left me asking more questions. The Paeonians are an excellent example of this. It was very difficult to find sources on the Paeonians simply because they are only mentioned in passing and in a relatively few amount of sources. Many of the sources I found took me back to Herodotus, as the Paeonians are briefly mentioned in his other books. There was not a single source I could find that had a concrete example of who these people actually were, and the sources I could find just gave broad and meagre generalities of who these people actually were. It is important to note that Herodotus wrote his books with his intended ancient audience in mind. The majority of them would know who the Paeonians, Eretians, and Lydians were. In today's day and age the places and people he lists are lost in time. Most of the sources only reflect the most politically powerful cities and empires at the time; such as Athens and Persia. Who knows what questions people will ask regarding the time in which we now live?

Perhaps a future scholar will frustrate himself at attempts to figure out what ramen noodles were.

Why is this Passage Important ?

This passage not only depicts the first conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, but foreshadows the complex future relationships that the two powers will have with each other. In this case Hippias, who was the exiled Athenian tyrant, is trying to regain his rule over Athens, and cuts a deal with the Persians in order to do it. This isn’t the last time the Greeks will cut deals with the Persians. Later on during the Peloponnesian War, Sparta asked Persia for assistance, which was happily granted due to the deep hatred and embarrassment the Athenians inflicted on the Persians during their two attempted invasions. Even after the Persian Wars many Greek exiles would seek refuge in Persia, and there former enemies would welcome them with open arms.

The vast differences between the Persians and the Greeks are also heavily portrayed in this passage. One of these differences is in their ideals. The Persians believed in Ahuramazda which was the god of truth and light. The Persians acted in accordance with their god and believed in fighting fair and justly. The Greeks on the other hand, were a society that valued cunning and time’/honor and didn’t believe in playing by the rules, always looked for ways to outsmart and frustrate their Persian counterparts. Herodotus gives an example of this when he states, “Aristagoras sailed away in advance, and when he reached Miletus, devised a plan, from which no manner of advantage could possibly accrue to the Ionians;- indeed, in forming it, he did not aim at their benefit, but his sole wish was to annoy King Darius.” The Greeks and the Persians also fought very differently from each other. The Persians mostly relied on cavalry and lightly armed and armored infantry, while the Greek soldiers called hoplites were heavily armed and armored fighting in dense phalanx formations. The passage reinforces this statement when Aristagoras described, “the Persian mode of fight- how they used neither shield nor spear, and were very easy to conquer.”

Another important aspect to note is that this passage shows that much of the Greek cities were not actually in modern day Greece, or Europe for that matter. Many Greek city states were located on islands in the Aegean Sea in Asia Minor, which is in modern day Turkey. Many of the Ionian city states that rebelled against Persia were considered Greek, and many of these cities were colonies sent out from their mother city on mainland Greece. This passage gives one such example of this; Herodotus states, “All this he urged, and reminded them also that Miletus was a colony from Athens, and therefore ought to receive their succor.” One of the main reasons that the majority of Greeks did not actually live in Greece is due to Geography. Mainland Greece is heavily mountainous with very little arable land. When the population of a city-state on the mainland became too large it would send out settlers to start a colony. For the most part these colonies maintained strong relationships with their mother city, as in the case mentioned here between Miletus and Athens.

This passage is also useful in showing us the disunity and differences that existed between the Greek city states in the ancient world. This passage particularly displays the differences between the Spartan and Athenian governments. This is evident when Herodotus writes about how Aristagoras is trying to seek allies for the defense of Ionia. He states, “It seems indeed to be easier to deceive a multitude than one man- for Aristagoras, though he failed to impose on Cleomenes the Lacedaemonian, succeeded with the Athenians, who were thirty thousand.” In this description you can see that in Sparta one king named Cleomenes had the final say in whether or not the Spartans will help the Ionians. This is because Sparta was an Oligarchy, where power was shared amongst two kings. In contrast Aristagoras had success in persuading the 30,000 Athenians, which is referring to the Athenian Democratic Assembly. It seems that Herodotus is also hinting at the negative side of Athenian democracy with this statement. The fact that every male Athenian citizen can easily be persuaded by rousing speeches is not necessarily a good thing, and will eventually get them in trouble, particularly their decision to launch the Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War, which ended in disaster. The Spartans fought much differently than the Athenians did as well, and Sparta was particularly known for having the best soldiers in the Greek world. Herodotus reinforces this by saying, “He (Aristagoras) knew that, after Sparta, Athens was the most powerful of the Grecian states.” Athens on the other hand had the best navy in the Greek world, but could not match Sparta on land.

This passage from Herodotus is very important because it displays the initial sparks that eventually ignited into the Greco-Persian Wars, a war between the East and the West. It is because of one man, Aristagoras, that the Persians and the Greeks became embroiled in such a bitter conflict. Aristagoras succeeded in lulling the dubious Athenians into involving themselves in the Ionian Revolt. In response King Darius had a messenger whisper in his ear every day to remind him of the Athenian involvement. In 490 B.C.E Darius finally sent an invasion force to conquer mainland Greece and most importantly to punish Athens for their role in the Ionian Revolt. However, the Athenians defied all odds and defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. King Xerxes had the same fate of his father and was defeated by a unified Greek force on land by the Spartans at Platea and by the Athenian navy at the Battle of Salamis in 479 B.C.E. Although Aristagoras lead the Athenians and the Persians into conflict with each other, he was also vicariously responsible for setting the path for Greek cultural domination throughout the ancient world. If it was not for Aristagoras, the resulting successive chain of events that lead towards Alexander the Great’s Hellenic Revolution would not have taken place. This event was single-handedly responsible for shaping the modern western world that we live in today; a world which is heavily influenced by Greek ideals.


Burn, A.R. "The Median and Achaemenian Periods." The Cambridge History of Iran 2, (1985): 164-187.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed.

Evans, J.A.S. "Histiaeus and Aristagoras: Notes on the Ionian Revolt." The American Journal of Philology 84, no. 2 (1964):113-128.

Hammond, N.G.L. "Persia, Greece, and the Western Mediterranean c.525 to 479 B.C." Ancient History 4, (1988): 287-295.

Krentz, Peter. "Greece, the Hellenistic world and the rise of Rome." The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare 2, (2007): 302-329.

Selincourt, Aubrey. Herodotus: The Histories. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Critiques and Suggestions:

I thought that you connected the information of the passage with the importance very well. One thing you could do is maybe give an overview of your answers along with the links so there is some information to go off of.

-Elizabeth Shook

This is a really well written summary and the way everything is organized makes this a very easy read. I honestly think that there could not be any ,more you could do to make this any better, now of course I am not the professor, but this paper is the best organized, easiest to read, and well written paper that I have looked at thus far. Awesome job!
~Patrick Saunders

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- Kristen Boonstra

I much say that you did a fantastic job, it's real easy to read, understand and I don't feel confused at the end great job.
- Austin Gretsky