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(555 - 489 BC)


AT the time when Miltiades, the son of Cimon, an Athenian, was eminent above all his countrymen, both for the antiquity of his family, the glory of his forefathers, and his own good conduct, and was of such an age that his fellow citizens might not only hope well of him, but assure themselves that he would be such as they found him when he became known, it chanced that the Athenians wished to send colonists to the Chersonese. The number of the party being great, and many applying for a share in the expedition, some chosen from among them were sent to Delphi,to consult Apollo what leader they should take in preference to any other; for the Thracians at the time had possession of those parts, with whom they would be obliged to contend in war. The Pythia expressly directed them, when they put the question, to take Miltiades as their commander, as, if they did so, their undertakings would be successful. Upon this answer from the oracle, Miltiades set out for the Chersonese with a fleet, accompanied by a chosen body of men, and touched at Lemnos, when, wishing to reduce the people of the island under the power of the Athenians, and requesting the Lemnians to surrender of their own accord, they, in mockery, replied that "they would do so, whenever he, leaving home with a fleet, should reach Lemnos by the aid of the wind Aquilo"; for this wind, rising from the north, is contrary to those setting out from Athens. Miltiades, having no time for delay, directed his course to the quarter to which he was bound, and arrived at the Chersonese.

Having there, in a short time, scattered the forces of the barbarians, and made himself master of all the territory that he had desired, he strengthened suitable places with fortresses, settled the multitude, which he had brought with him, in the country, and enriched them by frequent excursions. Nor was he less aided, in this proceeding, by good conduct than by good fortune, for after he had, by the valour of his men, routed the troops of the enemy, he settled affairs with the greatest equity, and resolved upon residing in the country himself. He held, indeed, among the inhabitants, the authority of a king, though he wanted the name; and he did not attain this influence more by his power than by his justice. Nor did he the less, on this account, perform his duty to the Athenians, from whom he had come. From these circumstances it happened that he held his office in perpetuity, not less with the consent of those who had sent him, than of those with whom he had gone thither.

Having settled the affairs of the Chersonese in this manner, he returned to Lemnos, and called on the people to deliver up their city to him according to their promise; for they had said that when he, starting from home, should reach their country by the aid of the north wind, they would surrender themselves; "and he had now a home", he told them, "in the Chersonese". The Carians, who then inhabited Lemnos, though the event had fallen out contrary to their expectation, yet being influenced, not by the words, but by the good fortune of their adversaries, did not venture to resist, but withdrew out of the island. With like success he reduced some other islands, which are called the Cyclades, under the power of the Athenians.

About the same period, Darius, king of Persia, resolved upon transporting his army from Asia into Europe, and making war upon the Scythians. He constructed a bridge over the river Ister, by which he might lead across his forces. Of this bridge he left as guardians, during his absence,the chiefs whom he had brought with him from Ionia and Aeolia, and to whom he had given the sovereignty of their respective cities; for he thought that he should most easily keep under his power such of the inhabitants of Asia as spoke Greek, if he gave their towns to be held by his friends, to whom, if he should be crushed, no hope of safety would be left. Among the number of those, to whom the care of the bridge was then entrusted, was Miltiades.

As several messengers brought word that Darius was unsuccessful in his enterprise, and was hard pressed by the Scythians, Miltiades, in consequence, exhorted the guardians of the bridge not to lose an opportunity, presented them by by fortune, of securing the liberty of Greece; for if Darius should be destroyed, together with the army that he had taken with him, not only Europe would be safe, but also those who, being Greeks by birth, inhabited Asia, would be freed from the dominion of the Persians, and from all danger. "This", he said, "might easily be accomplished, for, if the bridge were broken down, the king would perish in a few days, either by the sword of the enemy, or by famine". After most of them had assented to this proposal, Histiaeus of Miletus, prevented the design from being executed; saying that "the same course would not be expedient for those who held sovereign command, as for the multitude, since their authority depended on the power of Darius, and, if he were cut off, they would be deprived of their governments, and suffer punishment at the hands of their subjects; and that he himself, therefore, was so far from agreeing in opinion with the rest, that he thought nothing more advantageous for them than that the kingdom of the Persians should be upheld". As most went over to this opinion, Miltiades, not doubting that his proposal, since so many were acquainted with it, would come to the ears of the king, quitted the Chersonese, and went again to reside at Athens. His suggestion, though it did not take effect, is yet highly to be commended, as he showed himself a greater friend to the general liberty than to his own power.

Darius, when he had returned from Asia into Europe, prepared, at the exhortation of his friends, in order to reduce Greece under his dominion, a fleet of five hundred ships, and appointed Datis and Artaphernes to the command of it, to whom he assigned two hundred thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry; alleging as a reason for his enterprise, that he was an enemy to the Athenians, because, with their aid, the Ionians had stormed Sardis and put his garrison to death. These generals of the king, having brought up their fleet to Euboea, soon took Eretria, carried off all the citizens of the place, and sent them into Asia to the king. They then went to Attica, and drew up their forces in the plain of Marathon, which is distant from the city of Athens about ten miles. The Athenians, though alarmed at this sudden descent, so near and so menacing, sought assistance nowhere but from the Spartans, and despatched Phidippides, a courier of the class called hemerodromoi, to Lacedaemon, to acquaint them how speedy assistance they needed. At home, meanwhile, they appointed ten captains to command the army, and among them Miltiades.

Among these captains there was a great discussion, whether they should defend themselves within the walls, or march out to meet the enemy, and decide the contest in the field. Miltiades was the only one extremely urgent that a camp should be formed as soon as possible; "for", he said, "if that were done, not only would courage be added to their countrymen, when they saw that there was no distrust of their valour, but the enemy, from the same cause, would be less bold, if they saw that the Athenians would venture to oppose them with so small a force".

In this crisis no state gave assistance to the Athenians, except that of Plataea, which sent them a thousand men. On the arrival of these, the number of ten thousand armed men was made up; a band which was animated with an extraordinary ardour to fight. Hence it happened that Miltiades had more influence than his colleagues, for the Athenians, incited by his authority, led out their forces from the city, and pitched their camp in an eligible place. The next day, having set themselves in array at the foot of the hills opposite the enemy, they engaged in battle with a novel stratagem, and with the utmost impetuosity. For trees had been strewed in many directions, with this intention, that, while they themselves were covered by the high hills, the enemy's cavalry might be impeded by the spread of trees, so that they might not be surrounded by numbers. Datis, though he saw that the ground was unfavourable for his men, yet, depending on the number of his force, was desirous to engage, and the rather, because he thought it of advantage to fight before the Spartans came to the enemy's assistance. He led into the field, therefore, a hundred thousand foot and ten thousand horse, and proceeded to battle. In the encounter the Athenians, through their valour, had so much the advantage, that they routed ten times the number of the enemy, and threw them into such a consternation, that the Persians betook themselves, not to their camp, but to their ships. Than this battle there has hitherto been none more glorious; for never did so small a band overthrow so numerous a host.

For this victory it does not seem improper to state what reward was conferred on Miltiades, that it may be the more easily understood that the nature of all states is the same; for as honours among our own people were once few and inexpensive, and for that reason highly prized, but are now costly and common, so we find that it formerly was among the Athenians. For to this very Miltiades, who had saved Athens and the whole of Greece, such honour only was granted, that when the battle of Marathon was painted in the portico called Poecile, his figure was placed first in the number of the ten commanders, and he was represented as encouraging his men, and commencing the battle. The same people, after they acquired greater power, and were corrupted by the largesses of their rulers, decreed three hundred statues to Demetrius Phalereus.

After this battle the Athenians gave Miltiades a fleet of seventy ships, that he might make war on the islands that had assisted the barbarians. In the discharge of this commission he obliged most of them to return to their duty; some he took by assault. Being unable to gain over by persuasion one of their number, the island of Paros, which was vain of its strength, he drew his troops out of his ships, invested the town, and cut off all their supplies; soon after, he erected his vineae and tortoises, and came close up to the walls. When he was on the point of taking the town, a grove on the main land, which was some distance off, but visible from the island, was set on fire, by I know not what accident, in the night; and when the flame of it was seen by the townsmen and besiegers, it was imagined by both that it was a signal given by the men of the king's fleet; whence it happened that both the Parians were deterred from surrendering, and Miltiades, fearing that the royal fleet was approaching, set fire to the works which he had erected, and returned to Athens with the same number of ships with which he had set out, to the great displeasure of his countrymen. He was in consequence accused of treason, on the allegation, that "when he might have taken Paros, he desisted from the siege, without effecting anything, through being bribed by the king of Persia". He was at this time ill of the wounds which he had received in besieging the town, and, as he could not plead for himself, his brother Tisagoras spoke for him. The cause being heard, he was not condemned to death, but sentenced to pay a fine, which was fixed at fifty talents, a sum equivalent to that which had been spent on the fleet. As he could not pay this money, he was thrown into prison, and there ended his life.

Although he was brought to trial on the charge relating to Paros, yet there was another cause for his condemnation; for the Athenians, in consequence of the tyranny of Pisistratus, which had occurred a few years before, looked with dread on the aggrandizement of any one of their citizens. Miltiades having been much engaged in military and civil offices, was not thought likely to be contented in a private station, especially as he might seem to be drawn by the force of habit to long for power; for he had held uninterrupted sovereignty in the Chersonesus during all the years that he had dwelt there, and had been called a tyrant, though a just one; for he had not acquired his power by violence, but by the consent of his countrymen, and had maintained his authority by the uprightness of his conduct. But all are esteemed and called tyrants, who become possessed of permanent power in any state which had previously enjoyed liberty. In Miltiades, however, there was both the greatest philanthropy and a wonderful affability, so that there was no person so humble as not to have free access to him; he had also the greatest influence among all the states of Greece, with a noble name, and reputation for military achievements. The people, looking to these circumstances, chose rather that he should suffer, though innocent, than that they should continue longer in fear of him.