Aristogoras of Miletus Essay.
In 499 BCE, Aristagoras made a mistake that greatly changed history and led to western ideas being spread throughout the world, a major turning point in shaping the culture of future generations. It resulted in many wars and conquests but ultimately this mistake is why today delegates to the United Nations wear suits and ties instead of turbans.
Aristagoras was the Persian governor of Miletus on the edge of the Persian Empire. The nearby island of Naxos rebelled against the Persian Empire and Aristagoras seized the opportunity to take it back and get a promotion to a better position from the Persian emperor Darius I.
At the very least, even if it did not lead to advancement, he could add Naxos to his growing state and get money from the taxes on its citizens.
Since Naxos was an island, Aristagoras needed a navy to conquer it so he got the help of Artaphernes, the governor of Lydia and Darius’ brother, to supply his navy to take Naxos in exchange for some of the plunder.
In addition, Artaphernes provided Aristagoras with his skilled and clever naval admiral, Megabates. Unfortunately, Aristagoras publically insulted Megabates leading him to warn the people of Naxos of the impending invasion. The invasion failed because the people of Naxos were prepared and Aristagoras was defeated. The problem was that Aristagoras promised Artaphernes a portion of his booty and since he had none, Artaphernes would take revenge. At the very least Aristagoras would be exiled, but most likely Artaphernes would kill him, easily within his power since he was the brother of the king and had connections.
To save his skin, Aristagoras started a revolt against Persia and got some of his neighbors to help him, such as Athens and Ephesus. His army marched to Sardis, the capital of Lydia, and burnt it to the ground while Artaphernes hid in the citadel. Darius I saw what happened and quickly defeated all of the rebels except for the Athenians who escaped by ship.
Darius then launched the first of the Persian Wars which culminated at the Battle of Marathon, where the Greeks easily defeated the Persians, ending the war. The second of the Persian Wars was launched by Darius’ son, Xerxes, which the Persians “won” after the battle of Thermopolis, but they later lost Greece in a rebellion. Greece survived and a few hundred years later, the son of Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, spread Western culture in his vast conquests. “The world as we know today” is because of Aristagoras’ mistake that shaped the west (Fawcett 5).
Context of that World
The Mediterranean world in 499 BCE was very different from our own; the main power was the Persian Empire. Persia was a very large empire consisting of twenty provinces called satrapies which were ruled by a governor, or satrap. The satrap was appointed by the king who at that time was Darius I. The satrap’s duties included taxing the people, acting as a judge, and making important decisions for the satrapy. The farther the satrapy was from the capital, the more autonomous it was because at that time the fastest communication was on horseback, which often took months to get from one part of the empire to another. It also took many months to raise an army and march it to the farthest part of the empire if a problem needed to be handled. As a result, the satraps on the far reaches of the Persian Empire acted as kings of their own satrapies and could, in general, do as they pleased, which describes Aristagoras and his satrapy Miletus.
While the rule of the different satraps varied based on their location, they were all united with a uniform system of laws and judges. They shared abundant resources and order was maintained. They were also all connected by a well maintained and patrolled system of roads and cultural and technological exchange was ongoing. This existed in sharp contrast to the Greeks, who were divided in hundreds of different independent entities, called polis, ruled by tyrants. Though bound together by language, religion, and lifestyle, they were a resource poor region. As a result, each polis was fiercely jealous of independence and suspicious of their neighbors, with frequent conflicts erupting. While, collectively, they occupied a large area, they were not a dominant world force at that time. All this changed after Darius declared war, and the major polis came together and formed an alliance to counteract the Persian threat.
Although Greece continued as an independent collection of city states after they defeated the Persians, they were eventually brought together under the rule of Philip of Macedon. Expansion of the Greek Empire continued under the rule of his son Alexander the Great as the Greek way of life spread throughout much of the Mediterranean area and into southwest Asia, forming the foundation western culture.
Abbott, E. A History of Greece, Part II: From the Ionian Revolt to the Thirty Years’ Peace 500-445 B.C. New York, Putnam, 1892.
Although an old work, this book will provide a good synopsis of Greek history and the impact of Aristagoras’ actions on Greek history.
Curtis, John E. and Nigel Tallis. Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. Los Angelos: University of California Press, 2005.
This resource provides an in-depth perspective of the complete history of the Persian Empire and the impact of Aristagoras. It also has a lengthy bibliography that can be used to find further resources.
Fawcett, Bill. 100 Mistakes that Changed History. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.
This book provides an excellent overview of Aristagoras’ rule of Miletus and the subsequent rebellion that resulted in the war between the Persian Empire and the Greeks and how his actions changed history.
Herodotus, The Histories, Revised. Trans. Aubrey de Salincourt. Ed. John M. Marincola. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
The only existing primary source, this edition also includes editorial comments to aid in understanding of the text, a glossary, timetable, and index. An updated bibliography is also provided which can be used to find
additional sources for further research.
Holland, Tom. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. New York: Doubleday, 2006.
A relatively recent work, this book will provide a more updated viewpoint and accounting of historical events surrounding Aristagoras.
How, W. and J. Wells. A Commentary on Herodotus, with Introduction and Appendices Volume 2 (Books V-IX). New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.