Themistocles

Article

July 5, 2022

Themistocles, from the Demo of Frearri (in ancient Greek: Θεμιστοκλῆς, Themistoklês, "Glory of the law"; Athens, between 530 and 520 BC - about 459 BC), was an Athenian politician and military. Among the first prominent politicians of the young democracy of Athens, he led a politics in favor of the people, thus receiving the support of the less affluent classes of the city, and generally in contrast with the noble families. Elected archon in 493 BC, he was the architect of the naval power of Athens, whose fleet will become the largest and most powerful in all of ancient Greece. In the years following the Battle of Marathon and during the Second Persian War he became the most influential politician in Athens. He continued to advocate the need for a large naval force and in 483 BC. he persuaded the Athenians to build a fleet of 200 triremes, which would prove crucial in the subsequent conflict with Persia. He commanded the Athenian fleet in the battles of chief Artemisius and Salamis. Thwarted in his program of approaching Argos and suspected of tyrannical attitudes, he was ostracized in 472 BC. (or perhaps in 471 BC) by political opponents Alcmeonidi and Filaidi, more inclined to support Cimon, supporter of the alliance with Sparta. He then took up residence in Argos, from where he tried, together with Pausanias, to raise a democratic movement against Sparta in the Peloponnese to procure the dominion of Hellas in Athens. Having discovered his plot, the Spartans accused him of having attempted, together with Pausanias, an alliance with Persia. Sentenced to death, he first fled to Magna Graecia; he was welcomed by King Artaxerxes I of Persia. Eventually he found a home in Magnesia, where he died on unknown dates and circumstances, according to many suicidal for not keeping his promises to the Persian king. It will be Pericles who will rehabilitate his memory and recognize him as a hero of the Athenian cause. According to Plutarch's judgment, he can be considered "the man who most of all contributed to the salvation of Greece" from the Persian threat. His naval policy had a long-term effect on the history of Athens, allowing his successors to expand the Athenian Empire.

Sources

The life of Themistocles is well documented by ancient sources, especially when compared to that of some of his contemporaries, such as Clisthenes or Leonidas. He was one of the fifty people of whom Plutarch wrote a complete biography in his Parallel Lives, where he is compared to Marco Furio Camillo. Although Plutarch wrote about six hundred years after Themistocles' birth, he can still be trusted as he almost always spells out the names of his sources. There is also a biography of Themistocles written by Cornelio Nepote in the first century BC, although not very detailed.The role of Themistocles in the Persian Wars and in Athenian politics are both described in the Stories of Herodotus and in Thucydides' Peloponnesian War. These two historians were almost contemporaneous with the events they describe and their sources were certainly men who participated in the events narrated. When Herodotus published his work in 425 BC. he was about sixty years old and therefore not only lived during a good part of Themistocles' political and military career, but certainly met personalities of the same age.The Athenian historian Thucydides was born around 460 BC, when Themistocles was probably still alive and of he certainly knew life very well. The role of Themistocles in the various wars he fought is also described by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica. However, having been written in the first century BC, it is only a secondary source, used by later historians to integrate details not present in previous works.

Biography

First years of life

Themistocles was born in Athens between 530 and 520 BC, more likely in 524. D.