Story of the Greek People - E. M. Tappan

After the Persian War

After the Greeks had won a battle it was their custom to give prizes to the state and to the commander that had done most to bring about the victory. It seems plain enough that the honors of Salamis should have been given to Attica and to Themistocles but the Peloponnesus was jealous of Attica and therefore the first state prize was give to Ăgina. The attempt to choose the most valiant leader was rather amusing, for each commander gave Themistocles second place, but wrote his own name for the first. In dividing the treasure the gods were not forgotten. Three ships of war were dedicated to them. One tenth of the spoils went to Delphi, and of this was made a statue of Apollo three times as tall as a man, and holding in one hand the prow of a vessel. After PlatŠa the tents abandoned by the Persians were found to be fairly ablaze with treasures. There were bowls and goblets, and even kettles, of solid gold; there were couches covered with plates of gold; there were golden bracelets and chains; and there were swords and scimitars with golden handles. As for gorgeously embroidered cloaks and curtains and carpets, they were so common that no one made any account of them. Of this, too, the gods had their full share. Of the part that went to Delphi a golden tripod was made, standing upon a closely coiled three-headed serpent of bronze. For many years after the battle, the PlatŠans who roamed over the field used to find treasures of gold and silver that had not been noticed at first. Which state should have the prize for valor at PlatŠa was a hard question, for both Athens and Sparta demanded it. To settle the dispute it was decided to give it to PlatŠa. Here temples were built to Athene and to Zeus. An oracle declared that the sacred fires of PlatŠa were no longer holy, because they had been polluted by the barbarians. They were all put out, and a swift runner brought coals from Delphi, by which they were kindled afresh. The Greeks agreed that the PlatŠan land should ever afterward be looked upon as sacred ground and that it should be the duty of the PlatŠans to offer once a year a sacrifice in memory of the soldiers who had died on their soil. This was kept up for at least three centuries. When the day had come, the trumpets sounded the battle-call early in the morning. Then the procession set out. This was formed of freeborn young men bearing oils and perfumes and milk and honey. With them went a black bull, and also chariots filled with myrtle wreaths and branches. 'Last of all walked the archon, with flowing purple robe, sword, and watering-pot. On the monuments of the heroes were little pillars on which their friends used to place flowers. These the archon washed with his own hands and rubbed with perfume. He sacrificed the bull and distributed the myrtle. Then he filled a bowl with wine and poured out an offering, saying, "I present this bowl to the men who died for the liberties of Greece."

At the beginning of the war, when the Spartans claimed the command of the navy, Themistocles said to the Athenians "Behave like men during the war, and when it is over, the Greeks will yield you the superiority." The war was now over and his words had come true; for whatever the other states might say, they knew well that the Athenians were the leading people of Greece. The poets had always loved Athens. Pindar, Theban as he was, could hardly mention the name of the city without calling her "glorious," or "beloved," or "renowned." In one way Pindar belonged not only to Thebes but to all Greece, for much of his composition was in honor of the victors at the games or of Apollo himself. He used to go to Delphi with his harp and chant his poetry. For more than six hundred years the iron chair in which he sat was carefully preserved in the temple as one its greatest treasures.

Even the love of so famous a poet as Pindar would not protect a city. Themistocles was a wise man. He knew that the other states would be jealous of Athens, and would probably make war upon her. To have any hope of resisting them, the city must be the strongest in the land. It was now in ruins. Much of the wall had been torn down, and the Athenians were scattered about in different places, wherever they had found a refuge. They were glad to return, even to the heaps of ashes and stones that alone remained of their homes; and they set about rebuilding their houses bravely and cheerfully. There was other work, however, that needed to be done even before house-building. In that warm climate it was no great hardship to live out of doors for a while, and Themistocles told them that the wall ought to be built first. They agreed to do this and to follow his plan of making it seven miles long, inclosing the Acropolis and enough land to take in all the country folk if any attack was made upon Attica.

The Spartans were not pleased. They sent envoys to the Athenians to remind them that Sparta had no walls. "It is not well for any Greek city to wall itself in," they protested; "for if invaders should come, they would perhaps get possession of it and be so well protected by the walls that they could sally forth and overcome one state after another at their leisure." Themistocles replied thoughtfully, "There is certainly much reason in what you say, and we will send envoys to Sparta to discuss this matter with you more fully." The Spartans had always liked Themistocles, and now they went home content.

Then the wily leader told the Athenians his plan. The wall must be built without an instant's delay. They set to work, using not only blocks of stone from the ruined houses and temples, but even tombstones. The women worked like men, and even the help of a child who could bring a handful of earth or pass a tool to a workman was welcome. The labor went on, night and day. Themistocles and two others had been appointed envoys to the Spartans, and after waiting as long as he dared, Themistocles went to Sparta. He told the people that the other two had been detained, but would soon appear, and then the whole matter could easily be arranged. While they were waiting, the Spartans began to hear rumors that the Athenian walls were rising rapidly. "What does this mean?" they demanded of Themistocles. "Do not put faith in idle rumors," he replied. "Send envoys to Athens, and then you can learn the truth for yourselves."

Meanwhile the other two envoy from Athens had come to Sparta, and had told Themistocles that the walls were already high enough to serve as a defense. He had made sure of safe return by sending word to the Athenians: "Keep the Spartans as hostages until I and the other envoys are safe at home." So he told the Spartans that Athens must do what she thought best for her own interest. "If you and your allies think no Greek city should have walls, let them begin by tearing down their own." The Spartans were angry, but they were helpless, and the Athenians completed their wall.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


The events of the war had made it clear that Athens ought to be strong, not only on land but also on the water. She must have a large fleet and she must also have a safe harbor that would protect her ships from storm or the attack of an enemy. Phalerum was the old harbor, but even before the war Themistocles had fixed his eyes upon the harbor of Piraeus, four or five miles from Athens, and had begun to fortify it. This harbor was a basin large enough to hold three hundred ships. Around it curved a peninsula ending in a mass of rock, so that only a narrow entrance was left. Along this peninsula the Athenians built seven miles of wall. And what a wall it was! Thirty feet high, wide enough for two chariots to drive abreast, and all made of solid stone clamped together with iron.

All this was done between 479 and 477 B.C. Other work was also going on during that time, for in one way the Persian war had not yet come to an end. The Ionian colonies had been freed at the time of the battle of Mycale, but the Persians held many other places along the coast of Asia Minor and Thrace. The most important was Byzantium, better known as Constantinople. There could be no safety so long as the Persians had strongholds near Greece, where they could assemble troops and ships, and from which they could sally forth to attack the Greeks. More over, Greece needed more grain than she could raise. It had been brought to her through the Propontis, which is now the Sea of Marmora; but while the Persians held Byzantium, no grain could find its way to Greece from that direction. A fleet was now sent out which besieged and captured Byzantium.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Aristides commanded the Athenian vessels; but the Spartan Pausanias, who had led the troops at PlatŠa, was admiral of the fleet. If Pausanias had been killed at PlatŠa, he would have been remembered as a brave and patriotic general; now he is remembered as a traitor. After the victory at PlatŠa, he behaved as if no one but himself had struck a blow; and after the capture of Byzantium, he seemed to think himself the greatest man in the world. Greece was a small country for so mighty a general, he thought; his glory would be much better appreciated in the vast realm of Persia. He set to work to win the regard of Xerxes by sending back to him the men of highest rank who had been captured at Byzantium. Worse than that, he sent with them a letter to Xerxes saying in effect, "If you will give me your daughter in marriage, I will conquer Greece for you." Xerxes did not promise to give his daughter, but, he agreed to provide whatever men and money might be needed for the conquest. Then Pausanias lost his senses completely. He began to act as if he were a high official of Persia. There was no more Spartan simplicity for him; he wore the richest of Persian dress and lived as luxuriously as possible. When Aristides objected, he turned away, saying that he had no time to listen to him.

When the Spartans heard of Pausanias's behavior, they ordered him to come home. They could not prove that he was plotting treason, but after a while it was shown that he was arousing the Helots to rise against their masters. He fled to a room adjoining the temple of Athene, and there was shut in by the Spartans, to starve. To win Athene's forgiveness for the pollution of her temple, they presented her with two bronze statues.

The last years of Themistocles's life were hardly more honorable than those of Pausanias. After his trickery in connection with the walls of Athens, the Spartans hated him; and it is possible that they had something to do with his ostracism, which occurred about a year before the death of Pausanias. There was reason to believe that he had joined in Pausanias's plot to conquer Greece for the Persians. It was well known that he had taken bribes; and people began to talk about his advice at the close of the war, not to pursue Xerxes or destroy the Hellespont bridge. "It is true that he said it would be better to get the Persians out of Europe and then attack them in Asia," they reasoned; "but it would be easy for him to persuade Xerxes that this plan was urged as a favor to him." This was exactly what Themistocles was doing. He had fled from one place to another, and finally to the court of Xerxes. He reminded the king of this former favor, and ended his appeal with, "If you destroy me, you destroy the enemy of Greece." The king had not thought of destroying him. He was delighted to have so brilliant a man at his court, and he exclaimed, "May the spirit of evil ever put it into the hearts of my enemies to banish their greatest men!" Three times that night he started up in his sleep, crying, "I have Themistocles the Athenian."

Themistocles became a great favorite of the king, and learned Persian, that they might talk together without an interpreter. Three cities were put into his hands to provide him with "bread, wine, and meat"—which seems to have meant that he was free to get as much from them Its possible. He spent his last years in luxury and idleness. Finally the king asked him to lead an expedition against the fleet of the Greeks. He could not make up his mind to do this; yet he could not refuse the king. He decided that the only way of escape was to take his own life. So died the man whom the Greeks had so greatly admired that, when he appeared at the Olympian games, the whole vast assembly forgot the contests and turned to gaze upon him and point him out to those who not recognize him.

Themistocles was a most able man and he did much for Athens and for all Greece; but even in the days of his greatest glory the Greeks never trusted him as they did Aristides. He once told the Athenians that he had a plan for making their city the most powerful in Greece, but that he could not tell it to so large an assembly. "Tell it to Aristides," the people bade. "If he approves, it shall be carried out." Aristides reported that the plan would indeed give Athens the first place among the Greeks, but that it was grossly treacherous; and the matter was dropped at once.

When Pausanias was recalled, the command of the fleet fell into the hands of Aristides. He founded the famous Delian League, so called because the meetings were held at Delos, and there the money of the League was kept. The object of this association was to free the Greek cities that were still in the power of the Persians, and to keep the Ăgean Sea free from pirates. Nearly all the cities on the islands and on the northern and eastern shores of the Ăgean Sea joined the League. Athens was to be the leader in the association, but was to have no more power than the other members. How much each state was to contribute was left to Aristides to decide. Another thing that Aristides did for Athens was to increase the power of the fourth class of citizens. By his influence a law was passed allowing members of this class to be chosen as magistrates. A few years after founding Delian League Aristides died. He had had every opportunity become rich by taking bribes, yet he died a poor man. The state built his tomb and cared for his children and grandchildren. He was a wise statesman and a skillful general, but greater than these titles is that by which he will always be remembered, "the Just."

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


When Aristides gave up the command of the fleet, it passed into the hands of a man after his own heart, Cimon, the son of Miltiades. It was rumored in Greece that the Persians were bringing their ships and men together in large numbers at the mouth of the Eurymedon in Pamphylia. That looked as if they were planning another invasion of Greece. Cimon sailed straight to Pamphylia and found the Persian fleet hovering about the mouth of the river. They expected eighty more vessels, and did not care to fight till these ships had come. Unfortunately for them, Cimon did not ask what they preferred, but attacked them on the instant. The men fled from the ships and made for the shore. There lay the camp of the Persian army; but Cimon and his men burst upon it like a whirlwind. After some hard fighting the Greeks won the day. They had captured two hundred ships and were victors on both sea and land. Most men would have been satisfied with two victories in one day, but Cimon did not propose to go home until he had met those other eighty vessels. He set out on a ship hunt, found them, fought with them, and soon he had won his third victory. The Persians in their flight had left an immense amount of treasure behind them. The Greeks packed this into their vessels and started for home. "I love to enrich my country at the expense of its enemies," Cimon once said; and Athens was indeed enriched with these loads of treasure.

All this while Athens was becoming stronger, partly because of the Delian League. This was constantly growing, for as soon as a city was freed, it became a member of the association. When the League was founded, it was agreed that the smaller states should pay their share of the expenses in money and the large ones in ships. Gradually, even many of the larger ones found it less trouble to pay in money. Athens had not the least objection. She took the money, built the ships, and added them to her navy. At length the treasury was removed from Delos to Athens, on the ground that it was not safe from the barbarians at Delos. It was some time before the other members realized that, although Athens was protecting them, they were growing poorer and weaker while she was growing richer and stronger. One after another attempted to leave the League, but Athens would not permit this and obliged them to pay a greater tribute. So it was that the League, which had been at first an association of states, became an empire with Athens as its tyrant-ruler.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


Of course this did not please Sparta, and she would gladly have sent an army against her Attic neighbor. Instead of that, she had to send envoys and beg meekly, "O Athens, will you not come and help us?" Sparta was indeed in trouble. First she was so shaken by earthquakes that only five houses in the city were left standing and thousands of people were killed. This was a good time for the Helots to rebel, and they attacked Sparta. They were repulsed, but the Messenians now revolted, and they were not so easily suppressed. They shut themselves up in Ithome in Messenia, in which their ancestors had once stood against their Spartan masters. The Spartans were not wise in carrying on sieges, neither were the other Peloponnesian cities, but Athens had had much experience in that line; therefore Sparta concluded to appeal to Athens. The Athenians had not forgotten the time when they had asked Sparta for help and she had shown so little sympathy for them in their trouble. "Let us refuse," urged one party in Athens. The other party argued, "No, let not Greece be lamed and Athens deprived of her yoke-fellow." Cimon was the leader of this second party. It seemed to him far more reasonable for the Greek states to fight Persia than to quarrel with one another. The Athenians were proud of Cimon, and he had no great difficulty in persuading them to allow him to go to Messenia, to help the Spartans. But when the Spartans saw the force of four thousand men, with the greatest Athenian commander at their head, they began to suspect some trick. Ithome did not fall at once, as they had expected, and then they felt sure that Cimon had plotted with the Messenians to overthrow their state. They told him abruptly that they had no need of him and his forces and he might go home, although they asked the troops from the other cities to stay and help them. The Athenians were indignant at such an insult. They wanted to blame some one, and their wrath fell upon the popular commander. "He always admired the Spartans," said one. "He named one of his children LacedŠmonius," said another. "And when, any of the allies did not please him, he was always saying that the Spartans would not have done so," another added. At length Cimon was ostracized as Aristides and Themistocles had been. Sparta finally subdued the Messenians and drove them from the Peloponnesus, but Athens arranged for them to live at Naupactus. It was convenient for her to have an allied settlement on the northern side of the Gulf of Corinth; but this act did not make Sparta feel any more friendly.



Many of the Athenians had come to the conclusion before this that there was no use in trying to keep on good terms with Sparta, that war between the two states must come some day, and that the best course for Athens was to make herself as strong as possible. The leader of this party was named Pericles. He now became the most popular man in Athens, and the Athenians were ready to do whatever he advised. They made an alliance with Argos, then with Megara. This was coming to the very gates of the Spartans. The people of the Peloponnesus were not pleased, but the Athenians cared little whether they were pleased or not. They kept on making alliances and winning battles whenever matters came to battle, until the influence of Athens extended from ThermopylŠ to the Isthmus, and as the head of the Delian League, or rather the Delian empire, she controlled also the cities and islands of the Ăgean Sea.



Athens was mighty on the land and mighty on the sea. She had a strongly walled city, and she had a perfectly protected harbor. Only one thing was needed, and that was a way of going from the city to the harbor in safety. To bring this about, two monstrous walls were built between the city and the sea, taking in not only the port of PirŠus but also the old harbor of Phalerum. After a while a third wall was built, running between Athens and PirŠus. These were not common walls, for they were sixty feet in height, and wide enough for two chariots to drive

abreast. So long as Athens held the walls, she could not be shut from the sea. Her ships could supply her with food, and it seemed as if at last a city had been made so strong that it could not conquered.

The power of Athens was at its height, but trouble soon came to her. At almost the same time several of the states subject to her revolted, and a Spartan army ventured into Attica, and began to kill, burn, and destroy. It was fortunate for Athens that she had so wise a leader as Pericles. He saw that, powerful as Athens was, she could not suppress these revolts and fight Sparta at the same time. He made a peace with Sparta, which was to last thirty years, called the Peace of Pericles; but in order to induce the Spartans to agree to it, Athens had to agree to give up all that she had gained in the Peloponnesus. This ended the possibility that Athens might some day control all Greece. She might have as strong a navy as she chose, but it was plain that she would never be permitted to rule the Greeks of the motherland as she ruled those of the Ăgean.


The treasures of Salamis were shared between the victors and the gods.

PlatŠa was set apart as sacred ground.

The Athenians became the leaders of Greece. Even the Theban Pindar loved Athens. She was now surrounded by a wall a and PirŠus was fortified.

The Greeks captured Byzantium.

The attempts of Pausanias to win favor with Xerxes resulted his downfall.

Themistocles ended his life at the Persian court.

Aristides founded the Delian League to free Greek cities from Persia. He will always be remembered as "the Just."

The command of the fleet fell into the hands of Cimon. He overcame the Persian fleet at the mouth of the Eurymedon, and also the Persian camp, then won a victory over some Persian ships. Athens was growing stronger, partly because of the Delian League. Sparta was not pleased, but a revolt of the Messenians forced her to ask Athens for aid. The Spartans insulted the Athenian troops. The Athenians foolishly blamed Cimon, and he was ostracized. By invitation of Athens, the Messenians made their home at Naupactus.

Pericles became the chief man at Athens.

Walls were built from Athens to PirŠus.

Several states revolted against Athens.

The Peace of Pericles was made, but Athens had to give up what she had gained in the Peloponnesus.

Suggestions For Written Work

An account of the division of the spoils of the battle of Salamis.

One of the Spartans tells how Themistocles deceived them about the Athenian walls.

Aristides tells a friend about his plan for forming the Delian League.