Themistocles (~-527 - ~-459)

Themistocles Themistocles was an Ancient Greek politician and general. He was the leader of the democratic party in Athens and participated in the Battle of Marathon and the Naval Battle of Artemision.

It is believed that he was born around 527 BC. Little is known about his childhood years; he may have been disobedient, which led to him being disavowed by his father. However, Plutarch mentions that he does not believe it to be true. On the year he was born, the tyrant of Athens Peisistratus died and was succeeded by his sons, Ipparchus and Ippias. The former was murdered a few years later, so Ippias became paranoid and increased his dependence on non – Athenians to remain in power. Kleisthenes eventually overthrew Ippias and established democracy.

Themistocles’ reputation among common people was vital in his election as an archon in 493 BC. During this time, he aimed at making Athens a naval power, so he asked that a new port be created in Piraeus that would replace the one in Faliron. His political opponent was Aristeides, who managed to gain the support of the Athenian aristocracy. When a new source of silver was found in 483 BC, Aristeides was of the opinion of giving one tenth of the revenue to the gods and distributing the rest to the citizens; this was the usual practice in similar cases. However, Themistocles managed to convince the people to use the money in order to build 200 triremes, an extremely high number for the time, and ostracize Aristeides.

In 481 BC, thirty city states of Greece formed an alliance against the imminent Persian attack, including Sparta and Athens. The Spartans took the command of the army; the Athenians wanted to take the command of the fleet, but were opposed by the Corinthians and the Aegineans. In the end, Evryviades became the typical commander of the fleet, but it was evident that the true leader would be Themistocles. In 480 BC, the Spartan army marched to Thermopylae and the fleet sailed to Artemision. Although Evryviades tried to avoid the naval battle, it eventually took place and the Greeks won, having suffered significant losses. Combined with the loss of the battle in Thermopylae, the only choice for the fleet was to retreat.

After Thermopylae, many Greek states started surrendering to the Persians, but Themistocles was not disheartened. He convinced the Athenians to sail to Salamina, where the famous naval battle occurred. The Greek triremes crushed the Persian fleet, with strategic and tactical choices by Themistocles, and repelled the Persians.

Returning to Athens, he continued increasing the naval power of Athens and his policies eventually led to the Delos Alliance, with the aim to liberate the Ionic cities from the Persians. Nevertheless, the aristocracy started gaining more political power and Themistocles was set aside. He was accused of a series of mistakes and was finally ostracized in 471 BC to Argos. After a series of events, he found himself at the court of the Persian King, Artaxerxes, who accepted him with joy. A few years later, when the king asked him to provide advice for the Egyptian revolution, Themistocles chose to commit suicide rather than undermine the Greek interests or be ungrateful to the Persian king.

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