Resources, Civilizations and Empires

The Persian Empire

The Persian Empire to 480 B.C.

By Jack Barkstrom

Crossing the Danube - The Balkan Campaign Against the Scythians

The Danube River serves as the boundary between the modern countries of Bulgaria and Romania, although the Danube Delta, where the river enters the Black Sea, is claimed as part of the Dobruja region of Romania.  One of the branches marks the boundary with Ukraine. Like the Nile, the Danube Delta is subject to annual flooding, which deposits some forty million tons of silt in the marshes in the spring. A boon to the wildlife, the quantity of silt has virtually doomed the only modern port, Sulina, since dredging operations are expensive and only sufficient for small-capacity ships. Since the construction of the Danube-Black Sea Canal, larger freighters no longer need to enter the Delta. For the relatively shallow draft Greek merchant ships plying their trade in the Sixth Century B.C., the Danube silting problems were not as formidable as those faced by the deep-water freighters of today.  The Greeks established a port, called Tulcea, which became known as the "Threshold of the Delta."  Below Tulcea, the river splits into three branches, Chilia, Sulina, and Sfântu Gheorghe.[25]

In 516 B.C. Darius had managed to bring the myriad rebelling kingdoms within the Persian Empire back under Persian control.  He now made plans to expand his empire into Europe. The Danube, which marked the northern boundary of Thrace (modern Bulgaria), was considered the starting point for his campaign, although to reach that point he decided to take his army through Thrace, which had yet to be conquered. (Its tribes quickly submitted when his army arrived.) 

Beyond the Danube, the people Darius intended to conquer were known by the Greeks as the Scythians.  Scythia the country was a region north of the Black Sea (roughly the geographical area incorporated into the modern countries of Romania, Moldava, Ukraine, and Georgia). The Scythians were an Indo-Iranian people believed to have originated in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia. They were related to the Parthians, a nomadic Iranian people, as well as the Saka, Sarmatians, and Yue-Qi.  While their westward migration took them across the steppes of Asia, they sent raiding parties as far south as Palestine and Egypt.  The modern Ossetians, inhabitants of the Russian Federation and Georgia, are believed to be descendents of the Scythians. The Scythians had some contact with the Greeks.  Peisistratus (Pisistratus), the Athenian tyrant (561-60 - 528-7 B.C.), included Scythian archers in the mercenary force which maintained order in Athens. [26]

The real starting point of the European invasion was the Bosporus. A bridge, probably a pontoon bridge of boats or rafts lashed together, had been built across the strait by Mandrocles of Samos.  Herodotus' estimate of the size of the Persian army which marched over the bridge was 700,000, aided by a fleet of 600 ships.  (While the force was large, the 700,000 figure is probably an exaggeration.)  After crossing the Bosporus, the army marched through Thrace to the mouth of the Danube (Ister) River.  The Getae, a Thracian peoples inhabiting the lands through which the army marched, either surrendered or were quickly conquered.  An Ionian fleet sailed ahead to the Danube, with orders to construct a bridge across the river.  The bridge was constructed at a point 'two days' journey' from the sea, near Galatz or Braila. [27]

Darius apparently was so confident in the ultimate success of his campaign that he was willing to cut his lines of retreat - or escape.  Once his army was safely across the Danube, he ordered the Ionians to destroy their bridge of boats and join the army in the advance. Cöes of Lesbos advised him however to leave the bridge intact, since it would provide the only means of escape, should disaster strike the expedition.  Darius, according to the story, then summoned the Ionians together.  He told them to maintain the bridge for two months and, to mark the time, gave them a strap tied into sixty knots.  After he had left, they were to untie one knot every day.  If he had not returned by the time all the knots had been untied, they were free to take their boats and sail home.  Until that time, they were to guard the bridge. [28]

The Scythians sought the aid of neighboring peoples, such as the Taurians, the Agathyrsi, the Neuri, and the Sauromatians.  The Geloni, Budini, and Sauromatians offered their help, but other tribes refused.  Realizing that their forces were insufficient to risk an all out confrontation, the Scythians decided to adopt a hit-and-run campaign in conjunction with a "scorched earth" policy. The Scythian plan was to retreat before the Persians if they advanced, or to attack, if the Persians moved away. When they retreated before the Persian advance they were to fill in wells and springs and destroy the grass, presumably by setting the steppe grasslands on fire. [29]

Darius may have begun the campaign with a specific geographic objective in mind, such as the gold mines of Dacia, where the Agathyrsi resided, and the trade routes from that region to the Danube.   That idea was dropped in favor of the destruction of the Scythian army. That objective proved illusive, since the Scythians were unwilling to meet his forces in any type of large encounter. Their cavalry sometimes made an appearance ahead of his army, but made camp a day's march ahead of the Persian advance.  The Persians decided to follow one of the large Scythian "divisions" as it retreated east.  They are said to have crossed the Tanais River into the land of the Sauromatians and, once through that, into the land of the Budini. It is said that they burned an abandoned wooden town, but found little else to take or even to destroy, since the land was dry and barren.  At the Oarus (Volga), Darius found that the Scythians had simply vanished.  While his army paused he constructed eight fortifications, sixty furlongs (about seven-and-a-half miles) apart. He then decided to head west, into Scythia itself, and abandoned the forts. [30]

Once the army reached Scythia, the Scythian forces appeared again.  They still would not offer battle, choosing instead to stay a day's march ahead of  the Persians.  In exasperation Darius sent a horseman over to the Scythian lines. Through the messenger Darius asked the Scythian king, Idanthyrsus, why he kept retreating.  If he felt he was strong enough to fight the Persians, he should stand and fight.  If he knew he could not win, then why not acknowledge Darius as master and enter into negotiations.  As a token of submission, Darius asked for earth and water.  Idanthyrsus' reply was that, since the Scythians did not live in cities or plant crops, the threat posed by the Persians was not enough to force them to fight.  They had nothing that could be captured or destroyed.  The only "possession" they considered valuable enough to fight for was their ancestral burial grounds - if the Persians could find them.  Darius would receive, not earth and water, but what the Scythians thought would be appropriate.  Darius, he added, would be sorry that he claimed to be their master. 

Angered by what they considered Persian arrogance, the other Scythian kings decided to change tactics.  Instead of retreating, they now began to aggressively attack when they felt the Persians were weak.  Foraging parties which ventured too far beyond Persian lines when they went in search of provisions found themselves under attack by Scythian horsemen.  The Persian cavalry proved no match for that of the Scythians and fled for the safety of the foot soldiers.  The Persians could take some comfort from the presence of asses and mules among their transport animals, which tended to frighten the wild Scythian horses.  Nevertheless the relentlessness of the attacks made it difficult to re-provision and the Persian army watched its supplies fall to dangerously low levels.  It is said that the Scythians, deducing that their attacks were having the desired effect on the Persian supply situation, switched tactics, in an attempt to destroy Darius' army.  They would leave behind small flocks for the Persians to find, not large enough to replenish their stocks, but enough to provide an illusion of success - all in hopes of masking the true supply situation and causing Darius to delay a decision to order a retreat.

It was now that the Scythian kings sent Darius a messenger bearing gifts: a bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows.  Despite the desperate situation of his army, Darius' initial reaction was that the gifts were tokens of surrender, symbolic of the earth and water he had demanded.  He reasoned that the mouse was a creature of the earth, the frog a creature of the water, and the bird was the closest to a horse (possibly related to the horsemanship of the Scythian cavalry). The arrows were to signify the surrender of the people's valor.  Gobryas, one of the co-conspirators with Darius in the Magi killings, provided a more pessimistic reading: "If you [the Persians] do not become birds, and fly away, or mice, and burrow into the ground, or frogs, and leap into the lakes, there will be no homecoming for you, for we will shoot you down with our arrows." [31]

Darius remained undecided about the true interpretation of the gifts until the Scythian forces were arrayed to attack the Persians. Before the attack began a hare ran between the two armies.  The Scythians, seemingly unmindful of the presence of the Persian forces, began shouting amongst themselves and running after the hare.  Darius asked what the commotion was.  When he was told that the Scythian soldiers were chasing a hare, he responded that they must utterly despise the Persians. He now realized that Gobryas' interpretation of the Scythian gifts was closer to the truth than his. The question was no longer whether he could defeat the Scythians, rather it was whether his army could escape annihilation.

Darius' plan was to leave camp under cover of darkness, in hopes of escaping detection by the Scythians, and then march as quickly as possible to the Danube. To fool the Scythians into thinking the army was still in camp, he left those who were wounded or sick, along with the asses. To give an impression of normality, watch fires were lit.  Those being abandoned were told that they were being left to guard the camp, while the army was going out to attack the Scythians.  (Coincidentally or not, the plan to leave the sick and wounded behind as decoys, bore a remarkable similarity to that said to have been employed by Cyrus in his ill-fated campaign against the Massagetae.) [32]

At daybreak, those in the camp realized that they had been abandoned and surrendered to the Scythians. The Scythians, seeing that the main Persian army had left, consolidated their forces and set off in the direction of the Danube, hoping to overtake the retreating army.  Being on horseback, they managed to reach the Danube ahead of the Persians.  They had taken a different route and not made contact with the opposing army.  When they came to the crossing point, they found the Ionians still guarding the bridge.  They urged them to break up the bridge and leave, as they were now free of the Persians.  The Scythians would soon put an end to Darius and any plans for future expeditions. 

The Athenian general, Miltiades, was in favor of the plan, since it was an opportunity to free the Greek states from Persian rule. Histiaeus of Miletus however, was reluctant to join in any rebellion. The Ionian princes had more to fear from the democratic forces within their own cities than they did from the Persians, he argued.  Whatever grievances they may have had against the Persians had to be weighed against the fact that the Persians kept them in power. Allow Darius to be destroyed by the Scythians and Histiaeus, as well as the rulers of the other Ionian cities, would be overthrown by their own people.  His argument proved persuasive and the Greeks voted to hold the bridge until the Persian forces reached the Danube. Afraid of openly defying the Scythians, or providing them with a passage over the Danube, the Ionians took the precaution of moving the boats on the Scythian side out of arrow range.  The maneuver was done in such a way as to appear to be taking the entire structure down.  The Scythians left to search for the Persians. They failed to find the Persian force, which managed to reach the Danube. [33]

The Persian army arrived at the crossing point at night, only to find that the bridge was gone. Terrified that they had been abandoned, Darius finally had one of his Egyptian soldiers call over to the other side. Histiaeus heard him, brought the boats over, and reconstructed the bridge, allowing the Persian army to cross over.  Darius took the remnants of his army and marched through Thrace to Sestos, in the Chersonese (the Gallipoli Peninsula), where he crossed back into Asia.  Part of the army, said to number around 80,000, was left in Thrace, under the command of the Persian general Megabazus.

Megabazus expanded Persian control in Thrace, subjugating the region along the coast between the sea of Marmora and the Strymon.  He was unable to subdue Macedonia. When he sent envoys there demanding its submission, the crown prince, Alexander, had them murdered.  Megabazus lacked the troops to exact punishment.  Otanes, who replaced Megabazus, would recapture Byzantium and Chalcedon. He also captured the island cities of Lemnos and Imbros, with Greek fleets.

The exact route Darius took on his Scythian expedition, once he crossed the Danube, is unknown.  Herodotus believed that he followed the Black Sea coast and reached the Volga (Oarus) River in Russia. He even claimed to have seen the ruins of the eight forts which Darius abandoned.  There is some speculation that the legendary 'forts of Darius' were, in reality, ordinary Scythian kurgans, or burial mounds.  Herodotus also mentions the Agathyrsi, a neighboring tribe of the Scythians, which resided in the region of the Carpathian Mountains, an indication that his army did not move toward the steppes of Russia but moved directly north or west (northern Romania) of the Danube starting point. Herodotus also makes reference to the fact that the Scythians urged their people, when fleeing the Persian advance, to drive northward [from the Persian crossing point on the Danube].[34]

The Ionian Revolt - (499 - 493 B.C.)

Whatever the judgment of history about their rulers, the Persians boiled their accomplishments down to a single word or phrase.  Cyrus they called a father, Cambyses they labeled a master of slaves (tyrant), and Darius they remembered as a merchant (shopkeeper).  After the debacle in Scythia, Darius may have had second thoughts about trying to change his image from 'merchant' to that of 'warrior.'  At any rate, his appetite for risky military adventures was sharply curtailed after 512.  It was replaced by an interest in trade, innovation, and the economic well-being of his subjects, which, not only reinforced the merchant image, but also accounted for the relative calm the empire experienced between 512 and 500 BC.  The merchant label was said to be related to Darius' seeming obsession with petty accounts, which probably was associated with his overhaul of the tax system. [35]

The peace would be shattered in 499 B.C., when the Ionian Greek cities chose to revolt. The very people who had shown their loyalty to Darius by guarding their bridge of boats at the Danube were now leading the rebellion.  The immediate cause of the revolt seemed to be the failure of a relatively small military venture to capture the island of Naxos.  After a four-month siege the Persians gave up.  Persian prestige suffered as a result. It was clearly not the only cause, since the catastrophe of the Scythian campaign had been a far more serious blow to Persian military credibility, than the failure at Naxos.

Naxos is an island in the Aegean Sea north of Crete, about midway between Athens and the Ionian coast (modern Turkey). With an army of 8,000, augmented by a fleet of warships, it could not be considered defenseless.  While it was fairly far south of  the islands of Lemnos and Imbros, 0captured by Otanes, it was not an illogical choice for expansion.  The Persians prepared an expedition, consisting of 200 triremes and a large army, commanded by Megabates, a cousin of Darius.

The pretext for the expedition was the re-installment of the former oligarchs of Naxos, who had been overthrown by the party of democrats.  While they had come to the Persians seeking help, it is not clear whether they found the Persians, who were otherwise reluctant to get involved, or whether the Persians found them - a convenient excuse to add another rich island to their territory. The catalyst for the expedition was Aristagoras, the administrator of Miletus, a city on the Ionian coast.  It was the city which had been formerly ruled by Histiaeus, the man who had saved Darius' army by holding the bridge on the Danube.

Histiaeus, highly regarded by Darius for his actions at the Danube, had fallen out of favor with the king.  As a reward for his actions Darius had granted him a city in Thrace called Myrcinus.  The region was a rich source of timber and silver.  Megabazus, the Persian general charged with subjugating Thrace, began to see Histiaeus' activities as a threat.  He convinced Darius that he should be removed and the king requested his presence at Susa. When he arrived he was placed under house arrest. Considering that the penalty for disloyalty was often death, Darius' choice of imprisonment may have been an indication that he still felt some obligation to him. Aristagoras, a son-in-law and cousin of Histiaeus, took over as administrator. When the Naxian exiles approached Aristagoras about retaking their city, he told them he would try to persuade the satrap Artaphrenes, Darius' brother, to finance an expedition.  Word of the expedition reached the Naxians, who made preparations to receive the attack.  Food and water supplies were increased and the fortress walls were reinforced. When they arrived the attackers began a siege. After four months they ran short of funds and were forced to lift the siege. 

Megabetes, the Persian general commanding the expedition, was blamed for its failure.  The accusation is that he betrayed it by warning the Naxians before it arrived. The cause was an argument with Aristagoras over discipline. When the fleet was anchored off Caucas, on the island of Chios, Megabetes made an inspection round of the individual ships.  He found one of the ships of Myndas with no guards posted.  The captain was immediately arrested and, as punishment, was bound and placed in a position next to the ship's hull so that his head protruded through an oar-hole.  Aristagoras asked Megabetes to let him go.  When the request was refused, he released him anyway.  Megabetes confronted him for interfering in a disciplinary matter. Artaphenes' reply was that he was in charge of the expedition and that Megabetes was to take orders from him.  Angered by the response, Megabetes, after nightfall, sent a boat ahead to warn the Naxians. [36]

Whether Megabetes betrayed the expedition over a disciplinary matter or whether he betrayed the expedition at all is unknown. Aristagoras may have been the culprit, or he may have concocted the story, knowing that he was likely to be blamed for the failure in any event. Fearful of losing his position as leader of Miletus, Aristagoras contemplated revolt   From his perspective, chances of success, or even survival, were better outside the Persian system than within.  The failure of the expedition was a blow to Persian prestige, but Aristagoras, as a participant, was in a position to observe weaknesses which otherwise would have gone unnoticed by the wider world.  The Naxian oligarchs had been unable to prevent their own overthrow and could only be restored with the help of the Persian military. The fact that the Naxians had survived at all, whether they had been forewarned, was an indication that the military balance was changing.   The story is that Aristagoras received encouragement about this time from an unexpected source, his exiled father-in-law, Histiaeus. Histiaeus, still at Susa, had tattooed a message on the shaved head of a slave, urging revolt. After his hair grew out, he was sent to Miletus. Once there his head was shaved and Aristagoras was able to read the message.

Aristagoras, when he did act, acted decisively. The generals from the oligarchies who had participated in the Naxos expedition had not been decommissioned and were with the fleet at Myus.  It was decided that the Milesian general Iatragoras would go there and attempt to arrest them. Oliatus of Mylasa, Histiaeus of Termera, Cöes of Mytilene, and Aristagoras of Cyme were among those arrested.  Aristagoras then abolished the oligarchy in his own state of Miletus and replaced it with a democracy.  He overthrew the oligarchs and set up democracies in the other states, although it is not clear what authority he used to justify his actions. Those rulers who had escaped arrest at Myus were forcefully deposed. For those arrested, democratic governments were installed in their absence. Once the new governments were in place the imprisoned oligarchs were handed over to them for punishment.  It is said that most were released. [37]

Democracy, Aristagoras' political instincts told him, was a potentially powerful resource, which could both justify his actions and rally people to his cause. The irony was that, while he paid lip service to democratic ideals, he used force to install democratic governments. The fledgling democracies were, in fact, controlled by military governors, who had been installed along with the democratic governments.  Aristagoras probably realized that the political force he hoped to harness against the Persians was also extremely dangerous.  When Cöes, the ruler of Mytilene, was handed over to his former subjects, they stoned him to death.  In the case of the Ionian cities the military presence, while available to control mob unrest, was more likely intended as a deterrence against the former oligarchs.  Aristagoras, in all likely, was reading the political climate of the region accurately.  The oligarchs, as rulers, were hated by the cities they ruled, and Persia, by association, was blamed for the shortcomings of local administrators. If Aristagoras championed the anti-Persian cause to save himself, he was also tapping into a notion with widespread popular support among the Ionians. It has been suggested that the speed with which the rebellion spread was due, partly, to a lack of flexibility on the part of Persian administrators.  They continued to rely on an oligarchic system which was outdated and could only be maintained by force.  They were, in other words, slow to recognize the shift in political power away from the oligarchs, and slow to change sides, once it occurred. [38]

There was an economic element which played a role in the intensity, as well as the timing, of the revolt.  Ionian cities, toward the end of the sixth century, were running into competition in established markets. Demand for Ionian pottery produced at Miletus, Samos, and Chios declined, particularly at the Egyptian mart of Naucritis, after the Corinthians introduced a superior quality pottery.  Athens, with black-figure ware, began competing in the Black Sea market. Another market, the Egyptian city of Naucritis, was impacted by Cambyses' invasion.  The Italian city of Sybaris, a trading partner of Miletus, was destroyed in 510. Carthage and Etruria combined to limit trade with the western Mediterranean. [39] 

While Aristagoras had some success at organizing a confederacy, which issued its own coinage, the Persians, during the winter of 499-498 B.C., appeared to take the revolt for granted.  They were unprepared in 498 when a rebel force commanded by Charopinus and Hermophantus, which included twenty ships supplied by the Athenians and five by the Eretrians, attacked Sardes, Artaphrenes' headquarters.  They captured the city, although Artaphrenes managed to retreat to the acropolis and hold out there. After setting fire to the city, the Greeks withdrew in the face of stiffening Persian resistance.  The Persians followed the retreating force and inflicted a defeat on them at Ephesus. The Eretrian general, Eualcides, was killed. Athens would afterwards withdraw from the conflict and send no further help. The Ionians, in the closing months of 498, sailed to the Hellespont and reduced Byzantium and nearby cities, then sailed south to Caria (a region on the coast south of Lydia), where the city of Caunus, impressed by the burning of Sardis, joined them.  Cyprus, at the urging of Onesilus, the brother of the king of the Salaminians, joined the rebels as well.

Cyprus, among the last to join the rebels, would be the first to fall to the Persians when they finally organized their counteraction at Cilesia (Cilisia) in 497.  Not all of Cyprus had joined the rebellion. The Phoenician towns of Amathus and Citium had remained loyal. Onesilus laid siege to Amathus.  The Persian general, Artybius, made plans to relieve Amathus with the army he had assembled in Cilesia.  A large Phoenician fleet transported the troops to the island  The Phoenician ships, which had remained off the coast, were confronted by an Ionian fleet, sent down to help the Greek forces. In the ensuing battle the Phoenicans were defeated, leaving Artybius' force stranded on the island.

The Persian army marched to the plain of Salamis to face a Cypriote Greek force.  While the Persians suffered the loss of their general, Artybius, who was killed by Onesilus, the Greeks were weakened by the desertion of Stresenor, of Curium. The desertion of the Curians was followed by that of  the Salaminian chariot force.  The two contingents were considered among the best of the Cypriote forces.  The battle turned in favor of the Persians.  Onesilus and the king of Soli, Aristocyprus, were killed in the rout of their army.  The city of Salamis immediately surrendered.  Other Greek cities tried to hold out, but most of the sieges were of brief duration.  The city of Soli held out the longest, five months.  By the end of 497 the Persians controlled the entire island.[40]

On the Hellespont, a Persian army under Daurises, a son-in-law of Darius, began a campaign in the spring of 497 which would capture the cities of Dardanus, Abydos, Percote, Lampsacus, and Paesus. He was ready to attack Parium, when news of the revolt in Caria reached him.  He then took his army south.  A second Persian army operated to recapture settlements in the Troad, the Ionian coastline opposite the island of Lesbos.  A third army, under Artaphrenes and the general  Otanes, operating near the Hermus River, west of Sardis, captured the cities of Clazomenae and Cyme.  Cyprus had been the only island which the Persians were able to recapture in 497. (The victory of the Ionian fleet at Cyprus may have been a serious blow to the Phoenician naval forces, which temporarily deprived the Persians of an effective naval force.)  There were also major mainland cities, Byzantium, Ephesus, Cyzicus, and Miletus, which they were unable to retake. 

The campaign in Caria proved disastrous.  The Carians proved tenacious.  They are said to have suffered a loss of 10,000 men in their first encounter with the Persians, were defeated with similar losses a second time, and yet, came back to attack still a third time.  The army which Daurises had taken south crossed the Maeander River where it met the Marsyas River.  The Carians attacked, once they had crossed.  In heavy fighting the Persians suffered a loss of 2,000.   The Carians retreated to Mt. Latmus, where they were reinforced by the Milesians. In the second battle, the Persians drove the combined force off the heights and onto the plain of Mylasa, again inflicting heavy casualties.  The Persians pursued the Carian and Milesian force as it retreated in the direction of Pedasus (Pedasa). Perhaps overconfident from their twin victories, the Persians may have been careless in setting up camp or in posting a guard. They were ambushed at night. Daurises, along with two other Persian generals, Amorges and Sisimaces, were killed.  Their army was annihilated. [41]

Although the Carian disaster set the Persians back for several years, it also claimed a victim on the Greek side. Aristagoras, the Milesian who had instigated the revolt, fled to Thrace.  He was killed in 497, and his force with him, by the Thracians, while he was trying to capture one of their cities.

In 494 the Persians had recovered sufficiently to renew operations. Miletus, the troublesome city which had begun the revolt, was to be the starting point of the campaign, and a large army was sent overland to take the city.  Persia was in a position to fight a war at sea, as well, with a resurrected Phoenician fleet, augmented by ships from Cyprus, Cilicia, and Egypt.   The first assignment of the combined fleet, said to number 600 vessels,  was the operation to capture Miletus.  The ships assembled near the island of Lade, off the city of Miletus.   The Ionians, without any clear leadership since the departure of Aristagoras, managed to assemble a fleet of 353 triremes, 100 supplied by Chios, eighty by the Milesians, and seventy by the Lesbians. 

The two fleets did not immediately engage, once assembled, but waited for an opportune time to begin.  The Persians sent messengers over to try to persuade the forces from individual cities to desert.  Each day, in the interim, the two sides would conduct maneuvers in battle formation.  The Ionian ships had been placed under the command of the Phocaean general Dionysius.  He was able to keep them in line for seven days, according to Herodotus. On the eighth day they mutinied and refused to leave camp to go out on maneuvers.  Their actions caused the Samians to accept the Persian offers.

The Persians, after a week, apparently felt confident enough to force a battle and put their Phoenician ships in battle formation. The Ionians, along with the Samians, realized that the Persian force was ready to fight, and took to their ships to meet the Phoenician threat. Once the two fleets were in line however, all but eleven of the Samian ships deserted and sailed for home.  This caused the Lesbian ships, and most of the other Ionian vessels, to abandon the line as well.  The Chians fought on for a time, but, in the end, suffered so many losses, that they retired from the fight and sailed for home.

Herodotus' story almost avoids the outcome of the battle - the Greeks had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of a fleet they had decisively defeated three years earlier. Dissension among the Ionians may have played a role in the loss, but betrayal, as an explanation, also offered a face-saving explanation for poor performance.  Herodotus was unlikely to concede that a non-Greek force had proved superior to the Ionians.[42]

Following their victory, the Persians besieged Miletus.  The Milesians put up a vigorous defense, requiring the attackers to employ siege engines, in combination with tunneling.  It was stormed and fell in 494. With the Phoenician fleet, the Persians were able to attack the island cities.  The last of the rebelling cities were re-captured by 493 BC.  The fleet wintered near Miletus, then captured Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos in the spring of 493. 

Histiaeus of Miletus, the savior and one-time prisoner of  Darius, kept the rebellion alive for a time.  Darius had allowed him to return to the Ionian region, in hopes of his mediating an end to the dispute. However, he eventually joined the rebellion and, with a Lesbian fleet, took to raiding shipping passing through the Bosporus from the Black Sea.  Following the Ionian defeat at Lade, he took a Lesbian squadron, attacked Chios, and made Polichne his base of operations.  He attacked Thasos.  He was captured while foraging in Aeolis.  When he was brought to Artaphrenes, he had him executed, fearing that he might be pardoned by Darius if kept alive.  He was impaled and beheaded.  His embalmed head was then sent to Darius, at Susa.

Persian retribution against the Ionian cities was severe, but relatively brief.  The populace of Miletus, mostly surviving women and children, were forcibly exiled to Mesopotamia and resettled on the Tigris. The nearby city of Didyna (Branchidae), which housed the temple and oracle of Apollo, was plundered and burned.  In other cities which were captured, boys were castrated and the best-looking girls were sent to Darius. The cities were then burned.  Cities in the Chersonese were burned as well. The inhabitants of Byzantium fled. 

Artaphrenes, as a result of the rebellion, decided that institutional changes needed to be made to the Persian administrative system.  During 493, a legal system was set up to handle disputes between cities. They would no longer be permitted to organize military expeditions against each other, but would have to submit disagreements to a court. Artaphrenes also reorganized the tax system. New taxing districts were created and measured. The amount of the tax levy to be paid would be determined by his administrators.  Darius decided to completely overhaul the governmental system in Ionia.  In 492 he sent his son-in-law Mardonius, son of Gobyrus, to Cilicia, at the head of a large land and sea force.  With the force he visited all the Ionian cities along the coast and forcibly replaced the oligarchies in power with democracies.[43]

Darius' Second European Expedition

When Darius received word that Sardis had been burned in 498 by the force of  Ionians, Athenians, and Eretrians, his only question was, "Who are the Athenians?"  He then asked for a bow and, shooting an arrow into the air, he prayed, "Zeus, grant me the opportunity to punish the Athenians." He also is said to have ordered one of his servants to repeat three times at every meal, "Master, remember the Athenians." [44]

Athenian participation in the attack on Sardis may have come as a surprise to Darius, but he was fully aware of the city's existence long before 498.  Hippias, the former Pisistradid ruler of Athens, who had been banished from the city some twelve years earlier, in 510, was residing in Susa, hoping to obtain Darius' help in restoring him to power.  For a time he had taken up residence in Sardis. The Athenians, following the Spartan intervention by Cleomenes (508-507), had had sent emissaries there as well.  The satrap Artaphrenes asked a question similar to that of Darius: "Who are these people and where in the world do they live that they would ask the Persians to become their allies?"  If they were willing to submit, he responded, then they could become allies. "If the Athenians are willing to give King Darius earth and water, he offers an alliance to them; if not, they should leave."  The burning of Sardis may have caused Artaphrenes to regret his earlier condescending reply.  Darius, among the various reports about the Ionian revolt, now had another factor to consider.[45]

For their part, the Athenians may have believed that Darius was obsessed with their destruction or punishment and that they were the motivating force behind a new expedition. Yet, they had other reasons for emphasizing the obsessive side of Darius' character.  The idea of a maniacal  Asian ruler bent on the destruction of a single Greek city was a message which would resonate among fellow Greeks, even those Greeks who otherwise might have reason to fear the political and military power of Athens.

Apart from any desire for revenge, Darius might have had other reasons for conquering Athens.  Militarily, it would be advantageous to eliminate a growing threat, or, alternatively, to add a potent Athenian navy to his arsenal. With such a fleet, he could think of expanding his empire to Italy, Sicily, or, Cambyses' ambition, Carthage. If nothing else Athens would mean another revenue-producing province.  But the goal of his second expedition may have been more modest or, if just as ambitious, aimed in a different geographical direction.  The Ionian revolt had allowed Thrace and Macedonia, not entirely conquered prior to the rebellion, to regain a measure of independence. Mardonius hoped to restore Persian rule to those areas already taken and to push the empire's boundaries further west.  There was a strong economic incentive to control the region.  Gold mines on the island of Thasos and the mainland opposite Samothrace contributed to annual revenues for the island of between two hundred and three hundred talents.  The gold mines of Scaptesyle alone generated eighty talents a year.[46]

Mardonius' installation of democratic governments in the former rebel cities was the opening act of the second European expedition of Darius.  When his army was assembled in the Hellespont in 492, Mardonius transported it by ship to the European side. It then marched overland through Thrace and into Macedonia.  The fleet sailed to Thasos, which surrendered without a fight. On land the army was successful in subduing the Macedonians, who submitted as well. 

From Thasos, the fleet sailed along the coast of Chalcidice, reaching Acanthus, where it put to sea.  When it tried to round the promontory at Mount Athos, it ran into a severe storm.  Three hundred ships are said to have been wrecked and 20,000 men killed, some eaten by sharks or dashed against the rocks, others drowned.  Mardonius, with the army, was seriously wounded in a night attack by one of the Thracian tribes, the Brygi (Phrygians).  The attack did not prevent the conquest of Thrace or Macedonia, but Mardonius' wounds may have been serious enough to prevent his re-appointment as commander of a subsequent expedition.  With the conquest of the two countries, Mardonius took the army back to Asia.

Darius' Third European Expedition

Before the Persians could think of sending another expedition across the Bosporus, they needed to give their forces time to recuperate.  The Phoenician fleet, depleted by the losses suffered off Mount Athos, needed time to rebuild.  The fleet had a more important role to play, since the new campaign would be directed at the southern islands and at Athens.  The exception was Thasos, the island which had surrendered the previous year.  The Thasians were ordered to pull down their defensive walls and move their fleet to Abdera, on the mainland.   While preparations were underway, Darius sent emissaries to the Greek cities asking for earth and water, as tokens of submission.

Commanding the new expedition, which left in 491, was Datis, a Mede, and Artaphrenes, the son of the satrap Artaphrenes.  The first goal of the southern campaign was the island of Naxos and the nearby islands, known as the Cyclades.  Once Naxos had been captured, the fleet turned north, to attack Delos. Sailing north to Euboea, they besieged and captured Carystus. Eretria, the city which had lent five ships to the Sardis expedition of 498, held out against Persian attacks for six days, then was betrayed. The inhabitants were enslaved.[47]

The Persian army, under Datis, had beem transported across the strait and landed in the bay of Marathon (September 491 or 490) before the fall of Eretria.  Hippias, the former Athenian tyrant, accompanied the Persians.  An Athenian force, about 9,000 strong, supplemented by a later-arriving contingent of Plataean allies of about 1,000, had marched from Athens in response to Eretrian requests for help.  Arriving about the same time as the Persian landing the Athenians occupied the higher ground of the valley of Vrana.  The Persian encampment was probably along the Charadra River, closer to the sea. Behind them was the "Great Marsh."

The armies faced each other without fighting, for eight days.  The Athenians were in no hurry to attack the numerically superior Persians, estimated to number around 15,000.  Their commanders were evenly split over the question. Their big fear was that, while they confronted the Persians at Marathon, Athens was unprotected.  If Eretria fell, the bulk of the Persian army would be free to sail around Attica and attack an undefended city or, alternatively, provide additional troops and cavalry for the forces at Marathon. While waiting they learned of the fall of Eretria.

The Athenians and Plataeans opened the battle by advancing against the Persian lines, roughly a mile away.  When they came within bowshot, the last two hundred yards separating the lines, they advanced on the run.  In the close-in fighting the Persian center, composed of Persian and Sacae troops, broke the Athenian lines and pursued their retreating foes toward the Athenian camp.  The Athenian right and left wings held however and, closing ranks, attacked the Persians who had broken through the center.  Disorganized by the attack, the Persians fled to their ships.  Seven of the ships were captured by the Athenians.  Persian losses were 6,400 killed, while the Athenians lost 192.[48]

Following the battle, the Persian fleet sailed south and around Cape Sunium, while the Athenians marched back to Athens. They arrived just ahead of the Persian fleet.  The fleet anchored in the Bay of Phalerum for a time, then, realizing that there would be no uprising and little chance of forcing a landing, let alone capturing the city, sailed for home. 

Darius was said to be angered by the failure and made preparations for another expedition.  It took three years to organize the new undertaking.   However, before the new expedition could be sent out Egypt revolted. Darius died shortly after, in the autumn of 486 (485), to be succeeded by his son, Xerxes.  


(25) Tim Burford, Norm Longley, and Thomas Brown, "The Rough Guide to Romania," Rough Guides, (New York 2004), pp. 350 & 359.
(26) Professor John M. Mackenzie, Gen. ed., "Peoples, Nations and Cultures: An A-Z of the Peoples of the World, Past and Present," Weidenfeld & Nicolson, (London 2005), p. 405.
(27) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 212; Herodotus IV, pp. 85-89, 93 & 137-138.
(28) Herodotus IV, pp.97-98.
(29) Herodotus IV, pp.120, 119-120.
(30) J. B. Bury and Russell Meiggs, "A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great," Macmillan, (London 1989), p. 152; Herodotus IV, pp.122-124.
(31) Herodotus IV, pp. 131-132.
(32) Herodotus IV, pp. 134-136, Herodotus I, p. 211.
(33) Herodotus IV, p. 140.
(34) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 212-213; Herodotus IV, pp. 102, 104 & 124-125.
(35) Jim Hicks, "The Persians," p. 71; Herodotus III, p. 89.
(36) Herodotus V, pp. 33-34.
(37) Herodotus V, pp. 36-38.
(38) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 218.
(39) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 218.
(40) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 219, 221, 223; Herodotus V, pp. 99, 103, 108 & 112-115.
(41) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 223-224; Herodotus V, pp. 117, 119-121.
(42) Herodotus VI, pp. 14-16.
(43) Herodotus VI, pp. 42-43.
(44) Herodotus V, p. 105.
(45) Herodotus V, p. 7. VI, p. 94.
(46) Herodotus VI, pp. 46-47.
(47) Herodotus VI, pp. 94-101.
(48) "Cambridge Ancient History," pp. 241-245; Herodotus VI, pp. 112-117.