Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Revolt of Miletus

King Darius gave Myrcinus that is on the river Strymon, in the land of Thrace, to Histiæus, lord of Miletus, for a reward; for Histiæus had done him good service in his warfare against the Scythians. But when the man began to build a wall about the place, one said to the King, "O King, what is this that thou hast done, giving this city in Thrace to a man that is a Greek, and wise moreover and crafty? For in that country is great store of timber for ship-building, and mines also of silver and there are many inhabitants, both Greeks and barbarians, who will take this fellow for a leader, and will do what he shall bid them, working day and night. Do thou therefore stay him in this work; but stay him with soft words. Bid him come to thee, and when he is come, take good care that he never go among the Greeks any more." This counsel seemed good to the King. Wherefore he sent a messenger to Histiæus, saying, "Thus saith the King, I am persuaded that there is no better man disposed to me and to my kingdom than thou. Come therefore to me, for I have great matters in hand and would fain ask thy counsel about them." So Histiæus, taking these words to be true, and counting it a great thing to be the King's counselor, came to Sardis to Darius. And when he was come, Darius said to him, "Hear now the cause wherefore I have sent for thee. Since the day that thou didst depart from me I have desired nothing so much as to see thee and talk with thee; for in my judgment there is nothing so precious as a friend that is both faithful and wise; and this I know thee to be. Leave now thy city of Miletus, and that also which thou art building in Thrace, and come with me to Susa, for all that I have is thine, and thou shalt live with me, and be my counselor."

After this the King went up to Susa, taking Histiæus with him. And he left Otanes to be captain of them that dwell by the sea. This Otanes was the son of a certain Sisamnes whom, being one of the royal judges, and having given unrighteous judgment for money, King Cambyses slew; and having slain him, he flayed off his skin, and cutting it into strips stretched them on the judgment-seat. And making the son of Sisamnes to be judge in his father's room, he bade him remember on what manner of seat he sat.

In these days Miletus was the most prosperous of all the cities of Ionia, though it had been brought very low in the second generation before by strife among its citizens. This strife was healed after this fashion by the Parians, whom the men of Miletus chose out of all the Greeks to be judges in their case. These Parians went through the land of Miletus, and wheresoever they saw in the country, which was for the most part desolate, any field well tilled, they wrote down the name of the master of the field. And when they had traversed the whole, and found not many such, so soon as they were come back to the city, they called an assembly, and made this award, that the men whose fields they had seen to be well tilled should bear rule, for they judged that such as managed well their own affairs would manage well the affairs of the State also. But now from this city of Miletus, and from the island of Naxos, which was the richest of all the islands, there came great damage to the men of Ionia. It happened on this wise. Certain of the rich men of Naxos, being banished by the commons, fled to Miletus, of which city one Aristagoras was lord in those days, being son-in-law to Histiæus. And when the exiles prayed him for help that they might come back to their own country, Aristagoras, thinking that if they should come back by his help, he should be lord of Naxos, said to them (and he had this pretext for helping them that they had been long time friends of his father-in-law), "I cannot bring you back to Naxos against the will of the city, for I hear that they have eight thousand men at arms, and many ships of war. But I have a friendship with Otanes, that is brother to King Darius, and captain of them that dwell by the sea, and has many soldiers and ships. I will work with him that he shall do what ye wish." To this the exiles agreed, saying that they would find pay for the army. Then went Aristagoras to Otanes and said to him, "There is a certain island of Naxos, not very great, but a good land and fair, and near to Ionia, and having in it much wealth and many slaves. If thou wilt make war upon this island, bringing back to it certain men that have been banished, thou shalt receive much wealth from me, over and above the cost of the war, for this it is just that we who desire it should pay; also thou wilt win for the King Naxos and the islands that are subject to it, and from thence thou wilt be able to make war on Eubœa, a great island and a rich, being not less than Cyprus, and easy to be subdued. For all this a hundred ships will be sufficient." To this Otanes made answer, "Truly thou bringest a matter that may advantage the house of the King, and thy counsel is good, save as to the number of the ships. There shall be ready not one hundred but two hundred in the spring season. Only the King must approve of the undertaking." And when he had sent to the King and had his assent, he made ready two hundred ships of war, putting on them a great multitude of Persians and allies, and setting Megabates, that was nephew to him and to the King, to command them. (It was the daughter of this Megabates that Pausanias the Spartan would have taken to wife, if indeed the story be true, when he sought to make himself lord of Greece.) Megabates took with him Aristagoras, and many soldiers from Miletus, and the exiles, and sailed towards the Hellespont. But when he came to Chios he cast anchor, waiting for a north wind that he might sail to Naxos. And here—for it was not to be that Naxos should perish at this time—there befell this thing.

As Megabates went about visiting the watches of the fleet, he found a ship of Myndus in Caria, that had no watch set. Being very wroth at this, he bade his guards find the captain of the ship (the man's name was Scylax,) and bind him in one of the tholes of the oars, so that his head should be without the ship and his body within. When the man had been so bound, there came one to Aristagoras saying that Megabates had bound Scylax of Myndus in a shameful fashion. Then Aristagoras entreated of Megabates that he would loose him; but, as he could not prevail, he loosed the man himself. When Megabates heard it he was very wroth with Aristagoras, who said to him, "What hast thou to do with these things? Wast thou not sent to do my pleasure, and to sail whithersoever I should bid thee? Meddle not then with other men's matters." Then Megabates, in his anger, sent a messenger to the Naxians, so soon as it was night, telling them what was preparing against them. Now these had not thought of any such thing; but when they heard it, forthwith they carried their goods from out of the fields into the city, and prepared themselves for a siege, making provision of food and drink. When therefore the Persians were come from Chios, they found the city of the Naxians defended against them; and having besieged it to no purpose for four months, when now all the money they had brought with them was spent, and much also that Aristagoras had furnished, they departed, having first built forts for the exiles. Then Aristagoras was in a great strait, for he could not fulfill the promise that he had made to the servants of the King, neither could he pay the money that had been spent upon the war, and he feared lest, falling into ill-favor with the Persians, being already at enmity with Megabates, he should lose the lordship of Miletus. For these causes he had it in his mind to revolt from the King. And while he thought thereon there came to him the man with the branded head from Histiæus at Susa, with a message that he should do this very thing. For Histiæus, seeking to send word to Aristagoras, yet not being able to send it safely, because the roads were guarded, devised this thing. He took the most faithful of his slaves and, shaving the man's head, branded on it certain letters. And when the hair was grown again he sent him to Aristagoras with a message, "Look on this man's head when thou hast shaven it." Now the marks signified that he should revolt. And this Histiæus did, counting it a grievous thing that he was constrained to tarry at Susa; for he said to himself, "If there be rebellion at Miletus, doubtless I shall be sent down to the sea; but if not, I shall go there no more." Then Aristagoras took counsel with his fellows, declaring to them his own judgment and the message that had come to him from Susa. To them spake Hecatæus, the writer of chronicles. First he counseled them not to make war against the King, telling them of all the nations that he ruled and of his might. And when he could not persuade them, he said that they should certainly make themselves masters of the sea, and that this they could do only by laying hands on the treasures that had been given by Crœsus the Lydian to the temple of Apollo at Branchidæ, for these were very great, "since I have good hope," said he, "that by help of these ye may have the upper hand at sea; any how, ye will have the using of them, and they will not be a spoil to the enemy." But neither in this could he prevail. Nevertheless they made ready to revolt. And first of all they sent and laid hands by guile on the captains of the ships that had sailed against Naxos. Such of these men as were lords of their cities Aristagoras gave into the hands of their citizens to do with them as they would. And he gave up his own lordship at Miletus. Thus lordship ceased out of all the cities of Ionia.

After this Aristagoras sailed to Sparta, for he had need to make alliance with some city that could help him. Now Cleomenes was King at Sparta in those days; to him therefore Aristagoras opened the matter, saying, "Marvel not, Cleomenes, that I have been at the pain to come hither. That we men of Ionia should be slaves and not free is a shame and grief, first indeed to us, but next to you more than all others, seeing that ye have the pre-eminence in Greece. Do ye therefore deliver us from slavery, seeing that we are of the same blood with you. And this ye can easily do, for these barbarians have but small courage, in which ye, I know, excel. Their manner of fighting is this. They have bows and short spears, and for clothing they have loose tunics and turbans on their heads. Think then how easily ye can subdue them." After this Aristagoras showed to the King the divers nations and countries that were obedient to the Persians, for he had a tablet of brass on which was engraven the whole compass of the world, with the sea and all the rivers. And he set forth to him in what things each was excellent, till he came at the last to the city of Susa. "Here," he said, "is the river Choaspes with the great city of Susa, where the King has his palace. Here also are his treasures, on which if ye can lay your hands ye may without fear compare yourselves for riches to Zeus himself. What profit is there to fight, and that many times, for a few furlongs of barren land, with Messenians, men that are your match, or with Arcadians or Argives that have not gold or silver or any such thing, for the getting of which a man might willingly go in peril of his life, and this when ye might be lords of all Asia?" Then said Cleomenes, "Man of Miletus, I will give thee an answer in this matter on the third day." And on the third, when they came together as had been appointed, the King said, "Tell me, Aristagoras, of how many days is the journey from the sea to this city of Susa?" Now in every thing else Aristagoras had answered him craftily; but in this he was taken unawares. For if he would have had the Spartans come to Asia, he should not have told the truth; but this he did tell, for he said, "It is a journey of three months." But when the King heard this he would not suffer Aristagoras to say what he would have told about the journey, but cried, "Man of Miletus, depart from Sparta before the setting of the sun; for thou hast nothing to say that can profit the Spartans if thou wouldst take them a journey of three months from the sea." When he had said this, the King departed to his house. Then Aristagoras, taking the garb of a suppliant, went to him and besought him, as he had regard to a suppliant, to listen to him. "But first," he said, "send away the child;" for there stood by the King his little daughter, whose name was Gorgo. This Gorgo was his only child, being now of eight or nine years. But Cleomenes bade him say what he would, and stay not for the child. Then Aristagoras began with ten talents, promising that he would give him so much if he would help him to that which he desired. And when Cleomenes would not, he promised yet more, till he came to fifty talents. Then the child spake, "Father, this stranger will corrupt thee unless thou rise up and depart." This counsel of the child greatly pleased Cleomenes, so that he rose up from his place and went into another chamber. After this Aristagoras departed from Sparta, and came to Athens, knowing that this city held the next place for power.