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The Exiles Of Phocaea

Early in the sixth century—the precise date is given as 546 B.C.—a great change took place in the condition of Western Asia, a change by which the Greek colonies on the Ægean coast were profoundly affected. These towns had struggled with varying success to maintain their independence against their powerful neighbours, the Lydian dynasty of the Mermnadæ, which had its capital at Sardis. Crœsus, the most powerful and most famous of these monarchs, completed their subjugation. He did not, however, deal harshly with them. They suffered little beyond the imposition of a tribute, and the necessity of having to pull down, or at least make a breach in their walls. After a reign of about thirteen years Crœsus himself fell. He had provoked a conflict with the rising power of the Persians, had fought an indecisive battle with them on the border of his kingdom, and had returned to Sardis to prepare for another campaign. This intention was frustrated by the unexpected energy of the Persian leader. Cyrus followed him, attacked him before the allies whom he had summoned to his assistance, could join him, and inflicting on him a severe defeat, shut him up in Sardis. The city fell in the course of a few days, and the Lydian dynasty ceased to exist. The Greek colonies sought an interview with the conqueror, and endeavoured to obtain from him the same easy terms of dependence which they had enjoyed under Crœsus. In Eastern fashion, he answered them with a fable. It ran thus:

"A certain piper, seeing fishes in the sea, piped to them, thinking that they would come out to him on the land. But being disappointed of this hope, he took a cast-net, and enclosing therewith a great multitude of them, drew them to shore. Then, seeing them leaping about, he said to the fishes, 'cease now from your dancing, for ye would not dance, when I piped to you.' "

The application was this: Cyrus, on hearing of the attack which the Lydian king intended to make on him, had endeavoured to make a diversion by rousing his Greek subjects against him. The Greeks, satisfied with their condition, had refused his overtures, and this refusal he was not disposed to forgive. Nothing was left for the cities but to defend themselves as best they could.

The first to be attacked was Phocæa. Though not the largest, it was in one way the most distinguished of the Greek settlements in Asia. It had an admirable harbour, which is still one of the best on the coast, and its citizens were the boldest and most successful of the merchant adventurers who pushed their commercial enterprise over all the coasts of the Mediterranean, and even beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Some twenty years before the date of which I am now speaking, one of their trading ships—and it is a proof of their enterprising spirit that they used for purposes of commercial exploration, not the capacious merchantman but vessels of war—had reached Tartessus, on the Atlantic coast. The king of the Tartessians, Arganthonius by name, was so pleased with the new-comers, that he begged them to leave their home in Asia, and to settle in his country, offering them the choice of any spot which they might choose to select. When they declined this offer, he presented them with a sum of money which they were to spend in fortifying their city. The time was now come when, as we may easily suppose, the Phocæans repented of their refusal. The Persian general, Harpagus by name, invested their town: notwithstanding the menacing language of his master, Harpagus was not disposed to drive the besieged to extremities. "Pull down," he said, "one of your battlements, and dedicate one of your dwelling-houses to the King, and it will suffice." But the bold Phocæans were not disposed to make even this acknowledgment of subjection. They sought, however, to temporize. "Draw off your army," they said to the Persian commander, "and give us a day for deliberation." Harpagus was not deceived. "I know," he replied "what you are thinking of; still I will do what you say." Accordingly he retired from the walls. The Phocæans launched all their vessels of war, put on board their wives and children, and all the property which could be removed from the temples and private houses, and departed. Harpagus, returning next day, found himself master, as he had probably expected, of an empty city.

The question was—whither were the fugitives to go? King Arganthonius was dead. He had lived to an extreme old age, completing, we are told, the one hundred and twentieth year of his age and the eightieth of his reign. The voyage was too long to take on the chance that his successor might be equally friendly. The colony which they had planted at a still earlier time on the south coast of Gaul, though it was afterwards to grow into the powerful city of Massilia (Marseilles), was then in a feeble condition. Under these circumstances they looked nearer home. Their first idea was to purchase from the people of Chios some unoccupied islets known by the name of the Œnussæ. But the Chians were afraid of their enterprising neighbours, and dreaded the establishment of a rival trading station so close to themselves. Accordingly, they refused the offer. The Phocæans then turned their thoughts to another colony founded by themselves, and not so remote as Massilia. This was Alalia in Corsica, then called Cyrnus. To Alalia, therefore, they resolved to go, but before going they executed a bloody revenge on the intruders who had driven them from their native town. They sailed back to Phocæa, and surprising the Persian garrison which Harpagus had put into the town, put them all to the sword. Probably they had another motive besides revenge. They knew their own weakness, and wished to make the thought of return and submission impossible, by the commission of a deed that the conqueror could not be expected to pardon. The further safeguard of an oath was added. They joined in invoking the heaviest curses on the head of anyone who should draw back from their contemplated enterprise; sinking a lump of iron in the sea, they swore a solemn oath that they would not return before the iron should float. As it turned out, the Phocæan leaders had not over-rated the danger of faint-heartedness or, perhaps I should say, home-sickness in their followers. The larger half of the exiles braved the anger of heaven and the more imminent danger of Persian vengeance for their slaughtered countrymen, and returned to their native town. They probably threw the blame of the massacre upon their absent countrymen, and Harpagus was not unwilling to believe them.

The bolder and more resolute spirits among the exiles continued their voyage to Alalia, which they reached in safety. They brought with them a formidable force of warships, no less than sixty penteconters or fifty-oared vessels, and they at once took up an occupation which had been pursued in the Mediterranean from time immemorial, and which, indeed, has become extinct only within the memory of men still living—piracy. But they were intruding on the domain of two powerful rivals, Etruria and Carthage. Neither, we may presume, viewed the practice with any disfavour, but they could not tolerate it when carried on against themselves. An alliance was formed between the two for the purpose of putting down the new-comers. The combined Carthaginian and Etrurian fleet, consisting of one hundred and twenty ships, met the Phocæans near their new abode. A fierce conflict followed. We have only the Greek account of the result, and in this a victory is claimed for the Phocæans, but it was a victory that was not less disastrous than a defeat. Forty out of the sixty penteconters were sunk, and the remaining twenty had their beaks so bent and blunted that they were unfit for service. That their antagonists had suffered even more severely may, perhaps, be concluded from the fact that they did not attempt to attack again an enemy that was practically defenceless.

But the continuance of this immunity could not be relied upon, and the Phocæans had to seek another home. This they found on the west coast of Italy, or as it was then called, Œnotria. Vela, otherwise called Velia and Elea, was the name of their final settlement. The place was suggested by a citizen of a neighbouring Greek settlement, Poseidonia, who at the same time did the exiles the service of reviving their faith in the Divine guidance which they had been attempting to follow. The unlucky expedition to Cyrnus had been made in obedience to an oracle, which had bidden them make Cyrnus the object of their search. Their Poseidonian friend explained to them that the true Cyrnus was not the island so called, but a local hero worshipped at Vela and reputed to be the son of Hercules.

Vela continued to flourish for many centuries, and still exists. It is now called Castell a Mare della Brucca. Under the name of Elea it became famous as the seat of a school of philosophy known as the Eleatic. The Phocæan settlers were joined by other exiles from Ionia, and among these was Xenophanes a native of Colophon, a philosopher and poet of no mean eminence.

Little remains either of his speculations or of his verse. Perhaps we may with most reason regret the poem in which he described the "Median Invasion," and celebrated the foundation of Elea by his heroic kinsmen, the "Exiles of Phocæa."