Table of contents

300: Rise of an Empire 3

Further notes on Athens

The people feared to have their tombs & ancestors destroyed by the Persians; & in abandoning the city, they left many old men there to die, who could not move. Needless to say, this sacrifice did not win them respect or help from the allied Greeks nor from the Persians; Themistokles resolved to have the ostracized citizens recalled, especially his greatest rival, Aristides the Just, who was more necessary to his city now than ever.

Necessity again was led by Themistokles, who persuaded the Persians to corner the Greeks, by a stratagem, so that they could not abandon the alliance & Athens. Or else there might have been no fight, or at least no chance of victory. Themistokles persuaded Aristides to summon the allies to battle, whose reputation was nearly transcendent, & who agreed & was successful.

The Athenians shone: At Artemisium, they learned better how to fight & how little they had to fear the Persians. At Salamis, they learned all the good a fleet does, & only at the end of her history did Athens unlearn that lesson, so that we can say that every necessity was Themistoklean for Athens. Yet this great fighting city had been free for all of one generation, having thrown out its tyrants.

War was the engine of democracy, & led to prosperity. In the new Athens, many citizens made a living from the city by serving in various offices – all this was paid for by the allies, who thought it easier to pay for defense than to man their own fleets, & knew they would need defending from Persians even in the future. So the democracy came to depend on the empire, such that military exploits were never far from the Athenians’ minds, even though they were not a race of warriors.

Now, for Themistokles’ war, money was necessary, which was paid to the crews of the ships – or else they would not have sailed – by the Areopagus, the most aristocratic institution of old Athens, who therefore became powerful again against the democracy after the victory, only to be again undone by the rise of democracy.

& also Aristides. The people who had basely ostracized him feared he might join the Persians & persuade many not to fight the barbarians. Instead, he nobly added his reputation for justice to Themistokles’ plans: He everywhere made alliances & oaths hold fast when fear & anger would have broken them. Aristides was requested by the Greek cities to determine what they should pay to Athens for the common Greek defense; Aristides agreed to steal this treasury from holy Delos to Athens; Aristides refused to make Athens master by burning the allied fleet at Themistokles’ instigation.