Ionian Revolt What was the Ionian revolt?

Ionian Revolt What was the Ionian revolt?

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IONIAN REVOLT, the unsuccessful uprising of the Greek cities of

Asia Minor against Achaemenid control, 499-493 B.C.E.

The Ionians. Some Greeks had settled on the west coast of Asia Minor as early as Mycenean times; but the main settlement, along most of the coast and the offshore islands, was due to the invasion of Greece by migrating tribes (the “Dorian invasions”) around 1000 B.C.E. Aeolians, chiefly from northern and parts of central Greece, settled Lesbos and the northern part of the mainland coast, northward from Smyrna. The main part of the coast, with the offshore islands, chief of them Chios and Samos, was settled by Ionians, who also annexed Aeolian Smyrna and founded little cities, mostly on small peninsulas, from Phocaea in the north to Miletus in the south. These settlers, who (according to Herodotus, 1.142.3-4) spoke four related Ionian dialects, one of them peculiar to Samos, came from central Greece and even the Peloponnese; and they included a strong admixture of other Greeks. According to later tradition, they had all passed through Athens, which was regarded as the “mother city” of all the Ionians. Yet, characteristically, two important cities, Colophon and Ephesus, did not celebrate one of the main festivals which the other Ionians shared with Athens (Hdt., 1.147.2). Moreover, the settlers had on the whole married native wives (some legends soon attached to this; see Hdt., 1.146); but their descendants always regarded themselves, and were regarded by others, as Ionians. Indeed, since most of the traders whom the rest of the Near East came to know were Ionians, all Greeks came to be called by them Ionians (Yawan, Yauna, etc.). Finally, along the southwest coast and on its offshore islands, especially Rhodes, Dorian settlers established themselves.

Figure 1 . Map of Ionia.

The cities’ history is poorly attested in detail. They seem to have gone through the same periods of social conflicts, often leading to tyranny, and the same intercity wars as the Greeks of Europe. The most important of those wars, leading to the destruction of one of the cities, was followed by the foundation of the Panionium, near Priene (later in its territory), an association for the cult of Poseidon, which, in times of crisis, could accommodate political discussions as well. The Aeolians and Dorians had similar associations.

Miletus. By 700 Miletus emerged as the most important of the cities, the leader and ornament of Ionia (Pliny, N.H. 5.112; Hdt., 5.28). It soon became the seat of the first philosophers and one of the first Greek cities to use writing and coinage. It founded colonies (Pliny credits it with over ninety), no doubt with the participation of other cities, from the Propontis all over the coasts of the Black Sea (Abydus, Cyzicus, Panticapaeum, Olbia among the most notable); and these became centers of export and import for Ionian trade. Expanding across the bay, it occupied and fortified Mount Mycale; and to its south it gained control of the sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma, the only seat of a Greek oracle in Asia, which acquired immense prestige. Croesus (q.v.), king of Lydia, gave it rich gifts, as he did to Delphi. After a period of civil war (we do not know exactly when), it was at the height of its glory around 500 B.C.E. (Hdt., 5.28), under the rule of Aristagoras (q.v.).

Alone of the mainland Ionian cities, Miletus avoided annexation by Croesus. It was on good terms with him, had a treaty of some kind, but possibly refused a military alliance (Hdt., 1.141.4; Diog. Laert., 1.25). It clearly maintained some kind of autonomy, but the sources are contradictory about an alliance. According to Herodotus (1.22.4), the treaty of Miletus with Alyattes, Croesus’s father, included an alliance. The historian does not report Croesus’s treaty with Miletus, only that it was confirmed by Cyrus (1.141.4); presumably Croesus merely renewed Alyattes’ treaty. This seems to be confirmed by the story (if true; Hdt., 1.75: “what most of the Greeks say”) that Thales devised a way for Croesus’s army to cross the Halys river, for he would have served as a member of a Milesian contingent. However, Diogenes Laertius also credits him with successfully preventing the Milesians from concluding an alliance with Croesus; this, he claims, was what secured them the favor of Cyrus and a treaty with him (1.25). Since Diogenes’ account of Thales is full of legends (e.g., 1.28 ff.), the alliance is more likely than not to be true. It is possible that the treaty exempted Miletus from having to fight other Ionians or Greeks; see Hdt., 1.169.2, stressing that the Milesians kept the peace during Harpagus’s subjection of Ionia because of their treaty with Cyrus.

We do not know how Croesus secured his control over the cities, but it is quite likely that it was he, and not the Persians, who first put them under the rule of tyrants responsible to himself; Herodotus (1.27.1) merely says that he subjected them and made them pay tribute. His system, like that of other Near Eastern rulers, was probably based on a personal chain of command, which was certainly the Persian system. An oligarchy with changing magistrates would be difficult to fit into such an organization. When the Athenians had expelled their tyrants, Artaphernes ordered them to take them back to avoid punishment (Hdt., 5.96).

By the time of Darius’s Scythian expedition (513 B.C.E.), Miletus was certainly under a tyrant, Histiaeus. He relied on Darius’s support in his rule and had probably been appointed by Darius, although Herodotus fails to report any change in the terms of the treaty. Miletus contributed a contingent to the expedition (Hdt., 4.137); and Herodotus, in a fictitious speech at the Danube crossing, makes Histiaeus argue for loyalty to Persia, since all the Greek commanders (who were all tyrants) would be overthrown but for Persian support (Hdt., 4.137). That he in fact helped to save Darius and his army is shown by the fact that Darius rewarded him with the gift of a well-endowed area in Thrace (Myrcinus, of the Edonians), with permission to build a city there (Hdt., 5.11, 5.23). However, when Megabazus, presumably a close relative of Darius (Herodotus nowhere introduces him, but see next paragraph), warned the King that the site lent itself to rebellion, Darius summoned Histiaeus to Susa, allegedly to be his particular friend, but in fact as an exile not allowed to return. But for this act of disloyalty on his part, the Ionian Revolt would not have broken out when it did—perhaps not at all—and the course of Greek and Aegean history would have been very different.

Revolt of Aristagoras. The de facto tyranny at Miletus next passed to Aristagoras. In 500 B.C.E. he was approached by aristocratic Naxians expelled from Naxos with an appeal to restore them, since they were guest-friends of Histiaeus. Unwilling and unable to do so without Persian permission and assistance, he approached Artaphernes, satrap of Sardis and a brother of Darius. A century later, the satrap of Sardis might have acted on his own authority, but Darius tightly controlled his kingdom. Artaphernes asked and received his permission for an attack on Naxos. He allocated to the venture two hundred triremes, most (as was to appear) commanded by Greeks, as well as a large army including Persians. The whole force was put under the command of Megabates. Megabates is attested as an Achaemenid and of the family of Darius (Hdt., 5.32), and his son Megabazus was to be one of the four supreme commanders of Xerxes’ fleet (Hdt., 7.97). (This seems to attest Megabazus, the commander in Thrace, as a relative of the King, as would in any case be expected.) Megabates had orders to cooperate with Aristagoras, and the attack was to be a surprise.

A conflict soon developed between Megabates and Aristagoras, who regarded himself as supreme commander of the expedition (Hdt., 5.33.4). When the expedition finally reached Naxos, it found the Naxians prepared for a siege. Megabates had no siege equipment and so, after four ineffectual months, had to abandon the attempt. Aristagoras now spread the story that the failure was due to Megabates’ treason: he had secretly warned the Naxians, in order to spite Aristagoras. That a noble Persian, an eminent Achaemenid, should act like this is as incredible as Aristagoras’s claim that that Persian had been told to serve under him. The failure was both a blow to the King and a disgrace to both the commanders, which neither of them would have voluntarily brought about. With a large Persian fleet stationed at Chios, seventy miles away, it was only to be expected that some trader supplying the fleet would discover the secret plan, or else that the Naxians, still independent, were simply taking no chances. Yet the story has at times been believed.

Aristagoras found himself most vulnerable and would certainly lose his tyranny, possibly his life. He therefore prepared for revolt. He was encouraged by Histiaeus, who must have heard of the failure at Naxos and, seeing a chance that he would be allowed to return to Miletus, sent a secret message to Aristagoras, urging him to revolt. His political supporters, whose fate was bound up with his, agreed, with only the historian and geographer Hecataeus dissenting, since he knew the extent and resources of Darius’s kingdom. However, his advice was ignored. Aristagoras had those tyrants still with the fleet seized and handed over to their cities, and he sent envoys to do the same throughout Ionia, announcing that he himself had given up the tyranny of Miletus. The cities were told to put themselves under commanders (stratēgoi), no doubt trusted friends of Aristagoras. He was, in fact, trying to substitute Milesian (and his own) hegemony for Persian rule. His plan to become ruler of Naxos (Hdt., 5.30.3) had failed, but the failure had begotten a much more ambitious scheme, which seemed initially to be successful.

Aristagoras went to Greece, trying to gain support for the Ionians. He failed at Sparta, where the memory of a fairly recent failure of an expedition against Polycrates of Samos discouraged overseas ventures (see Hdt., 3.46-47, 54-56; at the time, Cambyses was in Egypt [3.44]). Herodotus’s novelistic account of Aristagoras’s failure (5.49-51) is superfluous. He next went to Athens, where he could appeal to the duty of the mētropolis towards her daughter Miletus. He arrived just when Artaphernes (q.v.) had ordered the Athenians to take Hippias back (Hdt., 5.96), an act which made them prepare for war against the Persians; so the Athenians decided to send twenty ships—a generous gesture, in view of the constant danger of Aeginetan attacks on Attica. The ships duly arrived, early in 498, and with them five from Eretria, an old ally of Miletus (Hdt., 5.97 and 99). This diplomatic triumph reinforced Aristagoras’s position, and he decided to exploit the opportunity for a conspicuous military venture—nothing less than an attack on Sardis by Ionian forces, led by a large Milesian contingent under two commanders. Artaphernes could not defend the city and withdrew to the citadel, leaving the town to the Greeks.

Aristagoras may have hoped that, if Sardis was taken, the Lydians would be impressed with Ionian strength and join in the rebellion, since they had as little positive love for the Persian conquerors as the Greeks did. However, any such reasonable hope was destroyed by the Ionians’ lack of discipline, which was ultimately to prove fatal to the Revolt. They began to pillage, and one soldier set fire to a house. This started a conflagration, which destroyed the whole city, including the famous sanctuary of Cybele. The Lydians now gathered to join the Persians; and with a Persian army approaching, the Ionians had to withdraw. This, their only common expedition, ended in disaster, when they were caught by Persian cavalry outside Ephesus. The Eretrian commander was killed, and the Ionians scattered to their cities. The Athenians (and presumably the Eretrians) now went home, never to return. They had witnessed an Ionian army in action, and they had their own interests to safeguard against a constant Aeginetan threat of raiding the coast of Attica.

It has often been suggested that pro-Persian elements came to power in Athens at this point, with the election of Hipparchus as chief archon in 496 (e.g., Tozzi, 1978, p. 117 with n. 171 [p. 171], citing a full bibliography and expressing firm support for the theory; more cautiously, M. Ostwald, 1988, p. 339). Murray (1988, p. 483) gives Athenian recognition of the hopelessness of fighting Persia by land as the reason for the Athenian withdrawal, rightly ignoring Athenian politics. None of these scholars refers to my discussion (Antichthon 5, 1971, p. 17), demonstrating that this Hipparchus cannot be connected with a policy favoring either the tyrants or Persia.

Causes. The revolt of the Ionians and of some Aeolians joining them had clearly not been a spontaneous rising. Scholars looking, as is the modern habit, for deep-seated causes have tried to find an economic depression in Ionia. In fact, trade in the Black Sea area was flourishing, and Herodotus tells us that at this time Miletus was at its greatest. We have no explicit information about other Ionian cities, but there is no reason to assume widespread discontent due to economic causes. Murray, in his long discussion of the origins of the Revolt, stresses “powerful economic forces” (1988, p. 477). Tozzi stresses the decline of Ionian at the expense of (especially) Athenian trade (1978, p. 117 with n. 8, giving ample bibliography). Yet Athens was not regarded as the enemy—far from it. The destruction of Sybaris in 511/510 B.C.E. is cited as having a major economic effect, especially on Miletus (Murray, loc. cit.; Tozzi, loc. cit.). Tozzi (p. 118) also lists Persian control of Egypt, Thrace, and the Straits between Europe and Asia as adversely affecting Ionian trade. It is hard to see why Ionian trade within the Achaemenid kingdom should have been more difficult as compared with the time when those areas were outside its control. Large empires (that of the Ottoman Turks is a good example) usually facilitate trade within their borders. As for the destruction of Sybaris, Milesian mourning is amply attested (first Hdt., 6.21), but that was due to the close friendship between the two cities, which had indeed originally developed out of the trade in Milesian wool (Timaeus quoted by Athen., 12.519b). However, Milesian wool (like Samian) was presumably much in demand for its high quality, and the economic loss would soon be made up. Moreover, the destruction of Sybaris took place in 511/510, and it was at the time of the outbreak of the Revolt that Herodotus describes Miletus as being at the height of its splendor (5.28). Tozzi’s further statement that loss by one city “had repercussions on the general economic system [of Ionia]” (p. 118) is an instance of anachronism that will not stand up to analysis (cf. the brief but sensible treatment in Meiggs, 1972, p. 24).

Another suggestion has been universal hatred of tyranny, this based on the fictitious speech Herodotus (4.137.2) wrote for Histiaeus. In fact, when Aristagoras had the tyrants seized and handed over to their own cities, only one (Coës, imposed by Darius as tyrant on Mytilene; see Hdt., 5.11.2-12.1) was executed; the rest (“most”) were apparently allowed to depart in peace (Hdt., 5.38.1). Herodotus gives no other actual instance of punishment. The source that informed him about Coës would surely have known of other cases, had there been any. For real hatred of tyrants imposed by the Persians we may go down to 322-321 B.C.E.: when Alexander handed some tyrants his forces had captured over to the cities, the cities promptly tortured and executed them (Curt., 4.8.11).

Dislike of Persian rule does seem, at this time, to have been universal among the western subjects. (That attitude was to change drastically within a few generations.) Colonists had been settled in their territories, and repression of rebellion had been harsh, involving deportation to the interior and probably enslavement. Unfortunately Herodotus was not interested in this topic and gives us no information. It was no doubt this anti-Persian feeling that Aristagoras stoked and exploited for his own purpose. Herodotus does not report the punishment inflicted by Harpagus in Cyrus’s time on the Ionians and Carians who resisted him. His references to “enslavement” (1.169.2, 174.1) are merely the usual Greek expression for becoming the King’s subjects. That Harpagus “devastated” all of lower Asia (1.177) is obviously an exaggeration, for the Ionians soon returned to their trading activities. However, there are indications of at least deportation, if not literal enslavement. The Ionian women receiving rations at Persepolis (Hallock, tablet no. 1224, ca. 500 B.C.E.) were obviously not there of their own free will; and it must be doubted whether the children they had borne were the offspring of husbands. The Ionians (and Carians) who prepared materials for Darius’s palace at Susa (DSf 33-34; cf. 47-48, now paralleled by the texts published by F. Vallat in Stud. Ir. 1, 1972, pp. 1-13) must have been there long before 494. We cannot imagine that he waited close to thirty years before preparing to build a palace at Susa. (His father was still alive at the time: DSf 57-58.)

Spread of the Revolt. Although the Sardis campaign had been unprofitable for the Ionians, it could elsewhere be seen as a sign of fatal Persian weakness. The Ionians, as Herodotus saw, could no longer turn back. They had no hope of pardon (Hdt., 5.103.1). They now had to find new allies. A fleet sailed to the Hellespont, where Byzantium and other cities were secured, apparently by force (so Herodotus states, 5.103.2): there was again no spontaneous enthusiasm. However, the Carians, even as far as Caunus, now joined, needing little persuasion. They were valuable allies, with a long military tradition, which had made them the favorite mercenaries in the Near East (Hornblower, 1982, p. 16, with ample documentation). I see no reason to doubt even the Carian auxiliaries of Jewish kings (2 Sam. 20:23 and 2 Kings 11:4: kry is read in both passages).

More important still, the Greek cities on Cyprus were persuaded to join by Onesilus, king of Salamis, who, like Aristagoras in Ionia, seems to have planned to substitute his own hegemony for Persian rule. Amathus, probably a mixed Greco-Phoenician city, to judge by its foundation legends, did not join. (For the legends, see Steph. Byz., s.v.; see RE, “Amathus” no. 4 for other sources; there it is described as a Phoenician city, despite the plentiful attestation of Greek foundation myths.) Onesilus proceeded to besiege it; the reason given by Herodotus (5.104.3) is that the city “would not obey him.” Herodotus states that “all” the other cities joined the rebellion; but we hear nothing about the most important Phoenician city, Citium, which clearly did not submit to Onesilus.

This revolt was a serious blow for Darius, calling for immediate reaction. A hostile Cyprus could cut the sea route to Egypt and threatened the security of Phoenicia. In the spring of 497, it seems, Artybius, “a very eminent Persian,” commanding a large army and a Phoenician fleet, was sent to subdue Cyprus. (Herodotus’s chronology is at its most confusing here; see the discussion in Tozzi, 1978, pp. 100-113.) Onesilus sent for aid to the Ionian cities, soliciting them individually: Herodotus (5.108.2) says diépempe (“sent [heralds] in different directions,” rightly stressed by Tozzi, 1978, pp. 151 ff.), even though there was a common consultation, presumably at the Panionium, before the cities took action. (See 5.109, where the Ionians claim they were sent with specific instructions by tò koinòn tōn Iṓnōn “the commonalty of the Ionians—”the only time this phrase occurs: it must be Herodotus’s own; cf. 6.7, where a similar decision—to fight only by sea—is taken at the Panionium, before the battle of Lade. For another instance, see 1.141.4.) The cities seem to have come to a common decision to send aid. In 6.7 we hear of probouloi (“delegates”) who assembled and took the decision. The word, despite its technical appearance, is Herodotus’s own. Again, in 7.172.1, probouloi of the cities that had decided to resist the Persians in 480 assembled at the Isthmus of Corinth. As in the latter case, we must assume that the probouloi whom Herodotus places at the Panionium were envoys sent by the cities that had decided to revolt, and that their common decision was not actually binding on the individual cities.

The Ionian fleet defeated the Phoenician, but the Cypriot army was defeated, according to Herodotus through the treachery of the Curian contingent, which led to the Salaminians’ abandoning their king. Onesilus succeeded in killing Artybius, but died when abandoned by his army (Hdt., 5.111-13). Although Soli withstood a siege for four months, the Persians met no other resistance and by the end of 497 again securely controlled Cyprus.

Meanwhile some strange events had been taking place in Ionia, the chronology of which Herodotus does not enable us to understand with any certainty. The commanders who had destroyed the Ionian army at Ephesus—Daurises, Hymaees and Otanes, all, according to Herodotus, sons-in-law of Darius—continued to reduce the demoralized cities.

Various attempts have been made to recover the Old Persian forms of the names. Otanes is certain; cf. Utana, son of Thukhra, one of Darius’s six associates in his coup d’état (DB IV 83). The two may in fact be identified, since we may assume that the conspirator was of about the same age as Darius. (For the others, see Mayrhofer, 1973, p. 150, 8.380; p. 170, 8.659; p. 245, 8.1723.)

Daurises, assigned the Hellespont, reduced four cities in one day each, obviously without resistance. It was at this point (late 498-early 497?) that he was informed that the Revolt had spread to Caria. Marching to meet the rebels, he inflicted two crushing defeats on them, the second (near Labraunda) also involving a Milesian corps sent to assist the Carians. After this (we do not know how long after, but presumably not soon: perhaps 496?), the Carians caught the Persian army in an ambush near the later Stratonicea and destroyed it, killing Daurises and its other commanders, Amorges and Sisimaces, as well as a Lydian named Myrsus, son of Gyges. Amorges and Sisimaces are not mentioned elsewhere; they must have been subordinates of Daurises.

Amorges may be a descendant of the Saca king who, according to Ctesias (Jacoby, Fragmente, 688 F9, 3 and 7) first fought against Cyrus and then, before Cyrus’s death, became his ally and friend—if at least this latter part can in outline be believed. A bastard son of Pissuthnes (Thuc., 8.55.5), who rebelled against Darius II, was called Amorges; Pissuthnes was an Achaemenid of the royal branch; his father was Hystaspes (Thuc., 1.115.4), no doubt the brother of Xerxes who in the invasion of Greece commanded the Bactrians (Hdt., 7.64.2). Daurises’ subordinate was probably connected with the royal family.

The Persians seem now to have given up the war in Caria for the time being. (On the Carian campaign, see Hdt., 5.117-21.) Meanwhile Hymaees, after some successes in the northwest, fell ill and died. Artaphernes now had to take personal command, with Otanes under him; and they took Ionian Clazomenae and Aeolian Cyme (Hdt., 5.122-23).

At this point (it seems) Aristagoras decided he was not safe in Miletus. After considering various plans, he went to the Thracian town which Histiaeus had received from the King and which had apparently remained unmolested during his long absence. While trying to extend its territory at the expense of the Edonians, in whose area it was situated, he was caught and killed by them (Hdt., 5.124-126: dated to year 497/6 by Thuc. 4.107.2).

The return of Histiaeus. When Darius heard of the Revolt and of the fall of Sardis, he sent Histiaeus, just as the latter had hoped, to try to pacify Miletus and, with it, Ionia (Hdt., 5.106-108.1). (Herodotus’s conversation between Darius and Histiaeus [5.106] ends with a promise by Histiaeus to make Sardinia subject to Darius. This clearly marks the whole conversation as fictitious.) Histiaeus first went to Sardis, probably in order to ask Artaphernes to reinstate him. As usual, Herodotus does not coordinate the chronology: we do not know whether, when Histiaeus reached Sardis, Aristagoras had already left Miletus. If Histiaeus left Susa soon after the King heard of the fall of Sardis, perhaps at the turn of 498 and 497, Histiaeus may have left Susa early in 497 and arrived at Sardis about the middle of the year. The successes and death of Hymaees should be put early in 497, since it must have been quite late in the previous season by the time the battle of Ephesus was fought.

The chronology has to be reconstructed from Herodotus, who fails to give one. G. B. Grundy (1901, p. 119) puts Histiaeus’s arrival at Sardis in “late 496 or early 495,” some time after Aristagoras had left Miletus and perhaps after his death. However, unless we totally ignore Herodotus, Darius must have dispatched Histiaeus as soon as possible after he heard of the burning of Sardis, i.e., early in 497. There is no conceivable way in which Histiaeus could have spent well over a year on the road that was marked out for ninety days’ journey (or slightly less: Hdt., 5.52-53). Grundy was explicitly followed by H. Swoboda (RE 8.2, 1913), who seems to have been followed by J. Cobet (Der Neue Pauly V, Stuttgart, 1998). Murray does not date Histiaeus’s movements).

Aristagoras must have heard of Hymaees’ successes and of those of Artaphernes and Otanes about the middle of the year; his departure must be put close to Histiaeus’s arrival at Sardis. It is worth noting that the two men were not in touch; Herodotus would surely have mentioned any communication or coordination between them. It is possible (but this can only be a conjecture) that, assuming in the absence of communication that Histiaeus was indeed willing to act in Darius’s interest, Aristagoras suspected that Artaphernes would now install him in Miletus. This would be a more potent reason than the capture of a few minor cities by Persian forces for making flight seem Aristagoras’s best option.

In fact, Artaphernes had clearly heard of Histiaeus’s involvement in the start of the Revolt and at once charged him with it. Histiaeus had quite probably gone to Sardis for the reason Aristagoras seems to have suspected. Nothing but Herodotus’s comment on the fictitious conversation at Susa gives any indication that he had committed himself to working against Darius, as Herodotus believed (5.107.1: légōn tauta diéballe “deceived him [Darius] by saying this”). More probably, his choosing to go to Artaphernes in the first instance suggests that he was keeping his options open. If Artaphernes chose to restore him to Miletus, he would be sure of the King’s favor and might well join in ending the Revolt, by persuasion or by force, as he had promised. It was Artaphernes’ hostility and implied threat that decided Histiaeus on the course he had to pursue. He crossed to Chios, where he found that his responsibility for the Revolt was in fact common knowledge among the Ionians; it was not surprising that Artaphernes knew “the precise facts about the (outbreak of the) Revolt” (Hdt., 6.1.2). At Sardis Histiaeus had discovered that some Persians there were plotting against the King. He now wrote to them, but Artaphernes intercepted the letters and dealt with the plotters. He next tried to force an entrance into Miletus, but was thrown out by the citizens. He managed, however, to obtain a few ships from the Lesbians, seized Byzantium, and forced ships sailing out of the Black Sea either to join him or to surrender to him, which probably meant slavery for the crews (Hdt., 6.1-5).

To anticipate: Histiaeus stayed there until the fall of Miletus (below). He then succeeded in seizing Chios but failed to take Thasos. He was clearly trying to carve out a little principality for himself; but, on landing near Atarneus in order to collect food supplies, he was captured by Harpagus, who had occupied the area with a large force. (Herodotus calls Harpagus a Persian, no doubt because he commanded Persian forces; but he must be a descendant—perhaps grandson—of Cyrus’s homonymous adviser, whom in Book 1 Herodotus at some length depicts as a Mede. Mayrhofer [1973] does not come to any conclusion on the name.) Harpagus took him to Artaphernes at Sardis, where he was at once executed as a traitor. His head was sent to Darius, who, evidently not knowing what Artaphernes had known, blamed the satrap and had the head honorably buried as that of a benefactor of the King (Hdt., 6.28-30).

The end of the Revolt. By 496 the Persians had mustered a large army and a fleet from among their naval subjects. The Ionians decided that they must leave Miletus to sustain a siege, but that they would fight at sea; a victory would make a continued siege of Miletus pointless. A man of Phocaea was appointed to prepare the fleet, made up of several city contingents, for the battle (Hdt., 6.6-8, 11). The Persians tried to use diplomatic methods. They contacted some of the cities through their tyrants in exile, promising immunity in exchange for surrender, but threatening severe punishment in case of continued resistance. Herodotus reports that none of the cities accepted the offer (6.9-10).

The Ionians, however, would not submit to the discipline of coordinated training under the Phocaean (6.12). In the battle off the island of Lade that faces Miletus, first the Samian ships deserted, then the Lesbian, finally “most of the Ionians” (6.14). Although the Chians fought bravely, they were ultimately overwhelmed (6.15: 495). Miletus still held out, but inevitably fell after some months (494). It was harshly punished: most of the men captured were killed, and the women and children were enslaved and deported. The sanctuary at Didyma was sacked and burned down, no doubt in order to avenge the destruction of the sanctuary of Cybele at Sardis under Milesian leadership. The city and its territory were settled by Persians and Carians. Herodotus goes on to tell some individual escape stories, quote an oracle foretelling the fate of Miletus, and briefly relate the capture and cruel punishment of various cities, which ended the war; he also prepares us for the story of Miltiades the Athenian, which was to become a topic of major interest in 490 (6.18-25, 31-33, 34-41 [Miltiades]).

During 493 Artaphernes began the task of pacification. He compelled the cities to sign treaties undertaking to settle any differences between cities by arbitration, not by war; he had the cities’ territories surveyed, and he based the tribute imposed on them on the survey, thus extending to Ionia what appears to have been Darius’s general practice. (See Nenci, 1998, commentary on 6.42.) Early in 492, Mardonius, a son of Gobryas (q.v.), one of Darius’s associates in his coup d’état, arrived in Ionia, to prepare for the attack on European Greece. (For Gobryas, see Hdt., 3.70 and DB IV 84, from which we learn that his father was also called Mardonius. See Nenci, 1994, ad loc., for discussion of the names.) In this connection he announced the removal of all the tyrants and the establishment of democracies in all the Ionian cities (Hdt., 6.43). This is the first appearance of the word dēmokratía in Greek. The precise meaning of dēmokratías has been much debated, but for Herodotus it does seem to mean “democracies,” as is clear from 6.131.1, where Cleisthenes is said to have introduced tēn dēmokratíēn in Athens. Herodotus obviously had no clear idea of its working in institutional terms. In the Ionian cities, only one tyrant is known between this time and the Athenian conquest—Strattis of Chios (Hdt., 8.132.2). It is possible that Chios was not given “democracy” because of its particularly fierce resistance in the battle of Lade (6.15), so that its people could not be trusted by the Persians.

The announcement by Mardonius seems to have been limited to Ionia. Herodotus does not report its extension to the other Greek rebels (especially the Aeolians) or the Carians, whose reintegration into the Persian kingdom, by surrender or by force, he had mentioned only in one short sentence (6.25.2). For a few years, Ionia and Caria settled down under Persian rule and duly contributed forces for the invasions of Greece (Hdt., 7.93, 8.19.1, 8.22).

The sources: Herodotus. The main and almost the only source for the Revolt is Herodotus of Halicarnassus. (See R. Rollinger’s excellent essay, herodotus, in EIr. XII/3, 2003, especially the introduction, pp. 254-55, and a selection of the vast literature on him and his work, pp. 280-88.) The most recent text of his History is by H. B. Rosén in two volumes (Leipzig, 1987 and 1997). The only good modern commentary is in the Italian edition (Le storie, Milan, 1977-98) in nine volumes, one for each book of the work. Each volume consists of an introduction, text with facing Italian translation, and an exhaustive commentary with bibliography. Books 5 (1994) and 6 (1998), which contain the story of the Ionian Revolt, were edited by G. Nenci and are among the best. A translation of the whole commentary into English, a highly desirable project, is being planned. Herodotus’s was the first written account of the Revolt, based on oral testimony. He may have met some survivors and certainly spoke to some of their descendants. Later writers depended on his account, to which some added fictitious incidents (see Murray, 1988, pp. 467-69). We know nothing about the tragic poet Phrynichus’s drama The Fall of Miletus, produced soon after 480 B.C.E. (see Scripta Classica Israelica 15, 1996, pp. 55-60). We must imagine it after the example of Aeschylus’s Persians, but more graphic in reports of killing and rape.

There is no epigraphic evidence to give a contemporary point of view. Numismatic evidence has been found in a series of electrum coins with types related to those of Ionian cities and said to be on the Milesian standard, but relevance to the Revolt is hard to maintain, since there are no coins showing Milesian types. (See Kraay, 1976, believing in the connection, but producing no plausible argument for the absence of Miletus. Murray, 1988, p. 482, expresses no opinion.)

The account of the Revolt is largely free from the folktale elements found in other parts of Herodotus’s work. (The writing of a secret message on the shaved head of a slave, in 5.35.3, is probably an exception.) Nothing can be called fictitious except (as in other ancient authors) the speeches. He is traditionally accused of hostility toward the Ionians, but this is difficult to document. He probably approved of Hecataeus’s advice against rebelling (5.36.2-4), but refrains from saying so. He has no comment on the attempt to plunder Sardis. His blaming the defeat at Lade on the Ionians’ unwillingness to submit to naval discipline (6.12) and on the defection of the crucial Samian contingent (6.13-14) is surely simple fact. What he thought of their action is put into the mouths of the Chians, who did not want to be like the cowards and fought with valor and discipline until they had lost most of their ships (6.15); and he has special praise for the eleven Samian captains who ignored their commanders’ order to sail home (6.14.2-3). Similarly, in the battle off Cyprus (5.112.1) the Ionians (all of them) were ákroi “outstanding.” (Nenci mistranslates “superiori con le navi,” perhaps still unaware of the patent meaning “outstanding,” which he recognizes in 6.122: “insigne”; he does not doubt the genuineness of that paragraph, often needlessly impugned.) The best of them were those very Samians for whom he has the blistering comment at Lade. His impartiality could not be better demonstrated.

He is often accused by his modern critics of casting the history of the Ionian Revolt largely in personal terms, ignoring ‘underlying causes.’ Those critics do not understand the overwhelming importance of the personal element in societies like those Herodotus is writing about. The ambition of Aristagoras and Onesilus should be seen in the light of the more successful ambitions of Philip II, Alexander III, and the Diadochi. Economic causes simply do not seem to exist in the case of the Revolt, as I have argued above. As for political causes, no one could make hatred of tyranny clearer (perhaps clearer than it in fact was) than Herodotus did in the speech he wrote for Histiaeus at the Danube (4.137) or in his account of the Milesians’ response to Histiaeus when he wanted to be readmitted after Aristagoras’s departure (6.5.1-2). Yet there is no reason to regard this as a cause of the Revolt. But for Aristagoras’s bid for power, the cities would no doubt have continued to put up with their tyrants, as they had for generations.



The only monograph is Tozzi, 1978—on the whole a good, balanced account, with ample bibliography. Murray, 1988 presents a useful account of the facts of the Revolt (pp. 480-90), after a long introduction, which is particularly useful in its discussion of the sources and of the importance of the Revolt for later Greek history. Two recent monographs on Miletus (Gorman, 2002; Greaves, 2002) do not add much of value.

V. B. Gorman. Miletos, the ornament of Ionia, Ann Arbor, 2002.

A. M. Greaves. Miletos. A History, London and New York, 2002.

R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets, Chicago, 1969.

S. Hornblower, Mausolus, Oxford and New York, 1982.

C. M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976.

M. Mayrhofer, Onomastica Persepolitana, Vienna, 1973.

R. Meiggs, The Athenian Empire, Oxford, 1972.

Oswyn Murray, in CAH IV2, 1988, pp. 461-90 (probably written some time before the date of the volume).

M. Ostwald, “The Reform of the Athenian State by Cleisthenes,” in CAH IV2, 1988, pp. 303-46.

G. Nenci, comm., in Herodotus, Le storie V. La rivolta della Ionia, Milan, 1994; and VI. La battaglia di Maratona, Milan, 1998.

P. Tozzi, La rivolta ionica, Pisa, 1978.

(E. Badian)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 29, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 188-195




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    • ionian revolt
    • sardis

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      The Beginning of the Ionian Revolt

      History & Culture

      The Beginning of the Ionian Revolt

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      N.S. Gill

      Freelance classics writer N.S. Gill has a master’s degree in linguistics and is a former Latin teacher.

      Updated August 03, 2018

      The Ionian revolt (c. 499-c.493) led to the Persian Wars , which includes the famous battle depicted in the movie 300, the Battle of Thermopylae, and the battle that lent its name to a long race, the Battle of Marathon. The Ionian Revolt itself did not occur in a vacuum but was preceded by other tensions, notably trouble in Naxos.

      Possible reasons for the revolt of the Ionian Greeks [based on Manville:

      • Anti-tyrant feeling.
      • Having to pay tribute to the Persian king.
      • The king’s failure to understand the Greeks’ need for freedom.
      • As response to an economic crisis in Asia Minor.
      • Aristagoras’ hope to get out of his difficulties with Artaphrenes that were caused by the ill-fated Naxos Expedition.
      • Histiaios’ hope to get out of his benign captivity at Susa.

      Characters in the Naxos Expedition

      The principal names to know in connection with this Herodotus -based introduction to the Ionian Revolt are those involved in the Naxos Expedition:

      • Histiaios (Histiaeus), son of Lysagoras and the tyrant of Miletus (c.515–493 B.C.).
      • Aristagoras (c.505–496 B.C.), son of Molpagoras, ambitious son-in-law, and deputy of Histaios.
      • Artaphernes, satrap of Lydia, in western Asia Minor.
      • Darius (r. c.521-486 B.C.), the Great King of Persia and half-brother of Artaphernes.
      • Megabates, a cousin of Darius and Persian naval commander.

      Aristagoras of Miletus and the Naxos Expedition

      Naxos—the prosperous Cyclades island where the legendary Theseus abandoned Ariadne—was not yet under Persian control.

      The Naxians had driven out certain rich men, who had fled to Miletus but wished to go home. They asked Aristagoras for help. Aristagoras was the deputy tyrant of Miletus, the son-in-law of the proper tyrant, Histiaios, who had been rewarded Myrkinos for loyalty at the Danube Bridge in the Persian Great King Darius’ fight against the Scythians .

      He was then asked by the king to come to Sardis, where he was brought to Susa by Darius.

      Megabates betrays Artaphernes

      Aristagoras agreed to aid the exiles, and asked the satrap of western Asia, Artaphernes, for help. Artaphernes—with permission from Darius—gave Aristagoras a fleet of 200 ships under the command of a Persian named Megabates. Aristagoras and the Naxian exiles set sail with Megabates et al. They pretended to head to the Hellespont. At Chios, they stopped and waited for a favorable wind. Meanwhile, Megabates toured his ships. Finding one neglected, he ordered the commander punished. Aristagoras not only released the commander but reminded Megabates that Megabates was only second-in-command. As a result of this insult, Megabates betrayed the operation by informing the Naxians in advance of their arrival. This gave them time to prepare, so they were able to survive the Milesian-Persian fleet arrival and four-month siege. In the end, the defeated Persian-Milesians left, with the exiled Naxians installed in forts built around Naxos.

      Herodotus says Aristagoras feared Persian reprisal as a consequence of the defeat. Histiaios sent a slave—Aristagoras—with a secret message about the revolt hidden as a brand on his scalp.

      The revolt was Aristagoras’ next step.

      Aristagoras persuaded those he joined in a council that they should revolt. One hold-out was the logographer Hecataeus who thought the Persians too powerful. When Hecataeus couldn’t persuade the council, he objected to the army-based plan, urging, instead, a naval approach.

      The Ionian Revolt

      With Aristagoras as leader of their revolutionary movement after his failed expedition against Naxos, Ionian cities deposed their pro-Persian Greek puppet tyrants, replacing them with a democratic government, and prepared for further revolt against the Persians. Since they required military help Aristagoras went across the Aegean to mainland Greece to ask for help. Aristagoras unsuccessfully petitioned Sparta for its army, but Athens and Eretria provided more appropriate naval support for the Ionian islands—as the logographer/historian Hecataeus had urged.

      Together the Greeks from Ionia and the mainland pillaged and burned most of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, but Artaphrenes successfully defended the city’s citadel. Retreating to Ephesus, the Greek forces were beaten by the Persians.

      Byzantium, Caria, Caunus, and most of Cyprus joined in the Ionian revolt. Although the Greek forces were occasionally successful, as at Caria, the Persians were winning.

      Aristagoras left Miletus in the hands of Pythagoras and went to Myrkinos where he was killed by Thracians.

      Persuading Darius to let him leave by telling the Persian king that he would pacify Ionia, Histiaios left Susa, went to Sardis, and tried unsuccessfully to re-enter Miletus. A major sea battle at Lade resulted in the victory of the Persians and defeat of the Ionians. Miletus fell. Histiaios was captured and executed by Artaphrenes who may have been jealous of Histiaios’ close relationship with Darius.


      • Herodotus Book V
      • Herodotus Book VI
      • “Aristagoras and Histiaios: The Leadership Struggle in the Ionian Revolt,” by P. B. Manville; The Classical Quarterly, (1977), pp. 80-91.
      • “The Attack on Naxos: A ‘Forgotten Cause’ of the Ionian Revolt,” by Arthur Keaveney; The Classical Quarterly, (1988), pp. 76-81.
      • Jona Lendering: Beginning of the Ionian Revolt; affairs in Greece (5.28-55)

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