Themistocles (c. 524 - c. 460 BCE) was an Athenian statesmale and basic (strategos) whose focus on naval power and army abilities were critical throughout the Persian wars, victory in which ensured that Greece survived its best ever threat. As the chronicler Thucydides declared in his History of the Peloponnesian War, "Themistocles was a male that exhibited the most indubitable indicators of genius; indeed, in this certain he has actually a insurance claim on our admiration quite extraplain and also unequaled." (1.138.3). A brilliant strategist and also canny politician he was possibly a small too thirsty for glory and power for his very own good however Themistocles was, without doubt, one of the many important and colourful numbers of Classical Athens.

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Early Life

Themistocles life is explained by 3 noteworthy primitive sources: Herodotus (c. 484 - c. 425 BCE), Thucydides (c. 460 - c. 399 BCE), and Plutarch (c. 45 CE - c. 120 CE). The initially two are positive and also praise the general"s intelligence and quick wits while Plutarch presents a talented leader thirsty for power at any expense. Of his early life we recognize little except that, uncommonly for those that rose to the peak echelons of power in Athens at the time, Themistocles did not come from an aristocratic family but an extra humble middle-class one. In enhancement, we recognize that his mom was not an Athenian and also his father was Neokles of the Lycomid family members. According to Plutarch he was not a specifically gifted student and spent his free-time as a youth writing and also percreating speeches. His absence of qualifications is famously referenced in the following quote from the same writer,


Whenever before in later on life he found himself at any type of grew or elegant social gathering and also was sneered at by guys who regarded themselves as better educated, he might just protect himself quite arrogantly by saying that he had never before learned how to tune a lyre or play a harp, yet that he kbrand-new exactly how to take a small or insignificant city in hand and raise it to glory and also greatness. (Themistocles, 78)

Plutarch also tells us he had actually 2 daughters called Sybaris and also Italia and also one boy, whom Themistocles as soon as described as the a lot of powerful guy in Greece:

He when shelp jokingly that his kid, who was spoiled by his mommy and through her by himself, was even more powerful than any type of male in Greece, "for the Athenians command the Greeks, I command the Athenians, his mother commands me, and he commands her." (Themistocles, 95)

Themistocles & Athenian Naval Power

Made archon in 493 BCE (although the meaning of the title in this case is disputed by historians and also may not describe the typically understood greatest bureaucratic position) he is attributed with developing Athens" port – the Piraeus – and also structure its fortifications and making it the biggest naval base in the Greek people. As Thucydides puts it "he was constantly advising the Athenians, if a day must come once they were hard pressed by land also, to go dvery own into the Piraeus, and also defy the world via their fleet" (The History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.93.3).


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Greek Trireme
MatthiasKabel & Sting (GNU FDL)

This was, then, the start of Athens coming to be a significant and enduring naval power in the ancient Mediterranean. Still convinced that this was the way forward for the city, Themistocles, a decade later in 483 BCE, would usage the excusage of an on-going conflict via Aegina to press for the surplus revenue from the silver mines of Laureion (uncovered c. 503 BCE) to be used to develop battle ships expanding the Athenian fleet from 70 to 200 ships and so be prepared as well for a Persian invasion. In his focus on naval power Themistocles additionally asserted magnificent backing from the oracle of Apollo at sacred Delphi. He taken the frequently obscure proclamation by the oracle that "just a wooden wall will store you safe" as definition not fortification walls but wood ships were Athens" finest defence versus intrusion.

The Persian Wars

Persia attacked Greece in 490 BCE however the army of Darius was famously defeated at the battle of Marathon – a land battle of sword-wielding hoplites and also archers. The beating of mighty Persia provided the Greeks magnificent confidence and also the victory was celebrated as no various other but, in the event, it was just a minor set-earlier to Persia"s plans for invasion. For Darius" follower Xerxes would lead an even bigger army earlier on Greek soil in 480 BCE.


With Themistocles at the optimal of the political tree Athens smust strengthen her navy and abandon the typical hoplite soldier of Greek warfare.

In the period between these two attacks Themistocles secured political manage of Athens, also managing to exile his great rivals Xanthippus in 484 BCE and also Aristides in 482 BCE. With Themistocles at the height of the political tree Athens smust strengthen her navy and virtually abandon the traditional hoplite soldier of Greek warfare. Heavily armoured and transporting sword and astronomical shield, the sluggish hoplite was relocated to fast-relocating warships – the trireme through its triple bank of oars. Meeting an enemy at sea, ramming the opplace and also finishing the project with a tiny team of hoplites would certainly be Themistocles" strategy to check out off Greece"s best ever hazard.

The Battle of Salamis

In August 480 BCE the Persian army was met at the hill pass of Thermopylae by a little band also of Greeks led by Spartan King Leonidas. They organized the pass for three days, and also at the exact same time the Greeks, with the Athenian contingent led by Themistocles, regulated to host off the Persians at the indecisive naval fight at Artemision. Such was Themistocles" belief in his naval prominence he ordered the abandonment of Athens (if a 3rd century BCE engraving known as the "Themistocles Decree" from Troezen is to be believed). The merged Greek fleet, meanwhile, re-grouped in September at Salamis in the Saronic Gulf, west of Piraeus. The fleet had ships from some 30 city-says, notably from Corinth and Aegina, and also comprised a full of some 300 ships. Themistocles commanded the Athenian contingent, by much the biggest in the fleet with probably 200 ships. The Persian fleet, although substantially exaggerated by primitive authors, was most likely bigger through around 500 ships.


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Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE
Dept. of History, US Military Academy (CC BY-SA)

At this suggest some of the Greek says were in favour of abandoning Athens and also a naval conflict; rather their proposal was to fortify the Isthmus of Corinth. Themistocles then might have actually sent word to the Persians of this opportunity. He additionally had the Ionians and also Carians in Xerxes" army spcheck out messeras to the effect that their loyalty was not to be trusted in the event of fight. These combined messages and also possible indications of fractions in the Greek coalition galvanized the Persians right into activity so that they moved at night and blocked the straits, preventing the Greek fleet from abandoning their place. The wily Themistocles urged the wavering Greeks to activity, retorting to one commander: "those left behind at the beginning line are never crowned through the victor"s wreath" (Histories, 8.59). He would certainly have his naval engagement and have it exactly where he wanted - Salamis.

When daylight came the fight commenced. The Greeks held ago and also drew the bigger Persian fleet into the narrow straits. In enhancement, Themistocles kbrand-new that at a certain time of day a breeze and heavy swell would come and also the Persians would be unprepared for this. In the confusion, the Persians had no maneuverability, their area was additionally limited by more of their ships coming in from their rear, and also their seafarers had no shore to retreat to after their vessel was sunk, unprefer the Greeks. Picking off the Persian ships one at a time and also spurred on by the understanding they were fighting for their resides and also their way-of-life, the Greeks were victorious. Themistocles was treated as a hero and also provided honours by Athens" great rival city Sparta.

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Final Victory

Xerxes went ago residence to Susa but the Persian land also army, now commanded by Mardonius, was still a far-reaching risk and so the two sides clamelted aacquire, this time on land at Plataea in August 479 BCE. These forces were commanded by Xanthippus and Aristides, ago from exile, and also tbelow is no mention of Themistocles. Once aobtain though, the Greeks, fielding the biggest hoplite army ever before checked out, won the battle which lastly finished Persia"s ambitions in Greece.


Themistocles Rebuilds Athens

The Persian battles won a flexibility which would certainly allow Greece a never-before-seen period of creative and social endeavour which would develop the foundations of Western culture for millennia. More immediately, Themistocles re-fortified Athens and the Piraeus, and also he additionally established the Kerameikos cemetery. To encertain Greece can stand up to any type of future assaults the Delian League was formed in 477 BCE. This was a federation of Greek city-says led by, and later to be completely overcame by, Athens with each member contributing ships and money.

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Exile & Death

Athens was never in such a solid place but the career of Themistocles was, unfortunately, heading for a nose-dive. He was, adhering to accusations of bribery, sacrilege, and also a suspicious association with Spartan traitor Pausanias exiled from the city from 476 to 471 BCE. Themistocles" shadow stayed, at least in the arts, as it remained in 472 BCE that the great playwright Aeschylus produced his Persians which defined the consequences of Themistocles" and Athens" great victory at Salamis.

Rather ironically, and after a brief remain in Argos and also then Corcyra (Corfu), Themistocles fled from Greece by vendor vessel and also was invited in Persia by Artaxerxes I. He was made governor of Magnesia in Ionia wbelow coins were minted bearing his name. Understandably, the Athenians observed this as treason and also officially claimed Themistocles a traitor, condemned him to death, and confiscated all his home. It was not to be a happy move for Themistocles as he died in Magnesia not lengthy afterwards, with rumours arguing he may have actually been poisoned or that he even committed self-destruction. More probably dying of disease, Thucydides declared his bones were covertly returned to Athens but the fact that his son continued his power in Magnesia and a tomb was developed for the excellent Athenian would certainly suggest this is unmost likely.

See more: Why Did King Charlemagne Promote Increased Literacy Through The Establishment Of Schools


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Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests include ceramic, style, human being mythology and also learning the principles that all civilizations share in common. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and also is the Publishing Director at WHE.